Saturday, October 21, 2006

Panko and Ginger Crusted Chicken

I had some fun with last night's dinner... a slight adaptation of the Panko-and-Ginger-Crusted Chicken with Stir-Fried Vegetables and Sweet and Sour Mustard Sauce from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home. It's a really nice book, but I wish there were pictures of the dishes. The only pictures to be found are x-rays or photo paper impressions of various food items; they look neat but don't help the reader to envision the finished dishes. However, even without pictures, you get a good idea of what you'll end up with, since all of the recipes have descriptive titles that list most of the ingredients. The recipes have unexpected flavors or presentations, and are a nice change of pace for a home cook who might be looking to spice things up a bit (although not all of the recipes are as easy or quick as the one I chose).

For this dish, strips of chicken breast are coated with a mixture of panko breadcrumbs and minced ginger (1 tablespoon of ginger for each cup of panko) and fried in just a couple of tablespoons of oil. The ginger flavor is fairly strong, but not in a bad way. To balance the ginger, there's a honey-mustard sauce that's 2 parts honey to 1 part mustard, with a bit of rice wine vinegar added to cut the sweetness. The sauce recipe calls for Chinese mustard, but the local Giant didn't have any, so I used Dijon mustard. Since I had it in my head that Chinese mustard is hot, I added just enough cayenne pepper to give it a little kick. Not exactly the same as the recipe version, but I still ended up with a nice, tangy, sweet sauce.

The recipe calls for a veggie combo that I'm not crazy about (bok choy/leeks/water chestnuts/bean sprouts), so I stir-fried some bell peppers, carrots, and shallots instead. Broccoli would have been a nice addition, as would green beans or snap peas.

Definitely not a dish for anyone who doesn't like ginger or mustard or honey. Those are the three dominant flavors, and although they match well with each other, none of them is subtle.

I'm looking forward to trying some more recipes from this book, especially some of the desserts.

Panko and Ginger Crusted Chicken

Tuesday, October 17, 2006



Last night on my other blog, I pondered about whether or not a home cook without a tandoor oven would be able to make decent naan. Naan is an Indian flatbread, and it's traditionally baked in a special oven called a tandoor oven, something that's used a lot in Indian cooking. I don't have anything even close to a tandoor oven here, and if I did, I'd probably find a way to burn down my apartment building. The things burn HOT.

I turned to Nick Malgieri's A Baker's Tour, which is a book entirely about international baking. I figured, if I was going to find a decent naan recipe, it would be in this book. It's full of savory breads and pastries, sweet cakes and cookies, all adapted so that the average home cook can make them. As luck would have it, there's a recipe for naan in this book that requires either a skillet or a grill. It's a pretty standard bread dough: 4 cups of flour, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 packet of active dry yeast (2.5 tsp), 1.25 cups warm water, and 1.5 tbsp vegetable oil. My only real complaint about this book is that the recipes assume that everyone will be making their dough in a Kitchenaid stand mixer with a dough hook. I don't have a stand mixer, so I guessed at how long to knead by hand. Flatbreads can't have too much elasticity or it's too hard to flatten and stretch out the dough. For less elasticity, you knead less. In this case, I only kneaded for about 2 or 3 minutes. The dough rises for an hour, then gets shaped into balls and rises for another hour:

naan dough rising

Once the dough has risen, you heat up a skillet, covered. The skillet needs to be as hot as possible in order to properly cook the naan. One at a time, the balls of dough are flattened, stretched into 8" rounds, and then cooked in the skillet, covered, for about 2 minutes on each side. To finish, you brush them with melted butter and serve.

They turned out great; not exactly like the naan I've had at Indian restaurants, but close enough to make me happy. The texture was soft and tender, with just a few crispier spots on the outside where the dough had charred. Next time, I'm going to try to get them thinner, and I may also add some garlic to the dough. Garlic makes everything better, right?


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Monday, October 09, 2006

Shepherd's Pie

A few years ago, I was watching Martha Stewart Living, and Australian chef Donna Hay was doing a guest spot. She made a pasta dish with arugula and asparagus (I think), and I remember being impressed by how clean and simple the recipe was. Every recipe of hers that I've seen has been the same way: basic, easy, healthy food. When a copy of her Modern Classics (Book 1) came across the desk at the library, I decided to bring it home so I could finally TRY some of her recipes.

