Sesame Chicken

September 30, 2010

My kids love sesame chicken takeout. If we get takeout (a rare occurrence) we have to get two large orders of this to prevent fisticuffs. I don’t mind it, but always seem to end up with a piece that is fatty or grisly, so I don’t eat much of it. They like it because it is sweet and deep fried.

I came upon a recipe for sesame chicken by Ellie Krieger in Food Network Magazine’s Sept issue. No deep frying involved, yet it promised a flavorful dish that is a good substitute. The verdict? They’re right. The chicken is browned in a bit of oil so it gets a nice flavor to it and the sauce is complex and rich. I really liked this a lot. I served it with some somen noodles. Like seemingly all Asian dishes, there are a lot of ingredients and steps, but I would say this was definitely worth it.

5 tbsp soy sauce

4 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tsp honey

1 1/4 lbs skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4 inch chunks

6 tsp canola oil

2 scallions

1 tbsp grated ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/4 c chicken broth

3 tbsp sugar

3-4 tsp cornstarch

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp chili paste

4 cups snowpeas, trimmed

cooked brown rice

2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

whisk 3 tbsp of soy sauce with 2 tsp sesame oil and honey. Add chicken and marinate 20 min.

Remove chicken from marinade and cook in 2 tsp oil in nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook in 2 batches, turning once or twice, until done, about 3-5 min

Remove chicken and wipe out pan. Heat 2 tsp oil and add scallions (reserving some tops to sprinkle on dish), ginger, garlic and cook for 1 min. Whisk broth, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, chili paste, and remaining 2 tbsp soy sauce in a bowl. Add to the pan and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Add remaining 2 tsp sesame oil.

Cook snow peas in a steamer 2-3 min.

Return chicken to pan and heat through. Serve over brown rice with snow peas. Top with sesame seeds and reserved scallion.

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Peking Chicken

September 29, 2010

The person who introduced me to homemade Chinese food was the Frugal Gourmet. He was a crazy hippie/ordained minister who had a cooking show on PBS in the late 80s/early 90s when I was a newlywed. My husband and I used to watch him together and found him to be entertaining (“Hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick,” I can still hear him saying). It was around this time that I took some books out of the library about Asian food and began experimenting. My recipe for Peking Chicken was born.

This recipe is a family favorite. Mr. MarthaAndMe has been known to request it for his birthday dinner. It’s one of those dishes where everyone is literally licking the plate at the end of the meal. When my kids were younger I used to make some pancakes without scallion and they would gobble them up with chicken and sauce on them. Now I make them all with scallions. One word of warning. Make sure you can open your windows when you make this! It always smokes up my kitchen. Open your window before you start cooking this to get some ventilation going.

I adore this recipe. The chicken gets a magnificent color and has crunchy skin. The sauce is rich, dark, and thick. The pancakes are soft and absorb the sauce wonderfully. You taste the bite of ginger and garlic, the sweet darkness of the hoisin, the moist chicken, and the soul soothing pancakes.  It’s a perfect dish.

Peking Chicken

1 whole chicken

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp tamari

1 tbsp minced peeled ginger

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place chicken in sink and pour 1 quart boiling water over it, flipping chicken halfway through.

Place on rack and roast in oven for 50 minutes.

Mix honey, tamari, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar. Once the chicken has roasted for 50 minutes, brush with half the honey mixture and return to oven for 5 minutes. Brush again with the rest of the mix and return to oven for another 5 minutes.

Allow chicken to rest while you make the sauce. Add the chicken broth and hoisin to the chicken pan, first removing any blackened pieces, leaving all the brown pieces.  Bring to boiling, whisking, and scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Serve sauce separately.

Scallion Pancakes

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups water

2 large whole green onions, finely sliced.

Mix ingredients together. Heat a skillet or large pan and add 1 tbsp oil (vegetable or olive are fine).  Use the batter to create pancakes, about 4 inches diameter each. Flip when the bottom is slightly brown. Repeat until all are made. Pancakes can be kept in a warm oven until they are all made.

To eat, put a pancake on your plate and top with a slice of chicken. Pour sauce over it and enjoy with a knife and fork.

