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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Parmesan Tilapia Roll-Ups

Wow, another Paula Deen recipe without a picture, that makes two in a row.  I guess after my success with the Tilapia in Corrie’s Lemony, Buttery Baked Fish, I was looking for another recipe to try tilapia and thought this recipe sounded good.  How could you not love the ingredients in the Parmesan Tilapia Roll-Ups (page 155) of fish, parmesan cheese, and garlic!

On my last trip to Costco, I found they were out of fresh tilapia so I purchased a package of frozen tilapia.  Two days before I wanted to cook this recipe, I took four of the eight individual packages out of the bag in the freezer and placed them on a plate in our refrigerator to thaw. 

When it was time to cook, I removed the thawed tilapia from the refrigerator and cut the ends off the plastic wrap holding the fish.  I slid each fish fillet out of it’s tube onto a plate covered in paper towel.  These fillets had a very firm texture and had just the right amount of moisture without being covered with liquid.

Next, I prepared the sauce.  The recipe calls for eight fish fillets and I only was using four, so I halved the quantity for each ingredient.  The recipe calls for light mayonnaise but I just used one-quarter cup of standard strength mayo.  I approximated the one ounce of parmesan cheese that I grated into the mayonnaise.  I chopped two small cloves of garlic and about five sprigs of fresh parsley then mixed al the ingredients together into a very creamy (and because of the garlic) and potent sauce.

Now I encounter a problem: the tilapia is to be rolled with the sauce in the middle, but each fillet was about two inches wide and three fourths of an inch thick.  There was no way I would be able to roll this fish!  I solved this by slicing each tilapia fillet from the edge and butter flying each fillet.  Now there are four wide and thin fillets of tilapia

I placed each tilapia fillet on my trusty Bakers Secret cookie sheet and placed one fourth of the sauce mixture at the end of each fillet.  I rolled each fillet from the sauce end to make a rollup with the sauce in the middle.  I stuck two toothpicks into each roll to hold it in shape while cooking and then dabbed each roll on the outside with a little olive oil to keep the outside of the fish soft

The cookie sheet and the fish went into the bottom oven or our range where I baked the fish for about twelve minutes and they came out looking great and smelling wonderful!

I completed each plate with some steamed broccoli and some raw sliced carrots.  My wife thought we should add some color to the fish to make it stand out on the plate for the photo, so she sprinkled on a little paprika.  (We now have some nice red plates, but we didn’t get a chance to wash them for this meal.)

This meal was wonderful!  I give it a ranking of ten out of ten.  The fish was light and cooked to perfection.  The sauce in the middle made an excellent sauce and really enhanced the flavor of the dish.

I will be serving this recipe again!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oven Fried Chicken Breasts with Honey-Yogurt Drizzle

I am surprised that I chose this recipe as there is no picture to show me what it would look like, I guess it just sounded good.  This is another Paula Deen recipe from The Deen Family Cookbook on page 158.  This is beginning to sound like Julie-Julia or Kerry-Paula blog.  Not to worry, there will be other recipes discussed (though not today or tomorrow).

I used to make oven fried chicken using a recipe on the back of the Bisquick box, but after several years, the taste and texture got a little old, and we decided not to make it any more.

This recipe was very easy for me to make.  At the store I purchase the four chicken breasts, a six-ounce container of plain yogurt, and a box of Corn Flakes.

I prepared to cook by setting our bottom oven (the little one) to 350 degrees and getting out one of our Bakers Secret cookie sheets that I sprayed with PAM then I setup our rice cooker and started one cup of brown rice to cook.  I put about three cups of the Corn Flakes in a gallon sized zip lock bag and then rolled over them with a rolling pin to crush them into smaller chunks.  I added the salt, pepper and garlic powder into the zip lock bag and I was ready for the chicken. 

I trimmed the fat off the each chicken breast and patted them dry.  I poured about a half cup of buttermilk into a small bowl, and then individually dipped each chicken breast into the buttermilk coating each side.  From the buttermilk the chicken went into the bag of Corn Flake mixture and shaken to get a nice coating on all sides.  As I took each chicken breast from the bag I placed them on the cookie sheet.

Once all of the chicken breasts were coated and then laid out on the cookie sheet, I placed the cookie sheet with the chicken into the oven for 25 minutes.  The only drawback to our lower oven is it doesn’t have a connection for the built-in temperature probe, so I had to use our small Pampered Chef temperature probe to check to see the chicken breasts were done cooking.

While the chicken was cooking, I prepared the honey-yogurt sauce.  The recipe calls for four ounces of the plain yoghurt; I just used the entire six-ounce container and added extra honey then stirred them together.  I also prepared and steamed some nice tender asparagus to accompany the chicken.

When the chicken was cooked, I prepared our two plates with the chicken, rice, asparagus and then added some of the honey-yogurt sauce on the side.  It’s a good thing we had the cool in taste sauce as the recipe calls for way too much pepper on the chicken!  It was good, but very spicy.  I have to remember to reduce the pepper content in all Paula Deen recipes.

We really enjoyed this meal and it was a nice variation on the oven-fried chicken, the Corn Flakes provided a nice crunchy texture to the chicken.  I will cook again, and it is even suitable to serve to company.

(The colored plates are still on our shopping list)

My Favorite Cookies

Every year about mid December, I get the itch to bake my Ginger Cookies.  I started baking them about 15 years ago after my wife’s received several cookbooks from her grandmother.  Among the cookbooks is: Grandma Rose’s Sinfully Delicious Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Cheese Cakes, Cake Rolls & Pastries by Rose Naftalin published in 1975.  Rose’s still has several bakeries in the Portland area that offer all kinds of wonderful desserts.

I can easily find this recipe in the cookbook as the page is wrinkled and stained and the back of the book is permanently creased to that page.  The original recipe titled: Almond Ginger Snaps, but my take on the recipe is just Ginger Cookies.

The ingredients are:
    2 sticks Gold-n-Soft margarine
    1-cup sugar
    ½-cup dark molasses
    1-tablespoon ground ginger
    2-teaspoons cinnamon
    2-teaspoons ground cloves
    1-teaspoon baking soda
    3 ½ cups of flour
    A pinch of salt

Notice that there are no eggs used in the batter so you can eat it raw!

Start by mixing the margarine and sugar on medium speed for two minutes.  I use our Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the beater bar.  Set the mixer speed to slow and add the molasses, spices, baking soda and salt.  Add the 3 ½ cups of flour, stopping the mixer to scrape the sides of the bowl before adding each cup of flour.  Do not over-mix the dough once all the flour is integrated.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 2 parts.  Start with one of the halves and roll the dough into a long cylinder.  I roll mine with floured hands until it is about 1 ½ inches thick.  Wrap the cylinder in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Do the same procedure for the second half.

To cook, set the oven to 325 degrees (I set ours to 315 when baking on our Bakers Secret pans).  Unwrap the dough and slice straight across the roll making slices about ¼ inch thick.  Place these on the cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  Don’t over bake, the cookies should be slightly raised by not cooked hard.  Slide the cookies off the sheet and onto a cooling rack. 

These cookies have a very strong ginger and cinnamon flavor and a slightly chewy texture.  They freeze very well and I like to eat them right out of the freezer.  I usually make two batches at once.  The yield depends on the thickness of the cookies, but I usually yield 8 to 10 dozen from a batch.

