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!