Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Proof is in the Pan

You're about to make a roast and you have several pans to choose from in your kitchen.  Which one do you go with? This may be a question that has come across your mind, or maybe you just always use the same one without any thought?  But choosing the right pan is important for the kind of cooking that a particular dish requires.

I became curious about this topic after a friend of mine broke a ceramic pan in her oven while roasting.  The bottom of the pan said, "oven and dishwasher safe". Many pans will also use the wording "oven proof".  What is the difference between the two?  I went to the web to find out, but much to my dismay, I didn't find a clear answer. 

I think the labeling of "oven proof" and "oven safe" is misleading and confusing  to the consumer.  The definition I came across to describe "oven proof" said that the pan is heat tolerant and is generally ok in temperatures between 375 and 500 degrees.  "Oven safe", on the other hand, was described as able to withstand temperatures of an oven with out breaking, burning or melting. I would think that if you are going to put anything in the oven it should be able to hold up to any temperature with out doing damage to the pan or pot. Are you taking a risk then if you use an "oven proof" item, because it may crack?

If you buy a fancy name brand pot or pan, one that comes in a box with a care instruction booklet, then you get information about the temperatures it will withstand.  But, what about all those pots, pans and bowls at places such as "World Market" or "Pier One"?  The pan my friend used was from World Market and said oven safe, and still broke.

On a similar note, what about the microwave? If a bowl or pan is marked microwave safe, how can you be sure? If a pan says oven safe it doesn't necessarily mean microwave safe either. I came across this home test that you can do to make sure if something is in fact microwave safe. "Place a measured cup of water in the microwave and the item along side. Set the timer for 1 minute and turn it on. At the end of the time if the object is hot and the water is cold or only slightly warm, you do not want to use it in the microwave. If the item is warm or slightly warm and the water is warmer, you can use it for cooking for short duration warm ups under 2 minutes. If the water is hot and the item is cold you can use it without any restrictions." I am not aware of a way to test items for oven temperature safety, except to follow these simple guidlines.

  • When roasting, use a pan that is specifically for roasting.  It is usually a heavy metal pan made from stainless steel or aluminum, and has handles so you can lift it safely out of the oven. For more information on the pros and cons of these metal types, here is a quick link for you.
  • Glass is a good choice for baking. Here is a quick link to Pyrex for you.
  • Glass baking pans retain heat and continue to cook for a few minutes after the pan is removed from the oven.
  • Glass baking dish make a good choice for foods that should be browned.
  • When using a glass baking dish, oven temperature should be reduced by 25 degrees because of the material's ability to hold heat for longer periods of time.
  • Dishes with a high level of acid such as citrus fruits or tomatoes should be baked in glass baking pans to avoid discoloration of your food.
  • If you like to cut the baked dish while still in the pan, glass is a better choice than a metal pan.
  • Metal pans are great for broiling.  Glass or ceramic dishes should never be used because the extreme temperature will break them.
  • Do not use metal pans with acidic foods. Baking pans constructed of metal can cause a chemical reaction that can result in discoloration of the food.
  • Oven temperature should be reduced 25 degrees if you are using a dark metal pan, which will heat faster than lighter metal.
  • Metal dishes are easily scratched and Teflon finishes can be damaged if you cut directly in the pan.
  • High quality ceramic cookware is good for baked desserts and casseroles.
  • Glazed ceramics are covered with a heat and water resistant transparent glaze, while enameled ceramics are made out of cast-iron covered with ceramic.

Some of this information was obtained by

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Try it, You'll Like It

So, yesterday was Earth Day.  The day before I knew that I wanted to make something vegetarian for dinner, but I hadn't a clue.  Until, an idea was brought to my attention by a co-worker. She recently had a Portabello Mushroom Wellington at a friends home this past Easter.  I searched on line for a recipe and found one, which I had shared yesterday on my Facebook book page.  When I told my kids that I wanted to make something vegetarian for dinner on Earth Day, my son was like, "that can't be good".  Well, as it turned out everyones schedule was a little screwy yesterday, so I made it for my husband and I. What's funny is that my husband wasn't all too sure about what I was making for dinner.  He was watching me as I started to make some of the components and the look on his face showed that he wasn't all too happy.  He didn't say a word though.  No funny remark about what was for dinner and not one whine.
I didn't follow the instructions exactly.  I used the recipe as inspiration and did it a little differently, and I am happy with the results, even though I had a minor stumble along the way. I didn't cut the dough large enough for the portabello mushroom, so I used the scraps and patched it together.  But, it worked.  It looks a little rustic, but that is totally OK.  As I was making this I realized that you could make part of this ahead of time and just assemble and bake it when you are ready to eat it.  My husband really loved it.  He said it had a lot of flavor. I hope you try this, because you may be surprised that you like it!   M:)