This is also wickedly good cold! Note that I’ve tried to make this with half whole wheat flour and it just wasn’t the same – the pancakes were too chewy somehow.

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Dinner with Lucinda

September 28, 2010

You already know I think Lucinda Scala Quinn is a genius. I’ve got her cookbook, Mad Hungry, and I love the segments she does on Martha and the pieces she writes for Living. She’s got her own tv show now on Hallmark, called Mad Hungry. I’ve been DVRing it daily. One day she made Pork Chops with Apples and Onions and also sauteed cabbage. Both recipes are from her book and I already had them flagged as things to try, so the show gave me that nudge I needed to try them.

A couple of admissions first. I don’t have a cast iron pan. And I used boneless pork chops. So sue me.

The pork chops were very easy to make. Essentially you sear them then you cook the onions and apples, add some liquid and add the chops back in to cook until done. I love apples and pork and liked this method of cooking them. Next time I would add some thyme or some sage – it needed some herbs I think. I might also be tempted to sear the pork, then stick the whole thing in the oven. The pork was moist and the apples amazing. I liked this a lot. Very hearty and homey.

The cabbage was a little trickier. The ingredients are simple – some onion, a little tomato and then cook the cabbage until wilted. I had to cook mine a really long time to get it to be soft enough to eat (and I covered it to get it to cook faster). I don’t like it crunchy. So if you make this, just be prepared to be patient. I did like it once it was done, but thought it was a little bland. Not sure what it needs – something.  Lots of leftovers, but I used them in all sorts of things (quesadillas and fried rice).

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Martha Mondays: 10/4

September 27, 2010

Thanks to Brenda at Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen for choosing next week’s project, Pumpkin Muffins.

Martha Mondays: Pear and Apple Phyllo Crisp

September 27, 2010

Today’s project, Pear and Apple Phyllo Crisp from Oct Living was chosen by Teresa at Homemade Iowa Life.

Sorry about the photo for this. It really did look pretty. This was very simple to make. I could not believe only a few sheets of phyllo were needed. I sprayed the top of my fruit with a little Pam and sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon which make it look prettier and gave it some extra sweetness.

This was terrific the first day but quickly became mushy, so it’s really something that doesn’t keep well unfortunately. It was delicious though. The crispy phyllo combined with the soft fruit was a nice combo.

1/2 c pecans
1/2 c plain fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 sheets frozen phyllo dough 11 1/2 x 15 each thawed
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 small firm pears, such as Forelle or Seckel
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled
Preheat oven to 400 with rack in top position Combine pecans, breadcrumbs, sugar and cinnamon
Line baking sheet with parchment and top with 1 phyllo sheet. Brush phyllo with butter all over and sprinkle pecan mix over it. Repeat 4x. Top with remaining sheet and brush with all but 2 tbsp butter.
Slice pears and apples 1/8 inch thick, discard seeds. Arrange in a single layer on phyllo, leaving space between fruit and a 1/4 inch border around the edges.
Brush fruit with reserved 2 tbsp butter. Sprinkle with sugar and dust with additional cinnamon.
Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until phyllo is golden brown and fruit is soft, 28-32 min. Let cool slightly. Cut into 8 pieces.

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Teen Martha’s Room

September 25, 2010

Teen Martha started college this fall, but is living at home. This big change in her life necessitated a big change in her room as well. She was done, done, done with her room that had 2 pink walls and 2 purple walls. She was done with her purple comforter. She was done with the big desk unit that was designed for a giant monitor when she now has a laptop. She was done with the lime green Roman shades. She was fed up with the clutter.

Step one was decluttering. She packed tons of stuff away and emptied out lots of books. Her curio cabinet, which housed her collections of porcelain hinged boxes, miniature shoes and other items, was taken away. The desk was dismantled. The blinds came down.

The first step was painting. She wanted stripes. Oh my. We primed the walls with white (twice). Then we taped it off so we could do a pink stripe and a green stripe. We let it dry, did another coat, and removed that tape and taped again so that in between the two stripes was a white sparkle stripe (two coats there too). The painting took weeks with all the taping, untaping and numerous coats.

We found the duvet cover on Overstock which was a huge bargain given that it is Tommy Hilfiger. She wanted plain roller blinds to darken the room (Walmart) and found some gorgeous white see through nubby drapes at Target (you can’t see these very well in the photo so here’s the link to see them).

