Friday, July 6, 2012

B's Chicken

When I was growing up, my sister and I were both Camp Fire Girls.  Each of our clubs did various events that involved food, and often we'd end up with "family recipes" from the families of other club members.  This is the reduced version of a recipe that a girl from my sister's club--who went by "B", short for Beatrice--wrote when she was 8 or 9.  I'm sure there's a written version of it with measurements somewhere, but we've been making it so long that we just do it without bothering with any of that anymore.  Since I used up about 3 days of energy baking for the 4th of July, I needed something simple that didn't ask too much of me, and this recipe was happy to step up.

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp Italian-style breadcrumbs (see notes, below)
1.  Place flour, milk, and breadcrumbs into three separate shallow bowls or pie tins.  In a medium skillet, heat just enough oil to cover bottom of pan over medium-high heat.
2.  Dredge both sides of chicken first in flour, tapping off excess, then in milk, finally in breadcrumbs.  Gently place chicken in oil, and cook over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes.  Turn chicken over and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Robyn's notes: it is very easy to overcook or even to burn this chicken, because it goes so quickly, so do not raise the heat to high or you will have a blackened crust.  I sometimes take the lazy way out (I did in this case) and buy "thin-sliced" breast fillets at the grocery.  Since the regular chicken breasts available at the store these days are around 6 oz each (which is two servings), buying thin-sliced helps us not eat twice as much as we should.  Another option if not in the mood to pound chicken between sheets of plastic wrap is to cut the chicken into small nuggets.  The only store-bought breadcrumbs I ever have on hand (other than panko) are Italian-style.  If you have plain breadcrumbs, sprinkle in a bit of Parmesan cheese (about a tsp) and dried Italian herbs (about a tsp) and mix well.  Be careful gripping the chicken to turn it in the pan, the coating will slide off if it's pinched too hard.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Patriotic Fruit Skewers

This probably doesn't need a recipe, just an explanation and closer photo than the one I posted on July 4th.

On each toothpick a raspberry, banana coin, and blueberry, in that order.  As a dipping sauce, Honey Cream Fruit Dip.  Make as many skewers as needed for the appetites of the eaters.

Only gets three stars because I'm not supposed to eat blueberries, they make me somewhat ill, so I'm not able to enjoy it much.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cold-Oven Quarter-Pound Cake

America's Test Kitchen is cooking their way through the 20th century this summer, one week per decade.  They've invited readers to participate by making the provided recipes and then submitting a photo of themselves with the finished product.  The first week is titled Cook Like it's 1905! and as soon as I saw the recipe I knew I'd be making it and then figuring out a smaller version.  Everything it called for was already in the house, and I'd recently picked up a couple of mini tube pans using a gift card from my sister.  As you can read at the above link, at the turn of the previous century homeowners were distrustful of the new gas ovens and unlikely to buy them.  As a selling point, manufacturers marketed the gas oven as a time-saver: no pre-heating necessary!  The America's Test Kitchen Cold-Oven Pound Cake Recipe that is the first challenge is formulated for an oven that's cold when you put the pan in, and so my reduced version is as well.  I used two mini tube pans for this, and while I can't guarantee success with another pan, I suspect that two mini cake pans would work as well, because the mini tube pans don't actually have a tube running all the way through, just a divot.  Since my pans are nonstick, they needed no greasing or flouring.  If not using a nonstick pan, be sure to do both!
  • 3/4 C cake flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 C + 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 1/2 Tbsp beaten egg
1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl.  Whisk milk and vanilla in measuring cup.
2.  With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in whole egg, then remaining egg, until combined.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of milk mixture.  Mix on low until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Use rubber spatula to give batter a final stir.
3.  Divide batter between two mini tube pans and smooth tops.  Place cakes in cold oven.  Adjust oven temperature to 325°F and bake, without opening oven door, until cakes are golden brown at the edges and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 38-42 minutes.  
4.  Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack.  Cool completely.  Serve.  (Cooled cakes can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

I served with a drizzle of Raspberry Curd and some raspberries.

