Saturday, May 14, 2011

Orange You Glad ...

Every now and again, I seem to go through color themes with my food. Today, it's orange: carrots, orange rind / juice - and a casserole that came out mildly orange, to boot - and dried mango. No bananas.

This morning, I prepared the chicken for the slow cooker and also did some preparation for the other two meals. It was harder to get the broiler chicken apart than I had anticipated, and I knew that leaving it bone-in would contribute to the flavor, so I didn't want to pull it apart too much. I was also honestly afraid of injuring myself by breaking the bones. The chicken's, not mine.

Hmm. Reminded my knife needs sharpening. Back in a minute!

I love sharpening knives. It makes me feel competent and maniacal. And since I've last done this, I've cut candy bars, dried mango and a mayonnaise bottle (sigh), so it definitely needed doing.

I was concerned I had too much chicken - the liquid didn't fully cover it - but decided not to mess with it and headed out to my rehearsal. Came home to an awesome smell from the slow cooker. Everything had melded perfectly ... but forbidden by the laws of slow cooking to touch it until I was ready to remove it, I started about the carrot casserole instead.

I don't know how much carrot I lost through attrition: I kept having to switch bowls, and each time, I either left a bit in the bowl or eat some of it or both. Just the carrots alone are very sweet, and then sugar goes in ... this one baked for a long time, longer than advertised, until I was sure of its doneness and a scary, puffy dome had formed just northeast of the middle.

Final verdict (carrot casserole): This was very good and very easy. It's not cloying, though you can definitely taste the sweetness. The texture is silky. Thumbs up.

Still not sure if I'm doing something wrong with scones, if there was something particularly off about Nigella's recipe (see last week), or if stickiness is just the nature of them. The mango scones weren't nearly as sticky as their predecessors, but I still ended up with abomidable snow-hands mixing them. Decided to be cutesy and use the heart-shaped cookie cutters.

Also forgot until after I had the oven fully heated (from 325F for the casserole to 400F for the scones) that I needed to brush milk on the top. Curses!

While waiting for the chicken to finish and the scones to go in, I finished up the cranberry chicken, using a fork to pull the chicken off the bone. I promptly, accidentally turned off the timer for the casserole while trying to microwave the butter, but it only had about half a minute anyhow. Brown sugar went in (an optional ingredient), because I can always do with more sweet.

Final verdict (chicken): These are very homey, comforting flavors - for my version, both the cranberry and the orange are distinct. Easy as anything.

Final verdict (scones): For scones, these are fairly dense, but not unpleasantly so, and the dried mango adds a sneak of sweetness. It's not even necessarily recognizable as mango, just a surprise texture and some fruitiness.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 5/14

Let us just say: Friday the 13th has lived up to its reputation for me. It has been one of those days.

Since I have a rehearsal tomorrow, the plan is to experiment with a slow cooker main course. I had a lot of fun over this week browsing recipes, and finally ended up with:

Cranberry Chicken - Slow Cooking (Joanna White)
Carrot Casserole - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker and Casserole (a compilation from
Mango Scones - Teatime (Clare Gordon-Smith)

One important substitution: after high-level talks with my mother about the purpose and autonomy of fresh cranberries in the chicken, along with the impossibility of locating said, I decided to use two thirds whole berry cranberry sauce, one third dried cranberries. If it works, it will get written in permanently.

No other substitutions, except my usual malarky of cutting back on the onion, and I decided not to make the peaches and cream that is supposed to go with the scones.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Flour In My Hair

Today, my cooking was all backwards, due to the necessity of dinner sitting in the fridge for a few hours to meld. I still started with ice cream, however. Mashing the blueberries was a bit difficult: a fork was too small, a potato masher too large.

At this point, I have the whole process down to a science ... to the point where I was able to tell it was ready even though the liquid wasn't holding to the back of the spoon quite as expected. I use an ice bath even when the instructions don't call for it: it cuts down on the cooling time.

It's aliiiiive! About twenty minutes after I put the mixture into the ice cream machine, I looked in and part of it was trying to crawl out of the bowl. I was afraid that the ice cream had designs on world domination. (That's my job.) So this makes a bit more than standard capacity.

Despite previous remarks, I did not cut back on the amount of fruit (though I may have used slightly less than two cups). However, when I took the mixing arm out, a lot of blueberry skins had stuck to it, and I removed the majority. I could already tell at this point that the flavor was more than blueberry-ee enough.

Used a little less than two teaspoons of vanilla. Sheesh, I've been baking consistently less than a year and I've already turned into one of those people who eyeballs everything. I still use the measuring spoons, but I over / under fill them fairly frequently and always seem to end up with the right amounts.