This last Christmas, I baked four batches and still have some in the freezer for the next time our son comes to visit.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Traveling - Be Careful What You Order

The greatest thing about traveling is that it is usually an adventure. You get to experience different cultures, languages, and foods. We have been very fortunate while traveling to encounter people that are willing to take the extra time so that we can understand each other and this makes for some wonderful and interesting experiences.

In the fall of 2003, we dropped our son at college to start his first year and three days later my wife and I flew to France for a month long vacation. We started with several days in Paris, then picked up our rental car and spent the rest of the time driving a grand loop around the towns and countryside of France.

Near the end of our trip we were in the Northeastern corner of France and pulled into the little town of Wissembourg in the early evening. We found a Campanile hotel to stay the night; it is a hotel chain similar to a Days Inn. These hotels are attractive because they have a restaurant attached and so we don’t have to explore too far to find dinner. We have found that eating where the locals eat provides a very good flavor of the area.


We went to the restaurant to have dinner and we could see on their menu board that the special that night was rognon. We had no idea what rognon is and it was not listed in our little Rick Steve’s French dictionary. Looking around the restaurant, we could see quite a few of the other diners had plates of rognon which was a meat (looked like pot roast) with a dark sauce accompanied by potato and vegetables. It looked very good!

When the waiter came over, we requested the rognon special. The waiter wanted to make sure we knew what we ordered so he used his hands and drew circles in the air in front of his stomach. OK, so we would get rounds of beef - no problem.

Our meals arrived and we eagerly took a bite of the beef in the dark rich sauce. We savored the flavor of the sauce and then started to chew, and “OMG, what are we eating?” It became quickly apparent that we were eating some kind of organ meat. There are “O” words that I don’t eat: Organs and Okra (I tried to think up a third word, but I couldn’t while writing this).  I managed to chew and swallow a few pieces of meat, but my wife couldn’t take the texture and taste and just ate the other parts of the meal. We thought that the meat must be kidneys and that is why the waiter was making the circles. Note to waiter: kidneys are in the lower back, not the stomach.

The next day, we shopped at a local market and there in the pastry case was a pastry in the shape of the rognon. Definitely a kidney! We purchased one of the pastries to eat on the road, and had one meal of rognon that we both enjoyed.

The meal of rognon was a surprise and not the culinary experience we expected, but it was still and experience as well as an adventure and makes for a great story.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Butternut Squash

We had never eaten butternut squash before I embarked on this cooking adventure.  Then on day, my wife had lunch out with friends and had a great roasted vegetable soup that she really liked.  I looked on the internet and found a recipe that I made that uses butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, but that is a topic for a another post.

Recently while we were working out (it seems to be a recurring theme of working out while watching cooking shows!), I saw a show about a quick side dish made from baked butternut squash and arugula.  It was very interesting as they lightly coated the butternut squash with real maple syrup before cooking (we see a lot of maple syrup used in cooking competitions).  The butternut squash salad looked good so on my next trip to the store; I purchased a nice sized butternut squash so we could make this recipe.

Well time slipped by and I didn’t make that recipe, so a few nights ago while the glazed chicken thighs were cooking, I decided to cook the butternut squash.

I peeled and sliced the butternut squash into one inch cubes and placed them in a large bowl.  I poured about two tablespoons of real maple syrup into the bowl also a little salt and fresh ground pepper then stirred to mix.

I poured the coated pieces onto a cookie sheet that was lined with parchment paper (this was recycled from another recipe).  Once the chicken pot came out of the oven, I lowered the temperature to 350 and put the squash in to cook for thirty minutes.

It came out nicely cooked and smelling great.  We were full from the chicken thighs and parsnips, so I cooled the squash and placed it in the refrigerator.

For dinner last night we each had a bowl of reheated butternut squash (we had the remainder of the chicken thighs and parsnip mixture earlier for lunch).  It made for a very filling meal that was delicious.  My wife did give me some feedback for next time I cook the squash this way – “NO PEPPER”.  I hear her and next time there will be no pepper added to the squash.

The butternut squash is easy to cook and make a great side dish, or even a light meal.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Glazed Chicken with Dried Fruit and Parsnips

Where in the world did I get this recipe?  I was on the foodnetwork.com site looking up a web link and this recipe was on their main page: Glazed Chicken with Dried Fruit and Parsnips.  The picture looked good so I printed the recipe and decided to try it.  I had to purchase the eight chicken thighs, four medium parsnips, and six medium shallots.  At the store, I had to ask where the shallots were located, as we have never used them before.  They grow in clumps like garlic, but are sweeter and less pungent than onions.

This was easy to make, I peeled the parsnips and sliced them into one inch chunks then loosely diced the shallots.  I heated the oven to 425 degrees and put our Dutch oven on the stove to heat on medium.  The recipe calls for a very large skillet similar to a paella pan, but we don’t have one large enough so I used the Dutch oven.  Once the Dutch oven was warm, I put in about two tablespoons of olive oil and then added the parsnips and shallots.  I cooked this for about 5 minutes, stirring every thirty seconds until all the pieces browned.

While I was browning the vegetables, I mixed up the sauce that contains, apricot preserves, mustard, ground ginger, and cumin.  My wife tried the sauce and noted that it is quite spicy.  I added the eight chicken thighs to the sauce mixture and stirred to coat the chicken.  I also chopped one half cup each of dried prunes and dried apricots (our dried apricots had been in our refrigerator for about a year, but they were still fine).

Once the vegetables were finished, I poured ¼ cup of water over the vegetables and turned the heat up to bring the water to a boil.  While it was heating, I added the chopped dried fruit on top of the vegetables (do not stir) and then the chicken thighs.  I used my spatula, scraped the rest of the sauce from the bowl, and added it to the top of chicken thighs.  Once all the ingredients are in the pot, then cover and cook for six minutes.

After the six minutes are up, the cover comes off the pot and it goes into the oven for about 25 minutes.  It smells really good!

I checked the doneness of the largest thigh after 25 minutes and it was still raw near the bone, so I reached into our island drawer and pulled out the temperature probe that connects to the oven and inserted the probe into the thickest part of the thigh near the center bone.  It took another 20 minutes to cook, possibly because my pot is smaller than the recommended frying pan.  The really cool thing about this feature of the oven, is once the probe temperature matches desired temperature, the oven automatically shifts to a “keep warm” function.

Once the chicken was completely cooked, I removed the chicken from the pot, stirred a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into the vegetables, and served.

I was very surprised the sauce tasted like a lot of the cooking that I encountered in India.  I read the bottle of cumin where it is noted that cumin is used in much of the Mediterranean and Indian cooking.  What I thought was curry in all these dishes was actually cumin.

We each had two chicken thighs (1 serving) and a spoonful of the vegetable mixture and had a great dinner.  It was also our lunch today.

We were surprised to read the nutritional information on the recipe and found that each serving has 757 calories, 36 grams of fat and 464 milligrams of sodium and 38 grams of protein.  This seems like a lot of calories and it would be nice to know if this included the chicken skin (we removed before eating).  It is also quite a bit of sodium; maybe they add more salt their recipes.

Highly recommend for a little taste of India in your menu.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some Like It Hot

Some like it hot and some of us don’t!  I usually eat food that is on the milder side.  I do enjoy some spicier Chinese-American food, but when I eat Mexican, I can only eat only a little of the mild salsa.

Last year I had the opportunity to travel to Bangalore India as part of a business trip.  I flew from Frankfurt Germany about midday on a Saturday, and arrived at the airport in Bangalore just after midnight Sunday morning.  It was a very wild ride from the airport to the hotel, but I settled in about 2am.  Once I woke up around 10am on Sunday, I had a nice personal guided tour of the city that cost me about $10 for the day.  I had a great time and I was able to sample some of the local fruit and had a good overview of the city.