Tonight, I had a go at Donna Hay's shepherd's pie recipe. I've made shepherd's pie before, mostly from various Rachael Ray recipes, but the 30 minute ones don't have much "depth of flavor". Rachael Ray absolutely insists that all you have to do to make something taste slow-cooked is add canned broth... and I haven't found that to be the case at all. RR's basic shepherd's pie recipe gets just about all of its flavor from a cup of beef stock and a bit of Worcestershire sauce, and those flavors don't get any chance to incorporate or develop. The "gravy" isn't cooked with the filling, so it doesn't pick up any flavor from the meat or vegetables. The liquid literally only cooks for one minute before being stirred into the filling, and then everything goes together and under the broiler for 5 minutes. The flavor gets no chance to mellow out or deepen, and the finished filling tastes like... you guessed it, canned beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Don't get me wrong: I've had RR's shepherd's pie many times, and I usually go back for seconds. However, I know full well that it doesn't taste much like the "real thing", and that there's nothing particularly subtle or special about the flavors.

Donna Hay's recipe cooks longer and slower, and the flavors definitely get a chance to develop. The filling starts out with onions, carrots, and ground beef or lamb (I used ground beef, so technically what I have is cottage pie, not shepherd's pie). Once those have sautéed together and the meat is browned, you add tomato paste, tomatoes, beef stock, fresh thyme, and a bay leaf. This simmers for 15 minutes, then a cup of frozen peas is added, and it simmers for another 15 minutes. During this time, the liquid reduces down to almost nothing, and you're left with a thick filling that has a rich beef-tomato flavor. The assembled pie then bakes for 30 minutes. The mashed potatoes have butter, milk, and parmesan cheese, and are VERY flavorful as a result (and it's easy enough to scale back these ingredients if you're watching your sodium, fat, or cholesterol). Baking for 30 minutes browns the potatoes nicely, and gives them time to soak up some of the liquid from the filling.

Shepherd's Pie

I made a few changes to the recipe:

First, the recipe as written calls for a 14 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, but I don't really like having big chunks of tomatoes in sauces and fillings like this. I looked for a 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes to use instead, but the smallest size I could find was 28 oz. I improvised a bit, and used an 8 oz. can of no-salt-added tomato sauce, figuring that this would give me the needed liquid without the tomato chunks.

Also, instead of adding a cup of frozen peas, I added about 3/4 cup frozen peas and 3/4 cup of frozen corn... I wanted to add extra veggies to take up some of the volume that I'd be missing by not using the whole tomatoes. A year ago, it would have been entirely frozen corn, but I seem to be getting beyond my dislike of peas.

The recipe calls for you to stir 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese into the mashed potatoes. I have a tendency to almost subconsciously cut back on sodium when I can, so I sprinkled a couple of tablespoons of parmesan over the top of the potatoes just before baking. I still got plenty of parmesan flavor that way, but with much less sodium. And I sprinkled some paprika and fresh chives over the top as well... yay for garnishing. :)

Shepherd's Pie

Something I'd serve at a fancy dinner party with important company? No. Absolutely perfect comfort food? You bet.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake

Since it's just me here, I tend not to make cakes or other big desserts for myself. I feel silly making a big cake that I don't even eat 1/4 of before it starts going stale. However, every once in a while, I get an urge to bake something sweet, like this evening after Battlestar Galactica. My main restriction: I only had one egg on hand.

As a member of one of those mail-order book clubs for cookbooks, I got an unexpected copy of The Cake Book by Tish Boyle last month after forgetting to decline it as a featured selection. I decided to keep it, since I have plenty of bread-baking books, but no cake-baking ones.

So, I opened it up this evening, hoping to find a low-on-eggs recipe. The one I settled on was a Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake, which called for two eggs. However, since it calls for a 9"x9" square pan, I theorized that maybe I could halve the recipe and bake it in a 9"x5" loaf pan. I'd be able to make do with the one egg I had, and end up with a nice half-size cake better suited to just me. The results?

Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake

A moist, tender cake, with a slight tanginess from the sour cream, punctuated with fruity bursts of flavor from the blueberries. The crumb topping is crunchy and buttery... in short, I'm very happy with it.

Since this recipe was straight out of a book with no variations from me, I don't think I can legitimately post it. However, I can pass along the tip of the day: if you have a recipe for a cake for a 9"x9" pan, you should be able to halve it and bake it in a 9"x5" pan with no ill effects (although I wouldn't try it with a yeast-based cake). It's a nice size for a small gathering of 2 or 4 people.

There are many other cake recipes in this book that I would love to try out, either just on myself or on unsuspecting coworkers (the Library of Congress has the full recipe list available here). The recipes here aren't exactly low-maintenance, but if they come out as well as this one did, I'm willing to put in a little extra work.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Green Jalapeno Sambal

I nabbed a copy of Simply Ming by Ming Tsai from the library, and I'm loving just reading through it. It's organized differently than most cookbooks I've seen. Instead of a chapter of appetizers, a chapter of soups, etc, Ming gives 32 master recipes for different sauces, rubs, salsas, and oils, and then gives about 3 recipes using each master recipe as an ingredient. For example, there's a master recipe for Roasted Pepper-Lemongrass Sambal, and then that sambal is used in a Grilled Portobello Sandwich, Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, and Orzo with Sausage. I love the way it's organized, since you can pick out recipes based on flavors. If you want something fiery hot, you can pick one of the Traditional Spicy Sambal recipes; for something with lots of herb flavor, there are recipes using a Five-Herb Vinaigrette. The master recipes are great ways to make weeknight meals, because they are all designed to be storable. You can easily keep a master sauce or spice rub on hand and add it to a quick meal at the last minute.

I was inspired to give the Traditional Spicy Sambal a whirl, since the given recipe has a pretty lethal amount of jalapeño peppers and Thai chiles. I'm not a chilehead, but reasonably spicy food makes me happy. I planned to use the sambal in Ming's Crazy Chicken-Rice Noodle Stir-Fry. However, my local supermarket didn't have any red jalapeños, and also didn't have Thai chiles. Recipe adaptation time! They did have green jalapeños, so I grabbed a half-pound of those. I decided to just leave out the Thai chiles (since, quite honestly, it's plenty hot as is).

I have dealt with jalapeño peppers before, and have never needed to wear gloves. Of course, that was with one pepper, maybe two. Apparently, chopping up a half-pound of the things is not quite the same. As I started peeling the garlic, I noticed a slight tingling in the fingertips on my pepper-holding hand. Within a couple of minutes, this had progressed to unbelievable burning pain. This kicked off a desperate search to find something to neutralize the capsaicin and pepper oils... taking a double dose of both allergy medicine and Aleve and soaking my fingers in cold milk has just about gotten rid of the pain. So, even if you don't have a reaction when cutting up one or two jalapeños, WEAR RUBBER GLOVES if you're going to be working with a large volume of them. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and trust me, you don't want to learn this one the hard way.

If there's an easy way to peel an entire head of garlic, I don't know what it is. I smashed the cloves with the flat side of a knife, removed the peels, and then used my food processor to mince the cloves.

Green sambal

Green Jalapeño Sambal
makes about 1/2 cup

1/2 pound green jalapeño peppers, stems removed, and roughly chopped
1 head garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium saucepan over low heat, cook the jalapeños and garlic in the vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the rice wine vinegar and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and salt. Allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse to desired consistency. The sambal will keep in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for 1 month.


With the sambal finished, I could go ahead and use it in a dish -- namely, Ming's chicken and rice noodle stir-fry. The dish consists of ground chicken, sliced shallots, scallions, basil, and rice noodles tossed in a sauce made of sambal, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. I'm allergic to seafood and I don't know if fish sauce would cause me problems, so I left it out and just had a lime juice/sugar/sambal sauce. I also used ground turkey instead of chicken, because the supermarket didn't have any ground chicken.

Turkey and rice noodle stir-fry

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