Portabello Mushroom Wellington (Inspired by recipe from Delicieux)

2 large portabello mushrooms, stalks trimmed and gills scraped cleaned
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Large bunch fresh spinach, washed, stems removed
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
8 sprigs of thyme
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry or pre-made pie crust dough
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
Cooking spray

Saute onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat until translucent and slightly golden in color, about 8 to10 minutes, then add minced garlic and cook for another few minutes, seasoning with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Remove from pan and set aside (Can be made ahead of time and refrigerate.)
Next, using the same pan, saute spinach until all has wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes, season with salt.  Remove from pan, drain, and set aside (Can be made ahead of time and refrigerate.)
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan and cook mushroom caps for a few minutes on each side, until the mushroom collapses and releases some of its juices.  Remove from pan, drain, and set aside. (Can be made ahead of time and refrigerate.)
Unroll puff pastry or pie crust dough on a floured surface.  Cut four circles slightly larger than the size of your mushroom caps. You want to have enough dough to be able to fold the edges together when assembling.  Spray a rimmed cooking sheet with cooking spray.  Set one round of dough down on sheet.  Top with mushroom, top side down, then add some spinach, some thyme leaves, then onion mixture.  NOTE: It is important that the mushrooms and spinach are not too liquidy, otherwise your wellington will be soggy. Top with another dough round.  Pinch or roll the two pieces of dough together.  It doesn't have to look perfect, but it should be sealed.  Brush with egg, sprinkle with salt, top with more thyme, and brush a little more egg to secure the thyme to the dough. Make a couple of small slits in the top.  Make the next mushroom.  Place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Inspired Pantry

So, you've taken an inventory of your pantry and all you have is a can of tuna, pasta, a jar of pasta sauce, and a can of condensed milk. No wonder you are desperately seeking dinner. Time to improve your pantry and refrigerator with the basic items you need to be able to make dinner in a flash. 30 to 45 minutes is usually what busy moms or dads have time for to get a meal together and on the table. If a recipe calls for marinating, you need to allow time for this, so a little planning is required. Since food is based on personal taste, I offer some suggested items that you may want to keep on hand, including recipes that you can use to make a quick meal. The inspired pantry includes:

sun dried tomatoes, pesto, panko break crumbs or seasoned breadcrumbs, roasted peppers, artichokes, pasta, white or brown rice, chicken broth, beef broth, tomato paste, marinara sauce, black beans, olive oil, vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar

Baking Essentials
flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, brown sugar, confectioners sugar, vanilla extract, chocolate chips

Spice Shelf
bay leaves, cayenne pepper, dill, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, rosemary, thyme, sage, dried mustard, cumin, fennel seeds, chili powder, chipotle powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, wasabi powder, salt, pepper

mustard, ketchup, honey, mayonnaise, salsa, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce

butter, eggs, Parmesan cheese, fresh vegetables (buy when you need), fresh herbs (buy when you need), fruit, lemons, limes, garlic

This is delicious and a quick healthy meal. I am adding this one to my weekly night family favorites.

Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Lime Coleslaw (adapted from Bon Appetite)
1 15-once can black beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 cups coleslaw mix
2 green onions, chopped
Fresh cilantro
6 tortillas (corn, flour or wheat)
Crumbled feta cheese or other cheese
Your favorite salsa, or hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Other toppings: diced tomatoes, guacamole

Place beans and cumin a bowl, and slightly smash some of the beams. Mix olive oil and lime juice. Add cabbage, green onions, cilantro, season with salt and pepper. Mic well. In a non stick pan or one coated with cooking spray, heat a tortilla, spoofing some beans on half of the tortilla. Fold over and cook on both sides until crispy. Fill tacos with slaw, cheese and other toppings. Makes 5 to 6 tortillas.

This next recipe requires some marinating, so allow time for this. You could also use this marinade on a pork roast or tenderloin.  Grilling is an option as well. I made some baked acorn squash to along with it.  It paired well with the pork.

