Monthly Archives: April 2006

eternity equals two people and a ham :)

Well, it is not so bad if you’ve already served a bunch of the ham to company on Easter! But, here it is Wednesday and we are having ham again… This time, I am going to lightly stir fry some green peppers, mushrooms, and brocolli (we had a lot of raw veggies leftover that were sliced for veggies and dip) toss dice ham in for a quick heat, then mix it with cooked pasta and grated cheese and sprinkle with the home-ground parmesian-reggiano I have leftover from the asparagus I served on Easter, and bake it until browned and bubbly. OR, maybe just make a quick white/cheese sauce and serve it over pasta. But, I think I want to go the casserole route, tonight.

And that will be it for ham for now. I froze a few chunks to slice for sandwiches or dice for another casserole, and I have the bone and more chunks/scraps for pea soup in the freezer.

Ham is quite economical if you catch a good quality one on sale. This Cook’s brand ham (spiral cut bone-in) was 1.79 a pound (I’ve gotten it on sale for 1.29 a pound other times but they didn’t slash the price as much with it being Easter and all) so for 17.00, I served dinner for 13, brought some over Steve’s Dad’s on Sunday where we munched on it with cheese and crackers, and had it for dinner Monday and Tuesday night – AND tonight in a casserole. With a few sandwiches and pea soup to come.

You know, I had at one time thought about being a Home Economics teacher. But, although I’d be great at the cooking part, I don’t have the patience for sewing. I should just start offering cooking classes on my own. Such fun! And, since we all have to eat and do some kind of food prep, it would be extra fun to make it fun for others.

I am tempted to repeat the menu next year

The Easter gathering was a success – EXCEPT – if you are going to serve asparagus, plan on 1/2 pound per person when you buy it! We all had a serving, but none leftover! I had only prepared 4 pounds as bought (less, of course, after snapping off the ends) and it JUST served 12 folks with a modest serving each.

I have yet to really think about the potatoes – I did a “prepare the day before with added cream cheese” sort of thing. I ended up adding some yogurt, too. I liked them, but need to taste some of the leftovers again – I think adding a sour flavor was not the best thing but need to taste again to make sure of what I will do next time.

Everything else was fine. I cooked the 9.5 bone-in ham for about two hours at 325 degrees, then kind of ad-libbed after that. My only flub was that I did not read the glaze recipe carefully – I should have prepared it an hour before I wanted to use it. I thought I had done the simmer of vinegar and sugar long enough, but it never really carmalized. Tasted good, though! Some guests noticed it sitting on the stove and used it like gravy and really liked it.

Oh – (I am adding this later) I think the potatoes would have been better without adding yogurt, but my husband loves them! He is still raving about them – luckily, since we still have some left over. 🙂

The tarragon chicken was really tasty, as was the green bean and tomato salad. I used a lot of recipes for the first time for this meal and lucked out!

You know, I have no idea if anyone besides my friend Lori reads this blog, but, feel free to email me if you want a recipe. That will get me to type them up and post them via a link, here!

Easter Menu

I am about halfway through food prep for Easter. This will be the first time I host a “family holiday gathering – but I’ve done plenty of parties, so its more fun than trouble. Except for the housecleaning…

Here is the menu:

Appetizers

veggies and dip
hummus and crackers
shrimp cocktail
others brought by guests
assortment of olives and pickles (with meal, also)

Meal

Orange-glazed ham with rosemary
Tarragon Chicken
tomato and green bean salad
asparagus parmasan
baked creamy mashed potatoes

Dessert
Assorted brought by guests

The menu is actually very easy. The potatoes are already mashed and in the fridge – just pop them in the oven tomorrow. Chicken is done except the sauce. Hummus is made. Lori is doing the veggies and dip. I’ll blanch the green beans and make the vinegarette in the morning for the bean and tomato salad. Aspargus is WAY easy. Ham is WAY easy. Even if I waited until after church to do the salad stuff, it can all be done easily while the ham cooks for a few hours.

The problem is cleaning the house (a formidable task given that I am terrible at keeping up with housework and I am still recovering from close to three years of CONSTANT complete house rennovations…. dust, dust, still dust everywhere!) and attempting to create enough space for 12-14 people when I still have two (yes two!) upright pianos AND an organ just about as big in my living room. Don’t ask…

Ovbiously, this will be a buffet-style meal. 🙂 I’ve figured out a way to have “food stations” in different rooms since there is no place for even a buffet table sort of thing.

