Archive for the ‘Cooking’ category

Brined Turkey

November 19, 2006

On Thanksgiving two years ago we began a tradition of having two turkeys, one smoked, the other roasted normally.

Our first grandson was born on Thanksgiving so, for us, it is a double celebration. Thanksgiving and a birthday.

This year will be the same except for a slight difference in preparation of the turkeys.

The food network is not our favorite cable channel but it does have some useful information most of the time. Of the programs on the food network, good eats with Alton Brown is a favorite because of good recipes as well as background information on what makes them good. This season Alton is pushing brined turkey. Not sure, he may also have been suggesting soaking the bird in salt last season but this is the first season we have decided to take him up on his suggestion.

We are following his recipe but changing the method just a little. Instead of stuffing the turkey into a five gallon bucket we are using the original plastic bag the bird was packaged in as means of holding the brine. The turkey, in the plastic bag is situated vertically in a large pot and braced with paper towel packing so that it remains vertical and can’t fall over. Then the brine is poured into the body cavity until it overflows and fills the rest of the plastic bag to the top.

The whole assembly is then carefully set into the refrigerator and left overnight. The following morning, the bird is removed, washed, stuffed with the prepared aromatics, and either roasted or smoked.

The first one is going to be smoked. We use a smoker. It is a five year old Brinkman Smok’n Grill Smoker. It is a dome shaped metal can that holds a tray of charcoal. Just above the charcoal sits a pan of water. One grill is located right above this pan. A second grill is located just above the first grill.

The charcoal provides the heat. The water turns to steam and the steam as well as the smoke cooks the meat. For a more distinct smoky flavor we add hickory wood chips and wood strips that have been soaked in water overnight. The hickory is placed into an open aluminum foil pouch that sits on top of the hot charcoal. That makes for lots of smoke and lots of flavor.

The smoker runs for about ten hours after which the turkey is removed and baked in the oven at 350 degrees for another hour to ensure it is fully cooked. We normally smoke chicken and allow about six hours of smoking for a chicken. The turkey is about twice to three times the size of a chicken, hence the extra time.

Cut into the meat to determine doneness. We do not trust the pop out temperature indicators, don’t own a meat thermometer, and like our poultry well done. Cutting into the breast and inspecting is the surest way we know of determining if it is fit to eat.

We have never brined or used the aromatic stuffing before this season. It will be interesting to see if it make a significant difference.

Chicken Broth – cure for the common cold

November 15, 2006

It is a good thing that I don’t mind the taste of chicken. ‘It tastes sort of like chicken’ is a phrase you hear often enough to make you realize that nearly everything tastes like chicken.

Chicken is okay and it is inexpensive. We usually load up on whole chickens when we find them on a special sale. One whole chicken is enough for a whole week of suppers for two if you are careful about preparation and portion size.

We normally start by cutting it up. Legs, thighs, breasts, and wings are removed. I am partial to wings, thighs, and legs but also have never been known to reject a chicken breast.

Chicken is also good roasted whole or smoked. Smoked chicken is excellent but you may not care for it in soup.

Once those parts are removed, you are left with a carcass that still has some meat on it but nothing in sufficient quantity to make a couple of meals. So, we boil the carcass in a big pot with lots of water and herbs. Rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaf, sage, or whatever you consider makes stuff taste good. Let it boil for an hour or two. Then turn off the heat and let it cool.

When cool remove the carcass and pick off the cooked meat. Cut the meat into small pieces and set aside to make soup.

Use a ladle to skim off the liquid chicken broth and pour it into jars, a ladle full at a time. I use Prego jars. One carcass will make enough broth to fill three jars and still have enough fixings left over to fill three more jars with chicken rice soup. Or you can use noodles.