That night, I met my two local business companions (Malhar and Rakesh) for dinner at a local restaurant.  When I travel, I prefer to eat the native cuisine as I can always eat American food at home.  We had a nice dinner, I ordered a pistachio chicken dish and my companions had a tomato tofu entrée.  When we ordered, Malhar made sure that there was very little spice (by Indian standards) in all the dishes.
My sauce on my pistachio chicken was very thick and rich, between sampling Malhar’s and Rakesh’s dishes as well as my own, I was very full by the end of dinner.  Rakesh invited me to try the salad, which was a three-tiered plate system, and the top tier was a plate of small white onions marinated in vinegar.  The second tier had cucumber slices and the bottom tier contained small green beans.

As I ate my dinner, I was trying everything on the table including the salad.  The problem started when I picked up a bean and ate about half of it.  I chewed the bean and swallowed it and then the fire started in my mouth.  From my mouth it quickly enveloped my entire body.  My eyes may have been open, but I could no longer see.  I drank the last of my beer, all my water and the burning continues.  I found that quickly breathing with my mouth partially closed helped quite a bit. 

Malhar had the waiter bring some sugar and had me place a tablespoon of the sugar in my mouth and hold it on my tongue.  I don’t know if it helped, but it did distract me until the fire stopped.  By this time, I can see again, and notice that all the diners around me are having a good time watching me.  Malhar and Rakesh apologized that they forgot to warn me that what I thought were beans were actually chilies.  I later learned that the most potent chilies in the world come from Northern India and the small ones (as I ate) are the strongest.

The fire inside my body did eventually subside and I was able to continue with dinner.  In the picture where I’m holding the remains of the chili, I have a very forced smile.  Dinner was finished with several types of Indian breath mints.  The one l liked best were Fennel seeds with a sugar coating.  They were a little larger then a cooked grain of rice.  It was a nice was to complete the meal

After this trial by fire, I have found that I have more tolerance to hot and spicy food.  I guess that one chili overloaded many of my spice receptors - go figure!

Scalloped Edges

Last night I thought I would be brave and cook scallops.  I normally stay away from scallops for two reasons: the first is that it is very easy to overcook and then they end up rubbery, and the second is that many scallops are not really from a shellfish, but are punched from fish cheeks.

Looking through my Deen Family Cookbook, I found a Paula Deen recipe for Seared Scallops with Pineapple-Cucumber Salsa on page 156.  I put both of my scallop concerns aside, went ahead, and purchased about two pounds from Costco.  I also had to pick up some pineapple, a jalapeno pepper, and a cucumber for the recipe.


The meal only took about 30 minutes to prepare.  The first step was to fix the salsa by chopping pineapple, the cucumber, one-half a red onion, the jalapeno pepper, and some fresh parsley.  This was all mixed in a bowl and then I added the zest and juice from one-half a lime.  I added a little salt and pepper and tried the taste.  It was a little too hot, so I chopped and added another wedge of pineapple and mixed it all up and it tasted much better.  The recipe calls for cilantro instead of the parsley, but I don’t care for cilantro.  I also didn’t add the hot sauce as the onion and jalapeno added enough fire to the mixture.

I washed and dried the scallops, then sprinkled on a little salt a pepper.  I heated a little olive oil in my large frying pan over medium high heat then added the scallops to the pan.  Paula recommends cooking the scallops for two to three minutes a side until golden brown.  After three minutes I turned each scallop over and found that the ones near the outside of the pan were browning, but those in the center were sautéing.  I moved all the scallops so they were near the outside edge of the pan.  I might have used too large a gas burner so the middle of the pan was not getting as much heat.  I also cooked the scallops just a little longer than recommended to make sure they cooked all the way through.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of scallops, pineapple-cucumber salsa and sliced tomato.  The scallops were cooked to perfection and very tender.  The salsa had a nice contrast of cool from the pineapple and cucumber to the heat of the jalapeno.  I added the tomatoes for a nice addition of color to the plate.

I highly recommend this recipe and we will use it again.  Now I need to find another similar recipe so we can use the leftover salsa.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Monday, February 22, 2010

Here’s The Beef

Last night was very busy and we didn’t get a chance to go shopping as we had planned.  I went and rummaged in our freezer and found a container of frozen beef stew that I cooked several weeks ago.  The stew made a quick trip in the microwave to defrost while I prepared a potato and steamed some asparagus, then I heated the stew and we had a wonderful dinner.


I made Stick-to-Your-Ribs Beef, Onion and Mushroom Stew from the Deen Family Cookbook.  The recipe is on page 87 and this dish is wonderful, of course, any recipe that includes a lot of butter and a bottle of dark beer has to be good!

When planning for this recipe, I saw that we had all the ingredients at our house except the three pounds of stew meat and ten ounces of mushrooms.  I went to our local store with an in-house butcher department and picked up the fresh stew meat.  A visit to nearby Albertsons yielded some nice large mushrooms.

The first step was to setup our slow cooker crock-pot so I could add the different ingredients as they finished on the stove.  The stew meat is browned in a large frying pan with two tablespoons of butter (of course it’s butter, it’s Paula Deen).  This cooked for about 7 minutes on high heat.  When it was finished, I placed the meat in the crock-pot and added to the mixture salt, pepper and three tablespoons of flour.  I stirred all the ingredients together until they are well mixed.  (Truthfully, it doesn’t look very good at this stage.)

In the same frying pan I put the next two tablespoons of butter, then the washed, trimmed and quartered mushrooms.  I used the largest white button mushrooms I could find, so they would have presence in the final dish.  These cook for about four minutes, turning once half way through the cooking.  The cooked mushrooms are added to the crock-pot and stirred into the beef mixture.

The recipe calls for large Spanish onions, our store offers: red, white, and yellow onions, so I used two large white onions.  I cut the onions in half, then used my onion slicing skills that I learned when making French Onion Soup.  Another two tablespoons of butter go into the frying pan and then the sliced onions are added to cook for about three minutes until soft.

The kitchen really smells good now.

The onions are added to the crock-pot and stirred in with the meat and mushrooms.  Now comes the fun part, the recipe calls for adding ten ounces of dark beer to the frying pan.  I used a sixteen ounce Moose Drool (yes, that’s really the name of the beer), so I couldn’t waste the remainder even if it is only ten in the morning.  I simmered the beer while using my spatula to loosen all the meat, mushroom, and onions bits from the side and bottom of the pan so these bits simmer with the beer for a few minutes
Now the beer mixture goes into the crock-pot.  The remaining ingredients: garlic, brown sugar, mustard, lemon juice, thyme, bay leaves and two whole cloves are stirred into the mixture in the crock-pot.

I place the lid on the crock-pot and set it to cook on low for eight hours.

Dinner that night was fantastic!  The gravy was thick and very rich and the beef cooked to a very soft texture.  Retaining their form, the mushrooms really add to the look and consistency of the dish.  My wife found this meal almost too rich to eat as a stand-alone item and commented that next time we should try serving this recipe with cooked noodles or even adding some sour cream to make a stroganoff.

For dinner last night, I cut the richness by having a little cooked potato with my stew.  I compare this recipe to a delightful dinner I had of wild boor in the small town of Chenonceaux France.