Luckily, my dear friend Lori, who lives upstairs had been helping a bunch and is even going to clean my stove and preheat the oven for me while I am at church. And, between the two of us, there will be enough dishes and all. That reminds me, I have to look for my Mom’s crystal. It is in the attic…somewhere…

cool way to do park chops

I seem to be averaging once a week here. Well, better than not at all!

So, I had some pork chops. Thick cut, but regular cut would work fine. I just knew I didn’t want the rice and mushroom thing going on this time. What I did was potato, apple, and onions. Really good!

First, I prepped/sliced everything. I always do all my prep first, including lining up any herbs or spices I may be using.

Then I browned the chops. I do think that keeps them more moist.

I sliced the potatoes really thin. Now, they may have cooked enough as is, but I did the precook in the microwave trick. Melt some butter (about 45 seconds on high but watch it carefully!) in a glass bowl big enough to add and toss the potato slices in it. Do that – microwave on high for 3 minutes, toss again, and another 3 minutes in the microwave, just so the bend easily but are still firm.

While that was going on, I was sauteing the thinly sliced onions and apples for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil. Then I put all three items in a baking pan and topped off with the chops. I did keep some of the apple and onion to scatter on top, too. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for around 50 minutes. This was really good!

The chicken accompanied with the avocado and tomato salad was good, too. That was described in the previous post – I just have not had time to comment on it until now.

Now I have to go finish dinner for tonight. A quicky – chicken sausage (about a pound) fried up with some chopped onion, green pepper, and celery – to doctor up the sauce from a jar. That’s barely bubbling (using a heat disfuser since I have a gas stove) while the pasta water heats up. Then, poof – dinner!

🙂

Great chicken comfort food – but always check recipes before you start!

WELL!
I was just happily following along the instructions of a recipe I found online, and realized that – HEY – this is not right!!!! (I’ll be nice and not reveal the source because I never had a problem with this source before and of course, errors happen once in a while – but ALWAYS really carefully read and think through a new recipe before you start!)

Chicken and rice – how easy should that be? Except, the recipe called for 2 cups of water to be mixed into the rice and celery, then later adding the peas….which was correct to get the rice cooked – but later said in the instructions to use another 1 1/3 cups water in the sauce – and that amount was not in the ingredient list!

But, while the results of the recipe are still in the oven on warm before we eat, I know I was able to make this recipe work just fine.

I put 1 cup long grain rice (yeah, the white kind – need to give some extra time and use whole grain next time!) a bit more celery than asked for – I put about 1 1/2 cups sliced celery, 2 cups water (that amount of water was called for in the ingredient list) and a tsp salt together in a saucepan and brought to a low boil and then simmered for 8 minutes.

After that, I added the 1 1/2 cups frozen peas asked for and let simmer on LOW for another 8-10 minutes.

Now, the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups cooked diced chicken (although it is not very clear about the details…)

I had 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Before starting the rice, etc., I cut each one into thirds and sauted them in a nonstick 12″pan with no oil. Once they were browned, I turned them off for a bit and then got them going again when I added the 1 1/2 cups frozen peas to the saucepan rice mix and let the whole saucepan mix simmer on low for another 10 minutes.

Once the chicken pieces were making noise cooking again, I added, in this order, the 1/8 tsp pepper (well, I estimated while grinding) a tsp of salt, then 2 Tbsp flour until all was mixed. Then I added 2/3 cup evaporated milk (I had regular open, but low or nonfat would be fine, I am sure) and 1 cup chicken stock. [NOTE: the recipe calls for 1 1/3 cups water in the directions, but NOT in the recipe list! I figured the stock, since I had it on hand, would add a nicer flavor. And, since the original recipe didn’t even have that other 1 1/3 water in the ingredient list, I thought is best to hold back on the amount.]

AGAIN – the recipe says to bring the liquid in the saucepan to a low boil until thick and then pour over the “chicken and rice mix.”…It never says to remove the chicken from the pan where the sauce is being made!

Anyway – I put the rice mix in a 9X12 baking pyrex dish, then put the chicken, then, when the sauce was a bit thick, poured it over it all, then sprinkled 1 or so cups of shredded cheese over it all. (the recipe calls for mild cheese – HAH! New York Sharp for this household. )

I baked it at 375 for about 20-25 minutes and it has been on “warm” since. I think it will be fine.

