Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chicken rice casserole (p. 96)

I always have a lot of excess poached chicken in the refrigerator because I tend to make chicken stock with whole chickens (whole chickens are really cheap and I like the leftover chicken). I have had Chicken rice casserole (p. 96) on my "to-make" list for a long time and thought that it would be the perfect time to finally make it.

I love mushrooms. And I love sauteed mushroom best of all. As I made these mushrooms, I thought that I was really hungry for a mushroom and Swiss burger...but I continued on with the casserole:

I added flour to the mushrooms and stirred it for a while:

I then whisked in some chicken broth and half-and-half (I never actually use store bought h&h, I just mix cream and milk). The floury mushrooms did not play want to play well with others--it was not easy to get them mixed in, especially with a whisk. I was supposed to cook it until smooth. It was at this point that I realized I should have read the recipe before starting--you think I would have learned my lesson by now considering this has happened before. I needed cooked rice--and I didn't have any.

Now, my dad and stepmother got me a rice cooker for Christmas that I am really excited about but I have been so busy that I haven't figured out how to use it yet. And rice is my high-altitude enemy--the only rice that consistently turns out is sushi rice and that wasn't what I needed. So I prepared baked rice, popped the pot in the oven, and hoped the sauce wouldn't thicken too fast.

Of course it thickened right away. So I turned it down, stirred in the chicken, and hoped for the best.

And the rice turned out--first try for once!

I stirred it in. I didn't include the nuts because Josh doesn't really like nuts (crazy!) and I knew he would be eating a lot of of the casserole. I poured the whole thing into a baking dish.

I mixed bread crumbs, Parmesan, and melted butter and sprinkled it on top:

It was baked until golden brown:

I'm really conflicted about this recipe. One one hand, I really liked the crunchy top and it had a lot more crunch than most casseroles. One the other hand, it was fairly bland. If I made this again, I would include some sort of veggie like corn or peas and some cheese. Some cheese would really have helped the casserole in my opinion.

This recipe would be absolutely perfect if you were cooking a meal for the friends who just had a new baby or something like that--I'm sure it would be fine refrigerated (or even frozen) and then popped into the oven and baked. It's exactly what I would make for my friend Ben, who is about to become a new father, if I lived in Arkansas. It would also be perfect for those of you who cook for people who like bland food (I feel for you, that would drive me absolutely insane).

And the third group it's perfect for are those who are insanely busy (like those writing a dissertation) who like to get home to easy-to-heat food at 8 am (because they are newly nocturnal). That might be a small group but it includes yours truly, so look forward to a month of easy-to-heat food on TJOTJOC. Any ideas of food that fits the bill but I haven't tried yet would be greatly appreciated.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Pickled beet salad (p. 166) and Sauteed bacon (p. 508)

Pickled beet salad (p. 166) was on my randomly selected list and I've been meaning to make it for a while, but, honestly, it's difficult for me to get excited about pickled beets.

I combined cider vinegar, the beet juice that I drained off the canned beets, sugar, peppercorns, cloves, bay leave, and salt in a saucepan. I boiled it, then let it sit for a half hour, boiled it again, and then poured it on the beets.

Absolutely delicious! I have managed to get over my dislike of beets, a problem I totally blame on my father burning me out on the veggie. If you like vinegar this is the recipe for you! The beets are sweet, the vinegar is sour, and the broth is well seasoned. Make sure everyone in your house likes vinegar if you make this recipe--it makes the entire house smell like you were just cleaning the coffeepot. And don't forget that beets can make your pee red--I imagine some people find that a little disconcerting.

Sauteed bacon (p. 508) is one of those asinine TJOC recipes that I don't think you actually need a recipe for. You take bacon, throw it in a pan, and cook until crisp. Is a recipe needed? Who doesn't know how to sautee bacon?

The only thing this recipe taught me was to use medium-low heat instead of the high heat I usually use--I liked the way the bacon turned out. Bacon is absolutely delicious and I used it to make some delicious BLT's (with the Bibb lettuce and tomato that were originally destined for the Cobb salad I chose against making). Yum! You can't go wrong with a BLT.