I strongly recommend this recipe, it is fast and easy to make, just allow the eight hours for cooking and don’t forget the beer!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cracking the Case of the Coconut

The Olympic Games are in process and we really enjoy watching them on TV every night.  We use our Digital Video Recorder to record the nightly four hour program, and then we usually will start watching the recorded portion about an hour after it starts.  This allows us to skip the commercials and the silly time wasting segments the network inserts.  Why do we need to watch ice skaters when they have finished skating and waiting for their scores for five minutes? 

One of the problems is that we often fast forward so much of the programming and catch-up our recorded viewing with real-time, so we are forced to watch every single competitor in every single event; snore!


To overcome this problem, we will watch another program that we recorded at an earlier time while the Olympics slowly keep recording.  One of the programs we recently watched was an Alton Brown Good Eats where he discussed how to milk and open a coconut.  We thought that was interesting, so earlier this week while we were at the store, we bought a coconut to enjoy.


Today was the day that we cracked the case!  We took the coconut for a quick trip to the garage workbench.  There I used my cordless drill with a 3/8 inch drill bit to drill holes into two of the eyes and down into the center of the coconut.  Using the two holes, we drained the coconut of the liquid (milk) and then strained the liquid to remove the drilling residue.

The filtered milk didn’t last long as we quickly drank it right from the bowl. 

Next we heated the Electrolux oven to 375 degrees.  Once the oven was at temperature, I put the coconut on a cookie sheet and place it in the oven to bake for fifteen minutes.  The shell is supposed to crack making it easier to remove the meat.

After 15 minutes I checked the coconut, no cracks.  Hmmm, OK back into the oven for another 7 minutes.  This time when I checked, there is a crack running around the shell of the coconut.  I removed the coconut from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes, then took the coconut back to the garage (my wife won’t let me hammer on our new countertops) for a few whacks with my trusty hammer to crack the shell the rest of the way.

Alton calls for an oyster knife to remove the meat from the shell.  I don’t have an oyster knife and after the other day, I really didn’t want to use a knife that would slip and send me after another Band-Aid.  I found that a heavy duty spoon works very well.  I slid the spoon between the shell and the meat and just popped the meat out.

Next I have to remove the thin brown husk that covers the outside of the meat.  Thanks to Alton for the information on this, I just used a vegetable peeler and quickly removed all of the husk.  A quick rinse in cold water and we have a nice quantity of coconut meat ready to use.  Or, in our case start eating with a little sugar.

We do have a little left that is in the refrigerator, and I have to find a recipe to use it.  Hmmm, maybe cake!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thai-Style Chicken and Veggies

The other night I decided to be very brave and cook some Thai chicken.  This style of cooking is new to me but I though I would give it a try.  Going through my The Deen Family Cookbook, I found Corrie's Thai-Style Chicken and Veggies recipe (page 78).  Fourteen ingredients is quite a few to handle, but several are cans or jars, so it actually looks pretty simple.

The first thing I had to do was shop for a few of the ingredients that we don't normally keep at our house like Asian fish sauce.  We had recently watched an Alton Brown Good Eats show about Asian fish sauce so we understand what it is, how it is made, and how strong it is.  We also had to get a can of unsweetened coconut milk, a can of bamboo shoots and some baby corn (we got them pickled in a jar and they worked just fine).

Just before I started on the chicken, I started one cup of brown rice in our rice cooker so we would have a starch to accompany the chicken.  This is a new experience for me as my wife usually is in charge of making the rice.  To prepare for the actual cooking, I gathered all the ingredients and placed them on our island counter top and then I sharpened the knife I was going to use.  With it nice and sharp, I chopped one yellow onion and put it in our large frying pan with some olive oil to start cooking. 

I was placing some old newspaper over the cutting board to retain the raw chicken juices when I moved the knife off the cutting board and nicked the side of my index finger near the tip with the backend of the knife blade.  OK, turn off the range and move the cooking onions off the heat.  Access the damage that is about one quarter of an inch long (but really bleeding well).  Off to the bathroom to wash out the cut and then I had to find a Band-Aid.  I was applying direct pressure (remember I was a Boy Scout) and had to have my wife open the wrapper for the Band-Aid and help me get it applied.  A quick check that the bleeding has stopped and all the blood is cleaned up and it's back to work.

The recipe calls for one and a half pounds of chicken, which turned out to be two chicken breasts.  I laid them flat and cut crosswise into strips.  I ended up with strips of chicken about one quarter of an inch wide and an inch deep.  I should have then turned the cut strips 90 degrees laying them flat and sliced them long ways, or even before cutting the chicken crosswise, I should have fillet each chicken breast in half to reduce the thickness.  I ended up cutting each strip in half after cooking.

I put my chicken strips in with the onions, placed the pan back on the heat, and added some salt and pepper.  While this was cooking, I started to prepare the rest of the ingredients.  The first thing I found was that I should have really shaken the can of coconut milk before I opened it!  There was a very thick layer of solids on the top and underneath a very watery layer.  I added enough of both parts to my mixing bowl for the recipe. 

I opened the jar of mini pickled ears of corn and managed to get the eight ears sliced long ways before my wife and I started eating the delicious little picked ears of corn directly from the jar.  The recipe calls for one tablespoon of sweet chili sauce.  I intentionally didn't buy the chili sauce, but I did substitute about a tablespoon of mild salsa left over from making soft tacos and about a quarter teaspoon of chili flakes.  I cut up one stalk of broccoli to get the one cup of broccoli florets.

After about six minutes, the chicken finished cooked so I moved the chicken and onions from the frying pan to a small bowl for later.  Into the frying pan went the remainder of the sauce ingredients to heat to a gentle boil until the broccoli was tender.  Then in went a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and water as a thickener for the sauce.  However, I didn't see any real difference to the thickness after adding it.

I added the chicken and onions back into the frying pan and heated the entire mixture until warm.
The rice was ready, so we dished up some rice and added the Thai chicken on top.  This dish was excellent; the coconut flavor is present but not overpowering.  The chicken was moist and there is just a little hint of heat in the sauce.  Next time I make this dish, I will add a second stalk of broccoli to enhance the visual presentation, as we found that the dish can use a little more varied color that additional broccoli will add.

We used our white cafe ware plates and realized that the white chicken in white sauce on whitish rice on the white plate looked somewhat plain.  Next time we will use some colored plates.  In fact, four new colored plates are on our kitchen-shopping list

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nico's Italian Buffet

Yesterday for lunch, my wife and I decided to check out a new restaurant located at the West end of Hillsboro, Oregon.  For many months, we had watched the slow transformation from a former Mexican restaurant to the new Italian restaurant including a sign outside noting "coming soon".  We saw an announcement of the opening of the restaurant in the local paper and in the paper review the prices looked reasonable so we decided to try it.

When we entered the restaurant, we met the host at the door who seated us at a nice table along the windows.  Now the view is nothing to behold (the parking lot), but it was a very nice day out so it was great to see the sun shinning.  The interior was very clean and homey.  We met Nico the owner later as we were paying and he said that he did most of the interior work himself.

The food concept is a little different than most buffet restaurants; there are the standard entree, pizza, salad, and dessert, buffet tables, but Nico's also adds a cook to order menu.  The cook to order entree menu is titled "Be the Chef", where you circle specific choices on a small piece of paper from four areas: meat (eight options), I chose Italian Sausage, then you circle your type of sauce (eight options), mine was sweet spaghetti sauce.  Next, you choose three vegetables from about twelve selections, I selected mushrooms, artichoke hearts and roasted garlic, and lastly the type of pasta (six options) in which I chose shells.  The price includes all of the mentioned options.

