Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chicharrones Chicken and More

         Yesterday I decided to clean out the pantry and freezer. My roommate and I are both fans of the television show “Chopped” so I declared that I would prepare a meal with whatever ingredients I pulled from the freezer or pantry that were at or near (or maybe past) the expiration date.

         The fact that it was my own pantry gave me a perhaps unfair advantage, but there was always the chance of that one-off ingredient I had to figure out how to work in. In this case I think it was a bag of mixed-frozen fruit (strawberry, mango, papaya). The other ingredients I had were left-over crumbly bits of tortilla chips (plain and super spicy), chicharrones, coconut milk, frozen hash-brown potatoes, and yogurt. All in all, though, the ingredients were easy to work with.

         I decided the chips and chicharrones would make a perfect coating for fried chicken, so I put them in the food processor and ground them down to crumbs (even more than they already were. I pulled out some boneless, skinless chicken breast, coated it with an egg wash then dredged it in the crumbs and let it rest for about ten minutes while I let the oil (olive and grapeseed) in the frying pan heat and the oven come up to temperature. I then seared the chicken on each side and placed in a baking dish in which I would finish the cooking.

         After doing a quick fry on each side of the breast, I sprinkled them with more of the crust mixture which I had set aside and mixed with fresh, finely-grated Romano and mozzarella cheese. I put them in the oven to cook for about 30 minutes at 350°.

         How can anything coated in pork fat not be good?

         I have a bad habit of overcooking chicken breast, but this batch turned out perfectly done and nicely moist on the inside.

         I used the potatoes, more of the cheeses, and an Alfredo sauce to make creamy twice-baked potatoes. I sprinkled some of the same reserved chips/chicharrones crumbles over the top to connect the chicken and potatoes.

         I did not take pictures of the fruit, yogurt, and coconut milk concoction because I had no idea it would actually turn out. I decided to make a pudding with pureed veggies and yogurt to which I added the two cans of coconut milk and a cup of sugar. I cooked it until it was hot through, added a cornstarch mixture, let that cook briefly, and then refrigerated it overnight. It actually turned out perfectly! I am going to have to work on the recipe some more, but this is one I can use to surprise friends.

         Given the fun I had in the kitchen (aside from slicing my finger open on the arm of the dishwasher), I will have to clean out my cupboard more often to see what I can come up with.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Fresh is Best

Over the years watching cooking shows, the mantra, “fresh is best,” rang through every show. In all that time I have had a garden and have raised some of my own herbs and have used them from to improve the freshness of my cooking

The older I get, the more important good food is.

This spring, I focused on some of my favorite herbs along with the vegetables I most enjoy. They are doing better than I could have hoped.

Cilantro grows quickly.

I did not expect to use it as the dominant flavor of hummus, but today as I readied to process the garbanzo beans, the most available spice I had on hand was cilantro, Working it with garlic and pepper into the garbanzo beans resulted in one of the best hummus mixes I have created in the last nine years (since I started eating hummus). The flavors exploded in my mouth.

But what could I use to eat it with? Pita bread has been my favorite vehicle for eating hummus, but I did not have any on hand. I made a bread that included rice, wheat (white and whole), and oats. Combined with honey and beer, the flavors dominated the bread.

I decided to make a egg/oil spread with the same ingredients - garlic, salt, cilantro and pepper. I imagined a egg/oil spread to increase the browning of the bread. I ended up with a strongly flavored mayonnaise that spread beautifully across the rolled-out dough for the bread. Dashes of salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper were sprinkled across the mayo just moments before the bread was placed on the heated pizza stone. Within ten minutes, I the bread was cooked and ready to eat.

The sweet flavor of the bread matched with the spice in the baked-on topping led to surprising experiences in the mouth. Flavor came from every direction. There is the flavor on the tongue - and there is the flavor waiting in ambush.

In addition to the cilantro, my basil, rosemary, and oregano plants needed trimming so they would become more bushy and productive.  Because I was not doing any cooking with them, I put them directly in my food dryer for preservation. This morning I woke to a house fragrant with the smell of dried herbs.

Now to figure out what to do with the mint.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

509 - 9

Today, I start the ninth year of putting my ideas out into the world. I created this blog after experiencing a time of no creativity. I did a whopping two posts before forgetting about it for a year. In that time I changed jobs, turned forty, and discovered that I couldn’t care less about people being offended by my sarcasm. I started having fun writing.

Now, nine years and 508 posts later I’m still going at it and have added two, more focused, blogs to this one. I have one that is my weekly reflection the Bible lectionary (my sermon in 500 words) for the week and another that is reflection on professional topics.

The most viewed post discussed my lament at seeing way too much girl crack in a short period of time. It taught me much about how to market a post for attracting views, but there have been many times I have considered deleting the post.

To date, my favorite posts involved my contacts with Jack Links meat snacks. I actually emailed them about the wording on their package, and they replied. The phrase, “The meat contained herein is for personal use only,” with a clip-art of a surprised looking bull, became an iron-on stencil for the shirt I wore at my fortieth birthday party.

As a mental health professional working in the field of education it would be easy to be be brought to despair with the challenges faced by so many of our students. I prefer to find the joy in even small successes. Getting one of my students to double-over in laughter makes everything I do in the day worthwhile. Because I know my students, I get to do this more often one might imagine.

Laughter is the best medicine. The more I delve into the ridiculous aspects of life (mostly packaging), I believe that is true. In the last eight years, I have laughed hard enough that I had to stop typing. I hope some of the readers have too. I look forward to more years of laughter (and eating well if you follow my recipes).