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Chicken or ham salad spread (p. 180), Chicken noodle soup (p. 125), and Cream of watercress or purslane soup (p. 145)

TJOC has about ten different versions of chicken salad sprinkled throughout various chapters in the book. I've made most of them because I constantly have a lot of leftover poached chicken from making chicken stock. I noticed that I hadn't made Chicken or ham salad spread (p. 180) yet. It was an easy recipe--I mixed chicken, mayonnaise, pecans, bread-and-butter pickles, celery, and a little tiny bit of red pepper.

It was really good! The pickles lent a little bit of sweet and crunchy (along with the celery), the pecans were crunchy, and the flavors were really well balanced. Josh hates bread-and-butter pickles (although they are my very favorites) and even he liked this chicken salad. It was really good with crackers too. As much as I adore ham, I don't think it would be as good as it was with chicken.

I had a bunch of chicken stock and noticed that I hadn't made Chicken noodle soup (p. 125) even though it was an amazingly simple recipe. I boiled some chicken stock, stirred in some egg noodles, and cooked until tender. I also added some chicken (although the recipe doesn't call for it, which seems really odd to me).

I know the picture just looks like chicken stock but it was one of those recipes that doesn't take an impressive picture. The chicken soup was good, but boring, and needed a lot of salt. I don't think I would bother to make this again and I don't think a recipe is really needed--how difficult is it to heat up stock, throw in noodles, and then add chicken? Do you really need a recipe?

The real problem was that as I was moving the pot from the stove to the counter, boiling soup splashed out of the pot and onto my hand, scalding it. Through some miracle, I managed not to drop the pot on the floor (which would have burned my feet) and I managed not to pour it down myself. Luckily, the dog wasn't in the kitchen (for once) and didn't get burned. Even so, my hand hurt really bad and I managed to scald both the top of my hand and my palm. And since I had already started to make Cream of watercress or purslane soup (p. 145), I had to finish with an aching hand (thankfully I had a Hello Kitty! gel pack to wrap around it).

I happened to have watercress on hand because I keep meaning to make inroads in the "Salads" chapter (and I never do). Josh told me that he was excited because he liked watercress, which blew my mind. I mean, I've never even had watercress and he's had it often enough to like it? Then I realized he was talking about water chestnuts. He was a watercress novice too. If you wonder what watercress tastes like, I think it has a nice, peppery flavor.

I combined poultry stock and rice and simmered it until the rice is tender. I then added some chopped watercress (which I should have pureed rather than chopped--and I chopped them none to well), heavy cream, and a little parsley.

I then added two eggs (in the way that TJOC always recommends--I added some hot soup to the beaten eggs, mixed it together, and then added it all back to the pot.

This was really good! The watercress was novel (to me) and I really like cream soups. The eggs definitely thickened the soup and made it more filling. I would make this recipe again but I would puree the watercress instead of chopping it. And don't try to immersion blend this soup--it will just clog it up (...not that I would know from experience...).

You might notice that my posts are late again. I am desperately trying to finish my dissertation so that I can graduate! I have inverted my schedule so that I work about midnight-7 am at the office, which is working really well because nobody is around to distract me! The biggest problem is that it is nearly impossible to get to the bank, the mall, or any errands done! How do people who work at night do it??

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My advice to would-be cookthrough bloggers

So you want to start a cookthrough blog...
I've been asked my advice by several people lately who are interested in starting their own CTB. Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely love TJOTJOC and it's been an absolutely terrific hobby. My goal is to learn how to cook and it's totally working!

My advice to would-be CTBloggers:

1. Don't start with a book like Gourmet or TJOC. Start with a cookbook that has 200-300 recipes. You will have time to grow a readership and if you like having a CTB, you can pick a bigger cookbook when you are done! As much as I love TJOTJOC, it's kind of depressing that I'm probably not even 15% done and I've been working on it for 2.5 years. If I could go back in time, I would probably still pick TJOC, but it would be with my eyes more open. Also, if you pick a well-known cookbook, you have built-in readers! There are lots of cookbooks out there that I'm astounded nobody is cooking through.

2. Pick a book in which you truly think you will like the vast majority of the recipes. If you don't like baking, stay away from books that have a lot of baked goods in them. Seems obvious, right?

3. Hedge your bets against a new edition coming out in the middle of your CTB. It's harder for people to follow along if they have a different edition of the cookbook. It's a big fear of mine!

4. Realize that the CTB is going to take over your life. In a good way. I can talk about TJOC for hours. I think about it when I'm in the grocery store, farmer's market, and kitchen stores.

