Friday, September 28, 2012

Beef Stroganov

This is a dish that I hadn't made from scratch in at least 10 years, until last night. I used to live with someone who didn't like "wet dishes," that is--any dishes that were a "one-pot" meal with meat, veggies & gravy. The only exceptions were chili, soup, stew and even "Hamburger Helper" once in a while.

Even so, I made "wet dishes" on occasion and they were eaten and enjoyed. Some of them were even accepted into the house menu. Unfortunately, Beef Stroganov (or, if you prefer, Stroganoff), wasn't one of them.

There are a lot of variations for this recipe. Most of them contain beef, onions and sour cream. That's usually where the similarity ends. Some recipes have mushrooms and tomato sauce, but not all. Some recipes call for service with egg noodles; some call for rice.

I found a recipe that was shared with a traveler and it's supposed to be authentic. The preparation is a bit unusual. The onions are placed in the pan and the meat is placed on top of them and cooked on top of the onions until it has a "gloss." Only then are the sauce ingredients added. Then everything is mixed together and served with a Russian version of fried potatoes. There are no mushrooms in the authentic recipe.

The recipe, (and the origin of Beef Stroganov), can be found here: "The Food Trotter"

I'm planning on trying the Food Trotter's recipe very soon. The recipe I used last night was a lot less labor intensive than the recipe I used over 10 years ago. It calls for beef, mushrooms, onions, wine, butter, powdered mustard, a touch of sugar and only 1/2 cup of sour cream. It's a good recipe, and we had our Stroganov served over fusilli. It's not a very colorful dish, but it's damn good.

Beef Stroganov
Fresh Green Beans
Fresh Kale with Bacon & Onions

I found another Russian recipe I'll be making in a few days or so. I like to make these recipes not just for eating, but because it's fun to shout out the recipe in Russian when someone asks what I'm making. Almost as fun as it is shouting in German. :)

Have a great day, great adventures in your kitchen and happy eating! :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Peaches 'n' Cream Pie

I love it in the laboratory and this pie was cobbled together on the fly with leftover dough and leftover pastry cream. I guess it should have been a cobbler instead, ha ha ha!

I didn't have quite enough dough to make a fancy, fluted crust for the edges so I studded the crust with some ground pecans. It didn't need a long baking time so the pecans were perfectly safe without one of those crust protectors.

The peaches were organic frozen peaches poached in organic peach preserves + their own juices. No other sugar was needed. Trust me on this! This particlar jar of peach preserves is very lovely but the preserves are so sweet they knock you right on your butt! We've been searching for alternative uses for these insanely sweet preserves besides using them for glazing fruit. I even added some to the leftover pastry cream (mixing well).

So I guess this is a "Frankenstein" pie...but we'll call it a "Frazier-stein" pie. Because...well, why not? Making things fun in the kitchen always brings great results! I know that there are people who are nervous in the kitchen and afraid of messing up but you just have to relax and have fun. Get in "THE ZONE." That's when you'll kick some serious butt! :)

Peaches-n-Cream Pie

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicken Picatta--I Love It a Lotta!!

Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh at my lame title, ha ha! ;)

My cousin never had the pleasure of eating Chicken Picatta. (Is it picatta or piccata? There seems to be no universal agreement about this. Not even all Italians agree on the spelling.)

I decided to make some Chicken Picatta for supper and my cousin--(who can be like "Mikey" on occasion...remember that commercial?)--was dining with us. I have learned to emphasize certain items for certain people, if I'm asked to list ingredients in a recipe, and to downplay other ingredients. It's not to be mean or cruel. Sometimes ingredients just can't be substituted. Oh, they can be substituted and the dish will still be edible but it won't have the same classic taste.

Well, I didn't have capers for the dish last night so I threw in some fresh mushrooms. It was good and still had a ghostly flavor of "traditional" picatta. It didn't have the delightful explosion of flavor that the capers provide, though.

My cousin liked it, though, and she enjoyed the orzo as well. (She'd never had that, either.) She went back for seconds and all we had left to put away in the fridge later was a little smidge of chicken and a few mushrooms. A big WIN! WOO-HOO! :)

My next goal is to make sure I get some capers so I can see how well she likes the classic recipe.

