Thursday, November 22, 2012

Easy cranberry sauce, just in time for Thanksgiving!

Fresh Cranberries
By Madeleine Dee

My grandmother is a modest cook - with every compliment she receives, she always replies, "Oh, it was so simple." 

I never understood why she would say this until I attended culinary school and realized that cooking is really quite easy with the right knowledge and a little practice. But, I'm a chef, so I have to act cool and pretend like everything I do is extremely difficult and impressive. 
"Oh, roasting a chicken? Rocket science. Have you noticed how awesome and skillful I am?" My ego would just wilt if I ever admitted that anything I do is... *shudder*... easy.

But I digress. :)

My grandmother is a fantastic cook. I love her dearly, she loves me, and so she let me in on her extremely complicated (*wink*) method for preparing cranberry sauce. So, I thought I might pass her recipe along to you. After all, today is Thanksgiving.

1. Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan with a pinch of salt and the juice and zest of 1 navel orange.

I like to add a teaspoon or two of lemon zest. It really brightens up the flavor!

2. Bring to a boil.

3. Add in your cranberries. (They generally come in packages of 2-3 cups.)

Bring to a boil until they crack and burst. It's the greatest noise! :)

Once they've popped, lower the heat and let the cranberries simmer and thicken, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

When it's done, your cranberry sauce should look like this:

Go ahead and tell everyone that you did, indeed, go to SO much trouble over these cranberries. I'm not here to judge you.

I'm totally gonna do it, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Avocado 101

By Madeleine Dee

Some of the questions I am asked most often as a chef are how to pick a perfect avocado, if avocados are healthy, and how one might go about getting into an avocado. The following  article addresses each of these concerns. :)
Avocados are available during all seasons, but that doesn’t mean they’re great all year long! They are grown in warm climates, so during the winter, they likely travel a little farther than normal to make it to your grocery store, and most will have some jet lag from the journey. 
When selecting an avocado, look for a shiny black skin. It should be firm but have a bit of a give when gently squeezed. However, it should not dent or ooze when pressed. If you feel uncertain, pop out that little stem tab at the top – if the hole you uncover is green, you’ve got a winner!
Avocados are quite nutritious and notably rich in vitamins E, C, and K, as well as potassium, folate, and fiber. They do contain fat, but it's just little ole monounsaturated fat, which helps to lower blood cholesterol and can aid in decreasing your risk of heart disease.
Now, as for cutting into one of these guys, follow the simple steps below:

1. With a sharp knife, cut through the skin and down to the pit in the center. Carefully roll the avocado, cutting a straight line around the entire fruit to get back to your starting point.

2. Split the two halves by twisting gently in opposite directions and pulling apart.

3. To remove the pit, hold the avocado half in your hand and gently but firmly whack the pit with your knife, then twist to remove. Cover your hand with a paper towel and carefully remove the pit from your knife.

4. “Score” your avocado by slicing even lines from top to bottom, then from side to side to form a grid pattern. Be careful not to cut through the skin. (You could also scoop out the flesh with a spoon and then dice it, but you’ll look like such a pro if you can master this scoring technique in the skin!)

5. Use a spoon to scoop out the scored flesh and enjoy perfectly diced avocado! To help keep the avocado green longer, toss it with a little lime or lemon juice.

Now you're an avocado pro! Go impress somebody. 
Go on - shoo! :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

A shortcut to beautiful salads!

Who says that salads at home have to look boring? 
All you need is a vegetable peeler 
to make your rabbit food into a work of art!

By Madeleine Dee

Here's a little tip for jazzing up your salad with carrots:

1. Peel your carrot and hold it by the stem end.

I've found that a peeler with a serrated blade produces more curly ribbons. I definitely recommend investing in a small Y-shaped one. That is what I used for the main photographs. If you look closely, you can see the pretty grooves in the carrots. :)

2. Keeping your fingers out of harm's way, start at the base of the carrot and gently but firmly pull the peeler forward.

3. Keep peeling until you reach the end and follow through to disconnect the ribbon.  

Repeat until you've used up most of the carrot. Save what's left for soup or snacking. :)                                                                                        

You can certainly use this quick technique for other vegetables, too! 
I've also used zucchini, summer squash, & asparagus. 
It's so simple, but it makes hard vegetables more palatable and it always adds a beautiful touch to dishes.

Also, children love colorful foods that are easy and fun to eat.
This would be a great way to get older kids into the kitchen to help with dinner - children are statistically proven to try and like more foods 
when they get to help cook!

The carrots your mother always warned you about...

