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.


I saw this on facebook and decided that I did not want to forget it.  Brownies from scratch:

1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
Store mix in plastic bags or mason jars.
At Baking Time Add: 2 Eggs, 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil, 1 teaspoon Vanilla.
Bake @ 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

The only ingredient that looks even a little suspicious is the vanilla.  I'm betting that you could leave that out if you are in doubt.  If you try this, let's hear from you!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bechamel - A Few Thoughts

Lately I've been on a bechamel roll.  My favorite is to  throw some chicken Better than Bullion in and put it on chicken, carbs, and vegetables.  Baking is optional.  You can change it up with cajun seasoning (watch the salt), cayenne pepper, thyme, white wine, powdered mustard, paprika, curry powder, . . . Anything that goes with chicken is good.  I highly recommend fresh garlic, added about a minute before the milk is added.

My best tip is to microwave the milk before you add it (works on stock in a box as well).  I have an over-sized Pyrex measuring cup that is now one of the most used items in the kitchen.  Milk burns, so it needs to be stirred constantly, and it's best to use a lower heat setting than you might use for stock.  I started my food journey using the skim milk that is already in the fridge.  With the fat from the roux, you still get some "umami" or whatever it is that skim milk lacks.  Then, I went on a whole milk tear.  Yeah, it was a wonderful time, but I'm not so naive as to think that I can do that every day and stay out of the emergency room.  So lately, I've settled on 2% milk.  I still break out the whole milk or cream for special occasions, but 2% seems to strike a balance between texture and guilt.  Your mileage may vary.

My final suggestion is to experiment with your fat for the roux.  I baked up some chicken thighs (skin left on for the cooking - very important) and used the fat to make my roux for the sauce.  Since this was going to be baked into a casserole, it would not hurt the chicken to sit while a made the sauce (and the sauce was not going to take that long since I heated the milk in the microwave).    What I found was that the resulting roux seemed to have water in it.  That leaves you two choices - 1) reduce the fat to steam off the water; 2) add some extra fat like butter or olive oil.  If you don't do this, you may find that the sauce takes extra time to thicken up and/or it doesn't thicken up like you expect.  Casseroles are forgiving about the thickness of your sauce, but I like it pretty thick myself, so keep this in mind if you want a thick sauce from your drippings.

And finally, that non-foodies are always impressed when you tell them that you made a "bechamel" from scratch.

A Day Late. . .

Last week I found myself visiting in-laws.  It was Friday during Lent, and we're Catholic.  My every-helpful mother-in-law volunteered to whip up a tuna casserole.  I asked her what was in it and she mentioned canned soup.  Yikes!  Fortunately, she has a Kroger essentially in her driveway (and yet farther from her place than mine is from mine), so it was no big deal to run over and grab a few things.

Tuna casserole is mac and cheese with two cans of tuna thrown in.  My mother-in-law keeps a pretty basic pantry because of her own dietary restrictions.  I had to use onion salt and garlic salt (no plain powder), so regular salt was not necessary (fortunately she had unsalted butter).  I threw in some thawed corn to lighten it up and some thawed peas for color.  This was a good alternative to scallions and shallots, which I'm not sure my mother-in-law could tolerate.  Again, because of the limited pantry, I crushed some soda crackers and added a bit of butter for topping that browned up a bit in the oven.

Strangely the biggest challenge was the tuna itself.  It is very difficult to find tuna with no soy added.  Until you know the secret.  Starkist Selects white albacore in the GOLD can is easy to pick out visually, and it leaves out the bad stuff.

Result:  I'm a hero, mother-in-law catches a break, wife gets food she can tolerate, and leftovers with a little milk in the microwave were good the next day.  Sorry I posted this the day after Good Friday!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Quick Tip - Affordable White Wine

After doing a lot of homework, I was able to determine that a friend's saying, "Don't cook with wine you wouldn't drink," is not one to live by.  There are some serious food snobs that did some blind taste tests with recipes using expensive wine and the cheap stuff.  Somewhat shockingly, they determined that the cheap stuff stands up to cooking better than the good stuff.  In fact, they found that expensive wines had a tendency to lose their balance of taste - the dominant elements of their taste would take over in an unflattering way.

So, not being one for moderation, I decided to start as cheap as I could.  That led me to the wine aisle at Kroger and straight to the (wait for it. . . ) $2.97/bottle Bay Bridge chardonnay.  I'm not a drinker, so I had no preconceptions.  We pulled it out for paella one night and pan sauce another.  Cutting to the chase - 100% success.  Everyone loved the new dimension it added to dinner.  I was careful not to let it sit in the fridge more than one night, but I did not feel bad throwing out what was left of a $3.00 bottle of wine that I had used for two meals.  