With our entree order placed and the chef cooking our portion, we visited the pizza and salad bars.  On my first trip, there were three kinds of homemade pizza, on subsequent trips, more varieties were available.  I selected a piece of four-cheese pizza and another of sausage pizza.  Then I moved to the salad buffet and constructed a very nice salad.  I sampled several selections from the entree buffet; chicken parmesan, five-cheese lasagna, and roasted garlic red potatoes.

Back at our table, I started with my salad, which included lettuce, tomato, olives with Italian dressing and topped with some croutons.  Then I sampled the chicken parmesan, I found the pieces a little thin and just a little on the dry side, if I would have added some marinara sauce, they would have been fine.  The pizza was very good with a thin crust and is made on site.  I didn't check, but based on the crust and the taste, I think they may have a wood fired oven for cooking the pizza.  The sausage pizza had a wonderful taste of fennel.

Our made to order entrees arrived and they were both great.  I really like the red sauce, where my wife liked the creamy pesto with chicken, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts.  My wife also tried their soup which had a very nice tomato broth, but it was a little on the spicy side and might have contained a little too much black pepper.

The desert buffet was just a few items, but an ample portion of comfort desserts including blond brownies with chocolate chips, rice crispy treats, tapioca pudding, and fruit.  I did have some of the canned pears to quench the burning in my mouth after I tried a few spoonfuls of my wife's cup of soup.

Our server offered a suggestion for next time that she really likes to have the oil and garlic sauce when she orders her entree, so we will try that next time.

The price is $7.95 a person for lunch and $12.95 for dinner (4pm to 9pm).  I didn't ask, but I would think that there would be additional offerings on the dinner menu.

We will go back at some point.  We normally don't like to go to buffets, as we have a tendency to overeat to make sure we get our moneys worth, but the price is not excessive and the food is good, so we came away presently full, but not having to let out our pants!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lessons Learned - 3

This lesson is a little more recent.  It occurred during our kitchen remodel and I was doing a lot of our cooking outdoors.  I had watched the Alton Brown TV episode on Chops Ahoy (Episode 78, Season 6 of Good Eats) and now I have the Good Eats book where I found the recipe for Stuffed Grilled Pork Chops on page 368.

This recipe looks easy enough, I went to the store and purchased the golden raisins and dried cherries.  When I looked for the cornbread crumbs with the breadcrumbs, I couldn't find anything similar, so I purchased some Italian seasoned bread crumbs to stuff the pork chops.

This recipe was very interesting to me as the pork chops are marinated in brine for several hours before final preparation for cooking.  This allows the meat to pull in the liquid into the cells of the meat and keeps it moist while cooking.  I made the heated vinegar and salt brine and immersed the pork chops in the solution and put the container in the refrigerator.

Something came up that night and I didn't finish this recipe until the next day.  I retrieved my pork chops from the brine and cut the pocket in the pork chop where the stuffing will go.  That is the hardest part of the entire operation to keep from slicing yourself or cutting through the side and ruining the pocket.  Alton uses a bagel slicer for this purpose, but my wife was not about to let me use ours for this meal.  This was step was quite easy as we didn't have a kitchen, I just did my prep work on my work bench in the garage.  It's too bad I didn't need a screwdriver or pliers as they are right there!

I mixed up the stuffing mixture and it tasted pretty good.  Using a spoon and my gloved thumb, I forced the mixture into the pockets of all the pork chops completely filling each one.  Out to the waiting BBQ and I cooked the chops for about 15 minutes.  Alton recommends at least 12 minutes for medium, but we like to make sure they are cooked all the way through.

We sat down to a wonderful looking meal, stuffed pork chops, brown rice and salad.  Mmmm!

That is until the first bite.  "My this is salty" I was thinking.  About that time, my wife politely tells me that it is just about 10,000 times too salty and that she will not be able to eat the pork chops and by the way, how much salt did I use?  It turns out that it was not the added salt in the recipe, but leaving the pork chops in the marinade for over 24 hours.  They had absorbed large amounts of the salt as well as the liquid.  The Italian seasoning didn't help at all as it is quite salty.

I managed to salvage the meat and that is now cut into little strips and frozen for the next time I make fried rice.  You can bet the fried rice won't need any additional salt.

I plan on making this recipe again, and in preparation the last time I made corn bread, I reserved some, crumbled it, dried it out in the oven, and put it in the freezer for next time.

My lesson learned is never marinate your meat in a brine solution for more than the recommended time, as you probably will not like the results.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lessons Learned - 2

I can say that being a member of the Boy Scouts of America gave me the opportunity to try many different skills, cooking being one of them.  My second lesson came on another overnight camping trip.

This time it was very simple.  I took a package of Jell-O with me as part of my menu.  I had a little mixing container and I was all set.  When I went to make the Jell-O, I added the power to my container, then I added correct amount of water and thoroughly shook it up to get it all mixed.

I set the container in the cold stream that ran past our camp and then went to do other activities.  When it was time to eat, I retrieved my container and sat down for my meal.  When I opened the container, I didn't find the nice firm wiggly Jell-O that I expected, but instead was a watery - lumpy sugary drink.  I tried adding more powder and putting it back in the stream, but it just did not help.  It was just a mess that I ended up discarding.

When I got home, I told my mom about my experience and she asked me "You did boil the water?"  What you have use boiling water!  Of course, I didn't know this as in an effort to save space and weight (I'm learning), I removed the exterior box and discarded it before leaving home.  I also had never made Jell-o or read the directions on the box.

My Lesson learned is always make sure I understand the directions and have a copy of them for reference me no mater unless I am absolutely sure of my knowledge in cooking a specific item.

Lessons Learned - 1

I really don't remember the first things that I cooked.  I'm sure that it was helping my mom with cookies and breakfasts.  I know that we sometimes we would roast hot dogs, make smoores and cooked bananas with chocolate chips inside.  The first real independent cooking experience that I remember was also a learning experience.

I was twelve years old and had joined the local Boy Scout troop.  After a few meetings, the group was going to go on an overnight hike to Wallace Falls (near Gold Bar Washington).  Without much prior experience, I read my Scout manual cover to cover on how to cook in any condition including over an open fire.  I am now prepared for this adventure.

In planning and preparing for the hike, I raided my mom's kitchen for food that I could take with me.  I filled my backpack with everything I would need for my meals (and more) and off we went.  I think my World War II surplus pack weighed in at about 50 pounds.

It was a great day for the hike, the weather was very warm and we all changed into our shorts along the way.  We arrived at our campsite in mid afternoon and setup our "tent".  I don't think anyone in the troop had money for a real tent, so we used plastic sheeting and made a uni-lean-to.  A single sheet of plastic made the floor, up one side and then over the top for a roof.  Lots of twine was involved in this process.

We performed all the necessary camp activities to get settled in, then it was time to start our individual dinners.  I probably had some hot dogs to cook, I really don't remember the meal.  What I do remember is that I brought along a small can of pork and beans.  This was the 60's and there were no freeze-dried backpacking foods available.  We usually took what we could find in our homes including nice heavy cans of food.  In our campsite, we had a nice cooking fire going in the fire pit, which had a heavy metal grate covering.  I put my can of pork and bean on the grate (but not directly over the flame) to heat so it would be ready while I finished preparing the rest of my meal.  I left the fire to get some other part of my dinner that was in my knapsack inside the tent. 

