Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie (Biscuit Crust)

We use a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  They can be boring, dry, and flavorless.  There are two excellent ways to add flavor and moisture to meat - brining and poaching.

Brining means to soak the raw meat in a cold solution of salt, sugar, and spices for a period time.  The solution is discarded.  The meat is usually rinsed then prepared any way raw meat would normally be cooked.  This is great for grilling or broiling.

Poaching means to slowly cook the meat in a seasoned liquid.  The liquid can be saved to be make a sauce or to cook rice, potatoes, couscous, pasta, etc.  The meat can be served directly from the poaching or used in any dish that calls for cooked meat.  This method  is great for pot pie, enchiladas, meat salads,  even tacos.

So what does all this have to do with Chicken Pot Pie?  If your chicken doesn't have any flavor, your pot pie might as well come from the grocer's freezer.  I've found that it doesn't matter how well you season your vegetables and gravy, it's the meat that carries the flavor.

Chicken Prep:
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoons Sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoons turmeric
2 cups water and 2 teaspoons chicken base (bouillon) -OR- 2 cups Chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine (optional add more broth if not using)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and "smashed" (to smash just push down on the clove with the flat of the knife or the bottom of a bowl until the skin breaks)
You need a nonstick pan  with lid (or one that has been sprayed with cooking spray to make it nonstick) large enough that the chicken pieces can lay flat without touching.
Over medium to medium high heat place the chicken in the pan so that the pieces don't touch.  Sprinkle with the spices.  Cook until you see "white" around all the edges but the top of the chicken is still "pink"  Turn the chicken over and add the broth, wine, and garlic.  bring to a slow boil.   Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook 20 minutes.  Remove chicken. Chill if not using immediately.  Save all liquid strain before using, but keep all the "stuff" in the liquid until  ready to use. (it's all flavor)

Now we're ready to make Pot Pie.
Chicken Pot Pie:
4 – 6 slices bacon cut into ¼ inch pieces
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
½ cup crimini mushrooms, sliced then quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed (or very finely minced)
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon sage
½ cup all purpose flour
5 cups liquid (strained poaching liquid plus milk we used Almond Milk)
2 – 3 cups your choice frozen vegetables (we used Peas and Broccoli)
Poached chicken, diced
Bacon Herb Biscuit Crust (below)
Preheat oven to 400F Spray a 13 X 9 baking dish with cooking spray.

In large deep skillet over medium heat render the bacon until it gives up its fat and is crisp. Remove Bacon to a paper towel and set aside.

Using the bacon fat sauté the celery, onion, and mushrooms until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, black pepper, and sage mix well. Sprinkle the flour over everything in the pan. Stir and scrape for at least two minutes by the clock to cook the flour. (look for no white floury bits anywhere) Slowly add the liquid while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. (An extra hand helps here!) Once it's all mixed you can raise the heat to bring it to a boil. (keep stirring) Once it boils remove from heat and add everything else. Stir well and pour into the baking dish. Top with the crust.

Bacon Herb Biscuits
3 cups +/- Bisquick (yes, you can use store brand. We use Bisquick because it isn't made with dairy.)
1 cup +/- milk (we used Almond Milk)
½ teaspoon +/- garlic powder
½ teaspoon +/- onion powder
½ teaspoon +/- sage
the reserved bacon
extra Bisquick or all purpose flour for kneading

In a correctly sized bowl, mix the Bisquick and herbs together. Toss in the bacon. Slowly add the milk until a ball is formed and dough is not sticky. Turn out on floured board or pastry sheet knead a few times. Pat or roll to 3/8 inch thick. Cut into rounds. Re-roll scraps for 15 +/- biscuits.

Arrange biscuits on top of filling. Bake at 400F for 20 -30 minutes until biscuits are golden and filling is bubbly.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I want Lemon Cake!

Daughter with her birthday cuppycake
Daughter"s birthday was September 20 and that's what she wanted - Lemon Cake.  The grandsons insisted on "cuppycakes". I searched the books and came up with a few variations on some old favorites.

For the cake base I started with Betty Crocker's Dinette Cake recipe and changed it up a bit.  I used my ancient Encyclopedia of Cooking's Lemon Meringue Pie recipe for the filling and topping.  It's been a lot of work but there are 11 almost perfect cupcakes waiting to be eaten.  (Daughter grabbed one as soon as they hit the counter.)

We used 4 lemons for zest and 3 for juice.

1/4 c. corn starch
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. boiling water
2 egg yolks
1/3 c. lemon juice, fresh
1 T. lemon zest
1 T. margarine
[use double boiler method.  a steel bowl with something that will serve as a lid will work for the top]
Combine the cornstarch, salt and sugar.  Whisk in the boiling water slowly until it is smooth and lump free.  Cook over boiling water [double boiler] until smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.  Cover and cook 15 minutes.  Beat egg yolks and gradually add about 1/3 of hot mixture to eggs while stirring constantly. [temper eggs] Combine mixtures and cook 5 more minutes.  Just before removing from heat add lemon juice, zest, and margarine.  Mix well.  Scrape down sides of bowl and cover with wax paper that touches the surface of the pudding.  (if using plastic wrap let pudding cool 10 minutes then cover)  Chill pudding while cake bakes.

