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Old 02-24-2014, 10:27 PM   #1
marsupial76
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Marsupial's Culinary Journey

I've been cooking for a while now, but I'd like to broaden my horizons a bit more, hone the skills I've acquired, and develop new ones. With the spirit of that in mind, this blog documents my journey through the dishes that I attempt, with notes about what worked, what didn't, and how I may alter recipes if I replicate the dishes. If you wish, your comments, critiques, and suggestions are much appreciated. I'd love to get some conversations going about techniques, flavors, new ideas, or anything food-related. I really love eating good food, cooking it for others, and talking about it. I hope you'll join me!
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Old 02-26-2014, 08:15 PM   #2
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

To start things off, I decided to use a braised chicken recipe I came across in Bittmanís How to Cook Everything. Iíve roasted chicken before and didnít feel like trussing, so I opted for this recipe instead. Spoiler: I shouldíve gone with my gut and used a roasting method instead.

My version of the recipe: Rinse and pat dry a whole chicken after removing the innards. Sprinkle tarragon on the inside of the chicken (about ľ tsp). Melt 2-3 tbsp of melted butter and place it in the bottom of a Dutch oven (or a roasting pan). Place the chicken in the Dutch oven or pan, breast side up, and use the butter from the bottom to baste the whole bird. Sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper, and put in a preheated 500 degree F oven for 15-20 mins, basting a couple times. You want the bird to develop a nice golden brown, but not cook fully. It was a bit browner than the picture here would make it seem, but I still could've gone a bit longer.

While it is in the oven, prep the other ingredients: 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 tsp dried (or 1 tbsp fresh) tarragon; 1 large onion, sliced; ľ c red wine vinegar; 1 c dry red wine or water.

I didnít have red wine, so I used a few splashes of balsamic (~2 tbsp?), a tbsp of so of dry sherry, and the rest of the cup with water. I used what I had!

When the chicken looks nice and brown, pull it out and set aside. With the remaining butter on the bottom of the pan, place the onions and saute for a couple minutes, then add the garlic. I liked to caramelize the onion, but not burn the garlic. Pour in the rest of the ingredients, then add the chicken back to the Dutch oven after the liquid begins to simmer. From what I know about braising, the liquid should touch the bottom of the meat, but only by an inch or two. There seemed to be a lot of liquid already. Red flag.

Put the lid on the pot and cook on medium-low heat for about an hour, or until the chicken reaches 160 F. It said to add liquid if necessary, but I never had that problem. The chicken took considerably more than the hour or so than the recipe called, almost an hour and a half. I carved it (successfully! achievement unlocked!) and served with a quick version of scalloped potatoes and asparagus:

-(slice a potato thinly, add salt, garlic, oregano, a touch of milk, and butter. Toss the potato in the spices and arrange in a buttered oven0proof dish. Pour the milk and pats of butter over the potatoes and cover with aluminum. Bake until the potatoes are tender, maybe a half hour. Pull of the foil ten minutes before you finish to brown the top of the potatoes.

-Steam the asparagus just until fork-tender, and then pour browned butter over the spears.

Wow, a lot of butter in this supper! I don't usually use exorbitant amounts like that unless it's a special occasion.


Verdict: My biggest problem was that the braising method makes for a chicken with very subtle flavor. I liked it, but only the dark meat had much flavor at all; the breasts were insipid at best. The wine/tarragon combination is a good one, and one Iíve used in the past on steaks. This technique, however, was different than past attempts because it didnít allow for some of the liquid to cook off as the chicken cooked, so the end product was disappointingly lacking in flavor. Plus, the method itself makes for a real slimy skin, not crisp like roasting or frying, rendering the skin inedible. Maybe I should have browned it longer so at least it looked more appetizing, but I donít think thatíd fix the slime factor.

If I were to fix it, I would add a bit of the onion and wine on the inside of the chicken, and put it in a roasting pan with the rest of onion and garlic on the bottom of the pan. Pour the cup of wine, a little chicken stock, and the melted butter in the bottom of the pan, and use it as a basting liquid. The outside of the chicken should have salt and pepper and the tarragon. Iíd roast in the oven and use a baster (bulb, not brush) to continually expose the chicken breasts to the liquid as it cooks. As water evaporates off and is replaced by melting chicken fat, the seasonings and wine will concentrate and make for a more flavorful bird. Of course, this method will require trussing of a chicken, which I wanted to avoid in the first place.

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading!
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Old 03-02-2014, 11:12 PM   #3
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

I had some leftover cabbage, so I thought I'd whip up a quick spicy coleslaw! I chopped up the cabbage, which ended up yielding about four cups. In a bowl, I mixed about a half cup of mayo, a few squirts of stevia ( sugar), a splash of red wine vinegar, some granulated onion, dill seed, lemon pepper, salt, and cayenne. In went the cabbage and a handful of carrots that I chopped finely. I covered and refrigerated for a couple hours. The flavors from the spices emerge over time, but I always make sure to taste before I refrigerate to make sure that the sweet, salty, and acidic profiles are balanced.

