Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jack talk Thai! Chicken and Basil

Simmering coconut milk
Originally uploaded by Skyhawk Flyer
Here is another recipe from the book "One year at Books for Cooks Vol. 3".

I just realized, however, in writing this blog (food already eaten, dishwasher humming) that I completely forgot the "basil" step. Basil and garlic, slightly stir fried in sesame oil, as a matter of fact. Oops.

At any rate, here is the recipe and my variations below:
Thai Chicken with Basil
4 chicken breasts (skinned and boned).
8 fl oz/1 cup chicken stock
8 fl oz/1 cup coconut milk
1 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped
1 star anise
1 t ground coriander
3 oz skinned unsalted peanuts
1 t sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 handfuls of basil leaves

Cut the chicken breasts across on a sharp diagonal into 1 inch strips. Put the stock, coconut milk and spices into a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 mins and the sauce should reduce by half.

Toast the peanuts in a dry pan over slow heat until nutty and golden. Stir the chicken strips into the sauce and cook gently until white, tender and cooked through. Take off the heat and adjust the seasoning.

Heat the oil and fry the garlic. When it starts to color and crisp, throw in the basil and stir fry until wilted. Stir the garlic-basil into the coconut and serve at once with saffron rice, garnished with toasted peanuts.

Sounds marvelous doesn't it? That basil garlic would have been a really nice touch.

What I did differently:

1 can each of chicken stock and coconut milk - in other words, roughly double the amount.
I bought dried chiles in a bag and threw three of them in the sauce while cooking. It didn't seem to do anything.
I bought anise seeds - in a spice jar.
I bought ground cilantro (coriander) in a spice jar.
Completely forgot to do the last bit.

It was pretty good, if a bit bland. The chili didn't juice it up, and the last part of the recipe would also have been good.

Anyway, I now have a few lunches and dinner this week.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An unlikely but delightful pairing - butternut squash and pears

In the "wonders never cease" category, I made another dish from scratch tonight.

I found the recipe for Butternut Squash and Pear Soup in a (literally) 9 year old cookbook. In 1999 I was in London and went on a mission to find the little travel bookshop made famous in the movie Notting Hill with Hugh Grant. It really does exist, although Hugh wasn't there. On the same street (probably next door, although I don't remember) was the shop "Books for Cooks" and I browsed some titles. You may find this interesting, given my aversion to cooking, but I actually have a fair number of cookbooks. I bought a few from that bookstore as a matter of fact (one, because of the stunning photo on the cover...).

The one I used tonight was the One Year at Books for Cooks, Vol. 3. Apparently this recipe came from the book Anna's Kitchen.

1.5 pounds of squash (peeled, seeded, chopped)
3 ripe pears
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 T butter
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 T chopped coriander to garnish
4 T creme fraiche to garnish

The method:
Melt the butter and stew the onions with a pinch of salt until soft. Peel, halve and core the pears, and add them in with the chopped up squash. Cover and cook slowly until all are soft. Pour in the boiling stock, bring to a boil again and then simmer for 20 minutes. Liquidise and push through a sieve into the rinsed out pan. Reheat, adjust the seasoning and serve in warm bowls with a spoonful of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of coriander.

First, what I changed from the above:
Wegmans sells pre-cut and prepped, vacuum sealed butternut squash
1 large onion, not 2 (it didn't call for large or small)
Instead of coriander and creme fraiche I used cinnamon and a dollop of yoghurt. I did BUY coriander so maybe tomorrow when I have it again I'll use it.

Nota bene - the squash was rock hard when I opened the seal, but, I turned the heat below medium, added a half cup of the boiling stock to help it soften more, and let it simmer for a good 20-30 minutes and it was all soft and mushy then.

I DID strain a helping with a sieve directly into my bowl, mostly to taste it, but then I added in the leftover mush that was still in the sieve and stirred. It was pretty creamy. I won't bother to separate it out the next time for eating. It is easier to taste the pears when you leave in the "mush".

The cinnamon and yoghurt were a great touch. I'm sure the coriander would be fine too.

I can't quite decide if the chicken stock overpowered the taste or not. It wasn't "all chicken-y" but I'm thinking the next time I may even use 3 cups chicken stock to a full cup of water.

This is supposed to make 4 servings but I'd say more like 6.