All of a sudden, I heard an explosion like a small rifle.  Closely following this sound was the sound of small projectiles hitting the side and top of the tent!  Almost simultaneously was the commotion from one of the other boys that was near the fire cooking his food.  He seemed to be yelling about something hot and that something was burning.  It turns out the burning was coming from hot beans on his bare legs (remember that we were all wearing short pants).  I learned very quickly that you must poke a hole in a can before you heat the contents.  The explosion was the can bursting, and the projectiles were boiling hot beans sprayed out like shotgun pellets.  Fortunately (for me), the burns on the victim's legs were superficial and temporary and no holes were melted through the sides or top of the tent (which is a good thing as it rained that night).

Lesson learned - always open/vent items that are cooking.  This not only includes cans of beans but also items like potatoes and squash.

And to Mike Green, I truly am sorry about the leg, and for laughing so hard!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Baked Tilapia with Brown Rice

Last night I tried out another new recipe from Paula Deen's cookbook: The Deen Family Cookbook.  This recipe is Corrie's Lemony, Buttery Baked Fish (page 65).

I grew up North of Seattle Washington, and our family had a 20 foot boat and we would go fishing (it seems like every weekend) on Puget Sound for Salmon.  We didn't catch too many salmon, but we did catch just about everything else that lives in that body of water: red snapper, true cod, sea bass, flounder, rock fish, dog fish, sea plumes, even once a seagull, but that's another story.  I know that I would clean the fish and my mom would cook it up for us, though I don't remember much about how she cooked it.  Typically, my experience with cooking fish is barbequing salmon on my Weber grill and occasionally adding some shrimp.  Even though we are close to the ocean, the seafood available in the standard stores does not seem that fresh.  I have stayed away from cooking fish indoors due to the lack of adequate ventilation that would result in smelling up the house. 

Last week I had a nice lunch with some former co-workers and afterwards I checked out a fairly new seafood store that is close to the restaurant.  This market has a very good selection of fresh and frozen seafood.  One of my former managers was with me and said while the tilapia from this store looked good, that Costco offers both fresh and frozen tilapia.  This is what led me to Costco for my tilapia purchase.

This was a very easy recipe to make; it has seven ingredients including the fish.  I followed the recipe by lining one of my Bakers Secret cookie sheets with foil then laid out the three of the tilapia fillets on the foil, then I sprinkled on a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  I made a mixture of butter, fresh lemon zest, and green onions that I spread over the fillets.  Then I put them in the smaller, bottom oven of our Electrolux oven for eleven minutes at 400 degrees.

My wife had already put some brown rice in our rice cooker and it finished about the same time as the fish.  We also had leftover corn and beans from the beef vegetable soup, so we reheated those to go with the fish.

It was a great meal.  I was very pleased with the results of cooking the fish this way.  It was very light and flakey and had a very mild flavor, the lemon and onions really enhanced the flavor.  As I started with good fish fillets, they didn't have the strong "old fish" smell or taste that can ruin a good fish dinner.

This is definitely a recipe that we will use again, perhaps soon when we have some company coming over for dinner.  I did see that Paula Deen also has a similar on-line recipe that uses lime instead of lemon, that also sounds delicious and I am looking forward to trying it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Scones

In the last post I discussed the beef vegetable soup and scones that we had for lunch.  Here is the recipe for the Cranberry Buttermilk Scones.

Scones:
  3 cups all purpose flour
  1/2 cup sugar
  2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  2/4 tsp. baking soda
  3/4 cup butter or margarine - we prefer Gold n Soft stick margarine
  1 cup buttermilk
  1 cup dried cranberries

Topping:
  1 tablespoon milk
  2 tablespoons sugar
  1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

Combine the 1/2 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.  Put 1/2 the flour mixture in your food processor with 1/2 the margarine.  Process until mixed.  Repeat with the 2nd half of the flour mixture and margarine.
Put all the processed mixture in a large bowl and stir in the buttermilk until just combined then fold in the cranberries. 
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and divide the dough in half.  Shape each portion into a ball and pat lightly into a 6-inch circle.  Cut each circle into 6 wedges and place on a baking stone (my wife likes to use her Pampered Chef baking stone) or lightly greased baking sheet.
Combine the 2 Tbsp sugar with the 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon.  Brush each wedge with milk and sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon mixture over the top
Bake for 15 to 20 minute at 400 degrees (don't use convection)

Eat while warm with butter or preserves.  Enjoy!

Beef Vegetable Soup and Flourless Chocolate Cake

We decided to make a nice lunch for Saturday before Valentines day so we would not need to spend time cooking and cleaning on Sunday.  My wife had said how she would like some beef vegetable soup, so I looked in our cookbooks and didn't find any that we really liked that didn't take 8 hours to make.  I went on-line and found a possibility on the food network.com site.  It is a Paula Deen recipe: The Lady and Sons Beef Vegetable Soup.  We decided to use this recipe as it only takes 3 hours to cook, so I can make it on Saturday morning for lunch.

We also wanted a nice chocolate dessert to go with our lunch, so my wife asked her friend for a chocolate moose dessert recipe.

Now we were off to Costco and Albertsons to pick up some of the missing ingredients.  The main item was for the soup and that was the 2.5 to 3 lbs of boneless chuck roast or short ribs.  I found beef short ribs at Costco and the package was about 4 pounds - more than enough!  We also picked up some celery hearts and a few other items while we were there.  Then we were off to Albertsons where we picked up a few other items for the recipe.  We needed black eyed peas and Butter beans.  I found the black eyed peas just fine, but we had never heard of butter beans!  We checked all the canned and frozen vegetables with no luck.  We decided to get some canned cannellini beans, which is similar to a very large navy bean: whitish in color and a firm texture. 
I checked later and found that we know butter beans as lima beans.  It's just as well we didn't purchase any as I don't care for lima beans so I wouldn't have used them.  Lima beans are part of my triad of "L" food that I don't eat: Lima beans, Liver and Lamb.  The recipe also called for okra, and this is Oregon, we don't eat okra, so I just skipped that ingredient.

Later at home, I checked the chocolate moose recipe, because we were working on another project and we didn't want to make the dessert that night.  Sure enough, the cake had to cool for 8 hours before serving, so I decided to change to another dessert.  A few days earlier in the week, I was watching the Food Network while doing my daily work out, and The Neelys program was on and they demonstrated how to make Gina's Flourless Chocolate Cake.  A quick review of the recipe confirmed that we had all the ingredients, so I could also make it in the morning.

Saturday morning 9AM, time to make the soup.  The Beef Vegetable Soup calls out two different meat options and are treated differently in the preparation.  As the beef I purchased is called a short rib, I just tossed 5 of the 7 strips of beef in the pot per the recipe.  As I add the other ingredients, I found out that we are just about out of dried parsley, so I toss in what we have and set the empty container aside to purchase more.

The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of seasoned salt, I just used the same amount of sea salt.  One thing about most of the cooks on TV and their recipes is that they use too much salt and we try to be a little more heart friendly.  When it was time to add the one tablespoon of house seasoning (salt, pepper and garlic powder), I just added another dash of garlic powder and a grind of pepper to the pot.  I was surprised that we didn't have any celery salt to add, but again it would have been more salt, so I just added a pinch of celery seed for the flavor.

