Marie’s Freedom Station and Crispy BBQ Chicken Thighs

Marie’s Freedom Tire Shop

Marie, in her sixties, ran Freedom’s Tire Shop in Freedom Indiana. It had been years since anyone bought tires but they kept coming for the gasoline. The station sat at the edge of town across the street from the only grocery. Marie’s husband had been dead 15 years when I met her in the late 1980’s. Her only source of income had been her husband and his business. When he died she decided she would run the gas station and each day, with walking stick in hand, she would walk to work. She had never had possession of a drivers license nor did she want too. Continue reading →

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My Favorite Tofu Scramble

It’s not for a lack of eggs.  I raise chickens, I have more eggs then I can use most days.

So what drives me to this dish.  I especially like sprouted tofu, a lot.  It’s not just tofu though. I like the process, the feel of the tofu as I crumble it between my fingers onto a plate, the precision of cutting the potatoes into tiny squares so they cook faster but stay crispy on the outside while remaining creamy in the interior, the smell of the curry powder when I sprinkle it into the hot pan, or the sizzle of the tomato sauce.

I like this dish because it requires a few minutes to make but isn’t complicated to get to the table.

I like it because it is doable on a weekday morning.

I like it because it feels nutritious to eat, as if it is resetting something in my body.

I like it because after eating I am still hungry for the day.

Curried Tofu Scramble (2 servings)

10 ounces sprouted firm tofu, crumbled

1 russet potato, scrubbed and diced into 1/4 inch squares

peanut or grape seed oil

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1 jalapeno, chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/4 cup tomato sauce

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper cilantro, optional

1. Place a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add enough oil to the pan to generously coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the potatoes.  Season them with salt and pepper.  Gently toss the potatoes in the pan until they are brown on all sides, crispy but still creamy in the center.

2. Add the tofu, jalapeno, and green onion to the pan.  Season again with salt and black pepper.  Stir to combine the sprinkle the curry powder over the tofu.  Stir again being sure to evenly stain all the pieces of tofu with the nice yellow color of the curry.  Add the tomato sauce and stir.  If need be add a tablespoon or more of water.

3. Once everything is heated through, the right consistency, and seasoned to your liking divide the scramble onto two plates, garnish with cilantro and serve.

Perfect Microwave Broccoli

_TJH7023Rarely do I use my microwave. I use it to take the chill off my coffee. I heat leftovers for lunch. Whenever a recipe calls for “butter, melted” onto the glass turntable the fat filled Pyrex measuring cup goes. I don’t cook with my microwave in any real culinary sense. I sometimes wonder why I have it, why I allow it to take up precious counter space when I know everything for which I use it can be done just as easily on the stove.

Of course there is also the fear that has been around as long as the microwave, that somehow it poses some sort of health risk. I don’t know if it does or not but if I error on the side of solid scientific research, it would tell me the microwave is harmless. Even so, I will lean on the side of caution and repeat the mantra I continually voice to my children, don’t put your face right up to the microwave door to watch as a cooking pizza pocket swells and shrinks, as if it is coming to life, and please, stand back an arms length.

I don’t believe the microwave has ever lived up to its original space age expectations. Nonetheless I read an article touting the healthy aspects of cooking vegetables in a microwave. Because it basically steams the vegetables, the vegetables retain a large portion of nutrients then if you used other cooking methods. It made sense, and I am buying in, or at least I want to and there are lots of reasons why. Continue reading →

Dinner Rolls and a Bonus Southern White Loaf

I have been, and will continue to be a believer in simple good recipes that follow great technique.  I often feel as though complicated directions and hard to find ingredients set us up for disappointment and failure. Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the law of diminishing return.  That today’s worlds best recipe will be boring tomorrow.

We need to search out new tastes, techniques and flavors but it is also important to return to the classics.  For me, I also like to share my childhood favorites with my children.  These rolls are a part of me.  They connect me to my past, and by sharing them, they connect me to my children. Continue reading →

Using Herbs with Abandon

Italian Salsa VerdeIf I didn’t already have a list of reasons I need lots of herbs in my life, Italian Salsa Verde (green sauce) alone would be enough to convince me. It’s delicious on almost anything. Take my dinner tonight: salsa verde is outstanding on steak and takes long-cooked kale up a notch. And when I got a little on my baked potato with sour cream, it was no longer a plain old baked potato. It was sublime. Continue reading →

A Delicious Roast Chicken for Any Night

I have a simple rule, whenever I figure out what good restaurant cooks like to make at home I follow suit.  It’s because most professional cooks like simple but deeply satisfying meals, roast chicken is one of those, it is a cook’s meal.  When I say simple I don’t mean in flavor and not necessarily in ease of cooking but more that it falls into the category of not being fussy.

And really, that is it isn’t it, that roast chicken is delicious, very satisfying and not at all fussy. Most importantly though it is easy on the cook and that is always something to grasp hold of and learn how to do.    So this is how I do it, I try not to complicate roast chicken, I use only a few dried spices  and I try to follow some simple guidelines I have come to trust over the years.