OH – I added about 1/4 cup chopped onion to the rice/celery, etc mix. Just couldn’t see a recipe without onion in it. 🙂

I am making an avocado and tomato salad, too. But, those details will have to wait… time to put that together and serve the meal!

I can’t believe I made really good cookies!

I am not shy about saying that I am a good cook. But I have never made ANY claims about my baking ability except to say that I did not inherit my Mom’s amazing baking talent, nor her love for baking. Although, funnily enough, the one item my Mom never felt she did well was pie crust – and the two times I made pies, the crust came out perfect… She always said she missed getting HER Mom’s fantastic Pie crust making gene. I guess I got it. However, those two times may have been flukes of good luck… Someday I’ll try pie crust again.

BUT, I made some really super chocolate chip cookies yesterday. I was truly amazed. I made some a few months ago and they were decent, but too crunchy. I have a terrible habit of leaving cookies and other baked goods in the oven to long because they don’t look done to me. I need to remember that, like meat, they keep cooking after being removed from the oven!

WELL, this time, I took them out before I thought they were done. Voila! That’s the trick I have to remember when baking! Also, here is what I did. I went on the Internet to look for tips and incorporated a few while using the standard Nestle’s Toll House cookie recipe.

First – and this probably has nothing to do with it – I needed more cookies than one batch would make and not enough of ingredients to double the recipe, so I just increased all the ingredients by 50%. Good thing, too, otherwise my mixing bowl would have been overflowing!

I let the eggs and butter come to room temperature (1 1/2 hours, I believe). Then, I melted the butter, being careful not to burn it, and let it cool a bit while still keeping it in liquid state before using in the recipe.

First, I measured and stirred to mix the flour, baking soda, and salt into a smaller bowl.

Then, I measured out the white and brown sugar and mixed them together with my hands in a big mixing bowl so I could use my fingers to break down as many lumps as possible in the brown sugar. (I had light brown sugar on hand that had not formed into the proverbial block, but it was a little lumpy.)

Then, I quickly added the vanilla (I used double the amount proportion than called for) to the somewhat cooled melted butter and poured the butter into the sugar mixture. Using a hand electric mixer (a stationary would have been easier, I am sure!) mixed/beat the sugars and butter until creamy.

After being absolutely certain the mixture was not at all warm anymore from the butter, I added one egg at a time, thoroughly mixing/beating each one in before adding the next.

Then I gradually added the flour mixture while still using the electric mixer. WELL, the poor mixture started getting bogged down towards the end because the batter was REALLY thick! Rather than risk burning out the motor, I used a fork to briskly mix/beat in the rest of the flour. (I doubt that made a difference – most folks probably have better electric mixers!)

I hand stirred in the chocolate chips – didn’t use nuts.

THEN – I covered the bowl of dough and stuck it in the fridge for about 4 hours. When I took it out (after pre-heating the oven to 375) it was REALLY stiff – almost hard. I was a bit apprehensive. But, it was really easy to work with. Well, a little tough spooning it out, but it didn’t stick to everything. I am trying to remember/think of a way to describe how much dough I used for each cookie…I was even going to weigh a few to be exact! But, I didn’t… I guess a heaping Tablespoon amount… The dough made 4 dozen for the coffeehouse (why the heck else to you think I was baking? You think I’d bake without someone saying they REALLY needed more cookies for a concert show? ) and ten more cookies for my husband. So 58 – well, actually 59 because one of them (being so soft when just out of the over, drooped over the edge of the cooling rack and was so disfigured that I had to eat it immediately to hide the evidence of my coordination blunder.

I cooked the cookies for about 9 or 10 minutes, took them out and let them sit on the tray for 2 minutes (yes, I used a timer for this part, too) then removed them to the cooling racks.

And, they came out GREAT! Chewy and all but definitely done. I think that melting the butter and chilling the dough thoroughly really made a difference. Also, rinsing the baking trays with cold water before reusing.

Here is the link I found with all the great tips – of which I only used a few:

http://www.well.com/~vard/cookies.html

If you read this at some later date than when I posted it and the link doesn’t work, email me because I have the article saved to a file.

Now I am off to experiment with a braised lamb recipe… shoulder blade chops. If it comes out well, I might use it for Easter. Now, that will be a whole other story as I get ready to host a family holiday gathering for the first time! I’ve done parties and all and cooking for a crowd, but this is the first time I will have done a HOLIDAY thing.

Anyway – happy baking if you are inspired to try out the toll house cookie tips!