Now that all the basic ingredients are in the pot, I put the pot on the power burner to bring to a boil.  Once it is boiling, then the heat is reduced to a simmer for 1.5 hours.  This gives me time to prepare the carrots, celery, potato and open and measure the canned beans and corn.  I also looked at the later steps on the recipe, it says to remove the bone from the beef and add back into the pot.  Wait a minute, the beef short ribs that I used have no bones.  Hmmm.  Time to fish out each of the strips with my trusty long handled tongs and cut each strip into one-inch cubes.  According to the recipe, I should have browned the cubes first in oil, but as they were already partially cooked, I just added them back to the broth in the pot.

The dessert was almost as easy to make as a box cake mix.  The recipe calls for 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate.  Hey, I've got semisweet chocolate chips in our pantry, perfect!  It took me about 10 minutes to heat and mix the ingredients and get them into the pan to bake.  I put the pan in the lower oven of our Electrolux range at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.  This left the upper over available for my wife to use for her scones.

My wife makes the best Cranberry Buttermilk Scones that I have ever eaten.  She found the recipe in a Quick Cooking Magazine (Nov/Dec 2001), and we have enjoyed these scones with many meals.  We did learn at Christmas that the scones should not be baked using the convection option on the oven as the scones don't rise and come out flat.

After an hour and a half of simmering the soup (stirring occasionally), I added the remainder of the ingredients into the pot.  I again brought the broth to a boil, and then reduced to simmer for another 45 minutes.

The cake came out of the oven after 50 minute and was set aside to cool.  Next time I make this recipe, I will cool the cake in the refrigerator for about an hour.  The cake pieces stuck to the plate when I cut them for individual serving.

Everything was cooked, and we sat down to a great meal of Beef Vegetable Soup and Cranberry Scones.  Lunch was finished with a piece of the Flourless Chocolate Cake topped with whipped cream with a molded chocolate garnish.

All three recipes are keepers.  The soup was wonderful blend of colors and flavors.  The meat was very tender and there was the right balance of vegetables to broth to meat.  We decided that I could have added the other strips of beef to the soup without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients, though the level of seasoning (aka salt) was just right.  I did use canned corn, canned green beans, canned black-eyed peas and canned cannellini beans that all contain salt that most likely replaced what salt I didn't directly add.

My wife now has a new favorite chocolate dessert.  There will be no more box cake mixes at our house.  My thanks to The Neelys for this great recipe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kitchen Remodel - Part 4

Now that everything is stripped out and cleaned up, we need to work on the rebuilding of our space.

We started by cutting a 4 foot square hole in the floor of the kitchen to give the worker access into the crawl space under the house.  This was to allow the Electrician and the plumber access to move the electrical and gas lines.  While we had the floor open, we decided to have under-the-floor insulation installed.  The temporary hole provided better access under the house then through a small opening in our master closet where we have to move all of our clothes out of the way.  I was amazed that the crew of two people could lay down a new vapor barrier and add all the insulation in 4 hours.  We finished all the activity under the house in two days, nailed the wood back in place from our access opening and then laid 1/4 inch plywood over the sub floor to give a sturdy base for the hardwood flooring.

The electrician worked for several days installing the necessary wiring and light fixtures in the walls and ceiling while our contractor fixed a construction problem with part of the ceiling that attributed to our recently removed out-of-alignment soffits.  Now our ceiling does not roll up at the outside wall.

With the plumbing and electrical completed, we had the drywall crew come in to patch the walls and ceiling then put a new layer of texture over all the repaired areas.  We quickly painted all the walls and ceiling with primer so that we would not have to paint once the new wood floor were installed.

The new hardwood wood floors were installed next in the space.  Covering the kitchen, family and breakfast area, the new oak floors now match the rest of the house.

We were very excited to have the cherry cabinets installed a few days later and they look wonderful.  The fully custom cabinets manufactured by M n' M Cabinets in Portland exceed our expectations and are beautiful.

The floor finishing came next with the required sanding and then the strong odors after the application of two coats of sealer/finisher.  We will get the final coat of finish added to the floor once all the other work is completed.

Then it was time for the appliance installation.  This was on a Monday morning and everything went very smooth until we got to the Electrolux dishwasher.  We looked at the mounting clips that come with the dishwasher and several of us could not figure out a way to make them work.  We finally found a solution and got that installed.  Now all we need is a counter top and to get the sink installed.

This is where the process came to a stop!  We knew we wanted a solid continuous surface (no more hard to clean tile and grout for us).  We visited five or more granite distributors and looked at hundreds of slabs (I have the picture on my computer to back this up), but we could not find just the right texture, pattern, and color combination.  This very frustrating time went on for several weeks while we tried to find a solution.  We had been to the big box stores and looked at their granite selection without any luck and also their man-made products, but they looked like man-made products.  My wife looked up Cambria on-line and found a local dealer that had large samples (one foot square).  We visited their showroom several times and brought home sample after sample to find the right match for our cabinets.  We settled on the Cambria Blackwood, which is similar to the granite Black Pearl, but the surface is not quite as shiny.  The Cambria product is a Natural quartz material that uses a resin as a binder.  We felt that the Cambria product has more depth and life then the natural stone.
One week later, we had our counter-tops installed along with the sink, so we now have a fully functioning kitchen.  We still have a few things to do, pantry door, back splash, fireplace and the moldings.

But now it's time to start cooking...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kitchen Remodel - Part 3

We began the remodel process by removing all the wood baseboards in the kitchen/family area and storing them away for later when I will refinish all of them for reinstallation when all the work is competed.  Then it was time to pull up the carpet and pad.  I cut the carpet into strips so I could remove them and saved the best pieces for use on our garage floor.  Our contractor brought his dump trailer that we filled with the debris as we removed it.  I removed our gas fireplace insert and when disconnection the gas line, I managed to cut my finger on the sheet metal of the fireplace and had to drive myself to the doctor to get stitches.  Ouch!
Then the contractor and his assistant helped us remove all the appliance and cabinetry.  The cabinetry and the old appliances joined the new appliances along with some furniture to fill our two-car garage.

Now that the kitchen is torn apart, I move to cooking outside on top of our air conditioning unit, or when weather dictated, inside the garage on a tool stand (NOTE, gas cooking in an enclosed space should only be done with proper ventilation).  I would keep at least one door open in the garage whenever I was using the gas stove.

Back in house we ripped up all the pressboard underlayment in the kitchen and pulled the thousands of remaining 2-inch staples that used to fasten the pressboard to the 2x10 sub floor.  We removed the brick hearth and several layers of brick from the mantle to provide the proper scale for the room that was missing in the original design.

I posted our old built in oven and cook top on Craig's List for free and they were both picked up within two days.  The person that took the old oven, also took our old dishwasher.  I don't know if it was for the scrap metal, but it was good to have it gone!  I used our old upper cabinets in our garage to replace some cheap cabinets I put up when we moved in to the house.  I sent all the lower cabinets with a lady that had come by to quote on our under house insulation.  She was excited to get the old oak cabinets include the island and countertop.  She also took our old cast iron and porcelain sink that had a little chip on one side.  It weighed about 200 lbs so it was good to see it go.  Our old garbage disposal I sold for $5 and the person was happy to get it. 
This cleaned out half of the garage!  Yippee!
The tear out phase is now complete.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kitchen Remodel - Part 2

As I am currently unemployed, we are doing as much work as we can.  The first thing we did was to contact a contractor who we used during our bathroom remodel, who assures us that we do the work of the general contractor (and save money) and he will perform any needed work for the cost of his time and materials.  So far so good.  We already have someone to put in the new hardwood floors, so we start contacting electricians, drywall specialist, and cabinet manufacturer to get everything scheduled.

