Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mmmm, butter...

Not a bad picture considering I took it with my phone.
No, I'm not channeling Paula Deen. And no, what I'm about to share with you will not cause you to gain weight or find yourself with a sudden onset of heart disease just by reading it. Ready? Here we go...

Tonight I made Garlic Rosemary chicken breasts for dinner. I used a method that I don't typically use. Let's face it, with a [nearly] 15 month old boy that can't be left alone for 2 seconds without trying to give the cat an unwelcomed hug or standing on something he shouldn't, the less steps I use in my cooking, the better. Keeping the kid alive tends to be more important in our culture than cooking a perfect supper. But tonight I decided to go the extra mile. And what do you know?! The kid is still alive and dinner was delicious!

A few days ago, Charlie saw the January cover photo of Bon Appetit magazine with this glorious, golden pork chop front and center. And of course, he asked me if I could make it. So I picked up the issue, flipped through to the cover recipe and picked it apart. It was less of a recipe and more of a lesson in basting. I thought, "Sure! I can do this! I did it in culinary school. It's a pretty simple idea, really." But I didn't have any glorious, 2-inch thick pork chops. Chicken was on my weekly menu, though. It was supposed to be chicken kabobs, but food on a stick is better left for the Summer months. Garlic Rosemary chicken it is! I turned Yo Gabba Gabba on for the dude, peeked in on him every few minutes, and started dinner.

This is what I did:

I placed an oven-safe skillet on medium heat and added about a teaspoon of rosemary infused olive oil- enough to coat the bottom of the skillet. [Pan spray or regular olive oil will work just fine, too.] I also turned my oven on to 400 degrees F. I took 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, patted them dry, and seasoned both sides with kosher salt and black pepper. I placed them in my preheated pan for about 4 minutes; just until it started to brown. Then I flipped each breast once letting the other side cook for another 4 minutes. I sprinkled in some dried rosemary and placed the pan in the oven. I let the chicken cook in the oven for about 15 minutes. Keep in mind that these were very thick breasts (about 1 1/2 inches) and still a little icy in the middle so timing will vary. After the chicken was almost cooked through, I pulled the pan out of the oven [WITH A POTHOLDER OR OVEN MITT] and set it back on the stove at medium heat. This is where it gets good. I then added 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves and 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter melted I tilted the pan slightly forward, took a soup/cereal sized spoon, and ladled the butter over each chicken breast repeatedly for several minutes. Then I turned off the heat and set the pan to the side to let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes. After it had some time to relax (being delicious is hard work after all) I sliced it, spooned a little bit of the goodness from the bottom of the pan over the chicken, and served it with roasted veggies.

The basting method takes a little more time and effort, but the product is so yummy! It works well because you are cooking the meat more evenly this way. The less you flip the meat and move it around a pan, the more evenly it will cook. And by basting it with a hot liquid, you're helping cook both sides at once, while locking in the flavors and moisture that is crucial to cooking meat perfectly. Plus, you're making use of all of those wonderful brown bits in the bottom of the pan. In my opinion, basting will yield the most flavorful chicken, pork, or steak you've ever had. It's how a lot of professional steakhouses cook their steaks, rather than using a grill.

So there it is...the [butter] basting method. You can do this with other meats using other oils, wine, or even just some stock. It's a pretty simple concept, it just takes a little more time. But, like I said, it's well worth the effort.


PS The title of this entry was a toss up between "Mmmm, butter..." and "Let's get basted!". You're welcome.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Let them eat cake!

I know, I know. The title is so very original. Sue me.

I've done my fair share of baking and have some experience in somewhat elaborate cake decorating, mainly from culinary school. Admittedly, it's been a while since I've made much more than a simple 2 layer cake. But when a friend and co-worker of my dad's asked if I'd be willing to make her daughter's birthday cakes (yes, cakes; plural), I jumped at the opportunity! Can you tell I miss kitchen work?

I wanted to make sure that Dari was very specific in what she wanted. That wasn't hard for an 11 year old girl to do. She knew exactly the looks she was going for. And since she's apparently an avid Cake Boss watcher, I knew I had my work cut out for me. After a few days of planning, collecting equipment and ingredients, testing, baking, and finally decorating, I was able to put together 2 cakes that I was very pleased with. And Dari's initial reaction each time was enough to know I had done well.

The first cake was, as she described it, a "Cotton Candy" cake. It was later known as the "Bow Cake". She wanted a 2-tiered cake; one tier hot pink, the other sky blue. She asked that there be lots of decorations and adornments with sky blue bows on the bottom and "Happy 11th Birthday Dari!" written on top. I took a little bit of artistic license on this one to keep it all balanced. And unfortunately, my ability to write on a cake is still dreadful so I ended up just piping on a big number 11. She was still very excited about the look of it. Here's the final product:

As you can see, I added handmade fondant bows to both layers. I also used  Sixlet "pearls" around the top border along with some piping. This is a basic vanilla cake with vanilla Swiss Buttercream frosting. 