The desk is all Mr. MarthaAndMe. In the dark ages, Mr. MarthaAndMe used to own an office furniture repair company and he also at one point worked for an office furniture design firm. He still has contacts there and one of those took us up to the dusty, hot storage room where we found two desk tops and a pedestal which Mr. MarthaAndMe and his handy brother cut down to fit as an L shape in the space Teen Martha had available, with the pedestal as support.

On our summer trip, Teen Martha bought some Chinese lanterns in Vancouver, and those hang in the corners.

She decoupaged her light switch cover with clippings from magazines (it doesn’t look like it matches in the photo, but actually the colors are really spot on).

The room isn’t quite done. She still wants a desk lamp and wants to replace the rug by the bed and get a new office chair.

But I’m pretty proud of how well it turned out. The desk seems to be working well, giving her lots of space to spread out. All of this cost under $300.

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Chicken Stuffed with Spinach, Feta and Pine Nuts

September 24, 2010

Since there was virtually nothing to cook in Sept Living, I’ve had to branch out to some other sources for dinner ideas. One that struck me was chicken stuffed with feta, pine nuts, and spinach from Sept Cooking Light. Mr. MarthaAndMe could eat feta all day. I adore spinach. It sounded like a perfect match. I had to do some juggling for the kids though. Dude Martha got a plain chicken breast, breaded. Teen Martha got a chicken breast with feta and pine nuts.

I enjoyed this dish a lot, however it was somehow incredibly salty. I was using a new type of feta so that may be why, since I did not add a lot of salt.

I liked cutting a slit for the stuffing – very easy to do and no pounding and rolling required which I don’t enjoy. Thumbs up on this dish – something I will make again and again.

5 oz fresh spinach, chopped

1/2 cup feta

2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

1 tsp thyme

2 tsp lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350. Cook spinach until wilted then squeeze dry. Mix with cheese, nuts, thyme, juice and garlic. Cut a horizontal slit through the thickest part of each breast and stuff 1/4 of the stuffing in. Close with toothpicks. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then cook in the oil in a pan over medium high heat, 3 min per side, then add chicken broth to the pan. Bake at 350 for 15 min or until done. I cooked mine entirely on the stovetop and just covered the pan after I browned the chicken.

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Martha During a Recession

September 23, 2010

Recently a comment was posted questioning how I can afford to cook Martha. How does one afford Martha on a budget? Everyone can afford this. I think there is a perception that Martha’s recipes are extravagant and pricey. For the most part, that isn’t true. Yes, she sometimes makes over the top things, but I find most recipes to be doable for the average person. I cook dinner 7 days a week. I want food to be healthy and tasty and I love to try new things. If I’m going to be cooking anyway, why not try something new and fun? Martha’s recipes are not unapproachable in any way. In fact Everyday Food recipes are pretty easy and accessible. Here are some tips for how to afford good food on a budget:

-Make recipes that appeal to you. If it doesn’t sound good, you probably won’t eat it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stretch yourself. I’ve been surprised many times when I’ve tried something new. But if I know that I just hate duck, I don’t make duck recipes. Look for recipes that allow you to punch up your dinner routine without going crazy with totally unfamiliar or unpalatable  food.

– Look for recipes that can replace some of your boring same old, same old recipes without a change in cost. Instead of baked potatoes, try potato au gratin, for example. Instead of spaghetti and meatballs, try a recipe for a bolognese pasta. Virtually the same ingredients and cost, but hugely different in taste. Try new veggies. Instead of peas and carrots, try Swiss chard and parsnips. Swapping one veggie for another usually ends up to be similar in price on average.

– Cook at home instead of eating out. You can buy an awful lot of food (or treat yourself to some expensive options ) for what it costs to buy a meal at a restaurant. And you can control how it tastes. I’m really off restaurant food lately. It’s never as good as I want it to be and I would rather just make my own food the way I want it.

– Choose recipes that will give you bang for your buck. I’m unlikely to try something that is filled with expensive ingredients because I can find a different recipe for something more affordable that is equally delicious. New chicken recipes are invaluable to me because I’m ALWAYS cooking chicken. If I can discover a new chicken recipe that delights me, it gets added to my repertoire.