5. Make sure you can stick to blogging. And cooking. At least for now. Life gets really busy.

6. Realize the odds of you getting a book deal out of the CTB is very, very low. Julie Powell was a lucky women.

7. Know that it gets expensive at times. The punch and glogg I made for New Year's Eve cost about a $150 in alcohol. And TJOC is a relatively inexpensive cookbook! I've been putting off the truly expensive recipes.

That's all I can think of for now but I'm sure I will update this post. I know other CTBloggers read this blog--what is your advice? Am I jaded? Does anyone have any other questions?

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Chicken or turkey chili hash with sweet potatoes (p. 108)

I had a lot of extra chicken because I made a double batch of chicken stock, which results in two poached chickens. I thought Chicken or turkey chili hash with sweet potatoes (p. 108) sounded okay. I only thought it sounded okay because TJOC's pork hash wasn't very good--it was bland and sludgy.

I sauteed an onion with some jalapenos and poblano peppers. I was worried at this point--I didn't use near as many peppers as I was supposed to and it still seemed like a LOT of peppers:

I then added potatoes and sweet potatoes--the yellow ones are from dad's garden (the last of my take):

I finally added cooked chicken. I cooked it until brown and then added chicken broth and chili powder:

I LOVED THIS HASH! It was so good! The potatoes were crisp and the mixture of white and sweet potatoes were perfect. It was only a little spicy--I will add more peppers next time. The jalapenos and poblanos really mellowed out during the cooking. This recipe is the perfect use of extra poached chicken or even rotisserie chicken. I'll admit it. This recipe made a lot of hash and I ate it all. It fed me three meals but I didn't offer Josh any--it was too delicious! Honestly, this is one of my favorite recipes in the BLS section of TJOC. I'm now looking forward to the final hash recipe!

The recipe is online and I would love to hear other people's opinions on it if you make it.
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Cocoa meringue kisses (p. 771) and Cherry marshmallow nut gelatin (p. 812)

I have had both a success and a fail with previous meringue kisses. I LOVED the nutty meringue kisses and had high hopes for Cocoa meringue kisses (p. 771). They were made exactly like the other meringue kisses (much like TJOC itself, I'm going to send you to previous posts if you want to know the beginning of the recipe) except cocoa is added with the sugar.

Again, the stupid cookies didn't rise!

And were flat!

ARGH! Why won't they consistently turn out? I loved the nutty meringue kisses when they worked! I know other people who live in high-altitude read this blog--any advice? The egg whites just won't whip up stiff.

That being said, the flavor of the cookies was really good but extremely chocolatey. They were way lighter than they looked and were light and delicious. I love meringues, why don't they love me? I'm going to keep trying to fix the problem because I think the cookies will eventually be worth it. Honestly, these are the ultimate diet cookies. They only have egg whites, almost no sugar, and some extracts.

After eying some of those marshmallow fluffy desserts in the deli, I decided to try to make my own. I thought Cherry marshmallow nut gelatin (p. 812) might be close.

I mixed boiling water (I just read an article in Cook's Illustrated about how you should measure the water after boiled, not before, because of evaporation loss), cherry gelatin, and club soda (which made the mixture fizz furiously).

I mixed in cherries, almonds, and marshmallows:

And refrigerated it. While it wasn't what I was looking for, it was good. Really, really, really sweet though. If you don't like extremely sweet desserts (and I don't), this is not the dessert for you. The almonds and cherry flavors went well together--you don't realize how similar the flavors are until you smell almond extract.

If you've noticed an uptick in my cooking, it's because I am working on my PhD dissertation and finishing up my data so I can analyze it. It takes all of my brain power and I'm using cooking to decompress and relax. So, for the next two months, I think I will probably cook a whole lot. And the more stressed I get, the more interesting truly complex recipes look. Does anyone else calm down by cooking?

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vanilla pudding (p. 807) and Baked fresh fruit compote (p. 213)

I actually have no idea what motivated me to make Vanilla pudding (p. 807) when I don't like pudding whatsoever. I think it was stress over the fact that I haven't made almost any desserts, and while I'm doing well in most of the savory chapters, I'm not doing well on the sweet chapters.

