Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paella Hindsight

So tonight I attempted a new recipe. The image capture on the recipe website I got it from made it look SO delicious, and the fancy name made it sound important. Paella. I've been walking around all week saying, Paella, just because it's fun. It also requires chorizo sausage, which also sounds important and exotic.
Well, like I've mentioned before, I am an amateur cook, at best. I can follow a recipe fairly well, but if it's not explicit, my cooking knowledge is not advanced enough to allow for much 'culinary common-sense' to take place. So this recipe was a chicken and sausage paella. It was a pretty easy, step-by-step recipe, but one thing left me confused. The first step was to "Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place it in the skillet to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes a side". It didn't say anything about, "Till juice run clear" like chicken instructions often do...but it also didn't say anything about NOT fully cooking the chicken in the skillet. And 4 or 5 minutes per side could be enough to cook a chicken breast if it's not a very big I was at a loss. And since I am SUPER paranoid about salmonella poisoning, and not full-up enough of that 'culinary common-sense' I decided to fully cook the chicken before adding it to the pan.
Well, the recipe has great potential. The rice mixture was quite outstanding. The chicken and sausage were a bit dry due to being fully cooked before being stuck in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Now that I read that back, even non-culinary common-sense should have told me that would happen, but alas, hindsight is always 20/20. I will make this recipe again, as I think it has the chance of being really great, but I will not fully cook the chicken before putting it in the oven. That should allow for a more tender and tasty meal.

Here's the recipe:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 4 legs and 4 thighs
Salt and pepper
16 ounces sausage (chorizo or kielbasa) cut into half-moon slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups medium-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of saffron
1 cup seeded and chopped tomato
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup frozen peas

1.Heat the oven to 400°. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place it in the skillet to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes a side. If needed, work in batches so the skillet isn't overcrowded.
2.Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Add the sausage to the pan and sauté it until lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the plate with the chicken.
3.Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Lower the heat to medium, then add the onion, red pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Add the rice, cumin, salt, and saffron. Stir to coat the rice and cook for about 1 minute.
4.Transfer the rice and vegetable mixture to an oiled 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Arrange the chicken and sausage on the rice and scatter the tomato over the top. Place the pan on the center oven rack and carefully pour the chicken stock over the meat and rice. Bake for 25 minutes.
5.Sprinkle the peas on top and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, another 10 to 15 minutes. Let the paella cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

My variations:
I used 4 chicken breasts cut into 8 pieces, instead of thighs and I opted out of putting frozen peas in, as we're not huge fans of frozen peas. Also, I didn't have any saffron, so we skipped it. Not sure how much a pinch would make a difference as I've never used saffron before, but it still tasted good without. Also, the chorizo sausage was not too spicy. I think it would have been too mild if I had used Kielbasa.

Thanks for stopping by. Maybe I'll post again when I've mastered this one.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Something old , something New

Tonight, a good majority of my family, bit Bourne and Williamson, will be joining us out the homestead to can peaches. My mom is an expert and has agreed to teach the rest. My contribution will be dinner. On today's menu: a classic recipe from my mom's kitchen pus a new recipe of my own. Chicken Broccoli Casserole and Double ChocolateChunk Brownies. The casserole is pretty simple to make, the hardest part is the arm muscles it takes to open the jars of soup cans by hand. It's also great because it's easy to feed a lot of people, it's a crowd favorite, and making extra for freezer meals is a breeze. I bought a few extra ingredients to make just such a freezer meal for the newly weds, Sarah and Tyson, because it's one of her favorites. The brownie recipe is one I saw on tv and my oldest critic (the chocolate lover) immediately said, "mom, you HAVE to make those.". Seems I didn't have a choice, so today was the day. The casserole also makes for easy clean-up so we can get to those wonderful peaches!


Cut-up cooked chicken (3 cans of Costco chicken)
2 cans cream soup (mushroom, chicken or celery)
1/4 cup of milk
1 tsp curry powder
Cut broccoli florets
Grated cheese
2 boxes Stove-top stuffing (cooked)

Mix together chicken, soup, and curry powder and spread in 9x13 baking dish
Cover with grated cheese
Top with stove-top stuffing
Cover with tin foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes in 350 degree oven

3/4 c sugar
2 tbsp water
1/3 c butter
8oz bittersweet chocolate (chopped)
2 eggs
4 oz white chocolate (chopped)
1/4 tsp each salt and baking soda
3/4 c flour
1 tsp vanilla

Bring water, sugar and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in 4 oz of bittersweet chocolate and stir till melted and combined. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Whisk in eggs.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to wet mixture. Stir in chopped chocolate and vanilla. Pour into parchment lined metal pan. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Allow to cool in pan.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mulligatawny Scrutinized

Seriously...amazing. That's all I've got to say. The recipe was so easy, it looked amazing while it was cooking with so many vibrant colors in the pot, and once that curry hit the pan the house was filled with irresistible aromas. The little critics kept coming into the kitchen and asking to be hoisted up so they could see in the pot. Lucy paraded around saying, "It smells so good in here!" That sounds like a good chance for a positive review.