Once the three jars of broth have been filled, pour what is left in the pot through a strainer to remove all solids. Pour the strained liguid back into the pot, add several diced sticks of celery and a diced carrot. Add water until the pot is half full. Add back the cut up chicken meat. Bring this to a boil. Turn down the heat so that it is still at a boil but just barely. Add one cup of dry rice. Not instant rice! Just normal dry rice. Let that simmer for at least half an hour. Stir it every ten minutes or so. Let it cool and pour it into Prego jars.

You should now have three jars of chicken broth and three jars of concentrated chicken rice soup. Each jar of soup can be used to make four servings. The chicken broth is handy for use as soup stock, stew stock, rice flavoring.

The stocks are self explanatory. The rice flavoring might need some explanation.

There are lots of ways of preparing rice. Most of them involve the use of hot water. One of my favorite ways of preparation is in a large skillet. Cover the bottom of the skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Bring to temperature with the burner at medium heat. Pour a cup of dry rice into the skillet. Stir while it is cooking. Cook until it is light brown. Be careful not to let it get too dark. Stop the browning by pouring in a Prego jar full of chicken broth. Lots of noise, lots of steam. Stir well and put a lid on it. Let it sit for five minutes and check back to stir some more. The idea here is to let the rice cook completely and absorb the chicken broth. Add diced onion, diced bell pepper, diced carrots, diced tomato, or whatever vegetable you like. Or don’t add anything at all. If you don’t let this dish burn, there is no way to ruin it.

You can make the rice as fluffy or as soupy as you want. Just don’t let it burn. Burn it will too if you cook off all the liquid and let it sit without stirring. Soupy rice is best for use in casseroles. Pour the soupy rice into a casserole dish and cover it with a few fillets of fish seasoned with salt, pepper, and dill. Or use chicken breasts with the salt, pepper, and dill. You may also want to try to add a can of condensed mushroom soup to the rice. That makes for a very rich casserole but still fairly low calorie. It just tastes rich. Tastes good too, if you like mushrooms. If you really like mushrooms, just add a can of mushrooms to the rice and forget the condensed soup.

Put that in an oven at 350 degrees. Let bake for an hour or so. Remove from the oven and melt a couple of patties of butter on top of the meat. Serve. Given the amounts of rice used this will make four generous portions.

Pork Chop Casserole

October 24, 2006

While this dish in not really new, it is different from anything that has previously been tried here using pork chops.

On a recent trip to visit family, I decided to cook supper. There were plenty of pork chops in the freezer so pork chops it was.

Intending to fry them after breading, I decided that baking was a better plan. I put them in a casserole dish, added some unpeeled potatoes, and onion. I was ready to begin baking but those potatoes crowding the chops just did not look right.

I removed the potatoes, but the dish looked like it needed something. I diced a quarter section of a bell pepper and added that. Then added a diced tomato. Added some more onion, and finally emptied a can of concentrated mushroom soup on top of everything else. No water. Just the concentrated soup.

All that went into the oven set to 350 degrees and stayed there for an hour.

The potatoes were cut up, boiled and mashed and a can of corn was opened for the vegtable part of the meal.

Mashed potatoes covered with the mushroom soup mixture, baked pork chops, and corn.

The end result was pretty tasty and it was just as good as left overs two days later. The bell pepper contributed most of the taste and there was more than enough salt in the mushroom soup concentrate. Probably will add some pepper to spice things up when we try this again.

Tuna Casserole

October 3, 2006

We have been cooking Tuna Casserole to these directions for more than 20 years. It always turns into a reasonable meal. The main variation is in how soupy or dry the end result becomes. The amount of moisture is controlled by the amount of noodles and the amount of time it spends in the oven.

Start by hard boiling three eggs in a large saucepan. Set the eggs aside, pour the water out of the sauce pan, empty the contents of one can of condensed mushroom soup into the saucepan.

Fill the soup can half full of water and stir to get the rest of the condensed mixture. Pour that into the sauce pan and stir to mix.

Add one tablespoon of yellow mustard. Add two tablespoons of mayonaise. Add two tablespoons of pickle relish. Stir to mix.

