February 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
It’s not unusual for us to have meatless dinners in this house. I’m a carbaholic with an aversion to many meats so there are many meatless nights to be had here. I’ve actually been thinking more and more about adding additional meats to my diet. I have a strange relationship with meat – yes I admitted it – I like chicken, crispy cripsy bacon (note the double crispy) and spicy tacos. So, you’d think I would go for pork tenderloin or even a hamburger but nope, don’t like those. The reason I’ve been thinking of adding more meats to my diet is because of my husband. He loves meat and with the cooking shows constantly on in the background, I catch him drooling at the TV when he sees a good roast or steak. But I have to tell you, after the dinner we had this week which was completely meatless, there was nothing left to be desired.
I had briefly heard of this new movement, Meatless Mondays, an effort to get Americans to cut out meat at dinner once a weak to help us create healthier diets but was surprised when I saw a sign for it at a restaurant last Sunday afternoon – actually a burrito joint no less. Orlando isn’t a city that jumps on the bandwagon of many culinary trends so I was a bit surprised to see this had gained some attention locally. While I was intrigued, I wasn’t planning on going meatless the following Monday night. But Monday came, and that’s just what we did (in fact we went all out meatless by accident Sunday and Tuesday too so kudos to us).
Monday came, and I had a strong craving for an asparagus and egg dish I’d made a few months ago. You make delicate thin omelets almost like a crepe and wrap around cooked asparagus – its a light, delicious, and coupled with a glass of wine can feel very Parisian. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people that ever knows what’s in season – I can only tell once I get the store and see the prices. So wouldn’t you know I got my taste buds all jazzed up for this dish only to get to the store and see my lovely asparagus for $4.99 a package. I just couldn’t do it with the beautiful earthy green zucchini next to it for just $2.99. As I write this I’m laughing that $2.00 dictated my meal, but it did.
I also picked up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, crusty bread from the bakery, and Buittoni pesto. Once home, I unloaded my goodies excited to make my quick, healthy dinner. My husband greeted me and asked the usual “What’s for dinner” to which I replied, “eggs”. Now in his defense, I could have been a bit more descriptive but there was disappointment all over his face. You could see his high hopes for dinner just plummeting. I didn’t let this phase me though; I knew he’d be happy in the end. So, I got to cooking a zucchini frittata with a side tomato and mozzarella salad and some toasted bread with garlic.
I sliced the zucchini in half moons and sautéed in some olive oil and one minced garlic clove. To that I added a mixture of five beaten eggs with some milk, salt, pepper, and chopped scallions. I cooked the fritatta on the stove over medium heat until the egg was mostly set, moving it around in the pan with a spatula. Then I topped it with salty parmesan reggiano cheese and popped it under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese turned golden. To serve i stopped with some more freshly chopped scallions. I’ve made fritattas a few times. I always thought a fritatta just meant it was finished in the oven but after a little research, turns out a fritatta is the fluffy egg which results from whipping the eggs as opposed to stirring them as you would for an omelet. By whipping the eggs, you get air into the fritatta resulting in a beautiful fluffy, puffy, egg dish. While my fritatta puffed in the oven and I saw delicious peaks and valleys of cheesy goodness through the window, once removed it went poof! and fell. It was still delicious though, light, fluffy, and full of flavor.
On the side I made a yummy tomato mozzarella salad with the Buitoni pesto I had bought. I’ve used this pesto before and really love its intense flavor. While I’d love to make my own pesto, with one this good and ready to go, I can’t see why I’d bother. So, I took some help from Buitoni and mixed in some with my fresh grape tomatoes and mozzarella. The result was a perfect side salad to celebrate the coming of spring – crisp, juicy tomatoes with creamy mozzarella and herby pesto. For the bread, if you’ve never done this trick you need to try it – drizzle bread with a bit of olive oil and pop under the broiler until browned. Watch it closely as it can burn in a second. Remove the bread when its the color you want and rub with a garlic clove for a delicious, strong garlic flavor. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.
So what did my husband have to say about his dinner of “sad” eggs or so he had assumed? “Baby, you hit it out of the park!” He actually asked if I’d taken pictures for my blog which of course I hadn’t as this was just a quick fix meal – but after his praises I decided I might as well snap a few before digging in. The best part of the evening – aside from his glowing praises – was that this was such an easy meal to prepare and so satisfying and healthy, even without meat in the starring role. All in all I think it took just under half an hour to make – not too shabby if I do say so myself. I think the next time he hears eggs for dinner he’ll be quite pleased.