Orange, Honey and Rosemary Pork Chops (adapted from Everyday Food)
6 bone in pork chops, 1/2 inch thick
1 large orange, zested, 1/2 juiced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup honey
4 to 5 fresh rosemary sprigs
Salt and pepper

In a bowl, mix orange zest, juice, vinegar, and honey and mix well.  Place pork chops in a large resealable plastic bag and add marinade.  Crumple fresh rosemary and add to bag.  Coat chops well with the mixture, place in refrigerator and marinate for no less than three hours, or all day.  Turn bag a few times through the day if possible.

Place chops on rack on top of a foil covered rimmed baking sheet.  Pour marinade into sauce pan.  Simmer on medium for 5 minutes.  You can do this while chops are cooking. Broil chops for 4 minutes on upper rack. Turn and coat with reserved glaze.  Cook another 4 minutes, turn and coat with glaze.  Cook another couple of minutes with more glaze.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It Was Just One of Those Nights

My day started off good.  It was a pretty typical morning.  I got up, let the dogs out, fed them, kids got up, one by one, had coffee, had something to eat, kids left one by one, and then I shower and go to work.  In between any of that, I am on checking Facebook and Instagram, making lunches, watching the Today show, and thinking about what to make for dinner, who has to go where, and when I squeeze in getting my hair colored, or do a load of laundry.

Earlier in the day my friend Stephanie, who is one of my only friends who actually likes to cook, asked me for inspiration for dinner. She says she wants to make something with chicken, peppered bacon and red wine.  Ooo, a recipe search! I love a recipe search.  I try to think of something off the top of my head and I suggest to wrap the bacon around the chicken, bake it, and make come kind of sauce with the red wine. We go back and forth a little, and then I had work stuff I needed to do and I told her I'd get back to her.  At lunch, I searched for a recipe that she could use and emailed two to her.

Later on she emailed me back and said she would try a modifyed version of one of the recipes I had forwarded to her, but she didn't want to open a whole can of tomato paste for a half of a teaspoon. So, I told her I've used pasta sauce before, or she could use ketchup, as a substitute. Then, I remembered that Trader Joe's has tomato paste in a resealable tube, and I tell her this.

It's now 3 o'clock, and my daughter comes home.  We watch Ellen together, and have a bite to eat.  I pick my son up at 3:30, and he is always starving after school.  I drive him to get him something to eat. I know I shouldn't, he should have a snack at home, but I do it.  He wanted sushi, and I'm just happy that he actually eats sushi, remembering how he was such a picky eater when he was a toddler.  He orders his sushi to go and we drive home.  He opens the container, only to find that he was given the wrong order, and back I went to get the right roll. Ugh!

Tonight, my daughter has dance and she likes to eat earlier than the rest of us, because she doesn't like to dance on a full stomach.  So, that's fine. I ask her if a salad with the chicken I had grilled from last night is ok.  She said fine and I make her a salad with red onions, goat cheese, pine nuts, the chicken and a raspberry vinagriette.  Sounds good, right?  She ate about 2/3 of it and said it tasted funny.  Tasted funny?  Ok, I taste it, nothing seems wrong with it to me. Ugh!

Now, I know what you are thinking, and I am thinking the same thing too, but I'm a wuss and I want her to eat.  She has dance and she needs fuel.  I remember when I was in grade school and I didn't eat my broccoli. My father made me sit at the table until I finished it.  My mother had cleaned up around me and turned off the lights and only left on the kitchen light that was above the table.  I felt like I was going to be interrogated (LOL).  I was so stubborn.  I sat there and didn't eat any of it. I can laugh about it now, but it wasn't funny at the time. I wasn't about to make her a whole new meal, but I had an egg roll that was left over in the fridge and I heated that up.  She ate it, everything was fine.  Was it the best dinner? No, but she ate something. Ugh!

While my daughter is eating, I'm on the phone with a very old friend of mine, who I haven't talked to in ages. She is a blogger for a viral blogging platform and she and I were talking shop when my husband walked in. Where did the time go? I needed to get dinner started!  I thanked my friend for some information and advice, and hung up with her.  I get a text message from Stephanie who sends me a picture of the Trader Joe tomato paste tube. She had some after all, so she could make her dinner.

