Monday, April 17, 2006

Catching Up...

We haven't been around and haven't been cooking very much over the past week due to:

* Business Trips (San Francisco and Louisville), and
* Jury Duty (Murder Trial)

Looking forward to get back into the swing of things in the kitchen, and on the porch now that nice weather is trying so hard to come to New England...

Did some cooking this past weekend, though - including a yummy, thrown-together Shrimp Alfredo pasta on Good Friday: while boiling some penne, we defrosted and deshelled some shrimp out of our emergency frozen shrimp bag, sauteed garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms... threw in a can of tomatoes and canned alfredo sauce. Pasta draining, we threw the shrimp in for the last few minutes and served that mixture over the pasta. Was really delicious and made great leftovers, too!

Saturday was the first really warm (70+) day in Boston and we enjoyed it on our new back deck by finally planting some herbs (thyme, rosemary, and basil) as well as some flowers in planter boxes around the porch. We kept the summer thing going by taking out the old camping grill - a little propane-powered Sunbeam - and grilling some big slices of green pepper and red and yellow onion that had been tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. With that, we threw on some big 1/2 lb. burgers that we seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, worcestershire and a splash of cold water and formed into large patties (the water keeps everything nice and juicy - my new trick!)...

Sunday was Easter dinner - made (heated up) a 3lb ham (from which we're still enjoying leftovers). Is "ham" the term for a specific prepared/cured pork? We are trying to figure out exactly what "ham" is... can you buy raw ham? Moving on...

With the ham we had our old favorite, roasted sweet potatoes, and a new favorite, roasted asparagus with artichoke hearts. We cut the ends off of the asparagus and tossed them with olive oil and salt and pepper and put them in a roasting pan with some canned artichoke hearts. Roasted that in the same 400-degree oven as the ham and sweet potatoes for about 20 minutes... came out great, although maybe needed another 5-10 minutes.

Before cooking:


Lots more cooking and blogging to come, looking for fun new recipes! See you soon...

Monday, April 10, 2006


We like to make our own pizza crust out of mostly whole wheat flour augmented with all-purpose flour... and seasoned just like we like it. Tonight, we made a (chicken) sausage, mushroom, and onion pizza!

The Dough: combine a packet of active dry yeast with 1 cup of very warm water and a couple of drops of honey - stir well and let this rest for about 10 minutes to get that yeast alive and kicking. You'll know you've got good yeast action when it starts to foam on the top.

Put close to 3 cups of flour (2.5 wheat, .5 all-purpose) in a bowl with seasonings of your choice - we used garlic powder (tbls), salt (1/2 tbls.), and a few shakes of dried oregano (notice the green flakes in the dough). In goes the water/yeast mixture and stir/fold with a spoon until the dough starts for form. Eventually you gotta put the spoon down and get in there with your hands and start to knead the dough, folding it in half over and over. You'll need to judge how much flour you might have to augment the dough with - it shouldn't be too sticky so just sprinkle all-purpose flour over the sticky parts and continue to fold that in.

When you've got a good doughy - not dry but not TOO sticky - consistency, line another glass bowl with a quick turn of olive oil and get the dough in there and covered with a kitchen towel. Let that dough rise for an hour on stovetop of a warm oven - it'll double in size during that time.

About 45 minutes later, get the oven going at high temp (we had it at 455) with a pizza stone preheating on the bottom rack of the oven - if you have a pizza stone. If you don't... ummm... go get one! Or you could just use a cookie sheet.

When the dough is ready, get your pizza peel (or big wooden cutting board) out and sprinkle with all-purpose flour. This will be key so the dough doesn't stick to the board. Start flattening and stretching out the dough on the board while using more flour to make sure it doesn't stick... keep pushing out from the middle and try to get a uniform depth to the dough. We used about 1/2 the prepared dough for two people - the other 1/2 goes in the freezer to be defrosted on a rainy day.

When you are satisfied with the size and shape of your dough, pop it in that 455-degree oven right on the stone for about 5 minutes to give it a head start on the toppings...

We bought some chicken sausage that we sliced up and sauteed, then added some mushrooms to start the cooking with those, too. In addition, we'll add some raw onions to the top of the pizza.

Take the dough back out of the oven and start with a layer of sauce. We use the Pastene out-of-a-can stuff because it is very subtle and that's what we're looking for. After a thin layer of that is evenly distributed, go for a thin layer of shredded cheese (we had Jack and Cheddar available). Then on goes the sauteed sausage and mushroom mixure. On top of that, rings of onion. Finally, a last layer of cheese.

Back onto the stone for 8 minutes and 8 minutes ONLY! Here are the results:

The results: great! Dough was seasoned well and nicely chewy - perhaps TOO chewy? I guess that's in the jaw of the biter... How to make it less chewy, less kneading? More kneading? Anyone know?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Oven-Fried Chicken and Baked Spaghetti

Ever-searching for that perfect chicken recipe... juicy inside, crispy outside, yet not dripping in fat/oil. We may have found it in this Oven-Fried Chicken.

Two split breasts (bone-in) were finally ready to be cooked so we threw them in a brine consisting of cold water, salt, sugar, hot sauce, worcestershire, a dash of liquid smoke and some bay leaves and let them await their fate in the fridge for an hour and a half.

The recipe is easy enough after that - preheat oven to 425. Throw a tablespoon pat of butter in a baking dish (enameled cast iron, glass, or whatever you got) and put that in the oven for the butter to melt. Meanwhile, mix the following in a big freezer bag: flour (about 1/3 cup whole wheat mixed with about 1/3 cup all-purpose), paprika (a tbls or two), salt (a good amount), ground black pepper, and garlic powder. Take the chicken out of the brine and pat dry with a paper towel and - one at a time - place the chicken in the bag and shake to coat. Pull out and shake off any excess and place, skin-side down, into the buttered dish. Repeat with all the chicken. In the oven for 20 minutes, then turn skin-side up and go for another 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your breasts...

Make sure the juices run clear and pull out and let rest. These came out PERFECT - juicy, tender white meat and a delicious, crispy crust that tasted and felt like legitimate fried chicken. A HUGE find, this recipe - we highly recommend it!

We got creative with what to have with the chicken - we had a list of ingredients and we improvised: whole wheat spaghetti, 28 oz. can of tomatoes, package of frozen spinach, shredded cheddar and jack cheese, garlic, olive oil... Our friend described her baked macaroni and cheese earlier in the day, so we thought "let's combine all this stuff in a dish and bake it!".. and hope for the best.

Cook the pasta al dente. Meanwhile, thaw and thoroughly drain the spinach - squeezing out all excess liquid. Combine the spinach with the can of tomatoes, reserving the liquid from the tomatoes. Mix in a small handful of the shredded cheese, some salt, red pepper flake, oregano, basil and stir that up. Put cooked pasta into glass baking dish with a little olive oil drizzled on the bottom. Add this spinach/tomato/cheese mixture and stir to combine. Top with another handful of cheese and add to the oven. When our chicken came out, we lowered the temp to 350 to finish this dish (ideally, this is in at 350 for 30 minutes).

Cooking this uncovered allowed that top layer of cheese and pasta to get a nice burnt crust that produces a great, nutty flavor in the whole wheat pasta. Next time we'll add some sauteed garlic for more flavor, but this came out great.

All-in-all, a fantastic dinner made mostly with stuff we had lying around the kitchen!