Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poulet Poule a l'Estragon

Okay, so I have fresh tarragon in the garden and I thought it would be a good opportunity to make Poulet Poule a l'Estragon from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".  I loved Julie and Julia and got caught up in the whole Julia Child craze - got the movie, got the cookbook, etc.  Well the cookbook has been gathering dust for about a year because trying one of those recipes seemed daunting.  I'm sorry Julia but cooking doesn't have to be so damn hard!  The recipes are like mini-encyclopedias with a plethora of steps, ingredients and tools required to successfully complete them. It's too much! Just reading one makes me feel like Charlie Brown the second he kicks the ball and connects with...air...Anyway here goes.

(Notice - the vegetable is cherry tomatoes out of the garden.  I was just too tired after making cookies and then jumping through Julia's hoops to do the kale I was planning)

First you take a 3 lb chicken and you wash and dry it.  Season the inside with salt and pepper and 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon and 2 Tbsp of butter (really Julia - butter INSIDE a chicken - sorry no can do) and then you truss the bird with kitchen twine.  Now you melt 2 Tbsp of butter and 1 Tbsp of oil in a heavy iron casserole.  (I used 1.5 Tbsp butter and 1.5 Tbsp of olive oil) and brown the chicken on all sides.  Julia goes on and on about regulating the heat so the butter is very hot but not burning, about  browning the chicken on all sides, using 2 wooden spoons to move and manipulate the chicken without breaking the skin, adding more butter as needed.  Well, I tried Julia - really I did but as you can see, I wasn't very successful...

Oh well, when I had done all the browning I could tolerate, I removed it to a platter and added 3 slices of onion and one carrot sliced and a couple of sprigs of tarragon.  Now Julia says to drain the butter from your pan and add fresh butter.  I never thought I hear myself say this but - it's too damn much butter! Every time you turn around in one of these recipes she has you adding more and more butter. No, no, no.  Just cook the veg in the existing butter until they are softened but not browned.  Then add the chicken on top, season with salt and pepper and put in a 325 degree oven for about an hour.

Now Julia has a couple of paragraphs of how the chicken is supposed to sound while it's in the oven.  She's a little verbose for me - let me just say, forget all the persnickety directions.  Put the lid on and bung it in the oven for an hour.  Check it and baste it a couple of times during the hour. At the end of the hour, take the lid off and turn the heat up to 375 for the last 20 minutes - baste again.

Now take it out and put it on the cutting board to rest while you make the brown tarragon sauce.  Julia suggests making the sauce and then straining it into the gravy boat.  You can just use a slotted spoon to take the veg and herbs out.  Turn up the heat under the casserole dish, add 1 to 1.5 cups of chicken stock.  Bring it to a boil and add a cornstarch mixture (1 Tbsp of cornstarch and 2 Tbsp of sherry or port).  Boil to thicken and add a Tbsp of chopped fresh tarragon (omit the tablespoon of butter she suggests).  I'm sure the chicken would have looked nice decorated with crossed blanched tarragon leaves but needless to say, I didn't go to all that trouble.  I just sliced it and put it on the plate with potatoes and tomatoes.  I must say that I was a little ticked off by the time I got this dinner on the table and was not expecting much.  Really I was sure that my roast lemon chicken must taste as good with half the work but....I have to admit it was delicious.  I mean really, really good - tender chicken, incredibly flavourful sauce.  Really so good that my mother who is in her 80s and always telling me she has no appetite any more, went back for seconds because she needed some more of that sauce.  I guess there is a reason Julia is so famous.  Your recipe was a pain but boy did it taste good!

Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hey chocolate lovers, this one is for you.  Chocolate cookies studded with tiny white chocolate chips.

1/2 lb hard margarine (or butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line your baking sheet with parchment paper. 40 to 50 cookies.

In your mixer, cream room temperature margarine and the 2 sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and the two eggs and mix well.  Add the cocoa and mix again.  Now you have a nice thick chocolaty, gooey batter.  Now stir your dry ingredients together and slowly add them until thoroughly mixed.  Fold in the white chocolate chips.  Now you have a stiff batter that you can form into balls about an inch and a half big.  Place them on the parchment and with wet fingers, pat them down into disks about half an inch thick.  Bake for 15 minutes and you get yummy crispy, chewy chocolate cookies.  These are especially wonderful when you put a small scoop of ice cream between two of them and pretend you are 10 years old again.

Hey - look what I had for dessert ;)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sun-dried Tomato and Herb Rolls

My sister, Connie made a lovely capon dinner tonight and my contribution was a Greek salad and these sun-dried tomato herb rolls.  It was the first time I made these and while I felt they were a little heavy, they were quite tasty so I will make them again.  Give them a try!  An easy recipe if you are a novice bread baker.