1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. liquid (leftover juice from lemons plus water)
1 T. lemon zest
3 T. shortening
2 T. margarine
1 egg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place cup cake papers in 12 cups.  Measure all ingredients into large mixer bowl. Blend 1/2 minute on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes high speed scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.  Bake 15 - 20 minutes.   Do NOT over bake.  Cool while making meringue.

2 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla

In large mixing bowl with whip beater on high speed beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy.  [stand mixers work best for this or get an assistant] Add sugar a bit at a time.  [watch for "snowstorms"  mixer is on  high!]  Beat until peaks form.  Beat in vanilla.  Done.

Raise oven temperature to 400F.

Fill with lemon pudding using pastry bag.
I used a pastry bag with Wilton's #10 round tip, but there are cheap plastic tips available in most grocers.  Fill the bag with about 1/2 cup lemon pudding.  Stick the tip into the middle of each cupcake as far as it will go without squashing the cake and squeeze until the tip is forced out.  Each cupcake will only take about 2 teaspoons of filling. (Edit:  Now I know that the pros remove some of the cake so that they can put more filling in their cupcakes.  So if you want to take a spoon and dig the center out of the cupcake-go for it.)

Carefully so you don't deflate it spread a dollop of meringue on each cupcake.  [Air is the secret ingredient in meringue.]

Put the cupcakes in a 400F oven for 5 - 10 minutes.  Watch them! Until the meringue is toasted.


Mac and Almost Cheese

Our oldest grandson is allergic to dairy products.  Before we knew that we called him "mouse" because he loved cheese.  It took time to connect his illnesses with with his love of cheese.  Poor kid was covered in sores and blotches by the time someone said "Hey, let's try taking him off milk products!"

No so long ago a dairy allergy meant that anything that even approached the taste and mouth feel of real cheese was impossible.  Several new products have changed that.  We really like the Daiya brand shreds for their melt-ability and taste.   We also like So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer instead of milk in this recipe.

For the Pasta, we like whole wheat medium shells.  We just like whole wheat pasta, but the important thing is not to overcook the noodles.
For those wanting to make a full dairy version, no changes are necessary. This recipe works either way. 
Basic Mac and “Cheese”
  • 6 – 8 ounces Pasta, prepared
  • 2 Tablespoons Fat (margarine, butter, oil, bacon fat, etc.)
  • 2 Tablespoons All purpose Flour
  • 2 Cups “Milk” or “Cream
  • 3 cups shredded “Cheese
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 – 4 Tablespoons grated Onion
  • 1 clove grated Garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • dash + cayenne
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup shredded “Cheese” for topping
  • preheat oven to 350 F
  • Spray 13 X 9 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  • Melt fat over medium heat in large heavy skillet or saucepan.
  • Sweat onions and garlic in fat. Season with pepper. Stir occasionally. (You don't want browning just softening.) About 3 minutes.
  • Add spices and toss to “toast” a bit. One minute.
  • Sprinkle the flour over everything in pan and scrape and stir until all the fat and flour are combined and everything else is coated with fatty flour. Cook and stir once in a while watching carefully that it doesn't darken. (If it starts to turn dark brown remove it from the heat.) It needs to cook to the color of cheese, kinda. (medium blond)
  • Remove from heat. Whisk in the “milk” slowly. Return to medium high heat. Whisk constantly until mixture reaches the boiling point.
  • Remove from heat. Turn off burner. Slowly stir or whisk in cheese. Keep stirring until cheese is melted.
  • Add pasta to cheese sauce. Stir gently to coat. Pour into prepared baking dish.
  • Top with 1/4 – 1/2 cup shredded cheese.
  • Bake for 30 – 45 minutes until center reaches 145 F
Variations & Notes:
  • NOTE: I do NOT measure exactly except for the white sauce base – fat, flour, and milk – use the middle amount to be safe.
  • PASTA PREPARATION: Shorten the boiling time by at least one minute two minutes is better for smaller noodles. Rinse the pasta to stop cooking.
  • Suggested Not-Cheeses: Daiya Shreds in any combination.
  • Suggested Cheeses: CoJack, Sharp Cheddar
  • Suggested Not-Milk: So Delicious Coconut Creamer, Almond Breeze Original
  • Suggested Milk: Half and Half, 2% milk
  • Meat and vegetables may be added with the pasta. Use cooked meat and dice it about 1/2 inch. Vegetables should be fresh or thawed and also diced about 1/2 inch. Ham, meatballs, hot dogs, pepperoni, even chicken are good meats. Broccoli, corn, zucchini, cauliflower, spinach, almost any vegetables would be good.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mother Sauces and Comfort Food

It's getting colder at night.  Time for comfort food.-rich, creamy mac and cheese; scalloped taters; chicken pot pie, pasta with 'fredo sauce.  These all start with white sauce.  Even plain old sausage gravy for breakfast biscuits is white sauce.  Learning to make basic white sauce means that you can make all of these without using canned soup or other prepared food.

