Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chicken Piccata & Bread Salad

I really am trying to make smart choices in cooking. Of course, this was a Sunday dinner, so it had to be a little fancy. We had the leftover No-Cook Tomato Basil Pasta from last night plus:

Chicken Piccata

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded thin or butterflied if you want, but I just left mine as is, straight out of the freezer)
  • 1/2 can chicken broth
  • Juice of one lemon
  • One large clove of garlic, smashed but not chopped
  • Black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (eyeball it) chopped parsley
  • About 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Capers (optional)

In a heavy skillet, place frozen chicken breasts, broth, lemon juice and garlic. Cover and simmer pm medium low about 15 minutes, turning occasionally. When cooked almost through, remove from pan. Reserve broth, straining first.

Add butter and olive oil to the pan--I wash the pan first--and turn pan to medium high. (NO NON-STICK PANS!). Return chicken to skillet and let brown, about 5 minutes each side.

Remove meat once again. Add pepper and parsley. Whisk some leftover broth with cornstarch in a cup till thin and lumps are gone, then add sparingly to sauce. Do this slowly. You don't want a sticky mess, just to thicken it slightly.

Sprinkle parmesan on chicken, then add sauce and capers. Garnish with parsley.

I have nice homemade bread that's just one day past eating for sandwiches. I also have lots of tomatoes from our backyard plants and the farmstand. Here's a simple recipe that celebrates the flavors of summer. It's all eyeballed and to your taste. Go easy. And remember, the bread is supposed to be soggy. It's bread salad.

Bread Salad (Panzanella) day-old homemade bread or other bakery bread--crusts are great--Cut fresh, juicy tomatoes, at least a pound, in coarse pieces. Whatever you do, don't dice into nothingness. This is not about mashed tomatoes. Throw on top of the bread.

Peel and slice a cucumber into 1/2 inch chunks. Don't worry about the seeds. They're good for you.

Add either thinly sliced red onion or chopped scallion (aka green onion).

Tear fresh basil--don't chop it. Throw it in.

Let it all sit for a while, then add 1/4 cup olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar whisked in. Season with salt & pepper. Taste. You might want to repeat the olive oil and vinegar.

Please, please, don't use store-bought Italian dressing or vinagrette. The fresh, summery flavors need only to be highlighted by the oil and vinegar, not overpowered by corn syrup, soybean oil, and artificial flavors.

Ham & Potato Hash with Eggs

If you are baking potatoes, throw two or three extra in the oven. Then, put them in the fridge (they'll keep for a few days). On Sunday morning, when you want to make nice hash browns, you'll have your potatoes all ready to go.

This is a hearty brunch, good for a crowd. Serves 4-8, depending on how hungry your crew is. It would make a nice dinner too.

Ham & Potato Hash with Eggs

  • Three medium baking potatoes, cooked, cooled, and diced.
  • One fresh green pepper, diced.
  • 1/2 Cup yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 ham steak, diced (the Farmer John ones are perfect for this, not expensive, the right thickness, etc. Watch for when they go on sale. Sometimes I get them for 29 cents, if they are needing to be sold. I pop them in the freezer and use within a month.)
  • Butter/olive oil
  • Eight eggs
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (about 1/4 cup)
  • Light sour cream
  • Salsa

Heat a large skillet on medium high. I use an iron skillet when I'm cooking at this high heat. Remember, you never want to heat a non-stick skillet higher than medium (here's why). Melt approximately 1T butter and 1T olive oil in the pan. When hot, add the potatoes, and walk away for about five minutes. (Don't really walk away, but don't you dare think about stirring, turning, etc. All the yummy browness you're trying for will just stick to the pan.)

After about five minutes, check a potato. If it doesn't stick you can GENTLY turn the potatoes. Only turn them once. Cook another few minutes. Prep a large non-stick pan with a bit of olive oil and heat to medium-low. Add the potatoes, bring up to medium.

Add green peppers, onions and ham to the iron skillet and cook till fragrant. Watch not to burn. Add to the potato mixture. You can put the iron skillet aside--you won't need it anymore.

On medium heat, mix the hash and taste for seasoning. Remember to taste all the ingrediants together. The ham adds salt, so you should only need to add pepper and maybe some garlic powder.

Make eight indentations in the mix and crack eggs into each. Cover and cook on medium low for about six minutes.

Top with shredded cheese, then cover until cheese is melted.

Serve with a little light sour cream and your favorite salsa.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Fast and Cheap and Oh SOOOO Good!

We went to Casteneda Bros' farmstand today and picked up some good, big heirloom tomatoes. They are way bigger than mine.

I wanted to make a good dinner, but cheap and fast, as it's the first of the month and that means rent comes before fancy dinners. So what to do when you want to make a nice dinner for three, but you have about ten dollars? In California, where meat is expensive--as well as everything else?