And the critics review:

Guest Critic:
"seriously, Heather, that was amazing soup. I wish my stomach was bigger so I could have more." I don't anyone truly wishes their stomach to be bigger...but it was a nice sentiment.

Young Critics:
although it took them a while to actually try it...half an hour of coaxing...once they did, the little one cleared his plate and his bigger sister did pretty well for herself too. Good thing Auntie was able to convince them with the promise of timbits after dinner.

"You will definitely be making this again"
When did he get so bossy? But it's true...I will DEFINITELY be making that one again. It's the kind of soup that is so easy to make, but will have everyone believing you are one awesome chef!
Sounds like a perfect recipe.

Stunned By Soup

It is September 17th, and it snowed last night. This year has been really off. We've had rain for a week, and now we're heading into snow...already. My sister has called and asked if she could come be a guest critic in my kitchen tonight (oh, these sly people and their sneaky ways of getting invited for dinner). So we're attempting soup. I guess in my mind, snow + sisters = soup.
I remember as a young-adult watching an episode of a popular television show that introduced the world to the soup-nazi. The term "Nazi" is used as an exaggeration of the excessively strict regimentation he constantly demands of his patrons otherwise they would hear the words, "No Soup For You!" The soup was described as stunning. You can't eat it standing up, your knees will buckle. It was on this episode that I first heard of a soup called, "Mulligatawny". I had no idea what it was, or what it comprised of, but I knew that all the characters in the show were going nuts over it. As I was perusing a recipe website last week I came across a recipe for Mulligatawny, and I recalled my ignorance to this soup as I watched that TV show. So I decided to check it out. Turns out, it's pretty straight forward (at least in it's description) and sounds rather tasty. Basically an Indian Chicken Soup...with rice instead of noodles. Chicken, veggies and rice in a curry broth. So tonight, this kitchen is serving up Mulligatawny...and although I will probably hear the younger critics saying things like "No Soup For Me!" I'm hoping all will be satisfied.


4 tablespoons butter (or 2 tablespoons olive oil)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 apple, cored, peeled, and chopped
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
1/2 cup flour
2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder
5 cups chicken broth
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
Salt and pepper
2 cups hot cooked rice

1.Melt the butter, or heat the oil, in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, green pepper, apple, and chicken, and sauté for about 15 minutes. Turn the heat to low.
2.In a small bowl, mix together the flour and curry powder. Add the mixture to the pot, then stir and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes. Partially cover the pot and simmer the soup for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
3.To serve, place about 1/4 cup of rice in a bowl and ladle the soup over the rice. Makes about 8 cups.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Made to Order

The sous-chef told me I should make a food blog post today...I think that's his way of hinting he wants some good eats. Not very subtle...and rather sly, as he knows I would love to devote some time to blogging.

I have previously touted my love of a restaurant chain called CPU, because you can buy pizza by-the-slice and everyone gets to choose their favorite. And the slices are large enough that one piece per person is usually enough (very cost effective!) We have a wide range of pizza-tastes in our family, and satisfying everyone with a single pizza is impossible. We have the cheese-lover, the pepperoni-addict, and the parents whose taste has ventured past the simpleness of a cheese or pepperoni and actually like to see a few vegetables on their pizza. Shock! Let's not get crazy and add olives on there anytime soon though.
As convenient as pizza-by-the slice is, ordering any sort of take-out food when you live a few miles out of town is never convenient. There's no delivery, so it either means packing all the critics into their car-seats to pick up food, or hoping the sous-chef can stop on his way home...and get the order right, and on-time. (on-time = my time)
Solution: made-to-order home. Tonight, is pizza night, and we're going to skip the frozen, boxed pizzas that we usually do and actually enjoy something 'slightly' homemade. It's still a store bought (albeit fresh and not frozen) pizza crust, but the toppings will be all mine. I'm envisioning a white on white pizza for the oldest critic, to feed her love of all things dairy. But what shall I call this plain cheese pizza? While looking at paint samples recently, I was amazed at the number of different ways a paint store can jazz up the color white. There's painters white? egg-shell? (sounds too Oscar the Grouch - that's a color left for walls and not for pizza) how about abalone? unicorn white? or "In the buff". Or I could make reference to my extremely white (nary see-through) family. We are white on white. So we'll call it, the English pizza.
Critic #2 will have his usual salty meats pizza - the Italian.
And the chefs - we're having the Canadian...a friendly mix of everything. A nice melting pot of culture.
Critic # 3 will have to settle for the usual jar of strained peas and applesauce as his pallet isn't quite ready for pizza yet. Oh, just you wait, little man.

