Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ingredient of the Day

If you're like me, you don't always have time, energy or motivation to cook a masterpiece every night.  If you're REALLY like me, you don't have the talent either.  :)  So, I've done a lot of simple, short-cut dishes.  I have discovered a new staple that brings a new texture and a lot of convenience to the party - canned potatoes.  I've tried a couple of the store brands.  They come in several shapes and varieties (skin off, skin on, . .  ).  The ingredients are typically just potatoes, salt and water - what could be safer for a migraine sufferer?.  Just keep a few things in mind and you can make a lot of your stand-by dishes new again:

1.  Rinse before you start to get some of the salt off.
2.  Consider something with lots of sauce like a stew or casserole.  That will help to hide some of the "can"
3.  Be sure to let the potatoes cook a bit, at least 20 minutes.  This will hide even more of the "can".
4.  Taste before you add more salt.
5.  One approach that works well is cooking the potatoes in stock to add some flavor, and thickening at the end with corn starch.

It's not sexy, it's not fancy.  However, it adds some options to your "quick and easy" options.  To me, that's more than worth a blog entry.  If you want to share any similar staple ideas, please feel free!

Monday, June 22, 2015

New Inspirations

My latest inspiration has come from taking vegetarian products and adding meat.  OK, that seems kind of odd, but vegetarian processed foods are sometimes pretty safe for migraine patients.  I started with Imagine Creamy Squash Soup.  I like squash because it blends well with Indian spices like garam massala, cumin, coriander, etc.  This kind of soup may be problematic because of the onion content, but it's worth a try.  I like to season some chicken with garam massala and ginger, cook the soup and thicken with corn starch, and balance the sweetness with some salt and Tabasco.  Then I throw in some vegetables like spinach, peas and carrots.  Serve that over some rice (maybe with some salt, tumeric and Better than Boullion) and you have something light and very tasty.

This is only the starting point.  Imagine also makes a sweet potato soup with no onions.  Sweet potatoes are an important ingredient in many African dishes.  Again, this could be thickened and used for a sauce.  Or if you need something even simpler for your migraine or migraine patient, look at some purees.  Or even make your own, and you'll have total control over your ingredients.

I'm not going to lie and say it's easy to find a "silver bullet" ingredient that no one else has thought of, but it is really gratifying when you do.  Happy hunting and don't forget to share!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Flat Iron Tips of the Day

I have previously discussed the joys of flat iron steak - it is relatively cheap, it tastes good, and now I have some easy ways to prepare it.

Tip #1:  Use a Rub
Here is a great way to prepare flat iron steak with minimal effort and maximum creativity.  Create a rub.  This is your chance to raid the spice rack and go crazy with anything that catches your interest.  The simplest rub is salt and pepper.  You can throw in garlic powder too.  If you use four parts salt, one part pepper and one part garlic powder, you have Paula Deen's House Seasoning.  Another simple choice is your migraine-friendly taco seasoning.  I usually st a art with an approximation of the House Seasoning, add onion powder, then select a style of cooking.  If I just want a little more flavor complexity, I love cumin.  You can add other Mexiothcan ingredients to that like chili powder, coriander, ground chili pepper (if you can tolerate it), paprika or my newest addition to the spice rack, Tabasco Salt.  If I add heat from other sources, I will often reduce or skip the black pepper.  If you want to go Asian, you could try five spice or powdered ginger.  Both of these ingredients can benefit from a touch of sugar; however, the sugar will burn if you cook the way I'm going to suggest.  I generally avoid dried herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, etc for rubs, as they can also burn in a bad way.

Once I rub the top of my flat iron steak, I flip it into a hot oven-safe pan for 2-3 minutes, just long enough to put a good sear on the meat.  You probably do NOT want to use a non-stick pan here because the heat will damage the coating.  While it sears, I CAREFULLY apply rub to the other side.  If you want to be extra careful, you can use the back of a spoon to rub the spices into the meat. After the first side is seared, flip the steak and sear for another 2-3 minutes.  These steaks are big, so I use tongs.

When both sides are seared, put the entire pan into a 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes (longer if you don't like tender, pink steak).  Remove the pan and let it rest for five minutes before cutting.

Tip #2:  Slicing on the Bias
I have worked enough with flat iron steak now to determine that you come up with really good results if you slice the meat on the bias.  That means laying the steak in front of you on your cutting board so that the length runs left-to-right.  You point your chef's knife straight ahead of you and tilt it so that the flat side is at a 45 degree angle to the cutting board.  Hold the meat gently with your tongs in your non-cutting hand and cut the meat thinly at the same 45 degree angle.

