Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stolen Inspiration: Chipotle Poached Shrimp Tacos

Chipotle Poached Shrimp Tacos
I find that inspiration for new dishes comes from a multitude of sources: childhood memories, fantastic restaurant meals, conversation with friends, bizarre dreams (yes, it’s true – I do dream about cooking from time to time), etc. But I think the most often used source of inspiration comes from the plethora of cooking and travel shows with which I seem to fill my television-viewing time.

The local PBS station has added an additional HD channel to its line-up called Create. It’s full of familiar PBS programs that show you how to build, garden, paint, sew, travel, and cook. The travel hosts are these intrepid globe trekkers hopping from country to country, showing us not only the history, art, and architecture of each place, but also the unique cuisine of the region (always makes me alternate from cringing to salivating as I see what they eat). One recent afternoon, sandwiched between trips to London and Paris, was a repeat of America’s Test Kitchen, which was tackling Mexican food. Don and I both stopped in our tracks as we watched them work their magic on chicken tacos. They came up with a preparation that I knew I needed to steal pay homage to in a recipe.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Egg-cellent Perk: Perfect Scrambled Eggs

I started blogging because it seemed like a fun way to keep track of the recipes I created. Once I got into it, I found out that there are some unexpected perks that can come with it as well – I’ve had some fun competing in (and losing) contests; I’ve been given money to throw a party, and every now & then, I get some free stuff to play with. Most of these perks have come because I am part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program. It’s because of them that I recently received a supply of Eggland’s Best eggs as my latest bonus.

Yes, premium eggs do cost just a little more, but I think eggs are one of the places where you get what you pay for. It really makes a difference in the final taste of dishes like my Ham and Tomato Mini-Frittatas, Gorgonzola EggSpread with Pita Sticks, or even Three Cheese Grits Soufflé.

Eggland’s Best have less saturated fat and more nutrition than other eggs (if you’re into the healthy eating thing). In addition to that, I love the fact that they don’t have that super-strength inner shell membrane that always drives me insane when I try to crack less expensive eggs (do they breed chickens to produce that Spiderman-like lining?). And let’s be real here: at about 20 cents apiece, even quality eggs are plenty cheap. When you are trying to eat inexpensively, eggs are one of the best values you can find, so it makes sense to buy the ones that taste better. Don’t believe me? Pick up a dozen premium eggs and see for yourself.

One dish I seldom order at a restaurant is scrambled eggs. They are always too dry and chewy. There are several things that go into a really good scrambled egg dish. It sounds a little fussy, but the extra effort is completely worth it. It really doesn’t take much time either – ask Don. He has a variation on this dish once or twice during the workweek for breakfast. I’ve already touched on the quality of the eggs, but there are a few more things that go into perfect scrambled eggs:

I do not like severe flavors first thing in the morning, so you won’t see me adding onions, peppers, garlic or anything like that, but I do add a little hot sauce anytime I make an egg dish. It’s not for the heat (I don’t add enough for that), but the combination of pepper and vinegar really enhances the flavor of eggs, making it brighter and deeper at the same time. I notice it when it’s not there.

I also think eggs need a little richness, so I add a touch of half & half to the scrambled eggs and just a small amount of butter to the pan. Again, it is noticeable when it’s absent. You don’t have to go overboard – you can get too much liquid in the eggs, and too much butter can just make the eggs greasy (which isn’t good either). I figure about a teaspoon of liquid per egg and a half teaspoon of butter per egg for the pan.

Scrambled eggs are just fine with nothing else but a little salt & pepper, but to make them perfect, they need some additional ingredients. Fresh herbs (or dried in a pinch) and a little cheese are usually my minimum requirements. A combination of parsley, dill, and Colby cheese are my default settings. Any type of pork product in an egg is always an excellent combination too. You can certainly vary the ingredients in this step to suit your individual taste.

Of course, the cooking method of scrambled eggs is just as important as the ingredients you add to them (perhaps more so). You have to cook them low and slow to get that creamy texture I love so much. If you are cooking scrambled eggs in less than 6 or 8 minutes, you’re doing it way too fast! A nonstick pan is essential in my book, otherwise the pan ends up eating too many of the eggs. And I never set the cooktop above medium low (that’s between 3 and 4 on my electric range – out of 10). You also need to babysit it (oh come on, it’s only for a few minutes). By stirring the eggs most of the time, you eliminate the possibility of browning, which for me is never good on scrambled eggs. Then you turn the pan off just before the eggs are completely cooked (the residual heat from the pan will finish it off without overcooking them).

If you follow these simple rules, you too can have perfect scrambled eggs each and every time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bleu-Lite Special: Chicken Cordon Bleu Roulade

Free at last! Free at last! I have been banished from the Land of the Eternal Bluelight. That’s right; I have FINALLY been able to punt my weekend gig! (I never knew that freedom could be so satisfying)

What I thought was going to be a 5 or 6 month stopgap measure turned into 2 ½ years of multiple nights per week. Talk about exhausting – this is the first week in that amount of time that I get to work under 60 hours. One thing the experience has taught me – I really enjoy being my own boss. There is no way I could work in corporate America – common sense is something I value too much and (evidently) large corporations don’t value at all. Enough said.

I celebrated my first evening of freedom by hitting happy hour on the waterfront. Honestly, to empty your head of the nightmares of discount retail, there’s nothing like a nice glass of Malbec at your favorite restaurant as you watch the water traffic. Ahhh, peace and serenity…

Of course, I also had to play a little in the kitchen as part of my ongoing festivities. And since I’ve now ditched my second job, I still have to keep an eye on the grocery budget – so Inexpensive Eating must go on. I’ve saved this recipe for just this occasion – the play on words was just too childishly easy to pass up.

Chicken cordon bleu is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It just seems so decadent to shove a ham & cheese sandwich in the middle of chicken doesn’t it? (People love shoving ham & cheese in a variety of things – can you imagine the guy who came up with a Monte Cristo?) But we’ve also been trying to eat a little healthier lately, so I wanted to lighten it up a little. And I was still celebrating; I thought a little unnecessary fanciness was in order too. The result was this little ham & cheese roll-up.

I pounded the chicken out pretty thin between two sheets of plastic wrap (the poor dog always runs and hides when I start beating the countertop with a frying pan). It’s a little satisfying to release all of that aggression too (maybe I should have made this before I ditched the part-time gig). Once I added the ham, cheese, and other things, I rolled it up tight and secured them with toothpicks. I then proceeded to sear them off right away, but I think 20 or 30 minutes in the fridge would have helped them hold their shape a little better.

You could easily run these through a breading station before you throw them in the pan, but in an attempt to be virtuous, I skipped it. Instead, I made a pan sauce at the end that was mostly butter. (What can I say? Virtue is in the eye of the beholder.) It was still definitely decadent enough to celebrate with.

So make this dish and hold your own little celebration on my behalf. And remember – never take a job that requires you to utter the phrase, “Attention Kmart shoppers…”