The photo here has nothing to do with the meal, but, it is a "fall" kind of photo and the soup is definitely a fall kind of soup.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cooking with a laptop - Tomato Spinach Tart


I found a great blog called the Whistlestop Cafe Cooking. Sandi and Bill own the Whistlestop Cafe in Alabama and she has a great blog about her cooking.

I decided to make her Tomato Tart, and in order to do so had to put my laptop on the kitchen counter to follow her recipe while I cooked. Since I like to have either a glass of wine or a glass of beer while I cook, I had to be extra careful. (My beer of choice today was a Franziskaner Weissbier).

Her blog is here:

And her recipe is here:

Here is the recipe in written form.

Tomato and Spinach Tart
1 bag spinach
1-2 tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 small sliced onion
1/2 cup sour cream (low fat)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup grated cheese
1 pie crust
Bake at 350°
Press pie crust into a large tart pan. Combine coarsely chopped spinach with onion and garlic. Stir in sour cream and most of the cheese. Press into the tart. Combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour over the spinach. Top with slices of tomato and sprinkle with more cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

I can't wait to take it out of the oven! I used Asiago cheese this go around. I also had to make two, because the above is more than it seems (I used pre-made pie crusts, not a tart baker) so I ended up using 2 eggs and a half cup of milk for each one.

In other news, yesterday I went to the annual art show in Old Town Alexandria and came home with (surprise) more pottery. This is a beautiful hand thrown and hand painted bowl which is now gracing my counter as a fruit and veg holder. Here it is:

Additionally, my new-found determination to actually cook versus eat at restaurants or other no-brainer food is making real inroads into my eating habits.

Last week, in addition to the Cranberry Chicken below, I also made haddock (pop in the oven at 425 for half an hour, two pats of butter and a lot of lemon juice) with a side of my own recipe I call Lazy Noodles.

Lazy Noodles:

Chicken stock in a can
One cup of water
Egg Noodles
Frozen peas.

Boil the liquid. Add a whole bunch of noodles. I mean, pack 'em in. Turn heat to medium and cover. After 5-6 minutes add in some peas. Maybe half a cup or more. After a few more minutes, it's done. Do not drain. It is not quite soup, not quite "stew", but it sure is good.

My other home cooked meal, which I had twice last week (lazy, lazy) was a Brie and Cherry Jam Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The bread slices were the large size so believe me, I was full after I ate just that for dinner with a glass of milk.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I actually cooked something new tonight... Cranberry Chicken

Since my last posting, I have literally made ONE new thing - and that was chicken soup from a picked over rotisserie chicken. That was in June I think.

In August, for the heck of it, I actually tallied up what I spent on either groceries or restaurants in July. It totaled 775 bucks. Keep in mind I'm a single girl! I thought, whoa, I better start paying attention.

A month went by... and for the heck of it I totaled up my August grocery and restaurant expenses. Over 1100 bucks. Yes, over 1100 bucks. That's just insane - especially since I can't say I eat THAT well. (part of that was restaurant week with friends - who always know where to eat).

Gadzooks. OK, I'm going to really turn over a new leaf here. That is just ridiculous. If I were a gourmet cook, or could whip up a dinner party from scratch, I could completely understand 1100 bucks in one month. The problem too is that I buy WAY too much in one outing and if they are fresh veg, they invariable go bad before I'm able to get to them, and if they are "staples" I either forget about them in the pantry, or, I plain and simply don't use them all up. I'm not someone to buy ONE can of tomato paste, I have to buy 5. And maybe crack open one - or maybe not.

So tonight I pulled out my Savannah cookbook and made Cranberry Chicken. Very Easy.

It calls for

  • Boneless chicken breast (6 pounds - I had 1.5 pounds)

  • 1 oz pkg onion soup mix (I used about half that)

  • 1 8 oz bottle of Catalina dressing - I used half a cup

  • 1 16 oz can of cranberries - I used half a cup.
Mix up the ingredients, sans chicken of course.

Heat oven to 350, arrange chicken in a casserole dish (no top), pour mixture over it, pop in oven for one hour.


My amounts were clearly off - probably a little dressing and onion soup heavy - but it was VERY good and the chicken was really moist.

And would you look at that - I actually have lunch for tomorrow and either dinner again, or lunch the next day. I had an arugula, bufala mozz, and pine nut salad. With really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I do think though part of the reason I waste so much food is because I am a really really bad leftover eater. I get bored easily.

Pssst - while it was cooking, I soaked in the tub and had a good German Weissbier. Shhhhh.
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