Start by brushing outer edge of pizza crust with garlic butter and sprinkle with cornmeal or sesame seeds.
Use pizza cutter to divide pizza into portions by scoring the dough. This way, everyone's made-to-order pizza is precise and we don't hear things like, "His pepperoni is touching my cheese!"

The English:

Using leftover alfredo sauce from pasta dish earlier in the week, brush pizza crust with sauce, giving it a nice layer, but not too thick, because she doesn't like it 'too saucy'.
Cover with Kraft Pizza cheese and sprinkle with parmessan.

The Italian:
Spread tomato pizza sauce over crust
Cover with semi-circular cut pieces of pepperoni (he likes this shape best)
Cover with Kraft Pizza cheese and sprinkle with parmessan

The Canadian:
Tomato sauce
red peppers

The Experiment (the sous chef tells me that outstanding pizza sometimes comes at a cost, when I explained that I would have to defrost chicken breast and cook it before I made this pizza. Extra work is not what pizza night is about...the extra cost will be in man-hours I guess)
alfredo sauce (spicy)
grilled chicken
(our version of the chicken club - we'll see how it goes)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Seasons of Change

Rain seems to have settled into Southern Alberta these past few weeks. Sunscreen, shorts and BBQ tools have all been put away in place of sweaters, socks, and stock-pots. It feels like a hearty-food day. I receive semi-regular emails from They have crafts and Disney destination coupons (that's a dream for another time!) and recipes. Most of the time I discard the emails with barely a glance, but a big bold "LASAGNA SOUP" link caught my eye. A trip to the website and 25 soup recipes later, I decided to give it a try:
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 lbs Italian Sausage
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes
6 c. chicken broth
2 bay leaves
8 oz rotini pasta
2 1/2 tbsp basil
salt & pepper to taste
8 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
sprinkle with mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Ad sausage, break up with a wooden spoon and cook until sausage is no longer pink. About 5-7 minutes. Drain fat and add onion. Cook until soft (5 minutes). Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Sauté for one minute.
Add tomato paste and sauté until paste turns rusty brown. Add diced tomatoes, chicken broth and bay leaves and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add pasta. Increase heat to med-high and boil until pasta is tender. Discard bay leaves, stir in basil, salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, salt and pepper. To serve, place 1 tbsp of ricotta mixture in bowl. Sprinkle with mozzarella and ladle soup on top.

A few of my own tricks:
I added a bit more noodles than required as I was feeding a few extra people that night. It made this into more of a stoup than a soup, but still tasted delicious.
I put the diced tomatoes in the food processor before adding to the soup to make them a bit less chunky in consistency, as I knew I would hear: "I don't like tomatoes" from a few of the critics.
Also, this meal would be equally good and a little less spicy with ground beef rather than Italian Sausage.

Critics Review:
Although the kids were barely above ho-hum about this meal, I did receive a "this is like your smokie-pasta, only better!" from the sous-chef. I'll take that. Plus, the sous-chef's mom stopped by for dinner too and was generous with compliments as well. This one gets a page in the recipe book. Plus, it was still great for left-overs the next day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome to my Kitchen

Good food brings people together. I have chosen to create this food blog in an effort to combine three of my greatest loves, my family, cooking, and writing. I have become a bit of a Food-Network junkie as of late. It started as an interest, mostly because it's tame television to have on while kids are around, and has quickly turned into an obsession. I love watching these chefs who really know what they're doing, start with nothing and create such masterpieces. I envy their abilities and always head to the kitchen determined to create something masterful myself. I'm an amateur chef at best, but I am determined to get past the dinner doldrums. It's amazing that I have come to this place. As a child, I was somewhat of a fussy eater. I can remember many a night, sitting at the kitchen table until long after my siblings were done, just trying to will my mouth to swallow peas. That's still a difficult one for me, but my taste in all other areas of cuisine has widely expanded. To the point of being thrilled with the idea of presenting something to my family and having them turn back to me and say, "This is the best *chicken, pasta, soup...fill in the blank* I've ever had!" Of course, their variety of chefs is very limited at this point, but if I can do better than I did last week, then that's a win for me.
I love the precision that cooking takes. Timing and measuring to ensure things come out 'just right'. A dash too much of this, or opening your oven a moment too soon can make the difference between a triumphant soufflé or a inedible flop. When so much of my life is geared towards racing to the final product, rather than joy in the journey, I love the strict timeliness that cooking takes. There aren't many things you can fake in the kitchen. So, if you care to come along for the journey, I plan to expand my cooking horizons past the Old El Paso taco kits and frozen foods section and begin to create some tantalizing treats in the kitchen, and to see what recipes make it to real print in my recipe binder...and who knows, maybe in the process I might create some great memories and an opportunity for my family and I to share a moment together around the dinner table each night.