Open two cans of tuna fish. Don’t drain. Add the tuna and liquid into the sauce pan by flaking the tuna with a fork or spoon to break it into small shreds. Stir to mix.

Peel the three eggs and cut them in half lengthwise, turn 90 degrees and cut again, then cut them crosswise to end up with diced hard boiled egg. Add all diced egg to the saucepan.

Dice up four 1/4 inch thick wedges of Velveeta cheese and add them to the sauce pan. Heat the mixture on low to let the cheese melt and stir to mix. It is okay if the cheese does not melt all the way. It is not okay to let the thick mixture settle, get hot, and burn at the bottom of the saucepan.

Dice one medium sized onion. Add the onion to the mixture and mix. Dice one small, green, bell pepper. Add the bell pepper to the mixture and mix. Let it simmer on low and boil some egg noodles.

Boil water in a large pan to which a couple of teaspoons of salt have been added. Add three to four cups of dry egg noodles to the boiling water and let them cook until soft. They do not need to be very soft. Firm is good.

Drain the water from the noodles and pour the cooked noodles into a large casserole dish. Pour the heated mixture from the saucepan over the noodles and mix. Sprinkle some fried onion topping onto the tuna casserole. Cover the casserole dish and place in an oven set for 350 degrees. Let it bake for one hour.

Remove the dish from the oven and let it sit on the counter for another hour or so. Serve.

Lemon Chicken

October 2, 2006

Here is another tasty way to prepare chicken.

I usually buy a whole chicken and cut it up before roasting. Line a metal baking pan with aluminum foil. Salt and pepper all the chicken pieces and place them in the foil covered pan. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Then remove, turn the chicken over and roast the other side for 15 minutes. The oven is set at broil or 500 degrees and the pan of chicken is place in the center of the oven. Half way between the top and bottom. The chicken should be brown on both sides after the roasting.

While the chicken is in the oven, prepare the lemon sauce. I use a 3/4 cup of lemon juice. Add that to 1/4 cup of olive oil (canola oil works too). Wisk to combine. Add two teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of pepper. Add one table spoon of vinegar. Add one half teaspoon of oregano. Combine all ingrediants by wisking some more.

Remove the chicken from the oven and pour off any fat. Pour the lemon sauce over the chicken. Cover the chicken with foil and return to the oven. Set the oven for 300 degrees and let the chicken cook for another 30 mins or more.

The result is a super tender, par broiled, peppery, lemon flavored chicken dinner. Serve with rice and vegtables or even mashed potatoes. We have been known to just eat the chicken and leave the sides alone.

One medium sized chicken will feed four people or two people twice.

Make Your Own Bread

September 26, 2006

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There are already a large number of bread recipies available to anyone who is interested in making their own bread. Here is one more. It is more of a how-I-do-it than a formal presentation of measured ingredients.

This is white bread. I dont care for whole wheat. Not that I wont eat whole wheat, I just find whole wheat more difficult to make. Whole wheat does not rise as much. At least not in my kitchen.

I take a plastic bowl. Maybe large enough to hold half a gallon or more. I start with four cups of hot tap water, add two table spoons of sugar, add one package of dry yeast, stir, then let sit for a few hours.

Check it and make sure it has a fluffy, frothy head on top of the liquid. If not, start over. This time with fresh yeast.

Start adding flour a cup at a time while running a mixer in the bowl to combine ingredients. While the mixture is still fairly liquid, add a couple teaspoons of salt. Mix some more and add flour until the dough thickens to the point where the mixer bogs down.

Add a couple cups of flour on top of the dough in the bowl and start mixing with a plastic or wooden spoon or ladle. After the mixture begins to take on the consistency of wet dough, clean the dough off the spoon, add another cup or two of flour and begin to kneed by hand.