What I really like about cole slaw is the combination of crunch, sweetness, and tang. Putting the cayenne added an additional kick that complemented the flavor quite well.

A great summer salad that's super easy, and also one that can be enjoyed in the dead of winter, too!
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Old 03-03-2014, 01:11 AM   #4
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

Promising start, thanks for sharing with us.

Are you usually preparing these meals for yourself or others as well?

I like to eat well but don't cook that often due to lack of time.
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Old 03-03-2014, 02:45 AM   #5
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

Thanks for reading! I usually cook for just my boyfriend and me. On occasion, I'll have people over for dinner.

Yeah, cooking can be really time-consuming (but not always!). That said, I like to make time for it because cooking relieves stress for me. Making even the simplest foods make me feel better if I've had a crappy day. Eating, of course, makes it even better.
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Old 03-03-2014, 01:37 PM   #6
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

Apparently, the online blogosphere has exploded with discussions about no-knead and Dutch oven breads, so I thought I’d give it a try myself. I bake bread nearly every week, so I know a bit about it already, but this was truly a new experiment for me. The differences between this recipe and my typical bread loaves are quite substantial:

-First, this is a really wet dough. Relative humidity of a room can change the consistency of bread substantially. I found that most breads that I’ve made do well with roughly a 3:1 flour-to-water ratio by volume. This bread dough is 3.5:1.5, so it is very sticky, so much that you wouldn’t be able to knead it even if you wanted. A wet dough allows for a nice crust to develop.
-Second, it only uses ľ tsp yeast, whereas most recipes use about 2 ľ tsp, or one envelope.
-Relatedly, the fermentation time (first rising) takes between 12-24 hours at room temperature (not a warm place). This is crucial to achieve a more complex flavor and crumb texture.

So here’s what I did: Mixed 3 Ĺ cups unbleached, AP flour with 1 Ĺ tsp kosher salt and ľ tsp yeast. Then, I added 1 Ĺ cups water and stirred with a rubber scraper until the dough came together without flour pockets. I covered in saran wrap and let the dough rise 12-24 hours...the longer, the more complex the flavor.

The look of the risen dough reminded me of pancakes on a griddle: very wet looking with lots of bubbles. I turned the dough onto a lightly floured surface and did a quick “knead” to get out the bubbles. Then, I put it in a bowl-- about the size of my Dutch oven-- that I lined with well-floured and/or cornmealed dish towels (no terry cloth!). This rises another two hours until doubled. About a half hour before it is finished, I put my lidded Dutch oven in a 450-degree oven. (Some recipes online didn’t preheat, but I think it is important to have a hot vessel the first few minutes of cooking.)

Then comes the tricky part: flip the dough into a floured hand then flip it back into the preheated Dutch oven . The less it deflates, the better. My goal was to not rip a hole in the dough, and I was successful there. I wasn’t expecting it to stay the nice beautiful round, and it was far from it. You can score the top with a sharp knife to allow higher rise from escaping steam, or you can leave it if the dough is a bit rough on top. I sprayed the surface with a quick spritz of water before putting the top on and putting it back in the oven. This, along with the super-moist dough in the hot environment, promotes what is called spring--the last bit of rising that occurs when the dough is exposed to a hot environment. Again, this is why I think preheating is crucial.

It bakes for 30 minutes with the top on, and then 15 minutes or so without, so the crust can brown nicely. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped (210F on the inside).

It. Was. Splendid. I think I’ll be making a lot more loaves like this, mixing it up with some whole-wheat flour or some grains, maybe even try something like this in a sourdough. Hmmm...
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Old 03-14-2014, 10:04 AM   #7
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

Soup's on!

I'm visiting family who is part of one of those co-ops where you get a delivery of random vegetables every few weeks. Some of the vegetables are ones you'd purchase frequently; others, not so much. I decided the best way to use as many vegetables as possible before they spoil is to make a soup. This one was super easy, and really good, too.

Chop up a turnip and an onion and saute in a little bit of olive oil. Once brown, add chopped collards, chard, dandelion green (I think!), and broccoli. The greens totaled about two cups. Fill the pot with low-sodium stock. As it heats up, add a few dashes of hot sauce, and the real flavor: a tbsp of black bean-garlic paste and a tbsp of tomato paste. Both pastes are packed with umami (savory) flavor, and they are delicious.

