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Posts Tagged ‘tin chef’

Mains and sides

It’s the return of the Tin Chef!

As some of you know, I’ve finally started actually cooking, after thirty-some-odd-years of basically never doing it. I now have a nice array of recipes I like and can do, and enough confidence now that I’ll happily browse a magazine or cookbook and go “oooh, that sounds tasty, maybe I should try it,” as long as the recipe isn’t too daunting.

But almost everything I make is a single-dish meal, or if it isn’t, then we just throw some spinach on the plate as a salad. I’m still not much good at making a main dish and a side dish to go with it. Partly because that type of multitasking is still a little difficult for me — making sure things are ready around the same time, but don’t demand my attention at the same instant such that something winds up burning — but also just because . . . I have a hard time judging what things will go well together.

I know that to some extent the answers to this are a) it doesn’t matter that much and b) I can experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. But I’ve got a whole list of side dishes I’d like to try someday, and every time I look at them and go “I dunno, would that pair well with this main item?” I wind up going back to the single-dish things I’m comfortable with. So I put it to you, the cooks of my readership: how can I get better at this? I have two different “meat with balsamic + fruit sauce” main dishes I like — one chicken with balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice, one pork chop with balsamic vinegar and dried cherries — and the fruitiness keeps making me second-guess whether a given side dish would make a good complement. And there are a lot of main dishes I haven’t even really taken a crack at yet. If I had some guiding principles for figuring out what combinations are good, I might experiment more.

This week in “Random Cooking Questions” . . .

I have a tasty recipe for linguine with a sauce of bacon, shallots, and sun-dried tomatoes in cream — but my sister dislikes creamy things. She suggested doing it as a butter sauce instead, and I’m debating the best way to approach that.

Current recipe: cook chunks of bacon for six minutes in olive oil over medium heat, add chopped shallots for 1 minute, add cream and bring to boil, turn off heat and add sun-dried tomatos and parmesan.

Butter variant: should I just cook the bacon in butter and otherwise proceed as before? Or brown the butter for a while before adding the bacon? Or something else? Does this subsitution even work? (It’ll obviously create a different texture overall, but that’s the goal: my sister isn’t lactose-intolerant, just anti-creamy texture.) I could just experiment, but in the interests of winding up with an edible meal at the end, I thought I’d see what the commentariat advises.

The Transitive Property of Marjoram

I’ve been cooking a lot more since moving into a house with a kitchen big enough to be pleasant to work in, but I’m still not much of a chef. This is, in part, because I don’t yet have a good handle on whether things I like separately will combine well — especially when it comes to herbs and spices. Their flavor profiles, and how they meld with the different foods they might be used to flavor, are still terra fairly incognita for me.

But the other day I tried out a new recipe for a side dish of onions and bell peppers with marjoram, and had some left over. When I went to put it in the fridge, I saw I also had some leftover kielbasa. And I know that one of the recipes I’ve made several times, a kielbasa stew, includes marjoram.

So, by the transitive property of marjoram: I can combine these things, right?

And lo, I have Invented a Dish. Fried the kielbasa for a couple of minutes, tossed the onions and bell peppers in to warm them up, dumped the result over rice, hey presto, it worked. In the future I can make this on purpose, as its own thing, rather than just as a way to use up leftovers (though it can be that, too). I’m still not knowledgeable enough to go tossing marjoram into things without precedent to guide me . . . but I can pay attention to which recipes use which flavorings, and start absorbing the underlying principles there.

Baby steps, yo.

Lemon substitute?

My husband is allergic to citrus — not badly so, not to the level of “get him to a hospital” or “break out an epi pen,” but he should try to avoid it when possible.

. . . there are a lot of recipes that call for small amounts of lemon juice.

Is there anything that would make a good substitute for this? Something mildly acidic, I presume — maybe some kind of vinegar? White wine strikes me as the most “neutral,” but then again, I know little enough about this that I may have just typed utter nonsense. Recommendations appreciated.

What to do with the pork seasoning?

I have a packet of really excellent-smelling pork seasoning.

I think I would like to make pulled pork sandwiches with it, because a slow-cooker recipe would be ideal for the logistics at hand.

How should I go about this? My pulled pork slow-cooker recipe calls for bbq sauce and a little bit of honey; should I just chuck the seasoning in with that (no, I have no idea what’s in it), or should I substitute something else for the liquid component? If so, what? Help me, o chefs more skilled than I!

cooking chicken

A question for the culinary types.

I recently made a meal (chicken vesuvio, though not quite the version described there) that turned out pretty well, except the texture of the chicken breasts was less than ideal. The outer portion was great, but the core was kind of tough, and I’m wondering what the reason for that is.

The recipe calls for the breasts to be lightly browned and then put into the pan with potatoes, broth, and cooking wine and simmered for about 12-18 minutes. My impression is that the browning part went great (which is why the exterior of the meat was in good shape), but the simmering is where things went wrong. Could it be that the meat simmered too fast, or reached too hot a temperature? I’m supposed to get it up to 160 degrees; after 12 minutes it had already shot past that. My stove tends to run hot, so I feel like maybe it would turn out better if I reduced the heat (it calls for medium-low, so I could go to low) and let it cook a bit more slowly. But I don’t actually know the dynamics of how these things work, so I could use either confirmation of my theory, or an explanation of what’s more likely to have been the problem.

