Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fast-Slow Cookery

Even though I didn't have to be out this afternoon, I chose to go with a slow cooker recipe - though as it called for 6 - 8 hours on Low, I chose to do it on High with the time halved ... and I got in from errands such that I started it later than I had intended in the first place. So much hurry up and wait involved in the slow cooking.

First step, cook the chicken breasts in the dressing, which is then discarded. I was rather surprised to not consciously detect any trace of the Italian dressing in the finished product, but I suspect it adds subtler notes and layers. I was surprised how fast and easy shredding the chicken was ... guess boneless helps, ahem. Had to dig into the near-very-back of my spice cabinet to find the dried basil. What don't I use very often?

Only part of this I was a bit curious about is that you're supposed to mix the cream cheese in with the liquids - only it doesn't say anything about melting them so it actually does mix, rather than hover in glops. I chose to stir the contents in the slow cooker a bit to ensure they blended - but even at that, I found a few telltale pieces of cream cheese here and there.

While the final hour of slow cooking ensued, I started on the potatoes. I really ought to get a proper lid for my skillet - using the lid of the wok, which doesn't quite fit precisely, has been a good solution, but it is a bit messy. Triumph on the garlic front: I actually managed to properly smash the stuff for the first time ... ever. (Oh, the things I admit on the internet.)

The liquid got to boiling point, then sat covered (sorta ... see above) while the potatoes cooked. The timing between evaporating the liquid and adding the oil was very precise, and in the future, I'd err on not waiting for total evaporation - I had some of my potatoes stick to the bottom of the skillet. Other than that, though, the dish went off without a hitch.

That and my screwing up the lemon proportions a bit - but there's never enough lemon for me, so I just added more.

Final verdict (chicken): This is a rich, creamy chicken. Quite delicious, but it borders right on the edge of being too faux-creamy - one bite too many and it becomes a bit gross.

Final verdict (potatoes): Quick, easy and tasty. They have just enough of a tang to be interesting, and the crispiness on the white side adds (when executed right) a nice texture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/22

I still have whoopie pies left from last week (no, really), plus the remaining Oreos from the stuffed cookies the previous week, and I'm trying to keep my weight down because I have guests the following week (first of Nov), so there will be no additional dessert prepared. However, dinner itself I'm looking forward to:

Easy and Delicious Chicken - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole
Lemon Potatoes - Unknown Cook's Country 2009 - 2010

For a while, I had escaped my lemon habit. Now it has returned ...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Down Low! ... Too Slow

I misjudged the amount of time I needed to make both the dessert and get the chicken korma in the slow cooker and ended up running out the door in a flurry yesterday ... after cleaning up the kitchen so it only looked as if a small bomb had gone off.

Process began with the cookies, where I did everything right - until I forgot the salt, up to the point where I already had one batch in the oven and a second prepped. Rather than try and unscoop / rescoop (are those words?) the second batch, I ... stuck a little salt in them. Sadly, this is not the first time I've done this.

Backing up a bit, this makes a massive amount of batter, rich, thick and velvety. I chose to sift my ingredients into a bowl rather than onto parchment paper and thought this was a better idea, as I would have needed more parchment than I could have easily lifted. I predict the entire batch would have wafted across the kitchen. I placed the cream cheese and butter for the filling at the back of the oven and actually overwarmed it - the butter started to melt.

While the cookies were in the oven, I actually started working on the chicken korma, cutting the chicken and pan-frying the sliced almonds. I did not sufficiently mise en place and ended up scrambling a bit to get all the spices into the pan at the same time - not to mention forgetting that I couldn't use the spice grinder on the almonds and ending up with a small glop of paste - but it all came out in the end.

I had decided to run the slow cooker on low for four hours and high for one hour to get the three hours at high the recipe required. This seemed to come out perfectly ...

Not so much for the last batch of pie cookies / tops, where I had turned off the oven before I put the last batch in! I caught it when the timer went off and I wondered why they weren't quite cooked ... they came out crustier than the others, but not too bad. Then I set about filling them with the cream cheese mixture, a simple expedient of plopping with a spoon. Amazingly ... I actually had exactly the right amount of mixture. (Since I had less than the target number of cookies, I can only assume I went astray somewhere else, but it all balanced out.)

Into the refrigerator with the cookies ... using every covered plastic container I own because they were so immense ...

Final verdict (pies): Wow - these are rich and intense, and the cream cheese has a strong, sweet kick. The cookie crust that surrounds the filling isn't especially sweet, but I found it satisfying. It is, however, somewhat crumbly, so handle with care.

Got home, kicked the slow cooker up, and started rendering the potatoes for the fries. I think I could have made these smaller and thinner - I ended up with small wedges instead. Have I remarked before on the insane quantities of oil it takes to deep fry? Wow. These took far longer than advertised to cook, so either my temperatures or my portions were way off ... but even with that, and being more of a baked fry than a truly crispy fry, I got a satisfying texture in the end.

Meanwhile, off came the lid of the slow cooker and in went cream, garam masala and lemon juice / rind. I also fried the seeds and spices for the fries ... possibly over-fried, for they were right on the edge of burny without quite going over, but - when tossed with the fries, it was just perfect.

Not-Really-Final verdict (korma): My jury is still out on this. I decided not to make rice with it - but most of the flavor appears to be in the sauce. The chicken itself is somewhat bland. If rice improves it, I will make this dish again. If not, I will skip any "ethnic" dishes from this cookbook in the future.

Final verdict (fries): These are salty, pungent and - indeed! - a little sweet, and positively addictive. I could have eaten the whole batch; I forced myself to save some for today. My only criticism is that the spices don't stick to the potatoes all that well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/15

This weekend, I will be herding cats - err, harpers - at a practice, so I needed a good slow cooker dish. I've done the math and figure if I take the three hours at high, make it five hours at low and additional half hour at high when I get home ... that should work about right. Or maybe *I* am high.

