Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Potstickers (p. 93)


Everybody loves Potstickers (p. 93) (or gyoza, which I call them when I'm feeling ethnic!). But would I be able to make them? They seem kind of difficult.

Fortunately, pork was on sale!

First step was pretty easy--pork, garlic, ginger, cilantro, oyster sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, and seasonings. I chose against adding the apricots--it just seemed really strange. The chili paste was delicious--but daammmnnn it was hot!

I mixed everything with my hands, which is always kind of fun! I wanted to make sure it really was evenly distributed because a mouthful of that chili sauce might be a hellava surprise!

Then it was onto making the wontons. Not too difficult--brush the wrapper with eggs, place about a spoonful of meat into the middle, and then pinch the edges closed. I did them in batches of about eight, which kept the process moving.

The potstickers then were boiled for 8 minutes and drained. I drained them over a bowl in my handy blue colander. I'm pretty sure this colander was one of my roommates at one time...uh oh!

I was afraid they were going to stick together but it wasn't a problem.

The potstickers then had to be pan-fried.

This recipe wasn't hard but took FOREVER because of all the steps. Josh ADORED these. The recipe really does make fifty, so make sure you have a use for lots of potstickers or you will be eating them for a really long time.

And lastly....

Happy Easter from Josh, Jessica, and Duchie!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Italian Parmesan and Egg Soup (p. 124), Buttermilk Marinade (p. 585), and Oven-Fried Chicken with Cornmeal Crust (p. 430)

I know I'm late posting this. We will get to the reasons later! And this was a really good day of cooking. And remember--I love when you guys comment :)

As previously posted, I wanted to cook a lot this weekend--plus Josh's brother was visiting and I didn't want them to eat out for every meal. Josh's brother can be picky so I wanted to stick to the kind of food that everyone likes.

But first, to get my energy up for a day of cooking, I decided to make Italian Parmesan and Egg Soup (p. 124). I'm always nervous about TJOC's "Italian" recipes. I don't know, they never seem very ethnic. But I had a bunch of chicken stock and I wanted to use it. This recipe is really easy. Pretty much, bring stock to a simmer, mix an egg, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, and garlic, combine that with the stock, and eat. The egg mix is one of the most disgusting things that I've ever seen. At this point, I wasn't very optimistic.

It isn't really that appetizing looking -- but the soup was really tasty. True comfort food--and extremely easy. Between the egg, cheese, and breadcrumbs--it was a really filling soup. I recommend it.

One of those food items that I think everybody likes is fried chicken. The problem with making fried chicken? I really don't want to bring out my deep fryer. First off, I don't have room on the countertop for it and I don't want to through out the oil every time. Second, the deep fryer is scary. I use it once a year, to make calamari at Christmas, and this ain't Christmas.

Fortunately, TJOC has anticipated this problem (well, likely not THIS problem, but...) and has a recipe for Oven-Fried Chicken with Cornmeal Crust (p. 430). I used chicken thighs because they are a) tasty and b) cheap. Dark meat is always more flavorful than white meat--I canNOT understand why some people are so in love with chicken breasts--and they take the skins off at that!

The first part of this recipe is to prepare the Buttermilk Marinade (p. 585). This is easy--you just mix buttermilk and garlic, and then lightly season it. I can't say that it smelled that great--I'm not in love with buttermilk. Heavy cream? Yes. Buttermilk? No.

You then season it more--shallots, lemon juicy, chili powder, etc. I used dehydrated shallots because I couldn't find the fresh shallots in my refrigerator. Found them immediately afterwards--but what can you do. Dehydrated shallots and dehydrated lemon peel are two of my favorite spices from Penzey's.

The chicken goes into this mess and sits for a couple hours. The marinade was just enough for the 3.5 pounds of chicken.

Next step--mix a whole bunch of dry ingredients in a shallow pan (including bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese--apparently that was the theme of the day) and an egg/butter mix in a bowl. The chicken gets the marinade shaken off, dipped in the egg, and then dredged in the cornmeal mix (is that the correct use of the word 'dredge'?). The dry mix adhered really well to the chicken.

Yum...pieces of chicken! And drizzled with butter...

I was terrified by the end of this recipe. You bake the chicken at a high temp (425) for a long time (40 minutes). It seemed to me that it was bound to burn. And sure enough, the oven started smoking about halfway through. This freaked Josh out (he was convinced I had another TJOC related fire) but the chicken looked fine, so I turned on the oven fan and didn't worry about it.

The chicken was great! Incredibly moist and flavorful. I think the marinade really added to the juiciness. And it wasn't very difficult! I think I'm almost ready for the deep fryer!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Provencal Vegetable Soup (Soupe au Pistou) (p. 128), Mushroom Triangles (p. 88), Hearty Meat Ragu (p. 101), and Pistou (p. 569)

I know that I need to work late a lot in this coming week and I hate cooking when I get home at eleven. I wanted some food that I could just heat up. Last week, I ate frozen dinners, but they don't really hit the spot for me. So because I was so happy with the Vegetable Soup that I made about a month ago, I decided to make Provencal Vegetable Soup (Soupe au Pistou) (p. 128).

I had never used leeks before so I was a little nervous. I always get nervous when I try to prepare a new vegetable--even if it doesn't seem very difficult. I was glad to get over this fear because I really like leeks. I decided to spare you from the pictures of the leeks, onions, celery, and carrot sauteeing because that pic has been posted plenty! The recipe wants two medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped. I felt no need to buy fresh tomatoes. It's not tomato season, so they aren't going to taste any better than canned tomatoes and opening a can of diced tomatoes is sure a lot easier. It didn't seem to affect the recipe at all. I also used frozen green beans because that's what I happened to have. I used elbow macaroni (which always makes me feel like I'm going to do crafts), canned white beans, and no saffron--I wish I kept saffron on hand, but I don't. That will be taken care of on the next trip to Penzey's Spices!