Adventures of a Tin Chef

I am very far from Iron Chef status. But I’m starting to feel like I might at least have graduated to some form of metal. 😛

Since moving into our new house, I have actually done the Cooking Thing a fair bit — way more than I ever have before, that’s for certain. A few recipes I already knew; a lot more I pulled out of a cookbook and said “this sounds like it might be tasty.” Some I’ve even modified, like the ramen stir-fry where the recipe wound up being more what you might call guidelines than actual rules. (It was from a cookbook published in 1996; I used whatever fresh vegetables sounded tasty in place of the broccoli-carrot-cauliflower frozen “stir-fry mix” they recommended, teriyaki sauce in place of “stir-fry sauce,” and let’s just say that when you’re shopping at a Japanese grocery store in 2016, “oriental flavor” ramen is not one of the options on the shelf.)

A number of things have contributed to my increased willingness to cook:

* Having enough counter space that step one of making dinner is not “clear crap out of the way so I have somewhere to work.” This makes a huge difference all on its own, believe you me.

* Having enough cabinet and drawer space that I can lay my hands on the item I need without first having to move twelve other things out of the way. Ditto previous comment.

* Having a grocery store within pleasant enough walking distance that obtaining what I need for dinner that night is a nice excuse to get out of the house and move around a bit, rather than a chore.

* Having three (or sometimes more) people to cook for instead of just two.

* Having my sister around to help. This is a double benefit, since first of all, she acts as my sous-chef: I find the preliminary “cut stuff up” stage of making dinner to be entirely tedious, while she’s much more willing to do that part than the actual cooking, which means our inclinations pair up well. Also, her presence means that I have company while I’m cooking, instead of being stuck off in the kitchen bored out of my skull and wishing I was doing something I cared about more.

So I’m still not a gung-ho chef by any means, interested in the cooking for its own sake.
I am still prone to going “meep” and deciding a recipe sounds too complicated for me, even though I know many of my friends could do it in their sleep. But we’ve made a variety of different meals and show all signs of going on to make more, instead of defaulting back to pre-prepared stuff as often as possible. And I’m even developing a few instincts, like “I’ve doubled this recipe, but I don’t think I need to double the liquid; yeah, a little more than usual looks like enough” or “I think the turkey cuts need to be thinner next time” or “this was fine, but would probably be better if I browned the sausage first.”

I’ve made a tag for cooking-related content, so those of you who do really enjoy cooking, expect the occasional post wherein I will ask for advice on modifying recipes or what have you.

Recommend a vegetable to me!

I’m not much of a cook, but I’m trying to change that. Which means that as time goes on, there may be more of these “help me figure out how to alter this recipe” questions.

The recipe in this instance is involves some advice about how best to arrange a pan of chicken pieces and vegetables to ensure optimal cooking in the oven. Dark meat + carrots and potatoes on the outer edge of the pan, white meat and brussels sprouts on the inside, because otherwise the white meat will dry out and the sprouts will get a little charred.

All well and good, except I loathe brussels sprouts. (They have a weird aftertaste for me that I find very unpleasant. This is possibly related to being a supertaster, though I don’t know for sure; all I know is, most other people don’t seem to notice any aftertaste.) So what can you recommend to me that would profitably occupy the center position in the pan? It needs to be less robust than carrots and potatoes, while harmonizing well with them.

A question for the cooking types

I have a recipe that was originally intended as a side dish, and has been made into more of a main dish with the addition of hamburger — but it’s kind of a bland main dish. So I’m looking for ways to improve it, and I figured some of you who read this journal could probably make suggestions.

The recipe in its original form contains:

wild rice
onion
celery
salt and pepper
cream of mushroom soup
cream of chicken soup

Which you bake into a casserole, adding hamburger if this isn’t a side dish. But like I said: bland. Any recommendations for things I could add or substitute that would make it more flavorful? Note that household tastes mean we aren’t going to go for anything involving spiciness, fungus, or cilantro. But other options are fair game.

Ideas?

Winter Soup

As requested by many, the recipe:

2 lbs ground chuck
2 med. onions, chopped
1 can tomatoes, cut up
1 can stewed tomatoes, cut up
1 can tomato soup and 1 can water
1 can beef consomme and 1 can water
1 beef bouillon cube (or 1 tsp granulated)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 can Vegall (mixed vegetables)
1 small can kernel corn
3 Tb brown sugar
1 Tb mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Brown and salt beef, drain off fat. Add rest and cook for several hours in a large pot.

***

I’m not fast at chopping things, so prep time for me tends to be half an hour, maybe a bit more. By “large pot” I mean a stock pot; by “cook for several hours” I mean simmer at a relatively low setting for three hours or so. My recipe card doesn’t specify that the pot should be covered, but I’m pretty sure that’s just an oversight; I do put a lid on. Vegall brand mixed vegetables are not required, but someday that company will go under and then as far as I’m concerned winter soup will never taste right again.

This serves six people moderately well, or two people with a lot of leftovers. It can be frozen and then thawed again later, though it tends to get thicker when you do so.