Again, I don't like pudding. In fact, I don't believe anyone truly likes pudding. And I haven't made a pudding since my cooking class my freshman year of high school

I mixed sugar, cornstarch, and salt, and then slowly mixed in a little milk to make a paste. I whisked in some more milk:

And stir, stir, stir, stir until it simmers. I mixed a little of the milk mixture into a beaten egg and then added that back to the milk mixture. Make sure to mix it enough or you will have scrambled eggs in your pudding (a fast way to make pudding even more disgusting).

And stir, stir, stir until it thickens:

I mixed in some vanilla and poured it into a bowl:

And refrigerated the whole mess. It looked beautiful, exactly like pudding is supposed to look. I was quite proud of it. But, again, I don't like pudding, so I didn't really want to eat it. Unfortunately, it seemed a real waste to make it and throw it away. So I thought maybe a nice topping would help.

So for the topping I went to another chapter I haven't been doing well on--Fruits. I decided to make Baked fresh fruit compote (p. 213) with pears.

I chopped the pears into large slices--but didn't core them. It doesn't say to core pears or apples, which seems really strange to me. I poured a red wine/sugar/cinnamon/cloves/salt/lemon mixture over the top:

And I popped it in the oven. At that point, I noticed that the recipe doesn't say how long the fruit should be in the oven--just "until tender". I know this is likely because different fruits take different amounts of time. Even so, it took well over an hour to become tender which seemed really excessive. In fact, I'm not even sure I cooked it enough--it was fork tender but not tender tender (if that makes any sense).

Note: This recipe WILL make your entire house smell like cinnamon for a couple days. I don't like cinnamon, so it was making me nauseous, but people buy air fresheners to make their houses smell like the compote.

The pudding with the compote was good! The pudding is extremely creamy and vanilla and actually was pretty good! And the pears had a nice, fully flavored taste that really added. Vanilla and pears always go well together. I can't say the recipe sold me on puddings but at least it made it worth the effort.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

U.S. Senate bean soup (p. 133) and Tuscan beans (p. 255)

First things first, if you read my posts in a blog reader, you probably never look at the sidebars on the actual blog. So you don't know that I have a Facebook fan page! Please join, when I write ten posts in a day and backdate them, I will let you know! Plus, it's terrific for my self-esteem to get new fans.

For my last days at mom's house, I decided to make some bean recipes. Josh doesn't like beans, and although I do like them, sometimes TJOC recipes make an enormous amount of food. U.S. Senate bean soup (p. 133) has looked tasty to me for quite some time.

I soaked some white beans overnight and then added them to a soup pot with a ham hock and water:

I simmered it for about an hour, shredded the meat off the ham hock (mom was absolutely shocked there was so much meat on the ham hock), and added diced celery, onion, potato, and garlic.

It was then cooked again and it became creamy!

I didn't even have to mash it to get it that creamy! I thought it was really good. That being said, it didn't seem like a soup at all. A stew, maybe, but not soup. The ham lent a nice saltiness to the whole thing and it was really flavorful. TJOC says that this recipe is actually served in the U.S. Senate! The recipe is online.

I like Tuscan beans (p. 255). And the recipe was amazingly easy. I combined the beans, some sage, garlic, and olive oil in a pot and covered it with water:

When the beans were tender, it was done!

A little salt and pepper and it was perfect. I drizzled some olive oil on the top and it was absolutely delicious. This would be a perfect side dish if you were inviting over vegans for dinner--easy and filling. I used more garlic, which I really recommend, otherwise it's a little bland. And make sure you thoroughly salt the beans!

The recipe for Tuscan beans is online. Let me know what you think if you make it!

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Egg salad (p. 164) and Drip coffee (p. 30)

This is a simple blog post, each recipe with only one picture.

I don't like Egg salad (p. 164), so this is another post in the list of foods my mom likes that I needed to make while I was home so mom could eat it.

The egg salad was easy--I chopped up hard-boiled eggs and mixed it with mayonnaise and a little onion:

Mom said it was the perfect egg salad. It's bizarre to me because it has almost no ingredients--it must be the ratios. I think people probably go over the top with mayonnaise although it's not necessary because of all the egg yolk. Mom said that lots of coworkers lustily eyed her egg salad sandwich the next day.

I don't drink coffee, although I do have a coffeepot. My mom has always sworn that everyone should have a coffeepot for guests and it actually does get used by other people relatively frequently. Even so, I've never made Drip coffee (p. 30), believe it or not. The only time I drink coffee is when I really need the caffeine and can't get to a nice can of Coke. And I then fill it full of cream and sugar.