It will take another four to five cups of flour before the mixture becomes thick enough to be dough. You are done when the stuff no longer sticks to your fingers. It is fine if it is wet and sticky just not so sticky that you cant touch it without it clinging to your hand.

I dont remove the dough to kneed it. I leave it in the bowl. I find things remain cleaner that way.

Form it into a ball, brush it with oil or butter, leave it in the bowl, cover it, and set it in a warm place to let it rise.

You can speed up the process by putting the bowl in an oven set to warm but keep an eye on it. Even at the warm setting my oven gets too hot for this. If I use the oven, I set the timer for 15 minutes and remove the bowl from the oven, placing it on top of the refrigerator for the remaining duration of the first rise.

It takes one to two hours for the dough to rise. It will rise to about double the original size. Punch it down and remove it from the bowl.

Dust a board or table top with flour. Plop the dough onto the dusted surface. Now we have to decide what sort of bread sizes we want. I usually divide the dough to make a couple of small loaves as well as some hard rolls. I use a knife to cut the dough in half, and then in quarters. I shape two of the quarters into fat cigar shaped loaves and put them on a flour dusted cookie sheet. No forms needed.

The remaining two quarters are divided in half two more times and formed into balls by rolling them between the palms of my hands. Dough balls the size of hens eggs will make a roll large enough to be used as a quarter pounder hamburger bun.

The rolls are added to the cookie sheet. The whole affair is covered with a cloth and set asside to rise once more. If the oven was used to heat the dough for the first rise, it is probably still warm and the cookie sheet can be set into the oven and the dough allowed to rise once more.

Dough size will double again on the second rise which will take another hour or two. After the second rise, brush the surface with oil or butter, sprinkle lightly with salt, adjust the oven to 400 degrees farenheit, set the timer for 20 minutes, and let the bread bake. Check on it after 20 minutes. Stick it with a needle. If dough clings to the needle when you withdraw it, give it another 10 minutes to bake. You can also check it for doneness by thumping it with your finger. If it makes a dull hollow sound, it is probably done.

If the crust is not a golden brown, go to broil and give it a few minutes at broiling temperature. Keep a very close watch on it so it does not burn.

Remove from the oven and let it all sit on the counter to cool. Dont cut or try to taste it until has cooled close to room temperature.

If you have been keeping track of time we are now 3.5 to 6.5 hours into our baking project depending on how much time we allowed the yeast to bloom and the bread to rise. Dont start a baking session like this unless you can finish it and that will take a minimum of 5 hours.

This same recipie can be used for making pizza. The only difference between bread and pizza dough is how thin it is rolled.

Teriaki

September 20, 2006

You can use this marinade on chicken, beef, turkey, pork, and probably any other meat that can be marinated. Marinating is the process of imparting flavor into the meat by soking it for a length of time in herbs and spices.

You can buy Teriaki sauce at the grocery store. It is not expensive a 12oz bottle is priced at under five dollars. If you really want to cheap out, you can always make your own. You wont really save all that much money out-of-pocket but you will have two times or more the amount of sauce for the same price.

Soy sauce, onion, and ginger are the main ingredients of Teriaki sauce. Add grated onion and one grated section of ginger to a bottle of soy sauce and one bottle of water. If the soy sauce is not low sodium or ‘lite’, you may want to add an additional bottle of water.

Homemade Pizza

September 15, 2006

I like pizza.  I also have more time than money.  The thought of making my own at 20 percent the cost of takeout appeals to me.

I make as much from scratch as I can.  The following is a short list of ingrediants and special sundries/utensils.

Flour – white general purpose
Yeast – any brand.  shop for best price
Water – kitchen faucet
Olive oil – any cooking oil can be used
Tomato Sauce – Ragu or Prego
Cheese – grated. mix of mozzerella and cheddar is best
Seasoning – salt, pepper, McCormik Montreal Steak seasoning is good
Pizza stone
Parchment paper
Large mixing bowl
Pizza cutter
Whisk or mixmaster electric mixer

Toppings
Just about anything you would put on a decent sandwich.     Including, but not limited to: pepperoni, sausage, onion,
bell pepper, tomatoes, ground beef, jalapeneo pepper slices,
grilled tuna.

