Monday, February 19, 2007

Scattershot approach

You know what? If I save a topic for later, I may completely forget it. So: Three smaller posts in one. Or maybe it's two in one. Or four.

Last month, I bought a set of beautiful, beautiful W├╝sthof knives after using the same set of cheap-ass knives for nearly 20 years. The old ones came in a butcher block, which I like, but the knives themselves were of the "never needs sharpening" variety, with sharp little serrated teeth jaggedying up the blades. The new knives are a thing (or really, eight things) of beauty, with a good heft to the handles and razor sharp blades. One of the ickiest parts of cooking chicken (well, aside from the ickiness of raw chicken itself) was always the cutting/trimming. But the new knives, they slice through without effort. This makes me happy. You should see the way I peel and slice an orange with a santoku knife. If you can't afford a whole set of good knives, you might consider buying one high-quality big knife for heavy-duty kitchen use.

So, back on Valentine's Day, I wasn't trying to be wifely or traditional or spoil my man and boy with a home-cooked meal (I don't cook much). I was famished, there was no ready-to-eat food I was in the mood for, and it would have been cruel to order a pizza given the snowstorm. So I cooked some mashed potatoes (with butter, sour cream, and milk, plus some black pepper and rosemary) and chicken. Let me tell you how we made the chicken. (Mr. Tangerine manned the frying pan at the end and concocted a wonderful sauce.)

I joyfully sliced the boneless, skinless chicken breasts into crosswise thirds with my happy, happy knife, and sprinkled the nuggets with Penzeys salt-free adobo seasoning. (If you know anyone who should be cooking without salt, go to Penzeys Spices and buy them the gift pack of salt-free seasoning blends. One of my best friends gave me that for Christmas a few years ago, and it was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten. These seasonings let you cook without a recipe—just sprinkle from the bottle of your choice, and whatever you're cooking will taste terrific.) So, sort of a dry rub of the adobo seasoning. Adobo is a traditional Mexican and Filipino thing, though I think the authentic thing is, like, bone-in chicken stewed in a pot with vinegar and actual garlic. I like this non-stinky and super-easy version.

Dredge the seasoned chicken chunks in an egg batter (an egg mixed with a little water) and coat with bread crumbs (I use the store-bought can).

Heat a good-sized dollop of oil in a large frying pan, enough to fry all the chicken pieces. (I prefer olive oil. Though the cabinet where I keep it is poorly insulated—the cold is giving it a sludgy consistency! It still tastes the same.) Fry on medium heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, flip the pieces over, and fry 'em for another 5 to 6 minutes. Check one nugget for doneness because you can never trust that the outside appearance means the inside's actually cooked through, and you're paranoid about undercooked chicken and salmonella. (Or maybe that's me and not you.) When the chicken's cooked, transfer all the chicken to a plate.

Then open the fridge and take out a bottle with some really sweet wine you haven't finished because you're the only one in the house who likes sweet white wine, and you lose your taste for it after two glasses. (Mr. Tangerine won't drink the wine, but I'm glad he thinks of things like cooking with it.) Poor a good-sized splash of it into the pan, and reduce it over medium-high heat. (Meaning the liquid boils off and you're left with a brownish sauce with a light consistency.) Spoon that sweet, fruity goodness over the fried chicken nuggets, and moan with contentedness.

Tonight, we had no more potatoes, so I made couscous for the side dish. In a saucepan, add a cup of water, a sprinkle of salt, up to a teaspoon of olive oil, and a quarter cup or more of dried fruit (I had golden raisins and Bing cherries). Bring it to a boil. In the meantime, take a cup of dry couscous, mix in a teaspoon of cinnamon and a small handful of slivered almonds. When the pot boils, remove from heat, dump in the couscous and nuts, stir 'em up, and cover the pan while the couscous soaks up the water. Fluff with a fork after 4 or 5 minutes (otherwise it clumps up along the bottom and sides of the pan).

If you don't like sweet fruit flavors in your dinner food, then (1) you may be a deeply unhappy person and (2) you might not like either of these recipes. Me, I think dinner's always improved by fruit (you'll note the blog name is suggestive of a pro-fruit bias).

I've been catching a cold every two months. I have the mildest case of asthma, and just when I think I can wean myself off the Advair, I get another cold and make my airways a little cranky. So twice a day, I use that darlin' purple metered-dose inhaler of Advair. Inhaler instructions generally tell you to breathe the medication in deeply and hold it know, like you're trying to get high off it. It is frightfully difficult to take this medicine in Mr. Tangerine's presence, because we joke around. I inhale deeply, place pinched thumb and forefinger by my mouth, and extend the imaginary doobie toward him. (If I don't, he tells me to quit bogarting the inhaler.) Then he takes an imaginary toke and comments that it is some good shit, at which point I laugh out half the medicine. Yup. Should really tend to my airways alone.