If you have any favorite wines for cooking or other quick tips, please do share!

Quick Tip - Store-Bought Alfredo Sauce

Lately I've been looking for migraine-friendly pasta sauces.  Obviously, cheese and tomatoes are hard to get away from.  Fortunately for my Ital.ian wife, those ingredients aren't a problem.  Today we tried Gia Russa Alfredo sauce, since it had nothing bad in it that I could identify other than the cheese.  Awesome!  Highly recommended, but don't have it too often unless you are trying to put on weight.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It Might Choke Artie. . .

As a child, I used to enjoy steamed artichokes.  I'd pull the leaves, dip the bottoms in lemon butter, and scrape the meat on the bottom with my teeth.  I still enjoy artichoke dip, and I marvel at how chefs break down an artichoke.  I've tried it myself and always wonder why I bothered spending over $3 for 3 bites of food.  So, I started looking into canned artichoke hearts.  They come packed in water, salt and some citric acid to stop the food from oxidizing and turning brown.  You get a decent number of hearts in a can for about the same price as one fresh artichoke. 

I thought it might be nice to make traditional artichoke dip into a casserole.  I started with this recipe that looked pretty close to what I wanted:

So, we have five ingredients:  artichoke hearts, parmesan cheese, mayonaise, salt/pepper/garlic powder, and chicken.  Then, I saw a recipe with pasta, bechamel, and artichoke hearts:

I decided that a combination of creamy, starchy, and meaty would be good, so I combined the concepts, using the recipes mostly for proportions.  My concept:

Make a bechamel.  I like whole milk.  I usually cook some garlic before adding the liquid.  I heat the milk in the microwave before adding it so it cooks faster.  Near the end, I add the parmesan, but you can add cream cheese, or whatever you like that does not set you off.  I also added some chicken stock and Better than Buillion to thin the sauce and add some chicken taste.  Just to help the color a bit more, I added a pinch of tumeric.  Salt and white pepper are also suggested.

I rinsed the artichokes thoroughly to help the taste and reduce the additives.  I baked and cut up the chicken.  I boiled some whole wheat penne for something different.  I mixed it all together, topped it with some panko, and baked it at 400 for thirty minutes.  Presto - the taste of artichoke dip in a casserole! 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fooding with Christmas Leftovers

OK, I promise to stop arbitrarily making nouns into verbs.  After making the squash casserole that I discussed previously, I found myself facing a bunch of eggs and Ritz crackers that I wasn't accustomed to using, and I wasn't excited about throwing away.  Then I found this simple and tasty recipe:

This recipe not only avoids migraine triggers completely, but it also presents a simple, highly useful technique.  That technique is breading chicken.  The steps:

1. Cover chicken in flour
2. Transfer chicken to egg bath
3. Coat chicken with breading

And yes, it's not QUITE that easy.  It's good to set up three trays or bowls to do this.  I find that bowls are fine for the flour and the egg, but a tray, 9x11 pan or plate with a lip are best with the breading, in order to contain the crumbs and to allow more room to move the chicken around by hand.  The first time you attempt this, you will find that you are probably breading your fingers more than you are breading the chicken, which leads us to the secret. . . wet hand/dry hand.

To use this approach, designate one hand as "wet" and one as "dry".  Take a piece of the pre-trimmed chicken (or you can leave the chicken on the bone) in the dry hand and place it in the flour.  Move it about and coat it thoroughly.  Drop the coated chicken in the egg bath with the dry hand, keeping it out of the eggs.  Now, move the chicken about in the egg bath (not TOO much or you'll lose flour), and drop it into the breading with the wet hand.  With the dry hand, sprinkle the crumbs on the uncoated side of the chicken.  Coat the chicken completely and press the crumbs into it so they stick.  Turn it over (still the dry hand) and repeat. 

Now, for the final trick.  To get the crust cooked most evently, air needs to get to the bottom.  Place a wire mesh cooling rack/cookie rack in your baking pan.  Spray it with non-stick coating.  This helps keep the breading on the chicken.  Without the rack, the bottom gets mushy and can stick a bit even if the pan is sprayed. 

The great thing about this technique is that it is extremely versatile.  You can substitute bread crumbs, panko, cornflakes, or just about anything resembling bread crumbs.  You can add herbs, parmesan, salt, pepper, cayenne or other flavor enhancers to the crumbs.  Then, you can apply whatever sauce or gravy suits the meal.  And you can drop it on a bed of rice, pasta, other grains, or maybe veggies (but be careful about making the breading soggy).  You can turn this technique into a different dish every week for months without too much imagination.  Try this and get crazy!