February 9, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the day I make the perfect chicken soup, I’ll feel I’ve succeeded in my culinary adventures. Well, ok, maybe start to have succeeded because let’s be honest here – I’m one of those “never can be pleased” individuals so truth is when I master it, I’ll probably have the itch to conquer some other culinary challenge like soufflés or something. To make the perfect chicken soup I think you need the perfect broth. I’ve never attempted home made broth because to me it was kind of like mission impossible.
So, Sunday was a nice lazy day and while at the grocery store stocking up for the week, I figured it was as good a time as any to give home made broth a go. I had made roasted chickens recently and had the carcasses in my freezer waiting for the day I wanted to embrace this endeavor. (I do want to point out here that I know “carcass” doesn’t build up your appetite – but it is what it is.) This “itch” to create chicken broth from scratch has been building up the last few weeks. I recently bought a new cookbook, “Salt to Taste” (perfect name right? more on that one later) which goes to great length explaining the need to prepare certain things in advance to really elevate your everyday cooking – one of those things being home made broths and stocks. I was also surprised to learn that stock and broth are not one in the same. I always used them interchangeably and thought they were the same but in fact stock comes from boiling bones while broth comes from boiling bones with meat. As my chicken carcasses had bones with just some meat still on them, I guess what I attempted was a half broth, half stock. For the sake of sanity here, I’m going to refer to it as broth even though we now know it wasn’t a pure broth!
I researched many recipes before beginning – I have a tendency to never stick to one recipe, probably why I have so many flops! In the end I pulled from recipes from several sources including my new cookbook. I put the two chicken carcasses in a huge pot and covered with water until they had about 4 inches of water above them. Some recipes called for putting all ingredients in together and others said to “clarify” the broth first before adding the vegetables, which meant boiling until the broth was clear and fat removed. I decided to give the ladder a try and the one recipe I was following even called for pulling the pot half way off the burner to create a circular clarifying motion – I did this for about 45 minutes but it really didn’t result in much. That recipe called for a whole chicken though and since most of the meat was gone from my chickens perhaps that’s why it didn’t work. So, next time, I’ll just throw everything in the pot at once and call it a day.
After the broth was as clear as it was going to be and I skimmed off all the fat, I gave it a taste just to see what it was like and….wait for it….nada – it was very hard to taste the difference between this and plain ‘ol water. I was quite surprised as this chicken had been roasted with so much intense flavor I was at first worried it might be too overpowering to make a broth from – clearly that wasn’t the case. At this point I started worrying this was all for nothing (and I shouldn’t have wasted my nice lazy Sunday for this) but I had already begun so might as well keep trekking along. I was ready to add the veggies – recipes I found called for the traditional onion, celery, and carrot but in varying amounts. Some called to add parsnips too. I went with 3 ribs of celery, 3 carrots, and 1 large onion. To season I added 2 cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh parsley, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 dried bay leaf, 1½ teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon peppercorns. Surprisingly salt too varied greatly across recipes – some called for none all the way to 2 tablespoons for the same amount of liquid. I went with the smallest amount of salt referenced as I definitely wanted it full of flavor but didn’t want too much with it reducing for several hours and becoming overly salty.
After two hours of simmering over medium heat, the broth had reached a golden hue and was looking promising. I did another taste test and the flavors were definitely starting to come through – see, not all was lost! why do I always have to assume the worst at first? – but it was still missing something so I added a good amount of salt and more peppercorns. At the end of the cooking time, by this time almost 4 hours in total from start to finish, we had to leave to go to my parents’ house for the game. It was finally developing some nice flavor but still not all there. I would have liked to let it go longer but unfortunately that wasn’t an option.
I put it away in the refrigerator and the next day made a nice chicken noodle soup with half the broth (I decided to freeze the other half). I quickly sautéed some garlic, onion, celery, and carrot seasoned with salt and pepper and added to the broth (about half of the broth that the recipe had made). To that, I added some frozen peas and noodles as well as some remaining store-bought rotisserie chicken we had left over. The soup had a nice flavor with all the sautéed vegetables and additional seasonings but I’m not sold. I’m going to continue my endeavor down the chicken broth/soup category and see what else I can come up with. So in the end, good effort, but many more recipes I want to try – maybe I’ll even follow them exactly, well maybe, we’ll see.