The slowly cooked fat and flour mixture that is called roux makes a superior product to any other method of making a white sauce.  Just because I cheat and only use about half the fat doesn't change the quality of end result.  This chart outlines sauce making really well.  (just decrease the fat to flour ratio if you want a lighter version.)  Making white sauce means that I control the salt, fat, and flavors that go into my final dish.

Enough of that.  Let's make a rich tasting, light dairy free white sauce for scalloped potatoes.  The rich flavor comes from using equal parts broth and milk in one volume of liquid - To make it taste rich either your milk or your broth must be dehydrated.

Savory White Sauce
1/3 cup fat (margarine, bacon drippings, olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 teaspoons Chicken base (Better than Bouillon is a favorite brand) or 1 quart Chicken Broth
1 quart Almond Milk or milk substitute powder equal to 1 quart (I do NOT like Rice milk in this)

In 4 quart or larger saucepan, (can use large skillet) melt fat over medium high heat.  Saute garlic and onions until just translucent, sprinkle with pepper.  Scraping and stirring all the while sprinkle the flour over the fat and vegetables.  Lower heat to medium cook the flour until it smells toasty and is a bit golden.(3 - 5 minutes)  Keep stirring!  It burns easily since there isn't a full amount of fat in there.  Here's where you need a fourth arm.  slowly pour the liquid (milk or broth) into the flour while stirring and scrapping.  You may switch to a whisk once the bottom of the pan is clean.  Add the dehydrated (milk or chicken base) component and stir well.  Raise heat back to medium high and bring to a low boil.  Keep stirring!  Cook one minute by the clock.  Remove from heat.

Scalloped Potatoes
6 russet potatoes (about 2 X 3 inches) sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup onion, chopped
Black pepper
Savory White Sauce (above)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Spray a 3 quart casserole with cooking spray.  Build layers of sauce, potatoes, onions, seasonings.  Finish with sauce try to cover all the exposed potato.  Bake at 400F for 45 - 60 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Cheese Sauce:  add 8 ounces melt-able cheese when white sauce boils.

Herbs: White sauce is blank canvas experiment.  We like basil, tarragon, or dill.

Sausage Gravy: Fry 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage in large skillet, breaking up into small crumble.  Remove meat, measure drippings and add fat to make 1/3 cup.  Continue with white sauce add cooked sausage back in at the end.  Increase onion, garlic, and black pepper if desired.

That should get you started.  I plan on doing chicken pot pie (biscuit crust) this next month so more then.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stress and Change equal Diet Fail

Trying to diet in a house full of food and stress isn't easy.  Now I'm redoing my computer.  Happy, happy.  Joy, joy.

My old guy just wasn't keeping up.  He kept crashing.  Meanwhile, all my stuff is still that hard drive until I can the family technogeek over here to move the drive to the new computer.  Named this computer NCC-1701F in honor of Star Trek's birthday.

Diet fail today.  Peanuts and a quart of juice.  Tomorrow will be better.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tomato and Thai Basil Delight

We, actually the daughter/wife/mommy/auntie, bought a Thai Basil plant and started it in "our" garden a couple years ago.  It has become a weed (A word which here means: Any plant that grows wild and profusely, especially one that grows among cultivated plants. depriving them of space, food, etc.) lovely Purple blossoms everywhere.  We also have numerous volunteer tomato plants because The mommy person a.k.a daughter, wife, aunt, is the only one who actually tends the garden while teaching (summer) school, running car pool for swim lessons and day camp and other boy things, planning vacation,  taking vacation, and I lost track of what all she did/does since last frost this past spring.  She is very busy.

Let's just say we have lots of tomatoes and Thai Basil.

Our son-in-law and I were racking brains for a side dish that didn't echo the rest of the week.  I saw 5 or 6 perfectly ripe red tomatoes about 2 - 3 inches in diameter.  Tomatoes go with basil and garlic.

Here it is:
5 or 6 vine ripe tomatoes,  quartered lengthwise then sliced about 3/8 inch
36 (+/-) leaves Thai Basil, sliced into 1/8 inch or narrower slivers (watch your fingers!)
1 large clove of garlic, crushed (mashed, pasted - no chunks!)
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Use a glass bowl to avoid an unwanted chemical reaction.  Just toss all ingredients and let mellow 30 minutes or so.
Yes, 1 clove of garlic is enough.
No, I didn't forget the salt and pepper.  Son-in-law did and we didn't miss it.

Son-in-law got a business call just as the rest of us sat down to dinner.  He's very blessed that I saved him some.  It was too temping to eat it all before he got to taste the fruits of his labors.