Robyn's notes: Unfortunately I was not at all pleased with the results of the full-size contest cake.  Since it makes so many servings, I waited until my folks came by, so they could help us eat it.  This means my mom was around to watch me make the cake, and she confirmed that I followed that recipe to the letter.  The final cake had good flavour but was the most solid and dense cake I have ever eaten in my life.  I lifted a corner of the cooled cake off the plate and when I dropped it you could actually feel the reverberations in the table.  As we brainstormed what the problem may have been, we finally thought to take a look at my baking powder.  Sure enough, it was a year out of date.  My guess is that since the rise is relying on baking powder, mine being old (has now been tossed and replaced) kept it from happening properly.  

As for my version, it is again a much denser cake than I would like, as I made it the same day and using the same baking powder.  Because it's small, that outcome of my version is more acceptable to me than the full cake.  The density is not as noticeable because it's a smaller proportion of cake that feels heavy.  I feel confident that when I try this again with fresh baking powder it'll be more successful.  Yes, this does need to be done with an electric mixer, otherwise it'll be nearly impossible to get enough air beaten into the batter.  Even though I'm one of those people who never sift if I can get away with not, I sifted my cake flour before measuring it because it had been in a drawer for so long that it was really clumpy.  The one-and-a-half Tablespoons beaten egg is the equivalent of half a large egg.     

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Raspberry Curd

  • 2 oz raspberries
  • 1/4 C + 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • tiny pinch salt
1.  Whisk all ingredients in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until slightly thick. Strain; refrigerate until cold and thick.

Robyn's notes: lemon juice is also ok, I had half a lime needing to be used.  I served this over my Cold-Oven Quarter Pound Cakes and used it for an additional topping with Blueberry Upside-Down Cakes.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Recipes on another day, we're busy having our 4th of July celebration!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cookbook Review: Essentials of Cooking

Author: James Peterson
Published: 1999 by Artisan, my copy--with the cover shown above--published 2003
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Powell's, Barnes and Noble

This is a departure from the cookbooks I usually purchase, as it's not a specifically "cooking for two" or small-yield book, and it's not really even a cookbook.  Truly, it's a cooking reference book, and if you've only got space for one on your shelf, this should be one of the top contenders for that spot. 

This really does offer the "essentials", plus several new ideas that would never have occurred to me.  The book starts with full instructions--including step by step photos--on peeling vegetables (each type of vegetable is demonstrated separately), and ends with preparing and braising a large rabbit.  In between is everything from making tomato sauce to making chicken liver mousse; making french fries to cooking squid; poaching eggs to boning a whole round fish.  And there are clear photographs for each and every bit.  Even the 25 page glossary has some pictures, and it provides more than just definitions for each term.  The entry for "steam", for example, defines what cooking in steam is, how to do it, when it is usually done (with cross-reference to earlier text), descriptions of the four main types of steamers available for purchase, a description of how to improvise your own steamer, and instructions for how to use two different types of steamers.

I've never had to fillet a salmon, because my sweetheart takes care of that aspect for me when he catches the fish.  But I truly believe that if I were faced with a whole salmon, I could use the 19 photos here to take me from cutting away the fins to removing the pin bones.  At the same time, there are instructions--I hesitate to call them recipes, as most give ratios, not measurements--for all sorts of dishes, and I could use this book to make mayonnaise, chunky vegetable soup, baked tomatoes with garlic and fresh basil, gnocchi, or any of 18 classic sauces for sauteed chicken. 

Complete and sensible index, well-arranged table of contents, and colour-coded page numbers correlating to sections make it easy to find what's needed quickly.  There was not a single technique that left me feeling a jump had been made from one step to the next, and anything that requires previous knowledge tells you which page to find that particular bit of knowledge on.  For example, on "How to poach chicken in a pot", there are references to "to truss a chicken, page 146", "to core and section carrots, page 21", "to make a bouquet garni, page 31", and "to carve a roast chicken, page 149", plus the related glossary entry (poach) is listed so the reader knows where to go for more.

I am completely unsurprised that this guide was nominated for a James Beard award.  It is a condensing of years of training for those of us who will never attend culinary school but want a solid foundation for our home cooking.  As it says on the inner jacket: "Knowing how to execute a technique makes you efficient; knowing why you've chosen that technique makes you a master."