– Buy ingredients on sale and use your freezer. Stock up on things you know you use often when there’s a sale or you have a coupon. I use a lot of chicken, so if organic chicken breasts are on sale, I buy a boat load. I buy flour in bulk because I use so much. I fill the cupboard with chicken broth when it’s on sale.

– Eat leftovers. I often eat leftovers for lunch. We don’t waste any food and I have no problem figuring out what to have at noon the next day! Plus this way, the pleasure lasts for two meals.

– Plan menus. I try to take some time each weekend to pick out what I want to cook in the next week. There are lots of things I always have on hand, but if there is something particular I need for a recipe I want to buy it and have things planned out so I will use and not waste it. In the past I have been guilty of having big plans to make things and then letting life get in the way so that the particular produce or dairy item goes bad before I get to it. I try to set manageable menu goals for myself based on my schedule, so I’m not trying to make 2 hour dishes on a crazy Thursday night.

– Doctor the bad recipes. If you read my blog, you know that from time to time I encounter a Martha recipe so bad (or so badly executed by me) that I dump it. This doesn’t happen often because in the words of the lovely Tim Gunn, I try to “make it work.” I’m always tasting as I’m cooking and making adjustments. When you try something new, you can never be sure if it is going to turn out, so you’ve got to stay on top of it. I sample and I adjust flavorings or seasonings.  There have been times when I’ve completely altered the recipe to the point of it being unidentifiable, just to make the food edible. Once in a while though, something ends up in the trash. It happens and I think it happens no matter what kind of food or recipes you’re cooking.

– Substitute ingredients that fit your budget. Martha demands the best. And sometimes I cheat. I’ve been known to use store brand chocolate chips instead of fine chocolate, bacon instead of pancetta, vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean, generic frozen spinach instead of fresh, and milk instead of cream. And I often used dried spices instead of fresh (though I can tell you there really is a big difference, so I really want to try to grow my own). I often use bottled lemon juice instead of a fresh lemon. Yes, there is a slight taste difference, but sometimes it just doesn’t make that much of a difference in the dish.

– Cut the recipe in half. If it’s something you’re not sure you’ll like (or if it is just too big), cut it in half and sample it. If it’s bad, you aren’t wasting much and you still got to sample something new.

– Accept that good food takes time. You have to be willing to spend the time to get the result. Everyday Food recipes are often quick and easy and I love them for weeknights, but I also love to make things that take more time on other nights. I enjoy making bread, even though I have to dedicate a day to watching it rise. For me, that’s fun and is better than a lot of other activities I can think of. It’s easy to buy packaged food that can be microwaved or reheated but you definitely get better food if you make it yourself.

– Make things yourself. Martha is a big believer in making your own stock, breadcrumbs, pie crust, jelly, etc. If you do this, you save lots of money. Of course it takes time. These things are almost always better tasting when you make them yourself. I admit I don’t do as much of this as I could and it’s something I’m working on.

– Cook with seasonal ingredients. Usually you get a magazine one month before the issue date, so the September Living issue arrives in August. This means there may be recipes for produce that are not yet in season when you get it. It’s tempting to want to make these delicious recipes when you get the magazine, but they will be more affordable when they’re actually in season. I also buy large quantities of seasonal ingredients (for example, I get a half bushel of apples in the fall) and cook with them a lot while they are available.

– Be critical. Yes, Martha is a doyenne of taste, however she doesn’t live in the middle class world. She often recommends kitchen tools that I think are too expensive or makes outrageous statements such as saying everyone should have 30 kinds of pasta in their pantry. Scale down what Martha does to make it possible in your world. She has fantastic ideas, but they have to be filtered and downsized. Actually I find that her magazines do a good job of doing just that – they provide recipes anyone can make for the most part.  When you watch her on her show she will say outrageous things sometimes, but that’s the fun of Martha.

– Think about how you can save money in other aspects of your life. For me, organic food is non-negotiable. But it costs more. So we make sacrifices in other areas. That means being frugal in our daily lives and evaluating how to save money.