Final verdict (ice cream): This is probably one of the better ice creams I've made. It's intensely flavorful and the texture is just right - the blueberry skins provide a nice variety. That sounds like it would be unpleasant, but it really works.

Stuck the chicken in the oven at this point. I am eyeing six split chickenbreasts realizing just how much meat I am going to end up with, but no backing down now. Forth we into the lemon ricotta cookies.

By this time, I figure my grocery store must think I have a lemon addiction. I seem to buy at least one almost every week. A few weeks back, it was four. This is, perhaps, not untrue. I love the tang of lemon in just about anything.

Cookies were a breeze, though for some reason, when I tried to cream the butter and sugar at anything other than low, it spat butter at me. I ducked, turned the mixture back to low, and carried on.

This was yet another cookie where I wondered how in the world the recipe provider figured out how many it would make. For one, the recipe says "44 cookies," which strikes as a very odd and precise number. 3 and 2/3rds dozen? For another, I followed what I thought was roughly two tablespoons per cookie and ended up with ... 31. What, now?

I figured my idea of two tablespoons must be different from Giada's when it took longer than the prescribed amount of time to cook. I glazed the cookies and left them to harden. They went into their little container / house / prison as I was baking the scones.

Final verdict (cookies): Sweet, but not cloying, and with a deliciously smooth texture, these are definitely a "make again" cookie. Giada describes these as something like a muffin top in appearance, and that's accurate - also a good description of the texture.

While prepping the dressing for the curried chicken salad, I discovered I didn't have enough mayo. I got as much out of the bottle as I could, then I tried to cut it open with scissors. The scissors broke.

Figuring they were an old pair of scissors, I tried with a different pair.

The scissors broke.

At this point, I used a knife and managed to cut the package open enough to get a few more spoonfuls of mayo out. To compensate somewhat for the smaller amt of mayo, I used a little more chutney (eyeballed - yes, I really am one of those eyeballing people I hate!). I chopped and/or pulled apart the chicken, mixed it with everything but the cashews, stuck it in the fridge and went to ... do work. On a Saturday. Yes, really. But it involved studying profiles for cruises, so it doesn't really count.

Final verdict (chicken salad): This has a decent taste, but there's nothing exceptional about it. It's no contender for my fabled Ullapool curried chicken salad. It was easy, but not really worth making again. Unfortunately, I now have a metric ton of it.

Started on the scones last, and here I finally ran into some problems with the recipe itself. I'm not sure whether I didn't fully integrate the fats, or whether I mixed the milk too briefly or not briefly enough, but when I turned out the dough on the floured surface? Good luck kneading it. It was so far past sticky that I need someone to invent another word for it. (Supergluous might not be inappropriate.) And rolling it out? I threw flour about in massive handfuls, but I could only get in a roll or two before it started to cling to the rolling pin.

I am ninety percent sure I got flour on the dog at some point.

By this point, I'd eaten more of the dough than I wanted to in the sheer self-defense of trying to get it off my hands. I went for the cookie cutter and, despite flouring it heavily, found that I couldn't get a clean round. Part of this might have been due to the fact that it was actually a wreath cutter (decided to use that instead of the heart), but I finally decided that, since the scones I was familiar with were oddly shaped, mounded lumps, that I would eyeball an appropriate size and shape.

This worked. The scones came out fluffy and appealing, though I should have greased the foil. I thought foil alone would be enough to prevent them from sticking; not so.

Final verdict (scones): I'm used to the sweeter breakfast scones, but these are really good and worth another try. They're a little like buttermilk biscuits and thoroughly tasty.

By now, I've got enough recipes in my saved files that I could repeat things ...

... nah.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 5/7

For this week, I am planning on tackling curried chicken salad. The best version of this I've ever had was in Ullapool, Scotland. It's not a postage stamp of a town: it would get bounced back for insufficient postage. It's that tiny. I was there in May, and the locals swore up and down that it was the one nice week of the year. The curried chicken salad was simple pub food - but it set the bar for me.

Menu specifics:

Curried Chicken Salad
Lily's Scones - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)
Lemon Ricotta Cookies With Lemon Glaze - Giada's Kitchen (Giada De Laurentiis)
Blueberry Ice Cream

Substitution notes:

Scones - don't have (or can't find) a round cutter, so using my heart-shaped one instead. Painfully cutesy, I know.

Ice cream - going to use some vanilla extract rather than a vanilla bean pod. I's poor!