12 sun-dried tomato halves (not packed in oil)
1 Tbsp yeast (or one envelope)
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/4 tsp sugar
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp fresh sage, minced
1 egg

Start by pouring very hot water over the tomato in a bowl to re-hydrate.  You might need to do this a couple of times.  I did.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes each time.  I gently squeezed out the excess water and cut tomato into slivers.

To make the actual bread, I used my stand mixer but a food processor or a bowl and some elbow-grease would work as well.  Start by proofing your yeast - warm water, yeast and sugar.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes until it is nice and foamy and "live".  Then add the flour and salt and mix well until it is smooth and elastic.  Lightly oil a bowl and turn the dough over in it.  Place a clean tea towel over it and let it rise in a warm place for an hour.  It will double in size.

Once your dough has risen, finely chop the rosemary and sage.  Don't do it too far in advance or it might blacken.  Spread some flour on a clean counter or board.  Turn your dough out onto it and knead the tomato and herbs into it.  Knead until it is well mixed and add as much flour as you need to stop it from sticking to the counter.  Then cut the dough into 12 roughly equal pieces. 

Knead them into oval or round shapes and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet in order to rise again.  Cover with the tea towel and let rest another hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make an egg wash with an egg and a Tbsp of water.  Brush each roll so it will bake brown and shiny.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Coconut Madeleines

I've been re-reading "My Life in France" by Julia Child and enjoying it immensely so last night I watched "Julie & Julia" again.  I loved it (maybe because I like food so much or maybe it is that amazing Meryl Streep) and so I really felt the need to make something a la Francaise today.  That's why you are looking at a beautiful plate of coconut madeleines. How do you say "scrumptious" in French?


3/4 lb of butter
3 large eggs
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat your oven to 375 and start by melting your butter in the microwave.  Then let it cool to almost room temperature or you will have scrambled eggs.  In the Kitchenaid stand mixer (or bowl with hand mixer but life is easier with a Kitchenaid), beat the eggs (please remove those nasty white umbilical cords attached to the yolk - it's terrible to get a hard stringy little piece in your mouth when you bite into one of these delicate cakey cookies).  Add the vanilla and sugar and beat until it is pale and creamy and fluffy.

This is one of the few recipes I will give you that require a special piece of "equipment".  You really need a madeleine pan.  Some recipes tell you that you can use a muffin tin but don't bother.  You really need the pans to give the madeleines their lovely little shell shape.  You can buy them at most kitchenware stores fairly cheaply - I got mine at Stokes.  This recipe makes 24 madeleines so I had to bake two batches (but it does seem a little excessive to own 2 madeleine pans).

Once you have achieved light and fluffy, slowly add the butter while the paddle is beating on the lowest setting.  Next mix all the dry ingredients together (I do this in a 4-cup measuring cup so I don't have another bowl to wash) and then slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture.  I spray the pan and spoon just enough batter into each of the little shells.

Bake to about 12 minutes until the edges are lightly browned.  Cool on a rack and then dust with icing sugar.  Lovely tea-time treat. As Julia said, Bon Appetit!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

General Tso Chicken

Simple, delicious and low calorie - what could be better than that?

Here's your ingredients...I start by getting rice going in the rice cooker (brown rice is my preference) but it would be nice served over Asian noodles or all on its own if you are avoiding carbs.

Cube a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  This recipe will serve two with a little left over for lunch tomorrow ;).  Mix up a couple of tablespoons of sherry, a tablespoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of oyster sauce.  Stir this into your chicken and let it marinate while you chop your veg.  I buy my Chinese ingredients at Minh's grocery store here in Peterborough but if your local grocery store has an ethnic section or your city has a Chinatown, I'm sure you'll find everything you need.

Chop up 2 stalks of celery, one red pepper and 2 green onions.  Finely dice one large garlic clove and a one inch square piece of fresh ginger.  Then heat a couple of teaspoons of oil in a pan and start browning the chicken...

Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Once it starts to brown, add the celery and garlic and ginger.  Stir fry on medium-high heat for a few minutes before you add the red pepper and green onions.  While you are cooking the meat and veg, you can make your sauce.  In a bowl, mix 3 Tbsp of sherry, 4 Tbsp of water, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar, 2 tsp of sesame oil and 2 tsp of cornstarch.  Stir to combine and when the veg is tender-crisp, add the sauce mixture.

Bring to a boil to thicken the sauce and serve over rice.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Homemade spaghetti sauce always makes me think of my Dad.  This was his specialty and I remember him simmering a sauce for hours, wonderful smells wafting through the house.  I make this very much the same way he did.  It freezes well and is often my go-to meal for those nights I don't feel like cooking. 

