Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How to cook tender chicken: My favorite trick for juicy, perfect chicken

Pan-sauteed chicken over a spinach and strawberry salad

The number one compliment I get on my chicken is that it's moist.  I've lately noticed that a lot of us suffer from CCS: Chewy Chicken Syndrome. Maybe we're afraid of salmonella.  Maybe we like dry, chewy, tasteless chicken.  However, there are ways to treat CCS.  For me, I use a special trick that I rarely ever see home cooks use: pan-sauteeing.

I thought for awhile that I was really on to something unique, until I realized Julia Child's covers this method in-depth in her cookbook The Art of French Cooking

First: never use those pre-frozen, bagged, chicken wannabees.  Why? Because they suck.  And you won't get beautiful, juicy chicken out of them.  Buy them fresh.  They cost about the same, and all you have to do is wrap them individually and freeze them when you get home.

So, first, defrost your boneless, skinless chicken boobs. I mean breasts (sorry, I had to).  However, don't let them cook in the microwave unless you like chewing rubber (my dog does). 

While you're defrosting, get your stainless steel skillet hot.  Medium-high hot.  Sprinkle a little salt over your chicken and then toss those bad boys on the skillet.  Yeah, straight on.  As in, no oil.  I know, I know.  But this works!

What you're doing right now is searing the outside, which will not only help keep the moisture in, but will turn your chicken a delicious golden brown.  Mmmmmmm....

See how the outside is browned but the middle is still raw?

It takes a little practice to know when to turn them, but only turn these baddies once! It's usually about 3-5 minutes per side.  Don't sear them any longer and don't keep turning them because you'll only burn the outside and cook the inside and you don't want the inside of the chicken to cook during the searing process.  We're going to do that with low heat.

Once you're done searing, the juicy part begins.  Now you're going to add some broth or stock to the pan and reduce heat to low.  The amount you add depends on whether or not you're creating a sauce for the chicken.  If you are, then you'll add as much as you need. If not, add only enough to keep the chicken from cooking in dry heat-- about 1/4 inch in the pan, like the ones below.  You aren't going to add too much liquid, so don't worry about that.  Worry about not adding enough, which will dry your chickies out.

Now, cover and let them simmer.  I usually shoot for 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness.  The ones above, as you can see, are quite thick.  I probably simmered these guys about that long.  I know it's tempting.  I know you want to because so many of us suffer from CCS.  But don't overcook those breasts!  If they're a little pink still, you can keep simmering.  But you can't unsimmer them if you overcook them.

At some point, I'm going to put up a few quick, easy, gourmet-tasting sauces that I make using this method.  But for now, just add a little butter to the stock and season those puppies up and voila!

I put these chickies over a spinach salad with strawberries, carrots, and apple.  I whipped up a little dressing that about even parts red wine vinegar and raspberry jam plus a little olive oil.  Simple. Fast. Divine.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Leprechaun

This is a pub I used to frequent (pub does NOT equal bar in this case because I don't drink).  Ok, so it's not in Ireland, it's in England, but isn't so...pubby?

I think this is a good time to give everyone a little of my histoire J.   I love being Irish and I was taught, growing up, to feel sorry for people that weren’t.  My mom’s whole family is Irish and so are most of the people in the town I grew up in.

I was born in California, but we moved to Butte, Montana (that’s byoot, now ) when I was nine because it’s where my mom and step-dad grew up. Butte’s heyday has long since passed with the closing of the mines but, Irish culture is still alive and well there and you can’t throw a stick without hitting a Sullivan (my very Irish family includes Sullivans). 

Needless to say, St. Paddy’s is a big deal there and growing up, it was almost offensive not to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. 

So, one day in high school when St. Paddy’s was on a weekday, everyone’s attention was suddenly drawn out the window (teacher included) during English. 

“It’s The Leprechaun!!”

Sure enough, it was The Leprechaun, and he was taking two one step forward and two back as he teetered his way towards the festivities uptown (the drinking starts around noon). 

Butte, MT has a leprechaun.  Everyone knows him.  He’s a leprechaun year ‘round and finding him strolling the streets is common.  He’s always wearing his shamrocked hat and buckled shoes, like any self-respecting leprechaun, complete with green waistcoat and breeches.  Yes, he’s from Ireland.  What he fills his leprechauny days with, no one knows.  Except on St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Free or cheap photo editing: And why you don't need Photoshop.