Side View: 
Chicken Picatta w/Mushrooms, Orzo & Fresh Green Beans

Top View:

Chicken Picatta with Mushrooms, Orzo & Fresh Green Beans


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bitter Cucumbers--Does Cutting & Rubbing Remove Bitterness?

Old Wives' Tale?

We had a very large discussion about bitter cucumbers last night. This was a big practice in our family, at least on the Czech side. Mom doesn't remember Great-Grandma Hintz (the German side) doing this, and neither do I. (I remember Great-Grandma Hintz's "cottage of tomatoes," though...that's definitely a story all its own and I'll have to remember to cover it in another post).

E.J. remembers her mom doing this (her mom was my great-aunt, Albina). My Czech grandma, Nan and Aunt Albina swore that this helped remove the bitterness in cucumbers. Their parents told them so, and so they continued the practice unfailingly.

The consensus as of last night is this: E.J. still faithfully executes the practice of rubbing. Mom does it only once in a while. I don't do it at all any more because I stopped being a believer some years ago.

This doesn't mean I am shaming my ancestors or being unloyal to them, as the tone in E.J.'s voice suggested when I told her that I don't do it anymore.

I don't do it anymore because I don't believe it works. There. I said it. I don't believe it works because some years back when we had a bountiful explosion of cucumbers in the garden, I did some experimenting on my own.

I noticed that the bitterness was at the stem end most of the time. Sometimes it did travel farther or was even in other areas but for the most part--the stem end was the problem. So I just started cutting off the stem end (and farther up if necessary).

I noticed that when there was bitterness in the cuke, there was usually an area that looked drier and spongey. I thought it might be related. (I also noticed that if I forgot to water the garden and the cucumber vines got too dry, the cukes were almost always bitter).

We didn't have the internet back then and I didn't go tearing off to the library to get into the reference books. I had plenty of cucumbers to study.

Cucumber Pickin' on the World Wide Web

After our large discussion last night, I decided to do a little research and see if I could find some definitive answers about rubbing the cut end of the cucumber to the other end in order to remove bitterness.

It was an interesting search. I found that the practice is not limited to the South. It's all over the U.S. It's not limited to Czechoslovakians, either. There are Germans who engage in this practice. Some Canadians do it. I found some British practitioners, too. I found practitioners in India as well, but in that instance, I found that the family rubbed the cut end on the cuke to get rid of "latex." (Is the word latex in India exchangeable for the English word for bitter? I don't think so but I didn't look into that little tidbit in depth).

There were variations in the way to do it, and different explanations as to why it worked. Some Canadian practitioners said you must cut both ends off and make notches on the ends before rubbing. An American variation stated that you must sprinkle salt on the end before rubbing.

All of the practitioners that I discovered while I was searching were doing this because it had been passed down the family line. I couldn't find any hard scientific data about this practice. (Yes, I even checked "Snopes," but the only discussion about it was limited to the message boards.)

Am I lookin' for cukes in all the wrong places?

I did find some information at Washington State University about removing bitterness from cucumbers. Cut off the stem end and/or peel the cucumber. You can also slice it, salt it and let it sit for a while, then rinse and prepare as normal. No mention of rubbing.

So Does it Work or Not?

I noticed that many people who engage in this practice either claim that the bitterness is the foaming that is produced by the rubbing or that the bitterness is removed by the "capillary effect." The "capillary effect" subscribers claim that the bitterness always runs underneath the skin of the cuke.

Everyone has explanations about why this practice supposedly works and variations of the practice.

Well, I vote no. It doesn't work. I apologize to any ancestors or anyone else that I may be offending or if it seems like I am blaspheming to make this admission, (I guess E.J. thinks I am nothing but a Benedict Arnold), but I just don't believe in this anymore. That doesn't mean that I don't believe in magic, especially "Kitchen Magic," but this? No.

Show me some definite, hard facts and I will change my mind. Find me a white-haired scientist with bushy eyebrows that conducted actual physical experiments on cucumbers and then measured the results with delicate instruments.

Oh, and I have to add: the bitter cukes are most common if you raise them yourself or buy them at farmer's markets and such. The variety used for pickling seem to be the most susceptible. Another "official" site claimed that commercially grown cukes are bred so that the amount of bitter compounds are reduced. (I can't find the site now but I'm sure that this is probably true since we live in a world of "Frankenfood.")