I always start with a couple of cans of tomatoes - usually a can of diced and a can of ground.  If you use whole tomatoes or 2 cans if diced, I'd recommend that you roughly process them so your sauce will thicken nicely.  To the pot, I add about 1/2 cup chopped onion, a chopped green pepper and about 8 mushrooms sliced.  I also add 2 or 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped.  One cup of red wine and a dash of red pepper flakes (how much depends on how spicy you like it) adds some great flavour.  However, you can add or substitute any vegetables your like.  For example, I have used celery, carrots, zucchini or eggplant in the past.  Mix and match however you like but I'd keep the added vegetables to 2 or 3 cups total so you get a good finished consistency.  Sometimes I saute the vegetables in a little olive oil before adding the tomatoes and wine.  I have also roasted the vegetables on occasion and used them in the sauce (a very good way to use leftover roasted vegetables).  When I'm trying to cut calories, I put it all in the pot together to cook so you don't need to add any fat.

Now for thickening, you can add 3 or 4 tablespoons of tomato paste like I did here or you can use my Dad's trick and peel and finely dice an apple.  This makes a sweeter sauce.  For the seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste.  I always add parsley, basil and oregano.  If I can get them fresh, then I chop up about a Tbsp of parsley, Tbsp of basil and 2 tsp of oregano but I don't add them til the end of the cooking time.  If it's the middle of winter and I'm using dried herbs, I add about a tsp each of parsley, basil and oregano and I add them right up front.

Simmer the sauce in a large pot for 2 to 3 hours until it is thickened to your liking.  At this point, you can freeze it or boil up some spaghetti and serve it with meatballs and a generous helping of fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  I like to make plain meatballs - ground beef with salt and pepper, formed into balls and baked in the oven.  I use a rimmed baking sheet covered in parchment and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes.  Bon appetit!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicken Fajita Salad

I made Chicken Fajita Salad tonight for dinner so I could try out my new Food Processor!!!!!!!!!

I started by making the dressing -  1/2 cup of salsa, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, a couple of shakes of salt and the juice of one lime.  Blend it all together in the food processor until it makes a fairly smooth dressing.

I plated the salad - mixed mesclun leaves, chopped fresh yellow pepper, lots of grape tomatoes from my garden and half an avocado, diced. Then I cooked the boneless, skinless chicken breast.  I seasoned them with salt and pepper and sprinkled fajita seasoning on both sides (you can get this at the grocery store or the bulk food).  I used a couple of teaspoons of oil to cook the chicken breasts.  If they start to brown too much, put a couple of tablespoons of water in the pan and cover it.

Once the chicken is cooked, let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing.  Arrange it on top of salad and drizzle with your dressing.  Easy, delicious and health conscious.  A good time was had by all!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Orange Ginger Beef

Excellent Sunday night dinner and it's Weight Watchers too!  My cousin, Dot came over for dinner tonight - not that she needs WW but this recipe is so tasty, you never feel like you're missing anything.
I'm trying to get some weight off so this may become a trend.  I hope you enjoy it...

I used 2 strip loin steaks for 4 servings and cut them into strips.  I then trimmed the beans and cut up a pepper into similar sized sticks.  The carrot was cut into matchsticks too but I cut them a bit thinner so they would cook at the same rate as the beans and pepper.  You can use as much vegetable as you would like.

I then grated the orange rind into a tablespoon of cornstarch.  The beef strips get tossed with the cornstarch mixture.

 Heat a couple of teaspoons of oil in a wok and stir fry the beef.

 While the beef is cooking, you have time to make the sauce.  Mix all the ingredients together.

1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp spicy chili sauce
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp cornstarch

Once the beef is cooked (in batches), remove it to a plate.  Add a couple more teaspoons of oil and stir fry the vegetables for a few minutes.  I like the vegetables to still be quite crisp in my stir fries so I don't cook them very long.

Once I feel they are almost ready, I pour the sauce in.  Let it simmer a few minutes to thicken and add the beef back in.  Cook just til beef is hot again and serve. 

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mom's Homemade BBQ Sauce with Ribs

It rained all day and so it felt like a good day for making dinner in the oven.  I made ribs with my Mom's homemade BBQ sauce.  I was flooded with memories of my childhood at the first taste!


1 cup ketchup
1 cup water
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes of Tabasco
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp butter

Mix all ingredients together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Then simmer 20 to 30 minutes until thickened.   This is an excellent all-purpose BBQ sauce.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and season ribs with salt and pepper.  Bake in a roast pan on a rack with a little water in the bottom of the pan.  Slowly cook the ribs for a couple of hours.  Increase heat to 350. Then slice into individual ribs and put in a casserole dish.  Pour sauce over and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes.  Tender, juicy and very flavourful.