My husband had suggested I make pork chops, the thin ones with the bone, and make them Shake n' Bake style. I mixed together some seasoned breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs with a little salt.  I dipped the chops in egg, then into the breadcrumbs, put them on a greased pan and put them in the oven. When I checked on them I noticed that I didn't have the oven on the right temperature, and the breadcrumbs weren't getting crispy and brown. Instead it looked mushy, and I flipped them over to cook them on the other side, and the crumbs started falling off. Ugh! So, I adjust the temperature, scrape up the fallen mushy breadcrumbs and put them back on the chops. I'm hoping that I don't over cook the chops now, as I try to get them crispy. I ended up finishing them under the broiler. They must have been OK, because my husband ate every speck of meat off the bones.

So, after dinner I get a text from Stephanie saying, "OMG.  After all that I was on the phone with business when I was cooking. So, I just improvised the recipe. Now that I'm cleaning up I realized I forgot the tomato paste!!!"  Sometimes it's just one of those nights and dinner doesn't always go how you want it to.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Applesauce - With a Red Hot Ingredient

Several months ago I had suggested and an inspiring idea, at least I thought so, on my Facebook page that people should make a family heirloom favorite. I had wanted to make my mother's applesauce, but couldn't find an ingredient that made it so special. Her applesauce is unique. As a child, I remember when she would make this sweet treat and it never stayed around for very long in the refrigerator. Her secret ingredient was cinnamon candy, and she would add the small, fiery red rounds in the smashed apples and they would melt in, giving the applesauce this beautiful deep pink color. I haven't had this childhood favorite in years. The last time I remember making it was about 16 or 17 years ago.

To begin, pick out 10 large red delicious apples and wash them well. Peeling the apples is up to you. My mom didn't peel the apples. You could purée the apples, which will be in a later step. Chop the apples in chunks, discarding the core. Add apples to a large pot. Add enough water to just cover the apples, about 10 cups.

Bring water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer apples for 1 hour with lid on, checking and stirring apples often.  After 1 hour, the apples will begin to break down and get soft.  Using a potato masher or the back of a slotted spoon, mash down the apples.  The applesauce will be slightly chunky at this point.  Strain the apples in batches, don't worry if some of the liquid doesn't drain all the way.  A little liquid is OK.  At this point you can either puree the mixture in a food processor (best if you left the peel on), or put in through a food mill, if you have one.  The consistency will be finer.  For a more chunky consistency, return drained apples to pot and keep mashing.  I picked out the large pieces of peel, which was a tad time consuming, but it didn't bother me.  After apples have been pureed, you you did this, return to pot.  Keep heat on medium low and add 6 to 8 ounces of red hot cinnamon candy.  Stir until melted.  You can adjust the flavor if you like by adding more candy or ground cinnamon, but for my taste I do not find this necessary.  The candy does NOT make the applesauce spicy, it just gives the cinnamon flavor and turns the applesauce a dark pink color.

I hope you take a trip down my memory lane and try this delicious applesauce for yourself. Don't let those old family recipes die. Keep making them for new generations to enjoy in your family. Family cherished recipes tell a story or take you back to a wonderful time, and in making them you continue the story and the memory of it forever.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Someones Coming to Dinner

Your day is crazy. Busy at work or volunteering at school, you come home tired and you know that dreaded time of day is approaching. Time-to-make-the-dinner. You have planned on making a meal for your family with the right amounts of everything you need. Then, your child asks you, can so-in-so stay for dinner? What do you? I don't know about you, but I don't like it when I'm put on the spot. My kids used to to do this all the time when asking for a sleep over. They would ask for the sleep over either when their friend's parent was standing in the door ready to take their child home, or when I would pick them up from their friends house.  The kids were young and they had no idea what was planned for that evening or the next day. We were probably 50/50 on accommodating their requests.

So, when the question is asked about a friend staying for dinner, I kinda cringe a little because I haven't planned for this. The times I've planned on making steaks or fish, I've had to say no, because I only planned on making the right amount for us. Other times, when I've planned on pasta or a roast, I know there is enough to go around.  I like to be able to say yes, and tonight we had an extra guest. I'm glad I had enough to go around. I was inspired by a Shrimp de Jonghe recipe that was in a cookbook that was my grandmother's.  The Antoinette Pope School Cookbook's recipe called for a few ingredients I didn't have, and it had an enough butter in to slather on a loaf of bread. So, I improvised a bit. This is why it is important to have your pantry stocked and have a little know how in the kitchen. My version, which I'll call Shrimp Italiano, was delicious and a hit with all, including our guest.