One fresh (picked today!) green pepper, sliced. That's it! Cost: 50 cents
Two top loin sirloin steaks, total weight, just under a pound. On sale at Safeway: $4

Fresh Tomato & Basil Pasta
(I eyeballed all of this, so all measurements are approximate)

  • About two to three cups chopped, FRESH tomatoes
  • One big clove garlic, minced
  • Fresh basil, about 10 big leaves, gently chiffonaded (cut in thin strips)--be careful with basil because it gets damaged and bruised easily. Handle it as little as possible.
  • Approximately 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • Two to three tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes (if you need some heat)
  • About 16 oz rugged pasta, like rigatoni or cappelletti

Put water on to boil, with olive oil and salt to taste. When boiling, add the pasta. As it cooks combine all other ingredients in a bowl, stir and taste for seasoning. Let sit. When pasta is al dente, drain well, but do not rinse. Add hot pasta to tomatoes, toss to coat.

Cost: Assuming you have the olive oil and other seasonings, about $4.

Here's an interesting pasta recipe site:

Steak Marinade

  • Two cloves garlic
  • About 1/4 C olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh basil, about 2 tablespoons, chopped

Blend in a food processor. Then marinate steaks in a glass bowl for approximately 10 minutes.

I seared the steaks in an iron pan at high heat, treated with olive oil first. I cooked on both sides quickly, then deglazed the pan with about 1/4 cup red wine.

We enjoyed this dinner with homemade bread and fresh, local honey (cost: $5.50).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Belly Fat Foldover

People come to this site looking for the funniest things. Here's a sample of some of the phrases that have brought readers to my little blog:

  1. zhizhig galnysh: Now I really do have a recipe for zhizhig galnysh on my blog. Someone in Kampong Batu Tiga Suku, Malaysia Googled this recipe, and once they found it, didn't want it.
  2. tuscan potato salad: lots of folks looking for tuscan potato salad. If you don't like my recipe, here's another: Oh. Wait. Epicurious doesn't have one. Neither does FoodNetwork. Neither does Weight Watchers. Guess you're stuck with mine.
  3. how to make icing out of regular butter: So this means you don't want royal icing. You don't want cream cheese icing. You don't want fondant. You want good, old fashioned cup cake icing. Okay.
  4. organic prarie: Spelled wrong, but they got here. I guess I should edit my own spelling mistakes, huh? This is for Organic Prairie Ground Beef. Here's their link and here are my thoughts.
  5. what to do with fresh coconut: okay, so I never cracked open my coconut and all the milk dried up and Juiceboy threw it away. Once a year I buy a coconut, and then it sits in the fruit bowl for two months and Juiceboy throws it away. Please, please, someone give me advice on what to do with fresh coconut!
  6. how to sweeten unsweetened chocolate: melt it in a double boiler and mix it with sugar. Or corn syrup. Adding a little butter helps too. Really, it's better to figure out what you want to make with the unsweetened chocolate, and then look for that recipe.

Pollo Asada

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (I use the big frozen ones from Safeway and defrost them in the microwave)
Your favorite marinade. (If you're short on time, use a powdered one, like the McCormick "Zesty Herb" one. I watch for them to go on sale and buy a bunch when they are under seventy-five cents).

Throw the chicken breasts into a glass or ceramic dish, then toss the marinade on top. Cover and refrigerate. Go for a swim in the pool, or run through the sprinkler. Go inside for a glass of wine, and turn the chicken over. Start your barbeque (I prefer hardwood charcoal, not briquettes, and I use a chimney, no lighter fluid. Fluid leaves a yucky flavor.). Go for another swim. Finish your wine. After 20 minutes your charcoal should be ready. Clean & prep your grill--when it's hot, brush with olive oil. For god's sake, don't spray it with PAM--you'll blow yourself up! Get your chicken, throw it on. Once it's nicely browned on the first side, flip it. Test for doneness. Yum.

Okay. So I'll post a marinade recipe later. Gimme a break. That's really what we had on Saturday, with salad and rice. It was good. My mother ate the leftover chicken cold while she was floating around the pool Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Iced Coffee

It's too hot for regular coffee at home, but I was really missing my daily Starbucks non-fat, no-whip caramel mocha.

Here's what I came up with:

Iced Caramel Coffee Mocha

Brew your regular coffee, but make it a little stronger than normal.
Fill a tall glass halfway with ice cubes and cover with skim or 1% milk.
Add 1 tablespoon caramel sauce, 1.5 teaspoon chocolate sauce
Fill with coffee, stir and enjoy.

It's not Starbucks, but it also cost a LOT less!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blueberry Tart

It's blueberry season. Juiceboy brought home a 2.5 pound basket of Canadian blueberries, and made a great dent in them, enjoying them with his Special K and strawberries each morning. I thought they might go bad pretty soon, and turned them into a tart.

We found it to be a rather tart, however, it was also quite sweet. I will make this again, spraying the pan before putting the crust in and cutting down the lemon a bit. A really nice alternative to ice cream, cake, etc. I think it would travel well, too.