Chicken Korma -
Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Gujarati Fries with Cashews -
Anjum's New Indian (Anjum Anand)
Whoopie Pies

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mongo Cookies

If I don't subscribe to the "eat dessert first" philosophy, I do subscribe to this one: "Life is uncertain; make dessert first."

The chocolate chip batter is pretty much standard fare: cream the butter and sugar, gradually combine dry ingredients and the chips - barely mix. After that is where it gets interesting. I don't have a cookie scoop, so I took handfuls and eyeballed the amount for the top and bottom before smushing them together. It's not as easy as it sounds to seal the cookies: your hands get sticky fast. And I didn't use quite enough (or spread it around enough) on all of them, because after they baked, I had a few with gaps.

That said, I decided to put only eight or nine on the sheet just to be sure they didn't grow together. Though not as big as I expected, the cookies were positively massive ... and you can't check the bottom to see how done they are. I did 14 - 15 minutes in my oven, which turned out perfectly.

Final verdict (cookies):
These are so wrong, they just have to be right. I only ended up with 19, which means I either too much batter or made them too big or there's Oreo size variant in other parts of the country ... either way, believe me, that's more than enough. These are sweet on top of sweet. The Oreo essentially melts within.

Later, I discovered that even my biggest bowl was almost too small for the amount of ingredients that needed to be joyously mixed and mashed together for the casserole. But it was a quick, simple assembly - popped into the oven while I took a short break and then came back to tackle the chicken.

I made the honey mustard, but discovered that I didn't have chives on hand, so I used dried dill instead. Measured 1/3rd of a cup of the mustard instead of 1/2 and had to eyeball the amount that went into the egg mixture. And then I stopped, terrified, because there it was: I had to split my chicken breasts in half. I have yet to complete any step that involves even cutting of meat successfully.

This time, after light pounding, I managed to cut the thick piece in half - barely. With the smaller piece, I decided to just keep pounding and cut it vertically instead. This took up enough time that I had the casserole out before I was even able to get the meat in the pan - not my plan. So after a bit of thought, I turned the oven back on with intent to re-warm the casserole for two minutes as I got closer.

I don't think I had the pan hot enough initially, because the first side of the cutlets took significantly longer than the rest. However, these fried up quickly and easily (despite the dog running to hide upstairs again) and were ready in moments.

Final verdict (casserole): Rich and hearty - maybe a bit too heavy to have much, and might be (indeed) better as the breakfast it is billed, but a perfect balance of cheesy and creamy.

Final verdict (chicken): A subtle, flavorful breading - quite satisfying, and easy, too.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 10/7

This is some horrible carbo-loading, and yet it calls to me, siren-like.

Also, the cookies were mentioned to me by someone on a MUX and they sound insane:

Almond-Crusted Chicken - Cook's Country February / March 2010
Cheesy Ham and Hash Brown Casserole - Allrecipes Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole
Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Failure of Timing

I had a distinct failure of timing today: didn't get dinner in quite as early as I might have liked for slow-cookery, then in trying to compensate, ended up starting the rest of the courses too late, too. It was about 7 o'clock at night before I finally ate. Not a habit I enjoy!

I seem to have a slow learning curve: every time I've made something that needs to be stuffed, particularly a meat product, it goes disastrously wrong ... and while I would like to report otherwise, today is no exception. I just haven't developed the knack of cutting into a piece of meat to form a straight pocket. It sloshes around in one's grip, and all of sudden, I'm out the back. Moreover, there always seems to be far more filling than pocket. In this case, this might be said to be partly due to the fact that I had three chicken breasts, not four - but I could not have fit four in the slow cooker.

The recipe doesn't say to cut the apricots, which still seems odd to me despite the pretty picture with whole apricots. The mixture itself - couscous, toasted almonds, tarragon, bound with an egg - is very tasty, and it adheres to itself well.

After everything plops into the slow cooker, I go away for a while. A bit too long of a while.

Next step, corn pudding - a very easy preparation, my main pitfall being that I had to check about to be sure that I used the right sized baking dish. The ricotta was a bit hard to whisk in - the recipe says to do it slowly, and it means it. Of course, I completely forgot to grate the cheddar ahead of time, so I had to zing through that with a land speed record.

Final verdict (corn pudding): Subtly sweet and satisfying, with a nice, herbal tang from the basil. It was easy enough I'd make it again. Warning: makes lots.

While I waited for the corn pudding to come out, I started work on the muffins. This is another recipe where proportions were a bit questionable - don't think I had quite enough filling, both because I didn't have enough left over to top the muffins and because I didn't think they were quite sticky-gooey enough to be baklava muffins. Still, quite easy and, despite the admonishments of the recipe ("anything more than the gentlest handling makes for heavy muffins"), I found it was simple to reach the right batter consistency.

While the muffins cooked, I reduced the sauce from the slow cooker to pour over the chicken. A tasty addition, but not really a necessary one - and doesn't make enough, in my opinion.

Once the muffins came out ... oh, wait, I'd already sliced the meat and watched it fall apart, with maybe a third of it coming out in the tidy, apricot-stuffed slices advertised. Ah well - some is better than none. Let's eat!

Final verdict (muffins): Despite not being what I would call baklava, these are quite tasty. Their main problem is they stick to the paper - a lot. It makes it very difficult to get a clean bite. It's not because of the sticky filling, either - the main sticking point (ahem) is the bottom.

Final verdict (chicken): This may not have been artistic or properly stuffed, but it was thoroughly tasty. The combination of orange and apricot offers a strong but balanced flavor, and the couscous makes an excellent filling texture-wise.