Sunday, June 28, 2009

breaking through a blogging rut, and blogging last night's dinner: the shake n' bake edition

So I got my knickers all in a wad these last few weeks because I developed blogger's anxiety. No, that's not in the DSMIV, but I contend that it should be diagnosable - that dreaded feeling of having nothing worthwhile to say really turns a girl off of sharing her innermost thoughts about pork products (nom.) or rhubarb (possibly nom.) or cauliflower (ew). I kept thinking, who'd want to read my meanderings about cooking? I'm nothing special when it comes to the kitchen. There are millions - possibly billions - of people the world over who are better cooks than I. I'm inexperienced at best; I make lots of mistakes. I don't know things that other cooks learned in their cribs. You know - like how to boil an egg.*

But then, the words started getting bottled up and I had a couple of minor culinary successes and I started to re-evaluate why I started this blog in the first place. So let me set some things straight, just for my own amusement if nothing else:

I didn't start this blog because I'm good at cooking. I'm sharing the process that I'm undergoing because I'm relatively novice at the ol' applying-heat-and-chemistry-to-food-substances thing, and each day really is kind of a discovery. I'm going to make mistakes and give you the chance to laugh at me. I'm going to act all excited over a "discovery" that you might have learned when you were three. I'm going to use substitute ingredients; I'm going to use short-cuts. I may even use the microwave occasionally.

And I'm going to write about it. And people might read it, or they might not. They might get bored or disgusted and wander off to go do something more productive with their days.
And that's okay.

Because I'm not writing this for anyone but myself.

That was an important realization - or reminder - for me.

So, as Ellen DeGeneres says, "Aaanywaayyy..." Now that we've got the Manifesto out of the way...Last night, I fixed a pretty amazing meal. Oven-fried buttermilk chicken breasts, fried potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.

This is my favorite bald guy, trying to parse out what was in that amazing chicken:
It was fairly easy - the whole meal was done in about half an hour, minus the sittin' time for the poultry.

Chicken Ingredients:
A couple or three boneless skinless chicken breasts
About 1/2 c. buttermilk
A few tablespoons of cornmeal
1 T. salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper
1/2 t. each (or to taste) paprika, garlic powder, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne pepper (go easy on that one)
1 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1/2 T. dried)
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 1/2 T. dried)
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (about 180 C)
  • Plop the chicken breasts in a bowl or something and pour the buttermilk over them. Let them sit for about half an hour, stewing in the buttermilk. I don't know WHY it works, but it makes the chicken breasts nice and tender and moist (insert inappropriate joke about breasts here).
  • When you're ready to cook, combine all ingredients from cornmeal down in a bowl that's big enough to scoot the chicken breasts around in.
  • Kinda shake the excess buttermilk off each breast and dredge the chicken around in the cornmeal seasonings. Put yer now-coated breasts (heh) in a baking dish of some description (darker pans require shorter cooking time, so be careful. I used a 9x13 pyrex baking dish). You might want to spray the pan with PAM or some grease equivalent to keep 'em from sticking.
  • Stick the chicken in the oven for 20 minutes. Then flip 'em over and bake for another 10-15 minutes (approx. time based on my experience with a convection oven - for food safety, check your chicken's internal temperature with a meat thermometer; it should register no less than 165 degrees. Food temperature information can be found at the USDA's web site).
  • Nice, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-and-moist-on-the-inside chicken breasts are now yours!
Potatoes Ingredients:
Uh, potatoes. I used Jersey Royals new potatoes, but use whatever waxy, not-too-flaky potatoes you want (in other words, steer clear of the giant Russet baking potatoes, because those will just fall apart). I used 6 smallish (child's fist size) potatoes, and it fed 2 people pretty well.
3 T. all-purpose flour
salt, pepper, a little chili powder if you're feeling bold, mebbe some herbs, but not too much (I used zahtar, because it's one of my favorite "secret" ingredients) - about 1/4-1/2 T. each
About 2 T. olive oil (a couple of swirls around the skillet)
Spray oil or an extra T or two of olive oil
  • Wash your potatoes and scrub any little unpleasant bits off. Poke a couple of holes in each with a fork and microwave those suckers until just tender - about 2:30 or thereabouts.
  • While the potatoes are sizzling and whining away in the nuke-box, mix your flour and seasonings in a bowl big enough to accommodate the cut-up taters.
  • When the potatoes have finished cooking, remove them carefully and cut until 1/2 inch chunks (you need asbestos-coated fingers for this, or just be patient and wait 'til they've cooled off a little)
  • Heat your skillet to medium-high heat and add your olive oil.
  • Spray the cut potatoes with oil - or toss gently in a bowl with the extra olive oil, depending on your preference.
  • Toss those greasy potatoes in the flour mixture, just to coat.
  • I then (and this is an extra step born of expediency that you may not need to do) dumped the coated potatoes in a sieve/colander, just to get the extra floury bits off of them, so it didn't all end up in the frying pan.
  • Dump the taters in the pan, and cook over medium-high heat until nicely browned - about 10 minutes.
Brussels sprouts:
Simplest thing in the world. I used frozen Brussels sprouts. Steam them (about 8 minutes) until just tender and bright green, and toss with butter, about 2 T. balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Bingbamboom dinner.

*So about this boiled egg thing. Ever since I moved to England, I've had serious trouble getting eggs to boil so that the shells are easy to remove. I end up with eggs that look like they had an unfortunately bad case of teenage acne that left them pockmarked and socially awkward. I've tried many recipes - starting from cold water, plunging them into boiling water, bringing the pot to a boil and then turning it off and letting it sit, adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water...all of those things, and STILL shells that refuse to peel off genteelly. I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the eggs I'm buying or something - I don't remember having this trouble back in the States. If anyone has any thoughts about stubborn boiled egg-shells, lemme know. I'd be most grateful.

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