I would love to know the origin of this practice. Does your family do it? Please leave me some feedback. It really is one of those great mysteries. We'll call it: "The Cucumber X-Files." I think this mystery would leave Mulder and Scully in a pickle. Ha ha ha! ;)

Have a great day! :)

                                                   Hot Dog! He's a Pickle Pickin' Puppy!   
                                               (Photo courtesy of Electron at Wikimedia Commons).            

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pamper Yourself.....with a Jalapeno Omelette

I was dining alone one night and I really wanted an omelette. Not just because I wanted to eat one. I really wanted to make one because they are fun to make. (We had a good portion of leftover chicken chili in the fridge, so I wasn't sure if I should. I should just eat the chili, really.) Then I thought: Why not? I can make a version of "huevos rancheros"--omelette style.

The result was very pleasing aesthetically and the flavor was fabulous. So I started thinking about a lot of things. I enjoy pampering others with wonderful food from the kitchen. Why not pamper myself sometimes? We all should. Instead of getting dinner together in a slapdash fashion when dining alone--make it fancy once in a while. Pretend you are "The Chef" and you are preparing a meal for royalty. Actually, pretend you are making it for someone special, because you are! (I must add: I consider all recipients of my kitchen creations as royalty. Special and royalty.)

I just have to add: Hey, this lovely meal was made using leftovers!! Isn't this far better than going through the drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant? Honey, does a chicken poop in the coop? HELL YEAH!

So here it is, a lovely jalapeno omelette. Fresh jalapeno (small dice) was added to the beaten eggs before cooking. You can see the Monterrey Jack cheese that's inside the omelette peeking out, like a movie teaser clip.

The omelette is topped with leftover homemade chicken chili. The chicken was freshly ground thighs from Whole Foods. There was no "eau de dishrag" odor when the chicken was cooking. (That happens with ground poultry sometimes, but not when the ground poultry is fresh and organically grown.)

Topping the chili: a little grated Tillamook Cheddar and some more diced, fresh jalapeno. Serve with your choice of tortillas--in this case, two white corn tortillas.

It was a very good supper. I recommend that you try this at home. Less than 10 minutes and you gots a great meal, Y'all!!! WOO!! :)

Jalapeno Omelette

Let Them Eat Cake....(and Torte)....Ha ha ha!

I have been away too long. It started with computer issues and then just grew into a need to be unplugged for a while...a vacation from technology. At least for the most part. So now I have a lot of catching up to do.

I had the privilege of making a cake for a party for my cousin and a friend. Originally there was going to be one cake but since there were some bananas that were about to commit suicide, I ended up making 2 cakes. Well, one was a torte, actually.

The chocolate torte was nothing that fancy--the fillings were simple:  chocolate pastry cream and seedless raspberry preserves. The frosting was a simple combination of whipped cream folded into the remainder of the pastry cream. I needed something for the top and simply grated some chocolate over it. Believe me, I would have used chocolate sprinkles if there were any in the cabinet.

Go ahead and laugh. Yeah, chocolate sprinkles. Sprinkles are fun, especially the rainbow-colored ones. I don't think anyone is ever too old for sprinkles.

For the banana cake, which I dubbed, "Banana Pudding Cake," I just added plain pastry cream on the bottom layer and added some banana slices before topping with the second layer. I iced it with fresh whipped cream and crushed some vanilla wafers for a little extra decoration.

I admit that I could have been neater but I was tired after cooking all day and I don't have one of those nifty turntables that make cake decorating so easy. Maybe I can use the old stereo turntable for that purpose...hey, it's electric too. Wooooo! Fancy!! Ha ha!

But then, I am my own worst critic. I guess I'll just have to borrow a saying that a chef I know likes to use: They are rustic. Ha ha!! Yes, they are!

The flavor of each dessert made everyone happy, including the birthday boy and girl. Both the torte and the cake had a very light flavor....they weren't overbearingly sweet. That's always a good thing.

Well, I have gabbed enough for one evening. Here are the pictures of the birthday goodies....oh wait, just one more thing--I regret that I didn't get shots of individual slices but it was a long day of cooking for me. I did the whole menu on this day.

Okay, here they are.

As always......Happy Eating!! 

Chocolate Torte


Banana Puddin' Cake