"C'mon!" you say. . . Stop saying that.  This is not about being fancy.  This is cutting method angles the cow's tissue fibers such that they are least able to hold together.  In other words, you make the meat more TENDER, just by cutting at this angle rather than straight up and down.  This works so well that it can eliminate the need to remove the long piece of connective tissue that gives flat iron steak a bad name with some people.  Worst case, that tissue is much easier for the consumer to eat around.  If you want a full explanation of the gross anatomy and physics behind why cutting this way makes such a dramatic difference in the texture of the meat, you can read here.

Tip #3:  Braising
The last time I cooked this way, I went Asian.  I used five spice and Tabasco salt as my extra ingredients.  When I was done searing, I added some water and beef-flavored Better than Boullion, a good bid of oyster sauce, and just a touch of soy sauce (omit if you are sensitive, let the family add it to their portions).  Stock would work just as well as the water and base, depending on what you have handy or need to use up.  If you like sugar with your five spice, this is a better time to add a bit than when you are making the rub.  This is a good time to add thawed frozen veggies, rinsed canned veggies, or sauteed fresh veggies.  Because of the liquid, the meat required the full 15 minutes in the oven and may require a bit longer.

While your meat is resting, you can thicken the resulting sauce with corn starch.  Make a slurry with the corn starch and either water, stock, or some liquid from the pan.  Fully dissolve the corn starch in the liquid, add it back to the pan and mix in, heat the liquid in the pan to slow boil, reduce heat and simmer to desired thickness.  Don't overheat the cornstarch or it will not work.

Serving Ideas:
I like the plain rub steak with a baked potato.  Asian style goes great with rice, or noodles would work.  If I'm going Mexican, I'll sometimes cook white rice with a touch of paprika for flavor, and add in a bit of olive oil after it's cooked to give it more of a finished, restaurant quality.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quick Post

Saw this recipe for garlic chicken with orzo:

Other than onions, you're golden!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Theory Proven

In an attempt to validate my theory that "healthy" food is not necessarily good for migraines, I went through the Prevention Magazine list of 100 safe & tasty packaged foods to see how many break the migraine taboos.  Over half of them!  I had to look up some ingredients, but I found 44 bad items without cheating.  Moral of the story - know your triggers and ALWAYS read the label on packaged foods, even if they are "organic" or some other version of "better for you than everything else."

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Just So I Don't Forget. . . Sesame and Ginger Beef

Today, I tried to do something enticing with flat iron steak.  I'm actually a pretty big fan of the stuff - it is cheap relative to other cuts, it tastes good, it's fairly easy to break down, and it has a pretty good texture, especially if you cut it across the grain.  The only problem is that I'm always tempted to make fajitas when I'm feeling lazy.  I needed something new.

I decided to go Asian.  Remember that I was feeling lazy (went to a Dragon Con parade today, and didn't sleep much last night), so I did not want to get too fancy.  I decided to walk the line between Chinese and Indian.  I made a rub out of powdered ginger, onion powder (omit if a problem), garlic salt, a bit of coriander, some cumin, and the tiniest bit of chipotle powder.  I never put black pepper in Asian food, so chipotle (smoked jalapeno - common in Indian food) adds some warmth.  Chili powder works as well, but you can use more.  I tasted the mixture and ended some kosher salt so that saltiness would dominate.  You should taste and adjust as well.

I started the rice (Have you learned how to make rice in the microwave yet?  Cheaper than instant and harder to screw up than the real stuff on the oven) and started cutting up veggies.  Then, I opeined the meat.  (Always cut veggies on a clean board!).  The one downside of flat iron steak is the connective tissue, usually limited largely to one long skinny strand embedded in the meat.  You can either dissect it out of the meat, cut the meat on either side away from it, or slice against the grain and chop the bad stuff out of each piece. That's probably the most labor intensive, but it is the easiest way to keep slices a consistent size.
I threw some oil in a pre-heated pan, heated the oil, added the meat, and sprinkled the rub generously on the meat.  Then, I put some MSG-free oyster sauce on it.  Depending on your tolerance, you can add a bit of soy sauce.  I like to  cook the meat medium to medium well.  Taste a tiny piece to make sure it is adequately seasoned, and add salt or rub as needed.  When the meat is cooked, move it to the edge of the pan and put the veggies in the middle.  Cook until done.

While the veggies were cooking, I put some sesame seeds in a small heated pan, and shook occasionally until toasted. I added those and a couple of drops of sesame oil to the big pan.  Sesame oil is very easily overused, so literally count drops.  Although I would usually work in a sauce, flat iron steak (at least mine) creates one when stir-fried.  Healthy family members can add soy sauce to their portions.

This is better with real garlic and ginger, but the powdered version is simpler.  It was still a hit with the shortcuts, so it's not strictly necessary to break down the ginger (one of our least favorite chores) and press the garlic.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Meatless Meal of the Day

I was prospecting for recipes that are migraine-safe and low-cholesterol when I came across this cheap, 100% compliant idea:  black beans with mango and cilantro.  Unfortunately, my wife has further limited my choices with her dislike of sweet entrees, so I apologize for not trying this before posting it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Moving Target. . .