– Make choices. We don’t drink alcohol and that’s a major expense for many people,but one I don’t have. As far as I’m concerned, this increases the money I have available for food.  I know I would rather cook good food than go to the movies every weekend, so that’s a choice I make. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about recognizing what’s important to you and making it work in your life. We can’t all live Martha’s life where she can have anything she wants, any time. Instead, it’s about prioritizing and for me, good food is at the top of the list.

– Change how you think about food. I would rather have a delicious healthy dinner than all the potato chips in the world. So our house is mostly devoid of packaged food. If we want dessert, we make it. If we want a snack, we make popcorn or have cheese or fruit. Food is something you *make,* not something you take out of a package, in my opinion. Yes, sometimes it is expensive to buy goat cheese and organic eggs, but I don’t spend any money on packaged food so I think I come out ahead in terms of cost.

– Splurge when it’s worth it. Last year I ordered my Thanksgiving turkey from Martha. It was organic, free range, and pasture raised. It cost an arm and a leg. But it was the best turkey I have ever had in my entire life. It was worth every dime. Choose special things like this to spend your money on and the joy will carry over as you’re being creative with inexpensive meals at other times.

– Don’t just throw dinner together if you can avoid it. Enjoy what you’re making and eating. It makes me a happier person to eat something that I’ve anticipated for a few hours and which has new, interesting, or delicious flavors. Eat consciously and allow the money you spend on food to translate to real satisfaction.

Do you have any tips to share about how you afford to cook Martha? I would love to hear them.

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Yorkshire Pudding

September 22, 2010

Old flames have staying power don’t they? Young love just stays with you. And so it is with me and Yorkshire pudding. My mom used to make this with roast beef and it was one of those things I just loved as a kid. It’s called pudding, but it is not dessert. I serve this with things like roast chicken, brisket, or a sirloin roast.  It is incredible and every time I make it myself, I cannot believe how easy it is. Even a monkey can make this. Seriously.

Dude Martha had a hankering for this recently, so I whipped it up. You will not believe how simple it is. First, turn on your oven to 425. Into the oven, place a round casserole dish with 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Let it come up to temp.

Meanwhile, mix 1 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 cup milk and 1/2 tsp salt. It’s ok if it’s a little lumpy like pancake batter. Once the oven is at temp, pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for 40 min. Simple. You’ll know it’s done when it is puffed up and the middle is completely set. It’s obvious when it’s done.

Now, when I make this, I usually triple the recipe because my family is like vultures with this dish. They keep swooping back in for more. So in the photo, you’ll see I’ve used an 8×13 baking dish. Before Dude Martha was so hooked on this, I usually just doubled it. A single batch works well for two people.

Now for why this is so divine. There are 3 heavenly layers. On the bottom you get a dark brown, greasy, crunchy layer. It’s shiny and glossy and gorgeous.  Like the best chicken skin you’ve ever had. The second layer is pale yellow, moist, dense, and eggy. Like a custard, but set much harder. The top layer is golden brown, slightly crunchy with darker brown bits here and there and kind of airy and light. Sheer heaven.

My mom used to make this using the drippings from beef, but I don’t ever get that many drippings (nor do I really ever hook a big honking piece of roast beef), plus I just prefer to use vegetable oil.

No one wants to eat it the next day, but here’s the secret – it’s really, really good cold!

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Blueberry Nectarine Buckle

September 21, 2010

Recently I raved about John Barricelli’s cookbook, The Sono Baking Company Cookbook. My second try from the book was also very good, Blueberry Nectarine Buckle. I made this for my parents.  It was incredibly easy.

Streusel topping:

1 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 unsalted butter


1 1/4 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups blueberries

2 cups diced nectarines

Preheat oven to 350. I made the streusel in my mom’s Cuisinart. John says to work it together with your fingers.

To make the cake, beat butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time then the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients. Fold in the fruit. Pace in a 9 x 13 baking pan and put streusel on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Now for my notes. I actually used twice as much cinnamon as the recipe said since I like a lot. I would really recommend tossing your fruit with some flour before mixing it in, since all of mine sunk to the bottom. Other than that, it was very good. It could use a bit more fruit if you wanted to add more. The cake was very moist and the topping very crisp and deeply flavored. It was good for days afterward, kept in the fridge.

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