First, if this photo doesn't make you happy, where is your soul?

Second, I have a secret to tell you: you can take great photos without an SLR and make them pop (like this one) without Photoshop [gasp]!  It's true.  I'll explain.

You can take pro-looking photos with a point and shoot.  I no you think I'm lying, but hear me out.  A camera is, essentially, just a light-tight box.  The body of a camera has nothing to do with the quality of the picture.  What matters is your lens and your sensor.  Professional photographers buy the expensive SLRs because they enable them to work more easily, efficiently, and to produce consistent results in less than perfect photographic conditions. Also, people who aren't good at photography buy them thinking the camera will do what their skills aren't up to yet. 

That being said, here's the scoop on point and shoots: if you can conjure up good conditions for the photography, it will take a pro-looking photo.  Unlike the Nikon D3 (drool), however, a point and shoot is only going to produce good photos if you have all the right conditions.  That's because the sensor on a D3 can produce professional results in a variety of lighting situations.

Basically, a $20 pair of shoes and a $200 pair of shoes will both get you a short distance comfortably and without falling apart.  However, the $200 pair will win out every time once distance and conditions change. 

Now, on to Photoshop (and why you don't need it).  That picture of my nephew up there: it was done on Adobe Lightroom. Which costs $100.  Rather than the $700 of Photoshop.  Additionally, there are FREE programs on the internet you can use (GIMP, Pixler, SumoPaint) that do everything Photoshop Elements does.  I used GIMP for years doing engagements, portraits, and still life photography.  It's harder to get the results you want sometimes, but not $700 difficult.  I'll post some examples.  I guarantee you that, as a non-professional photographer, you will never use anything in Photoshop that you can't get out of Lightroom or a free Elements substitute.  If you get into wedding photography, commercial photography, or graphic design, then Photoshop may be a better fit.  The executive board at Adobe laughs maniacally everytime an amateur photographer buys $700 worth of software they don't need.

GIMP edited photos:

Monday, March 8, 2010

How to use sirloin steak

There are a lot of reasons why I love Mexicans.  The taco is one of them.

You know I'm cheap.  Make that frugal.  Well, when it comes to beef, cheap cuts usually mean tough.  That's why these tacos are perfect-- the "toughness" doesn't matter.

Not only that, but these are fresh and healthy.  Do not read: low fat.  They are not the same for me.  Whoever said healthy can only mean low-fat was probably a shrewd, miserable person whose taste-buds fell off.  I think that, in a day, you need to keep your fat intake moderate and that you should strive to make those healthy fats whenever possible.  But never eating fat is as extreme as it is boring.

It's all about balance and moderation.

Hey, can you hand me the rest of those Skittles?  I dropped them on my ice cream filled chocolate cake.  Thanks.

Anyway, to make these, here's what you need:

Meg's Sirloin Tacos
(Note: I never measure anything.  It's not my style.  Too useful.  Portions will vary upon how many people you're cookin' for)
  • sirloin or flank steak
  • fresh tomatoes
  • fresh white onion
  • fresh avocado
  • corn tortillas
  • cheese
  • seasoning (i like cumin, oregano, and a little chili powder, but taco seasoning works too)
  • salt n' peppa
The key to these bad boys is to not over cook the meat.  American's love to overcook meat.  We're so afraid of the meat we cook it bone dry.  Here's what I like to do:
Get your pan HOT.  Stainless steel is really best for this. No oil.
Sear the outside VERY quickly and then turn it down to med/med low and finish cooking with the lid on and a little liquid of some sort (just a little) to keep it from drying out.  With flank steaks, you really probably want the middle pink; they're tough enough as it is. 

While they meat is searing, season it up.

When the meat is done, dice up the tomatoes, onions, and avocados and mix together.  Shred some cheese.  I go light on the cheese with these, unless I use chicken.

Toast the tortillas in a pan before serving. 

Easy, peasy!

Friday, March 5, 2010

You never know where the day will find you

Reggae. Sushi. Sci-fi. Michelle Pfeiffer.

Today, I started Fahrenheit 451 (I'm learning to spell that with fewer tries), listened to Bob Marley's Exodus album, made sushi for dinner (while singing No Woman, No Cry), and watched What Lies Beneath. Sheesh, did I do anything today that doesn't require me to italiize?

Well, I did work 8 hours.  Make that 7ish.  But the italicized stuff was more fun.

Stay tuned.  Sushi pics to follow.