Shrimp Italiano

23 to 24 large, uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, preferably Panko
2 generous tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Pinch of red pepper flakes, or to your taste
Kosher salt to taste
Olive oil
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange shrimp in dish.
In mini food processor (or by hand) add butter, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, basil and salt to taste.  Mix well, then add breadcrumbs and pulse a few times. Sprinkle mixture over shrimp. Lightly drizzle some olive oil on top. Bake for 25 minutes. After cooking if you want breadcrumbs a little more toasted, put under broiler. Watch carefully, so not to burn. Serve with rice of your choice, or a vegetable. Served 5.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Desperately Seeking Dinner

     It's 5 o'clock, you just came home from work or where ever, and your family wants dinner. You open the refrigerator, the freezer, check the pantry, but you've got nothing. This is how I tackle this dreaded time of day. For me, the way I plan for dinner is by being spontaneous. OK, you're thinking "How the heck does that work?" or "Don't you need a grocery list, and recipes all planned out for the week?" Nope. I am not that kind of person. If you are, then please go to the countless websites and blogs that do this for you. Every family is different and that just isn't how it works for me.
     "How does this work?", you are asking yourself. Well, since my dinners are inspired by everyone's schedule, what is in season at the market, or by a recipe I have seen, or what my family likes, or a taste that my brain and stomach are saying they just have to have, I shop on the fly. If you hate going to the grocery store, then this may not be for you. I find, however, that if I prepare and plan dinner in this way I get the freshest ingredients, I don't buy too much of something and I only use what is needed. I'm probably at the grocery store 3 times a week.  I just heard some of you gasp and shudder at the thought.
     So, I do some or very little planning. I may not know what I'm making until the day before or the day of.  Most of the time this is my strategy. Here is the first step of the, "What can I make for dinner?" game that you need to start doing in order to be a contestant. Stock your refrigerator and pantry with staples (rice, pasta, panko crumbs, etc.) and spices, rubs and other condiments (mayo, mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, etc.). I'm sure you get the point.  The key here is that you have to want to cook, therefore, you need to be somewhat prepared.
     The second step is, if you are a warehouse bulk food shopper, get meats, chicken and fish out of those large packages and put your family portions in freezer bags so you can take out what you need when you are going to cook it. Freeze what you don't need right away, and keep what you are going to use right away in the refrigerator. If you are the type of person who goes to the butcher or a fish monger, buy what you are going to use that day or a day two before you make it. 
     Step three, learn to grill. I grill all year long. I'm not kidding. This makes getting dinner on the table much quicker. This is where keeping seasonings, rubs and marinades on hand come in.
     Step four is, you don't always need a specific recipe. Needing a "recipe" can sometimes freak people out. People get flustered at the steps involved or complicated ingredients. This is why your refrigerator and pantry should be stocked with the things you like and you can get dinner quickly made. Save those complicated recipes that you want to try for the weekend when you may have more time. You don't necessarily have to be a chef to think like one, either. This is where inspiration comes in. What do you like to eat when you go out? What vegetables do you like? What flavors are tasty to you? These are questions you should ask yourself so that you can keep what you like on hand. You do have to have some cooking experience to be able to do step four, but once you know how to make a few things, you can transfer that knowledge to other dishes. 
     Step five, cook with real food. This is a combination of advise and a step. Try and stay away from saucy fattening casseroles and one pot slow cooker meals made with condensed soups. Some take too long to cook and most are not healthy. Try to stay clear of premade and packaged foods that have preservatives and all those ingredients that you can't pronounce. Do learn to bake, roast, broil and grill chicken, meats, and fish, using fresh vegetables and herbs. It really makes all the difference. Your meals will taste much better by using real and fresh ingredients.  You can control the fat, sodium and sugar that goes into your meals too. And, many premade packaged items take the same amount of time to cook them as it would if you just bought the ingredients and made it yourself.
         I hope my strategy, as unconventional that it is, is helpful and inspiring to you. Dinner doesn't have to be complicated.  Keep your pantry stocked and use fresh ingredients. Remember, stay calm, and cook on. It's just dinner. M :)

Seasonal Foods