Science Aside: The concentrated glutamates in it work to intensify flavors and add a savory quality as well. Glutamates can also be found in soy sauce, anchovies, tomato paste and the oft-reviled MSG. Another flavor intensifier, a type of nucleotide, can be found in porcini mushrooms, anchovies, and beef and pork products. If you pair the glutamates with nucleotide-rich foods, you have really intense and pleasing combinations of flavor. In the case of this soup, I used a beef stock to match up with the pastes. Extra meaty flavor mmm.

Simmer until the vegetables are tender. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add two packages of Ramen without the seasoning packets. And that's it. Delicious, healthy soup! I served with homemade bread and an olive tapenade, just because I found some in the fridge.
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Old 03-18-2014, 07:59 PM   #8
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey


I love French fries.
Well, good ones, anyway. Some fast food places have good fries, while others suck royally. (Which place has the best fries? The worst?)

The problem with making good ones at home is that deep frying is a real pain, so I decided to bake some up to go along with some mussels I bought today. This process is much simpler than trying to deal with deep frying, and it is reasonably more healthy.

Start with a good Russet potato. These are great for fries because they are less starchy and waxy than some of their counterparts. Cut into equally-sized fry p, and set aside. In a bowl, combine ľ-⅓ cup vegetable oil and seasonings of your choice. Salt is obviously a must, and you should have at least a heaping tsp or two. I like Lowry’s seasoned salt, but use whatever you have. I also add pepper, maybe garlic powder, and paprika. Rosemary and oregano are good herbs to use. Use as much or as little as you like. Go crazy! (Do you have any favorite fry seasonings?)

Toss the fries in the oil-seasoning, and coat them evenly. Space them apart on one layer on a cooling rack fitted on a cookie sheet (line the sheet with foil to make cleanup even easier). The cooling rack raises the fries off the sheet to make them crispier. Bake in a pre-heated 450 oven for a half hour, or until crispy. It needs to be 450 because a colder oven won’t crisp the outside, and much hotter won’t cook the inside before the outside burns. You may wish to rotate or flip the fries every few minutes to ensure even cooking, but it isn’t crucial.

That's it. It can’t get much easier. Serve with ketchup, malt vinegar, fancy fry sauce, or my favorite, mayonnaise.
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Old 03-24-2014, 09:05 PM   #9
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

Chicken thighs are, in my opinion, the best buy for meat in the supermarket. Not only are they usually cheap, they're also far more tender and flavorful than chicken breasts, which seem to be a favorite in our culture.

Easy method to prepare bone-in, skin-on thighs: Pull back the skins on the thighs but don't remove them. Season the meat directly with what you want. I like things like garlic, basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, or pre-mixed seasonings like Lowry's or Mrs. Dash. Pull the skins back over the meat, and season the skin with a salt and pepper. Place the thighs skin side down, along with 2 tbsp vegetable oil, in a very hot skillet that can be put in the oven. Cook the thighs on the high heat for a couple minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. Allow the chicken to cook for 12 minutes, making sure that the oil and heat are distributed evenly. Then, place the whole skillet in a preheated 450 oven, and cook for another 10-12 minutes. Flip the chicken oven so the skin side is up, and cook for five more minutes to let it crisp up a bit more. Once the chicken reaches 165F, remove and let rest for five minutes. This cooldown allows the juices to redistribute within the meat.
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Old 04-08-2014, 07:24 PM   #10
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Re: Marsupial's Culinary Journey

I think I hit it out of the park tonight with chicken leg quarters. I found an awesome deal, for starters, where they were just shy of 80 cents a pound, as opposed to the usual ~2.00.

I trimmed some of the skin and fat on the underside of the quarters, and I peeled back the skin on top a bit. Inside, I put a little soy sauce (maybe 1/4-1/2 tsp), ground ginger, garlic, onion granules, pepper, and a dash of Tabasco (probably should have put a bit more). Then, I pulled the skin back over the top and drizzled some olive oil on the skin. On that, I sprinkled salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders (only a little bit), and paprika. I put some of the inner spices on the underside of the chicken, too, just so that it is seasoned evenly. The chicken goes into a glass pan and then into a 375F oven for about an hour, or until the inside reaches 165F on an insta-read thermometer. I basted a couple times using the juice/fat from the bottom of the pan, which helped to crisp up the skin a little bit more. After it is finished, remove the chicken from the pan and put on a plate, covering it with aluminum foil for a few minutes before serving.

I served this with Rice a Roni and some steamed vegetables, and it was a hit. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, while the skin was nice and crispy, the fat rendered off. It had a subtle hint of an Asian vibe to it, likely from the soy-ginger-garlic combination, but not enough to be overpowering. Step up the spice for more of a punch, and use more Tabasco or crushed red pepper for a stronger kick.

Total cost for two people: <$5, including the cost of the chicken, three kinds of fresh vegetables (kale, peppers, and yellow squash), and the boxed rice/pasta mix.
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