TJOC's recipe is more about the quantity of water per coffee, which I followed, and then I followed the directions for the coffee maker:

I still didn't drink any, but my mom said the coffee was good. Not much to say about the topic, it's just coffee, right?

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cream of onion soup (p. 145) and Sauteed chicken livers (p. 440)

I have been getting amazingly behind on the randomly selected list so I looked it over to see if there was anything that I didn't want to eat but that mom would enjoy. Cream of onion soup (p. 145) was an obvious choice--I don't really like onions but my mom loves them.

Be very, very careful at the first step of the recipe--you cook two cups of diced onions in some butter over medium heat for TWENTY MINUTES! That's a really long time. The onions really, really wanted to burn. My mom was convinced that they wouldn't make it the full time--but they did.

I added flour and salt to the onions and then added turkey stock and heavy cream. After the mixture was cooked for a while, I added some of the hot soup to some beaten egg yolks:

That mixture was added back to the pot:

And done! It didn't even require any immersion blending! Mom really liked it and it was really easy. I think it would have been particularly good with onions out of the garden and it really showcases the onion flavor (there are almost no other ingredients). The recipe doesn't make very much soup, only four cups, so if you are anything like mom or I, you probably want to double it.

When I spotted Sauteed chicken livers (p. 440) on the randomly selected list, I knew mom would be eating that rather than me. Chicken livers are very cheap and I wish I liked them! But I don't. When I was working on my Master's degree I was trained for a beef flavor taste panel which highly sensitized me to livery flavor. I went from not liking the flavor of liver to absolutely despising it.

I rinsed them and separated them into their lobes.

I then cooked them for about a minute on each side in some butter. Watch them, they pop! In fact, some of them flipped themselves over at the minute mark (apparently, chicken livers are helpful).

I removed the chicken livers and then added onion to the pan, cooking it until it was brown and "crisp".

Apple juice was added and the crispy bits were scraped up. I added some turkey stock (the grocery store had turkey backs for $.30 each and I couldn't resist) and reduced it until it was syrupy.

And then popped the livers back in:

I actually think that picture is pretty attractive! Too bad it's of chicken livers. The whole house smelled like liver--it was disgusting. My mom was ecstatic. She said it was totally different than how she made them but they had a nice flavor. She even (gag) ate them cold the next day (gag). It hurts me to even type that. Be careful if you make these--there is a lot of chances to burn the whole thing and ruin all of your hard work.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

French bread (p. 601)

First things first--my mom's new dog loves to watch me take pictures:

I think that's about the cutest picture of a dog that I've seen in a long time.

I've been failing at the breads and coffee cakes chapter big time. It's mostly because I'm absolutely terrified of bread making at high altitude. The first time my mom visited she attempted to make bread. It failed and she swears she stayed up all night angry about it, so she got up at 5 am to try again. It was much better but still not to her liking. So I've always thought that if my mom, an accomplished bread baker failed, what the heck could I do?

So mom brought up making bread when I was home in Iowa. I thought it was a great idea and started flipping through TJOC. Mom had neither bread flour or milk, one of which is required in almost every TJOC bread recipe. I finally found one that would work--French bread (p. 601).

The recipe has very few ingredients--all-purpose flour, salt, and dry yeast were mixed together. This recipe is slightly strange because the yeast is mixed directly into the flour instead of being mixed with water first. My mom mentioned that my great-aunt, whose baking skills are legendary in my family, always made bread this way.

I made a well in the center and poured in some water:

I then mixed it with my hands until it was "soft and elastic".

The bread went into an oiled dish and was covered (clean towel, ziploc bag, almost the same thing):

Until it doubled in size (a couple hours):

I punched it down and then let it rise again. Eventually, I rolled the loaves out and laid them on a greased pan:

I scored the top of the bread (I did diagonal stripes but TJOC mentions that you can also do one long horizontal stripe):

It looked perfect!

The bread was delicious! Nice and crusty, like a good baguette (or even a good Italian bread). Mom and I expected it to get hard very quickly (because of the total lack of preservatives) but it really didn't. The baguette made amazing little ham sandwiches! The bread was easy and quick--it was actually really fun to make.

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