Plus, the Advair container looks like there'd be somewhere for you to put your weed in it, as per the classic Rob Schneider skit on Saturday Night Live. I can't say I've actually seen weed in the last two decades, but I still love that sketch. For my money, those few minutes contain more hilarity than the entirety of either Deuce Bigalow movie.

Bringing this post full circle—I'll bet Rob Schneider's mom used to cook chicken adobo, since she's a Filipina.

Oh! I went to my cousin's hors d'oeuvres wedding reception yesterday. (Thanks to all who chimed in on gift budgets. I learned that I have been underbuying for kids' birthday gifts all these years, but more generous with my cousins' graduations than many of you would have been.) One of the snacky highlights was a carrot/cheddar cheese dip—finely grated carrots mixed into cheese. I should eat more fresh veggies, so this is an ideal cheese dip. It's a Martha Stewart recipe, but I can't find it online. Martha's online recipe search function sucks. If you have this recipe, can you please share it?

Okay, audience participation time. Tell me about your favorite recipe that contains fruit or vegetables in a surprising way.


Anonymous said...

Very Simple Green Beans (or, Do Apricot Preserves Count as Fruit?)

Saute a little bit of onion (1/4 cup) and garlic (1-2 cloves) in olive oil until soft (not brown!). Add green beans enough to feed whomever is eating. Add 1/4-1/3 cup good vegetable broth.

When the green beans are done to your liking, either

1) Stir in 1-2 tablespoons of apricot preserves.

2) Remove green beans from pan, add apricot preserves to remaining liquid, and reduce liquid to a syrup.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I made a good veggie lasagna last night that uses NO noodles...I roasted eggplant and zucchini slices (little olive oil and sea salt), and sauteed baby portabellos and thinly sliced leeks, then layered the veggies in a buttered 8x8 glass pan, alternating with a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, egg, parsley and oregano.

The kids ate multiple helpings. Of their own free will. Amazing stuff, that!

DoctorMama said...

I often explain inhaler use to patients by saying, "People who smoke pot are usually good at this ..." Most people laugh, but some people laugh VERY knowingly. (Advair's not my favorite, but I'll skip the unsolicitated medical advice.)

This post doesn't sound like someone who doesn't cook much.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to head to Penzey's tomorrow so I can try your recipe for dinner tomorrow night!

The first thing I thought of, in regards to surprising use of fruit or vegetables is my favorite cookie. In lieu of raisins I love to put dried cherries in oatmeal cookies. Yum. Not necessarily surprising but delicious nonetheless!

E. said...

Nice knives. Serrated knives have no place in my kitchen, except for my bread knife. But I've never had a whole set of nice knives. We've kind of one-at-a-timed it over the years.

I love fruit in my dinner. I totally dig apples, pears, and/or strawberries in salad, esp. along with a good pungent cheese like gorgonzola. Aside from raisins in curries and pineapple in sweet and sour tofu (I have a killer recipe that will make you forget you ever even wanted shrimp or chicken, I swear), I don't actually cook hot food with fruit that much, but I always order it out if it's an option.

And, Mona, your lasagne sounds like a dream come true.

JT said...

There is a rule in my household -- NOBODY touches Mommy's knives. I have a very special relationship with them, beginning with my first: the 8" Wustolf chef's knife. Working at Crate allowed me to stock up on the serrated bread/tomato knife, several more chef knives, paring knives, etc.

My personal advice? Eschew the butcher block on the counter and get yourself an in-drawer knife tray. Easier to clean and a great way to keep those knives safely stored.

Oh, and recipe wise? I love making a light salad with toasted walnuts, diced Asian pears, cranberries and raspberry vinagrette. Delightful. And the old Jewish woman in me adores a good noodle kugel, which simply can't be made without apricot preserves (and maraschino cherries, which I know are really candy more than fruit). And tzimmes? I've never made it, but while it sounds gross to eat stewed prunes and apricots, it's quite tasty.

theotherbear said...

we make nice pork chops - we get thick cut pork chops, lightly score them, fill the scores with a mixture of butter, dill and diced spring onion, fry in a pan till lightly browned, then pour over apple cider and put the lid on and simmer for a few minutes. Spoon the juice over some boiled whole baby potatoes when serving. Also nice with some slices of apple put into the pan with the pork. Surprising because I don't normally like any fruit in a main meal but love this dish. The butter thing makes it a bit of a treat meal though!

Delia Christina said...

i love chicken adobo and i make a kickass one.

there is also my pork umba which is cubed pork cooked in brown sugar and a bay leaf. that's it. totally simple and totally good. no fruit or veggies in these, but just thought i'd share my limited repetoire of filipino dishes.