Roast Chicken Know-How:

  • Season the chicken with salt the day before you want to cook it.  Then set it into a tray with sides.  Place it uncovered into the refrigerator to dry out the skin and soak up the salt.  This drying of the skin makes for a deeply colored crispy skin.  The salt helps keep the chicken moist.
  • Trussing the chicken helps the chicken to cook evenly.  Besides we eat as much with our eyes so why not make it pretty.
  • You can cook the chicken on top of vegetables if you like letting the juices drip down onto them making for a wonderful side dish.  I do this as often as not but I never throw out the pan juices.  The pan juices make a wonderful addition to all sorts of things from pasta to…well, anything.
  • Adjust the top rack of your oven so the top of the bird is 5 to 7 inches from the top of the oven.  If it is to close to the top it will brown the skin well before the meat is cooked.
  • Avoid buying birds that are more the 4 or 5% juices added.  The birds that are 12% are brined and they are very, very salty.
  • Save any and all pan juices.  Use them in a vinaigrette to dress a salad, in pasta or in chicken salad but don’t waste them.

Cost to roast a chicken:  it depends on what kind of chicken and where you buy it but anywhere between 6 and 10 dollars for a 4 pound bird.  It should feed four with the added bonus of making soup from the carcass.

Click here for a pasta recipe using roast chicken leftovers: Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

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To Roast a Chicken:

kosher

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 chicken, about 4 pounds

1. Salt the chicken the day before you want to cook it or at least 4 hours before you want to cook it.  To do this sprinkle salt onto all sides of the bird including inside the cavity.  Place the bird onto a tray with side and put it back into the fridge.

2. Crush the fennel seeds either using the bottom of a heavy pan to grind it or with a mortar and pestle.  Combine the fennel with the rest of the spices and, again, sprinkle the spice rub all over the bird including the cavity.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

3. Let the bird sit at room temperature for a half an hour or up to an hour.

4. Heat the oven to 400˚ F.  Place the chicken, still on a tray with sides, into the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes.  Bast the chicken with the pan juices.  Bake another 35 minutes.  Check to see  if it is done.  I can usually tell by the legs.  If the meat has pulled away from the knee bones then there is a good chance the rest of the bird is done.  Wiggle a thigh.  If it seems loose then you are probably good to go.  Tilt the bird backwards and see if the juices running out from the cavity are red.  If  all three of these test are passed letting the bird rest will finish the cooking.   Let the bird rest cover with foil for 15 minutes.

5. Carve and serve.

Red Onion and Rhubarb Fondue

I know, I know you are thinking cheese and you are right to do so. It is, after all, one of the many things  fondue can mean but simply put it means “melted” but fondue is also used in other culinary applications beyond the Swiss national dish.

To fondue something is to sweat it over low heat until it becomes very tender.   Vegetables are often used in fondue where they are left on the stove over low heat eventually  breaking down into an unctuous mess of jam.  It is looser then jam and while I am sure you Red Onion and Rhubarb Fonduecould preserve or can fondue I don’t.  I usually don’t make a fondue in those quantities.  I more or less consider it a quick jam or pickle,  and much like a quick pickle it is something I will store in the fridge and use within week or so.

This particular fondue goes well with grilled pork chops, is better then great on beef quesadillas and is wildly good on hotdogs and brats.  In other words you will want to have this little gem around for summer grill outs.

Continue reading →

Potato Cake

Potato CakeWhat thrills me the most about potato cakes like this is the crispy top and creamy interior.  If you use good potatoes the flavor is unbeatable and if you are creative you can even layer the interior with things like roasted garlic, wilted onions, green onions or even chopped frozen broccoli that has been thawed and drained of excess moisture.

Yukon Golds

Yukon Golds

There are few products that I recommend, or in this case don’t recommend, and those are conventional potatoes and canned tomatoes.  I don’t like conventional potatoes because they spray them with an anti-sprouting spray which means they have a longer shelf life.  I don’t know if the spray is good for you or not but I want potatoes that aren’t far from the harvest because I want fresh potatoes.  They taste better and I know they do, it’s that simple.  Organic potatoes can’t lollygag around and therfore are generally fresh.

The two types of potato most readily available at most groceries that would work for this dish are Russet Burbanks(Idaho) or Yukon Golds.  Both brown up nicely and both create a creamy interior.

As for tomatoes, I don’t like canned tomatoes because the acid leaches out the chemical from the liner of the can.  I only by tomatoes in glass or those nifty carton type boxes.

Cost to make the potatoes:

  • one bag of organic russet potatoes $3.49 about 10 per bag or $1.75 
  • unsalted butter .10 cents
  • canola oil  and salt .10 cents

Total cost to make this dish: $1.95

Serves 4 as a side dish

5 good sized russet potatoes, scrubbed under cold water with a brush

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon canola oil

kosher salt

white pepper if you have it

1. Smear the bottom of a 10 inch non-stick skillet with soften butter.  Make sure to spread it evenly across the bottom.  Drizzle the oil into the pan too.