Blueberry Tart

One Pillsbury roll-out crust
6 Cups fresh, washed blueberries
3/4 Cups sugar
1 t salt
1 T cornstarch
2 T cold water
2 T lemon juice
2 t lemon zest
1 T butter

First, cook the crust in a tart pan according to the directions. I did not spray my ceramic quiche dish (this would work better with a springform pan I think), but I will next time. Let the crust cool completely.

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Add cold water and stir until smooth. Add lemon juice, zest, and butter, and 2 Cups of the blueberries. Turn on the heat to medium.

Mush the berries with a potato masher. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, until thick. This will only take about 5 minutes. Mix in the remaining berries.

Let mixture cool, then pour into tart pan. Refrigerate for an hour, at least, before serving with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Tomato Hornworms

Yesterday I noticed my tomato plants were starting to look funky. Whole branches had lost their leaves. I didn't think, gee, this must be the work of something BIG, I thought, I must have a ton of tiny little bugs.

After some more searching, I gave a disgusted yelp. A big, disgusting, 4" green caterpillar. And I could hear it chomping away. On further inspection, I found three more. Today, another three. Will I be picking these foul things forever?

I've picked them off, sprayed with organic 3-in-1, but I'm afraid the infestation might be too big. As it is, I know I planted my plants too close to one another, let them over grow, etc. But will these disgusting creatures decimate my crop?

The above image is from I heartily recommend you check out and their blog

A thoroughly creepy site has a RECIPE for eating these bugs.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Employees Must Wash Their Hands

If ever I own my own restaurant, the sign in the bathrooms will say:

Employees who don't wash their hands will be shot;
and the rest of you who don't are disgusting.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Non-sustainable Farm Stands

I don't understand farm stands. We have one locally, Larry's Produce, that it all the rage with some folks. We stopped there today at about 4pm and the parking lot was packed. People ran around with yellow plastic wheelbarrows (there are no hand baskets), butting in front of other people, ignoring that there was a world around them.

But that doesn't matter. What matters is that we loved Larry's last summer. Good produce, most of it locally grown, at great prices.

This year the stand opened a month late, in June. Today was our first visit. It was late in the day and everything was understandably picked over.

But the green peppers were bruised and mal-formed, many of them with pale spots and dark tinged-stems. The eggplants were covered in flies. The peaches were bruised yet hard. And people had picked through the tomatillos and torn the husks down to check them out.

When we got home I discovered the asparagus was from Washington state and was in terrible condition. It was old and water-logged, and tasted like the cardboard it had been shipped in. The avocados were dark skinned but rock hard, and sported Chiquita stickers.

Only the tomatoes were any good. But I don't think it's tomato season yet, here in the Bay Area. My tomatoes are still green on the vine.

So my question is, should farm stands strive to stock only what is local and fresh? Wouldn't it make sense for Larry's to carry the delicious local strawberries, cherries and kiwis that are grown right down the street?

I don't care how cheap the produce is if I can't use half of it and the other half tastes like it arrived at my kitchen via the Panama Canal.

AKA Sawdust Cake

I can tell you now why banana cakes include sour cream or buttermilk or even, bleck, sour milk: to add moisture. I made a cake today that we were all looking so forward to trying. Honestly, we might be a chubby family, but I rarely bake. And rarely do I bake from scratch.

So, I used a recipe that had only ingredients I had: Chocolate Banana Cake. I'm not printing the version of it that I used (I actually added more butter than the recipe called for), simply because the cake turned out to be the driest cake ever.

Juiceboy asked if it was a trick cake, had I put sawdust in it? It was like those birthday candles that re-light when you blow them out...but with this, it looked like normal cake and then you put your fork in it and it fell into not pieces, but molecules.

If I made it again I'd add a ton of butter and eggs. But then, that wouldn't help this fat family. What if I added more banana? Or applesauce? Would that make a dry cake moist?

Oh, and for the frosting, I made a chocolate glaze, also from a strange recipe. The result was not good, so I monkeyed with it and it was just fine. The original called for brown sugar, cocoa powder, milk and vanilla. I also added corn syrup, butter and some regular unsweetened chocolate. Needless to say, it was much better than the cake itself.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"My Fridge Is Empty" Frosting?

I'm in the middle of baking a banana cake--one without nuts or sour cream. (Why is it every recipe out there wants bakers to use sour cream, sour milk (bleck!) or buttermilk??)

It's a chocolate banana cake and the batter was thick, thicker than brownies. I'm a little worried that the measurements on the recipe I found on the internet were off.

So, if it all works out, this should be a cake that needs a bit of frosting. It's got brown sugar in it, but not enough to completely sweeten the unsweetened chocolate in it.

My problem is, I used my last two "real" eggs (I've got plenty of healthy egg-in-a-carton) and my powdered sugar tastes like someone's foot. Does powdered sugar go stale? Especially after two years?

I've got butter, granulated sugar, 1% milk, brown sugar, vanilla, some old cream cheese, two cans of condensed milk, and a package of instant vanilla pudding. Any chance I can make icing out of that?

I don't think so either.