The secret to a good pizza is plenty of toppings, not better
ingrediants.

Seasonings

There is no substitute for salt.  There are plenty of
alternative seasonings, but there is nothing like NaCl.
If you are on a low sodium diet, don’t use salt. Note:
reducing the salt used per pizza from three teaspoons to
one teaspoon does not qualify as low sodium.

I usually make the dough the night before I make the pizza.  Here is what is required.

Fill the mixing bowl with three cups warm water.  Add one package of yeast, one teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of sugar, and one cup of flour.  Mix.

Add another cup of flour, mix.

Add another cup of flour, mix.

Keep adding flour and mixing until the mixing becomes too difficult for the whisk or power mixer.  Then continue to add flour and mix/kneed by hand until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers.  You should end up with a ball of slightly sticky dough about five inches in diameter.

Remove the dough ball, sprinkle a little flour into the mixing bowl, put the dough back into the bowl and sprinkle a little flour onto it.

Put the dough and bowl in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise for about an hour.  I put the bowl of dough in the oven, set the oven to warm, and let it warm for 10 mins.  Then I turn the oven off and let the dough sit for another 50 mins.

The dough should rise the dough ball to at least twice its original size. Remove and kneed the dough ball.  Divide the dough ball into sections so that each section makes a tiny pizza shape about 4 inches in diameter by about 1/2 inch thick. ( this is for medium sized, thin crust pizzas )  Stack the sections with aluminum foil or parchment paper seperating them and put them in the refrigerator. The recipe above makes enough dough for five thin crust pizzas.

Now to make the pizza itself.  Put the pizza stone in the oven and let it preheat to 400 degrees.

Prepare any meat toppings first.  Ground beef and sausage needs to be browned and cooked in a skillet.  Cured ham, sandwich meats, and pepperoni can be used as is. Vegetables should be diced. It is very convenient to put each prepared topping into its own bowl for further use.

Cut a section of parchment paper to a size slightly larger than the pizza you will be making.  Lightly flour the paper and the disk of dough.  Use your fingers to spread the dough out on the paper initially, then a rolling pin to roll it out to finished size.  No need to sling dough and make a mess.

Pour out a blob of olive oil onto the center of the pizza dough.  Spread the oil evenly over the surface of the dough.  The oil prevents the tomato sauce from soaking into the dough.  If you like your crust soggy with tomato sauce, don’t use the oil.

Salt and Pepper keeping in mind that Prego and Ragu also contain salt and spices.

Pour out a blob of Prego or Ragu onto the center of the pizza dough.
Spread the sauce evenly over the surface of the dough using the backside of a teaspoon.

Sprinkle grated cheese over the dough.  Sprinkle toppings over the grated cheese.

Pickup the raw pizza by grabbing the edges of the parchment paper and carry it to the oven.  Place it on the hot pizza stone.  Cook for 15 to 20 mins.

Repeat until all the dough and/or ingrediants are used up.  It takes about two hours to make and cook five pizzas.  About three hours if you include the time to prepare the dough.  This time includes the time required for clean up.  It does not include the time required to eat five pizzas.

Cooking with GAS

August 20, 2006

If you have ever done any cooking on a stovetop, have you ever wondered why a gas stovetop seems to cook so much better than an electric? I have.

I think I now know why. Gas heats by flame. The gas flame engulfs the pan or cooking untensil imparting heat by direct contact.

An electric cooktop heats by having the utensil be in contact with a heating element. There is heat all around the element but for maximum heat transfer the cooking utensil needs to be very flat so as to make as much contact as possible with the heating element.

Not so with gas. The heat is in the flame and the flame can conform to any shape. Hence you get better heat transfer which results in better, more predictable cooking results.