Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Quick Dinner Idea

I didn't actually need to make a quick dinner last night, it just worked out that I did. The kids are on vacation this week and after Hannah and I watched Desperate Housewives on the dvr in the morning, she said she wanted panini's for dinner.'(Okay, so it's a terrible show and not worth our time, but sometimes you have to have a LITTLE fun)

I do not own a panini maker. I don't like to keep a lot of appliances in my kitchen. These are the only ones I own, in descending order of kitchen importance: Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid stand mixer, mini food processor, rice cooker, pasta roller, ice cream machine, waffle iron, and pizzelle maker. That's it. There is really no need for panini makers and quesadilla makers and the like. You can do all of those things without any special equipment.

The one thing you do need to make a panini is some way to apply weight to the sandwich. What is a panini anyway? Essentially, it is a grilled cheese sandwich. What makes a good grilled cheese? Thin, crisp, grilled bread and a smooth melting cheese. How do you get that pressed together panini texture without a special griddle? Easy: a brick. Yes, a brick. Wrapped in foil. Go find a brick. Buy one if you need to, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a panini maker. Wrap it in foil. Put it on top of your sandwich, grill until brown on one side, flip it over, put the brick back on and cook until the sandwich is browned and the cheese is melted. Yum! I even have some extra bricks if you need one. Let me know.

Here are some great panini fillings:

Hannah's favorite
Fresh mozzarella
Pesto mayo

Alex's favorite

Steve's favorite
One sandwich with every available ingredient in it that I have on hand

Keys to a good panini
Use a sturdy bread like a pain de campagne or sourdough.
Use a good melting cheese such as provolone, muenster, swiss, or gouda
Make your spread flavorful: add a dollop of pesto or some chopped basil to your mayo. Sun dried tomatoes or sun dried tomato pesto are yummy. Try a turkey panini with fontina and mayo mixed with a spoonful of mango chutney.
Always season tomatoes with salt and pepper.

This is just a jumping off point. Although I hate it when people say, "Use your imagination" that really is the key here. Look in the fridge and see what you've got. Use whatever is in there. Get cooking!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Joys of the Internet

My laptop got a virus. It is dead. While I wait for the nice computer man to retrieve all of my data so that I can again work, I might as well post my thoughts on food. Or evil virus writers. Or both.

I can't do ANYTHING until I get all my files back. It really sucks. I should probably bake cookies instead. Which I can do now that I have replenished my supply of vanilla extract.

A couple of weeks ago, Hannah as whining and complaining that she wanted chocolate chip cookies. Not a big deal, I can whip 'em out start to finish in thirty minutes. So I started whipping. A couple of years ago, Priscilla and I were planning a bake-a-thon. She showed up at my house with a bag full of supplies and we started to unpack and get to baking. I had asked her to get some vanilla extract for me as I was running low and didn't want to run out while in the middle of the baking. She pulled out two boxes and gasped. "I can't believe I did this" she cried. "I bought us each a bottle of vanilla, but I accidentally bought IMITATION vanilla!" I looked at her, called her a dork and promptly forgave her. We managed to have enough vanilla in my cupboard to get through what we were making, I put the artificial vanilla in the cupboard and promptly forgot about it. Until last week.

I ran out of vanilla while making Christmas cookies and didn't think about buying any more, because I was so sick of cookies and baking that it never occured to me. Now, however, I wanted to whip out some cookies, the weather was awful, and I wasn't going to the store to buy vanilla. How bad could it be? I smelled it. It didn't have the same wonderful perfume that real vanilla has. It smelled kinda weird. Oh well, I'll just use it anyway. Now, before you tell me that it smelled weird because I had kept it too long, let me tell you this: most extracts, vanilla in particular, are like wine: the longer they age, the better they become. Anyway, I proceeded with it even though I had reservations. Well, WHAT A FREAKIN' MISTAKE THAT WAS! Those cookies had the WORST flavor of ANY cookies I have ever made! I tasted them and made a face. Hannah tasted them and tried to hide her disdain. I said, "These cookies are disgusting." She said, "I didn't want to say anything, but, yeah, they kinda are. What did you do to them?" We threw out the imitation vanilla.

Now maybe you use imitation vanilla. Maybe you whine that real vanilla is too expensive. Maybe you just have a completely undeveloped palate. I don't really care. Go ahead and do what you want, but let me tell you this: once you get used to how good REAL ingredients can taste, once your palate learns to discriminate between quality and crap, you will never go back to crap. And you will enjoy your food more. I don't believe in eating anything that doesn't taste good. Do yourself a favor, just go buy some real vanilla extract and see how much better it is. You'll thank me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I have again been bad and not posted any delicious tidbits (or even a rant) for a while. I'm not one of those people who will skip sleep to get everything done. I can't get anything done on less than six hours of sleep. It's 10:40 now and and if I don't finish this in twenty minutes, I'm ditching it and going to bed.

A few years ago, I made a stuffed chicken breast that had foccacia and pine nuts and a pomegranate pan sauce. I couldn't find the recipe so I decided to wing it. I know I have ranted and railed against chicken breasts, but if you recall, it is boneless, skinless ones I hate. I purchased bone-in, skin-on breasts. I cut a big pocket in the side of them and stuffed them with a stuffing mix as follows:
1 C sauteed leeks
2 1/2 C cubed challah (A foccacia at Wegman's was $4.00 for a teeny one! A challah was the same price, but it was more than twice as much)
I threw the bread into the pan to crisp it up after the leeks were done. Then I seasoned it with salt and pepper, added a handful of pine nuts, and about a 1/3 cup of dried sour cherries. you could use dried cranberries or raisins, but I happened to have some cherried hanging around. (Well, I am the Mendon Foodie after all. I have a well stocked cupboard. Just think of all that demi-glace in my freezer.)

After the chicken was stuffed, I added a little more olive oil to the saute pan and put the breasts in skin side down to brown. I flipped them over and stuck the pan into a 425 degree oven for about 35 minutes. When it was done, I took the chicken out of the pan and deglazed it with about 3/4 C pomegranate juice. I mashed a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of flour and swirled it in the pan, poured it over the chicken and voila, dinner was served. If you don't count the time in the oven, it took about 15 minutes. I roasted some sweet potatoes alongside it, (chunked, drizzled with olive oil,s alt and pepper) and Hannah made a salad of romaine, sauteed mushrooms and manchego cheese with a lemon vinagrette. My whole family was happy. We sat around the dinner table for forty mintues and talked about Alex's lego robot ideas and Hannah's views on human decency vis-a-vis the story of Elie Wiesel. You don't get those conversations over hamburger Helper or Stouffer's lasagna, mainly because people won't stay at the table for that long if you serve them crap. Do your family a favor: cook them something easy and tasty. you'll all be better off.