I'm sure some of my gentle readers have ready this worthy blog and said to themself, "Self, Bill certainly is eating a lot of butter and gravy.  With whole. milk and who knows what else. . . And I bet he's sneaking cheese in some of his portions.  He must be getting really fat."  Close, but not quite.  The doctor has alerted me to the fact that my cholesterol is getting a little higher than he would prefer.  I'm going to do some exercise per his instructions, but my exercise area has flooded twice, so I have been trying to work on my diet in the mean time.

First the good news: there are some easy substitutions.  The easiest is to use olive oil instead of butter for gravy.  Also, you can switch to skim milk for bechamel.  The bad news:  some recommended things are bad for the migraine patient.  Like nuts, soy, chocolate and avocado . . .

Just to make things EVEN more interesting, I am developing tendonitis from all the cutting I do with cheap knives.  The solution?  Lean ground meats - no cutting and not much fat.  And frozen pre-cut vegetables.

Stay tuned as the journey takes off in a new direction. . .

Sunday, May 19, 2013

100% Compliant Chicken and White Wine Sauce

Check out this recipe for Chicken and White Wine Sauce.  The most important thing here is to use reduced sodium Better than Bullion instead of the Swanson product.  I used about 1.5 tablespoons.

You'll see my main flourishes in my review:   1. Fresh thyme bundle, chopped fresh oregano, 2 bay leaves, and 2 garlic cloves as my flavor base 2. Reduced Sodium Better than Bullion so I could control the salt content 3. Dredged raw chicken in flour, onion powder, pepper, light salt to give it a nice browning when it cooked 4. Finished sauce with some unsalted butter - cuts the acid of the wine and smooths out the sauce 5. Threw in angel hair pasta and miscellaneous cooked veggies at the end (I just thawed some frozen faves). I also stretched the sauce a bit with some pasta water.

I also tend to use boneless, skinless thighs as my go-to cut.  The dredging does not need to include onion powder if that bothers you.  Garlic salt could be used in place of regular salt.  The parts about the pasta water and butter are pretty standard moves in Italian cooking.

I used the "El Cheapo" Chardonnay at Kroger, Bay Bridge.  I'm not a wine drinker, never have been, but I've had some real success with this stuff, and for $2.99, it's hard not to grab a few when I'm shopping.

This white wine reduction is another sauce technique that makes a great addition to your bag of tricks.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

New Way to Make Sauce

Last night, I was in the mood for Mexican food, but I wanted to do something a little different.  I've started keeping 2% milk around for sauces, but I wanted to do something different than the usual b├ęchamel.  Since canned tomatoes are ok at my house, I decided to do a tomato-based sauce.

I started by cooking down the following in olive oil:

1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. chicken Better than Bullion
The tomato paste gives some good "depth of flavor" when cooked down at the beginning of a sauce.  The ancho chili powder and paprika create some "earthiness".  The chipotle chili adds heat.  The chicken base adds some meatiness to the sauce.  Chili powder, oregano and cumin are also nice additions.  When everything  was almost cooked, I added one minced garlic clove (I confess, I bought a good garlic press for just such an occasion) and cooked everything for a minute.
Once the garlic was cooked down, I added a rinsed can of red beans and a can of fire roasted tomatoes.  If you can taste the can, cook them down with a bit of salt.  Simply bring to boil, and reduce to  simmer.  20 minutes is not too long, but it depends on you and your choice of canned goods. 
Once the canned veggies are tasting like something worth eating, add about a quart of 2% milk.  I heated mine in the microwave first to speed things along.  Once again, bring to boil and reduce to simmer.  The technique used here is a "reduction" - you boil the liquid down, and let about 50% evaporate.  It will thicken as you go.  Stir the milk frequently so it will not burn.
At this point, most of the ingredients are in place, so you can add more salt if needed, you can add more paprika for "earthiness", and black pepper for heat.  Black pepper is not good if burned, so adding earlier is not recommended.
When your liquid is almost reduced, add a cup of thawed frozen corn.  The sweetness from the corn compliments the milk and is a nice contrast to the heat from the chipotle and ancho chili powders.
I poured the result over some chicken thighs cooked with taco seasoning (homemade, no msg) and simmered for a few minutes.  I scooped the solid into a tortilla, poured the liquid over it, and sprinked optional mozzarella (it is almost identical to a popular Mexican cheese) on top.  Wow, it was good.
Reductions can be made with milk, wine, or stock.  The flavor gets concentrated and life is good.  You can finish it with oil or butter to smooth it out.  If you don't use cream or milk as your base, you can add some cream at the end.  The sauce thickens more as it cools, so keep that in mind when judging cooking time.