2. Slice the potatoes into very thin slices, a 1/16 of an inch would be great but no more then an 1/8 inch.

3. Starting in the middle of the pan spiral the potatoes by fanning them.  They should overlap about half the potato before them, if that makes since or you should cover the potato before the one you are putting into the pan by half by the one you are putting into the pan.

4. Lightly season each layer of potato with a pinch of salt.  Once the first layer is down you can layer the rest of the potatoes into the pan without detail to fanning them.

5. Heat the oven to 350˚ F.  Place the pan over medium heat to begin browning the bottom layer.  This always takes longer then I expect. I also have a baking stone that has a permanent spot in my oven so I also know then the pan goes into the oven it will continue to brown the potatoes.

6.  Once the bottom is browned nicely cover the pan and slide it into the oven.  Bake until the potatoes in the middle are tender.  Depending on how many layers you created anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes.

7. Remove the pan from the oven with a oven mitt or towel.  Place a pizza tray or the bottom of a sheet tray across the top of the pan.  In one swift motion invert the pan and tray.  Place the tray into the oven and let the cake bake another 5 to 10 minutes to crisp the top.  Serve.

Laotian Beef Salad (Larb)

Laotian Beef SaladI really enjoy making and eating the foods of Southeast Asia.  I make trips to the Asian grocery and buy up all kinds of different produce that aren’t found in my garden or at the local grocer.  I don’t really drive but an extra five minutes to get there, the groceries cost less which makes up for the extra in gas and I usually find some gem of a new product that I have never eaten, cooked with or sometimes never even seen.  It is always an adventure.  This time I happened in a day or two before the Chinese New Year and in honor of the holiday they gave Lynnie a box of the funkiest most savory cookies ever.  I couldn’t eat them but she loved them and this from the little girl who finds Chinese food sour.

I did something different here, something I wouldn’t  normally do.  Usually I would get the pan smoking hot and sear the protein but I didn’t get the wok hot enough and when meat hit metal it cooled down right away.  It became a happy mistake.  Instead of panicking I just let it sit.  I watched as all the beef juice bubbled up around the meat and then slowly subsided until it was gone.  Then the skirt steak caramelized really well and the fond, the sticky delicious stuff on the bottom of the pan, added tons of beefy flavor to the final dish.

It’s a great dish to serve with rice and a couple of nice vegetables.

Serves 4

canola oil

1 pound 2 ounces skirt steak, sliced then minced

6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon grass, minced

1/2 cup shallots, julienned

3 red Thai bird chile, minced

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup mint leaves, torn

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, torn

1/3 cup green onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup peanuts, smashed

1. Heat a large wok or skillet over medium high heat.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and when it is warm add the minced skirt steak, garlic, lemon grass and shallot.  It should cool the pan down and as it cooks liquid should release from the protein.  Let it gently bubble while you occasionally stir.  As the juice begins to evaporate stop stirring.  Patiently wait for the meat to brown and the fond to build on the bottom of the wok or pan.

2. Add the fish sauce, soy and water.  Stir the larb to combine and until almost all the liquid is absorbed.  Using a spoon taste the larb and add a little salt if necessary.  Stir then remove the pan from the heat.

3. Once the steak isn’t so hot but still warm stir in half the chili, mint, cilantro and green onion.  Plate up the salad and then top with the remaining herbs and the peanuts.  Serve.

Thai Shrimp and Collard Wraps

This is possibly the simplest dish to make and yet it packs in all the sweet, salty, and sour flavors you want it too.  It would be great kicked up with some minced red Thai chili but in this case I didn’t because I was making it kid friendly.

The dish itself is based on an appetizer from one of our local Thai restaurants.  I don’t know if it is something commonly served in Thailand or not.  At the same time I can’t say I have seen it at any other Thai places around here.  I am going to guess it is a regional Thai dish and I am also going to guess it uses shredded kaffir lime leaves and lime.

What I will say is you won’t regret making this you will only regret not making enough.

Serves 2 as a meal and 4 as the starter to a larger meal

1 pound of shell-on shrimp, thawed

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted till golden

2 limes, filleted into supremes, membranes squeezed for juice

1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 cup roasted peanuts, crushed

cilantro

sweet chile sauce, homemade or store bought

8 small collard leaves, washed and dried, rib removed if need be

1. Fill a 3 or 4 quart pot 2/3 full with water. Add 1/4 cup of kosher salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook them till done, about 1 or 2 minutes.

2. Drain the shrimp and get them into an ice bath to cool. Peel and devein the shrimp. Then chop the shrimp.

3. Combine the shrimp with the coconut, peanuts, lime supremes, lime juice and fish sauce. Toss to combine the flavors. Taste and add more fish sauce or salt to your liking.

4. Place the collard leaves on a tray, pile the filling next to them and fill a small ramekin with the chile sauce. Garnish with cilantro.

5. Serve