The second cake she requested was easier and not as elaborate as the "Bow Cake". It was to be iced in her soccer club's colors of "Clemson orange" (a bright orange) with white piping around the borders. She requested edible soccer balls and megaphones. While not my first choice, I piped a simple megaphone on the cake instead of spending extra money on new materials to fashion one. I bought some royal icing buttons and drew on them to make them look like soccer balls. Dari requested a different frosting for this cake as she wanted to try something very light and whipped. So I made whipped cream a bit more stable for room temperatures by using cream cheese as a base. I was please with the texture and flavor of the new frosting. Plus, it piped like a dream. It piped so well, that I took a chance on actually writing on this one. As you can see I still need a good bit of practice, but it wasn't completely horrible. Here is her "Soccer Cake":

This is a basic vanilla cake (single layer; 9x13) with a "stable" whipped cream frosting. The soccer balls are made of edible royal icing buttons that have been drawn on with a food coloring pen. Admittedly, they were inspired by a similar looking pre-made product. But I really wanted to experiment with the food coloring pen.

The moral of my story? I now remember why I chose to stay on the cooking side of the line in the culinary world. I love to bake; don't get me wrong. But having to do this for a living would have likely broken me. It can be difficult, even as a professional, to live up to your client's expectations. I really enjoyed making these and I learned a lot in the process, though. I would definitely enjoy taking on a few more commissions in the future, but I am glad that I don't create these kind of things on a day to day basis. I think the hardest thing to overcome was living up to Dari's expectations. It's a lot of pressure knowing that if you create something terrible or not at all what was requested, you could ruin an 11 year old's birthday party...twice!

Thank goodness I pulled it all off with my normal gracefulness. And by gracefulness I mean a sleepless weekend and having to make an extra batch of frosting because of my failure to plan appropriately. Oh, and presenting the cakes to them while still in my pajamas. Live and learn.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Rut" is such a weird word

It's me again, Margret. The last time I wrote in this thingamablog (see what I did there?) I was in Texas with 2 very large basset hounds and an infant. Now I'm back home with 1 largely obnoxious cat and a toddler. It amazes me how fast kids grow. And you never fully understand just how fast until you have one of your own. Or until you have one at close proximity to you on a daily basis. Whichever.

I'm not going to make any promises I can't keep. So there will be no talk of a series of posts (because that always works out so well!) or a vow to write so many times a month. There is simply my hope of writing more to improve my writing, share my thoughts with those who care to hear/see them, and maybe bring myself a little closer to figure out just exactly where I fit in to the culinary world.

I've been reading more and more blogs and am honestly incredibly intimidated. Have I mentioned this before? I'm having an acute Deja Vu attack right about now. I'll go back and check later. Anyway I really feel the need to improve. There are so many people out there that blog for a cause or blog for a living. People make money for writing whatever they want on the Internet. Seriously. And can I just say that, while I'm only 26, I remember a time less than 20 years ago when the Internet was strange and foreign and most people were still trying to figure out what exactly it's purpose was. Hell, computers were still confusing to me until high school. The only thing I ever used them for was Mario Teaches Typing (I will forever be grateful to my Daddy for that one) and Claris Works word processing. I was taught DOS in middle school, okay. We still used floppy disks. And now that I've made many of you, including myself, feel incredibly old, how 'bout a little chat about food?

I've been working on staying out of a food rut when it comes to cooking at home. I know a lot of people complain about it and it happens quite often around here. A few weeks back it seemed like all I ever cooked in this house was bacon and eggs or cheeseburgers. We are also trying to trying to seriously get into healthier habits in my household. Not in the New Year's resolution kind of way where you keep at it for a month or so and then go back to your old, self-destructive ways. More of the subtle lifestyle changes that will become routine kind of way. In order to accomplish this my husband and I sat down and came up with 30 meal ideas that we'd like to have over the next few weeks. I've been adding to that list every time I come up with something new and now I think we're up to 56 individual meals? Something like that. They must all include a veggie and most of them have left-overs potential. For instance the pot roast left over from dinner on Thursday was turned into a component for my umm...knock-off version of poutine is about the only way I can describe it. I used the cooking liquid to make a yummy gravy, chopped the roast into smaller pieces, and added it back to the gravy. Then I made some twice baked potatoes, topped them with some aged, raw milk cheddar, and stuck them under the broiler. I put the potato(es) on a plate, topped with the "new" roast creation, and ate. I was pretty proud of myself. Serve some steamed or sauteed veggies on the side and it's complete, healthful meal. The roast was extremely lean (eye of round), I used a tablespoon of butter to make about 3 servings of gravy. I used another tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of sour cream, and about a quarter of a cup of cheese to make 6 twice baked potatoes (3 medium potatoes cut in half). So per serving, these really aren't that bad at all.

I think we're off to a good start. Staying out of a food rut and cooking/eating in a more healthy way is just the beginning, though. Next is portion control, exercise, and paying attention to the numbers.Lucky for y'all I'm more about posting recipes and talking about food than I am talking about numbers and calorie counting and math!

And with that, I have to go dig myself out of another rut- the "I don't ever want to do laundry again" rut. Here's hoping I post again soon!