Mmm....the soup before the beans and such were added...

The recipe requires Pistou (p. 569). TJOC says to make it without seasoning it...I figured that was the basil, garlic, and olive oil without the pepper and Parmesan. This was a problem. Basil isn't in season and the basil leaves in the store were extremely expensive so I only picked up one package. Unfortunately, this was only half of what I needed. So I searched for more basil and found that I had one of those squeeze bottles. I have no idea how to substitute the two so I just squeezed some in there--I figure that 1 cup of the squeeze bottle (which would be the whole thing) would be WAY too much because it's so compact!

This mixture pretty much looked like pesto without the pine nuts. That's what it smelled like too. Delicious. I don't have an after shot, but here's a before:

Quite a bit of soup was produced, as you can see...four storage containers and a bowl for eating!

The soup was really good and the basil was strong but not too strong. I don't think it was quite as good as the Soupe Paysanne but I will still make it again.

Mushroom Triangles (p. 88). I need to tell a little story before I can explain why I want to make these...

One of the only restaurants that I really liked in Columbia, Missouri was called the Uprise Bakery. It was delicious. And one of the tastiest items in this bakery were little mushroom turnovers. I've always wanted to know how to make these wonderful, greasy, flaky, little mushroom items. So when I saw the recipe in TJOC I was hoping that it was the same recipe or at least similar.

Frankly, I don't think they were. They weren't NEAR greasy enough, first off. And I wasn't in love with the flavor of the mushroom mixture, but I'll go into that later.

I've always been nervous about working with phyllo dough. It seems difficult and makes me nervous. There are tons of cool recipes that use it so I've been interested in it (I LOVE Baklava and the Spinach and Feta Triangles that follow the Mushroom Triangle recipe looks really good). But there are so many directions on how to work with it--anything that requires that much explanation to use makes me very nervous.

To make the triangles, first you combine shallots and garlic with butter. What a promising start! I love butter, I love shallots, and I LOVE garlic. Mmmm....garlic.....I doubled the amount of garlic, like I always do.

Next, the mushrooms. First, you have to rehydrate some mushrooms. As some of you remember, dehydrated mushrooms are the secret of Hot and Sour soup (learned earlier in this experiment). I wasn't confident about the dehydrated mushrooms in the recipe. They have a strange texture and I couldn't imagine them in the triangles. Here was my set-up--the dehydrated mushroom draining apparatus, the normal mushrooms cut-up in a bowl, and the dehydrated mushrooms, cut-up. And, of course, a Coke for energy.

This is a TON of mushrooms. I was feeling really good about the recipe at this point because, hey, I like mushrooms and they smelled really good. If you are wondering, the hydrated mushrooms were shiitakes and cremini's and the dehydrated were shiitake and a gourmet mushroom mixture.

The phyllo...how nerve racking...

You have to work with it very quickly or it dries out and you have to throw it away. I covered the pieces that weren't currently being covered with a damp paper towel, like recommended. Man, they aren't kidding. If it isn't wet enough, the phyllo dries out. If it's too wet, the phyllo sticks to it and rips. And it doesn't like being brushed with butter--that rips it too.

Another problem--the recipe says to cut it lengthwise into 8-9 strips. Are they working with a larger sheet? If I cut mine into that many strips, they would have been about a half inch tall. That doesn't seem like a very good filling to phyllo ratio. I cut mine into 3-4 strips.

If you are wondering what raw phyllo tastes like--it's floury but fairly tasty.

So you have your strip and you add some filling to the top corner.

Then you fold it over, like a flag, and just continue like that.

This was about the size I made my triangles. But it made the correct quantity, which is confusing if they are the wrong size.

Cooked, they looked delicious, but they just didn't trip my trigger. I don't know what the problem was...I think it was that strange consistency of the dehydrated mushrooms. And I never thought I'd say this--but I almost think they would have been better with just button mushrooms.

I also made the Hearty Meat Ragu (p. 101). I figured that this recipe was something that could be made moderately easily (it's made in a slow cooker). The recipe was fairly simple and straightforward--except for a couple lines. Here are two of the ingredients:
1. One 28-ounce can tomatoes, crushed, with juice
2. One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree

What's the difference? I have NO idea. So mine was made with two cans of crushed tomatoes. Was I just supposed to get a can of whole tomatoes and crush them myself? I didn't feel this was clear at all. What do you guys think?

I've got to stop taking pictures of the carrot/celery/onion/garlic mix. You've all seen in at least a dozen times by now.

My crockpot is old. It was my mom's, which is funny, because she hates crockpots. Her theory is that the pressure cooker does the same thing in a fraction of time, which is true. That being said, the crockpot isn't scary at all and the pressure cooker is extremely scary. I mean, when you want to suggest that something is intense and scary, you refer to it as a pressure cooker. Nobody says that they are afraid of getting in a slow cooker situation.

The chunks of meat in this sauce are fairly sizeable. Like a giant dork, I actually measured one of the chunks of meat to make sure that they were the correct size--and they were. It's a very red sauce.

It didn't feel very Italian. In fact, it didn't taste very Italian. But it was damn easy.

It made a LOT of sauce. These cooking frenzies are using up all of my Tupperware! I'm not going to have any left soon! I figure some can go into the freezer--it's great to be able to pull out some sauce when you are hungry.