We met with the owner of the cabinet company and finalized the drawings for the fully custom cabinets.  We were surprised that the price of the comparable to stock and semi-custom cabinets and we feel that we received a superior product.  We went with cherry cabinets that extend all the way to the ceiling and include full extension drawers with soft close.  The inside of the cabinets are plywood with cherry facing, so there is no particleboard in any of the construction.

After evaluating all the needed appliances and the features we wanted, we decided to get all stainless steel appliances (there are no longer small hands at our house to make hand prints on the stainless).

When planning for our refrigerator, we knew that we didn't want to have an in-door water/ice dispenser.  They just seem to eat up room in the main compartment.  We choose a Kitchenaid (KFCS22EVMS), which is a 21 cubic foot counter depth, French door style with a bottom freezer (just like our old refrigerator).  We really liked the way the internal drawers glide when pushing them in or pulling them out.  A great feature is how the ice drawer can optionally be "locked" to the main freezer drawer so it pulls out when we open the drawer.  We didn't think that we would use the internal water dispenser, but now that we have the refrigerator, we use the water dispenser all the time.

Because the old kitchen had very little preparation/working area, we knew that we were moving the cook top off the island and to the outside wall so that we could have a real vent hood.  We knew we wanted to have a full-size electric oven and we really wanted a full induction cook top in a slide-in model (that way the range overlaps the countertop and there is not a gap between the range and cabinets).  As we could not find a range with these feature with a induction top, we decided to go with gas on the cook top.  We choose the Electrolux dual-fuel (EW30ES65GS).  It includes two ovens: a full size convection oven on top, and a smaller bake/broil oven on the bottom.  We love the slides in the oven and we have already used both ovens at once.  A feature we didn't realize it had was a temperature probe for the large oven.  We have used it to tell the temperature of food, but the oven can also be programmed to go to "keep warm" mode when the internal food temperature reaches a specific temperature.  We knew the probe was for the "perfect-turkey" option, but not that it worked with other foods.  We are looking forward to trying out the "perfect-turkey" function one of these days.

Above the range we choose a Vent-a-hood (NPH9-36S) that mounts under the cabinets and vents up and out the side of the house.  This model moves 900 cubic feet of air "it really sucks!", we choose this model because it has rounded corners along the bottom edge so when we hit our heads, we don't draw blood.

The dishwasher is also Electrolux (EIDW6305GS) because it is very quiet and the handle matches the range.  We really like having the little display on the front that provides a status on the current activity and how long it will be until the cycle is complete.

We really wanted a single compartment, undermount sink in stainless steel.  We were at a hardware store looking at faucets and sinks when we saw the Franke ORX110 sink.  We knew that it was the style of sink that we wanted.  We looked for other brands that were similar in design, but we couldn't find anything with the style and features like the Franke.  We ordered the sink and also two optional wire racks that go inside the sink: one for the bottom, and then one that sits on a ridge half way up the sink and cover the smaller end.

While visiting some friend's house and looking at their recent kitchen remodel, we discovered Grohe Ladylux line of faucets.  To match the styling of the other appliances we choose the Ladylux3 (32298) that has a black pull down spray head and handle, the rest of the faucet is stainless.

Now we are ready to start, we have ordered the cabinets, appliances, floors and have all the help lined up.  Now it's time to start ripping everything out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kitchen Remodel - Part 1

After 20 years in our house, we decided to remodel the kitchen. All of the built-in appliances were the original from when we bought the house new. The refrigerator we purchased in 1980 for our other house was brought over even though it was almond colored and the rest of the appliances were black. We didn't know until recently that it was quite revolutionary being a French door with bottom freezer and counter depth. Over the years, I have replaced the door seals and the internal fan and by today's standards, it was not very energy efficient. The day after we ordered our new refrigerator, the cooling fins in the freezer area of the old refrigerator froze solid with ice and the temperature in the main refrigerator went up to 50 degrees, and we lost quite a bit of food. We would have replaced the refrigerator sooner, but the opening in our cabinetry was too short for the new refrigerator, and I would have had to cut off the bottom of the cabinets to get it to fit in the space.

Our dishwasher sounded like a cement truck while it washed dishes and we would flee the room when it ran. The springs in the door had broken so many times that the internal door stops were bent. When we opened the door all the way, it was at such an angle that it made a ramp to the floor. When we pulled out the bottom dish rack, it would keep rolling and end up on the floor.

The garbage disposal was akin to a jet aircraft engine when it was in operation, though not as efficient.
We had an electric cook top with downdraft venting mounted in our island. As for the venting aspect, maybe 5% of the vapors would actually be sucked out by the poor design. I won't even go into the grease fiasco one time when we were cooking bacon.

We had noticed that the soffits above our cabinets (why didn't the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling!) must have been added on a late Friday afternoon before a three day holiday as none of the sides were square to anything. They were all five to ten degrees off square and were just plain ugly!

We decided about a year earlier to plan all the aspects of a remodel that included the kitchen, breakfast nook, and family room. We wanted to have an understanding about all the basics as well as options we could incorporate. We went to several remodeling shows, looking at all the available products and talking with the contractors, we made many trips to the appliance stores. We made check lists and priced out the requirements and optional items before we decided to move forward.

After I was laid off from my job, we decided to move ahead with the remodel.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Inspiration

My inspiration has come from the Food Network. We really enjoy watching Alton Brown's Good Eats. The scientific approach he takes and explains appeals to my engineering side. I also enjoy Paula Deen's shows, I like the way she makes cooking fun and an enjoyable adventure.

I have two Alton Brown books: Good Eats and I'm Just Here for More Food - baking. The second book is more of a chemistry book on how food + mixing + heat = baking. I purchased the Good Eats book with some of my birthday money in October so I could plan on what to cook when our kitchen remodel was completed.
I also have several Paula Deen magazines specifically on cookies and desserts as well as her The Dean Family Cookbook that I received from my wife for Christmas. I have prepared meals from all these sources over the last few months.

My wife is just fine with me performing all the cooking. We have an arrangement, I cook, she cleans up the dishes.

These cookbooks as well as a few others in our library including the ubiquitous Betty Crocker Cookbook make up our cooking library. I augment this with specific recipes that I print from the internet typically found at www.foodnetwork.com

Dinner tonight is BBQ steak with potato and veggies.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Monday, February 8, 2010

Introduction

I have always had some interest in cooking. Every Christmas, I make hundreds of cookies with our family favorite being a ginger cookie. Our son loves these cookies! I also make caramel corn that we give to family and friends (both of the recipes I will provide in later posts).

So why how did I get involved in the cooking? For almost 30 years my wife has planned and prepared our dinner and done an excellent job and I prepare handle the BBQ portion of our menu. Summer, winter, rain it doesn't matter, I will cook BBQ a couple of times a month. After I was downsized at my last company, we had a choice to remodel our kitchen or go on a trip to Europe. We decided to move forward with our kitchen remodel that we had been planning for almost a year. It was, but the kitchen won. I will discuss the remodel process and results in a later post. While our kitchen was torn apart, I did the cooking on a two burner Colman camp stove either outside or in our garage. The little stove worked very well for that period and it has provided me new recipes for our camping trips.

Once the remodel was finished, I continued planning and cooking the meals on the new gas range. I love the features of our Electrolux duel fuel (electric oven and gas cook elements). It has been a lot of fun developing new skills and trying new recipes, some have been great, others, well... More on all these adventures coming soon.