By Madeleine Dee

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Easy Fried Chicken

Don't you just want to crunch right into this?!
By Madeleine Dee

Fried chicken... Just those two words remind you of home, don't they? Or of picnics on long Summer days with an ice cold glass of sweet tea?

Well, if they only remind you of a fast food bucket, I'm here to show you that crunchy and flavorful fried chicken is easy, fun, and totally manageable at home.

Here's what you'll need:

1. A small countertop deep fryer - Mine is a Presto Fry Daddy. Cheesy name, but it was inexpensive and it has been going strong with no signs of stopping for nearly 4 years. (You could also use a large, sturdy pot on the stovetop and a candy thermometer.)

2. Vegetable oil - A new, unused bottle, and enough to fill your fryer to capacity.

3. Chicken parts - I use SMALL boneless chicken breasts in an attempt at more healthy fried chicken (*rolls eyes*), but you can certainly use thighs. Be sure to get breasts that are evenly-sized, and try to avoid big ones because they will still have pink centers when your breading is finished. No one likes burnt breading, no one likes raw chicken.

4. Low Fat Buttermilk - I use 2 cups per 4-5 chicken breasts, so buy more if you have more chicken. :)

5. All-Purpose Flour - This is as needed, so make sure you have several cups to spare. 

6. Salt and Pepper - You'll need 1 tsp. of salt per two cups of buttermilk and a couple pinches of cracked black pepper.

7. Paper towels - Fold into a thick layer of neat squares on a large plate and place the just-fried chicken on top to absorb excess oil.

8. People to feed - I can't help you there. Unless you want to give ME some chicken.

Set your fryer to 350*F and make sure it's good and hot before you fry. (To test the heat, drop in a pinch of flour. If it starts to bubble and fry, you're good. If not, wait a while longer.)

Ok, all set? Good - I'm hungry!

1. Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl and whisk in 1-2 tsp. of salt (1 per 2 cups of buttermilk) and a couple pinches of black pepper. Coat your raw chicken lightly but completely in flour, shake off the excess, and soak your chicken in the buttermilk for at least an hour to tenderize and add flavor. (You can certainly soak the chicken for longer than an hour!)

2. Coat your buttermilk-y chicken in flour. Be messy and unceremonious - the more clumps, the better. Then repeat! Dip the chicken BACK into the buttermilk to coat completely, then dredge it right through the flour again.

3. When coated completely, gently lift the chicken and shake off any loose flour, then drop it gently into your fryer. (350*F is a great temperature because it allows the breading to fry slowly and evenly for maximum crispiness while ensuring completely cooked and moist chicken inside.) You will likely need to flip the chicken onto its other side once or twice for even frying.

4. Fry until golden and crispy, then drain off excess oil on paper towels. Enjoy as soon as possible without burning yourself! :)

If you'd like to fry smaller pieces at a higher temperature, you can slice breasts into long portions or use tenderloins. 

You could also raise the fryer temp to 400*F, evenly cube the breasts, and make fantastic popcorn chicken!

Feel free to experiment with seasonings. I've added a little dry Ranch seasoning to the buttermilk, a teaspoon of garlic powder, a couple pinches of cayenne pepper, etc. This is just a basic recipe to show you how easy fried chicken can be!

Be creative. :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Don't cry over spilled quiche!

Quiche is one of the greatest breakfast and brunch items out there - it's easy, it's relatively quick, it tastes fantastic, it's versatile, and it's a perfect crowd-pleaser. However, if you fill up the pie shells and then try to carry them to the oven, you'll find yourself caught in a balancing act that will usually result in spilled filling. I mean, I wouldn't know - III've never spilled unbaked quiche. (I've done it twice.) 

Spilled filling that slops onto the crust and that gets onto the pan will burn before the quiches are baked. This will result in gross burnt patches on the pretty fluted edges of the crusts, which do not taste good, and spilled filling will burn and stick to the sides of your pie tins. No good. So, here's a quick way to save yourself some trouble and have perfectly-filled quiche every time.

1. Lay your crusts (in pie tins, of course!) on foil-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle the bottoms with your add-ins. (This is just cheese, but you can add bacon, spinach, broccoli, etc.)

2. Make sure your racks are in the center of the oven for even heating with enough space in between for the quiches. :) Open your hot oven, pull the racks forward, and add your pans with the crusts.

3. While the racks are still pulled out, fill up a large measuring cup with a spout and carefully (but quickly) pour the filling into the crusts just below the fluted edges. Do NOT fill past the point shown in the picture - the eggs do rise when they bake!

If you have two racks full of quiche, pour the filling into the top pie shells first to get that rack out of the way.

4. With an oven mitt or potholder, gently and slowly push the top rack back into place. Then repeat the pouring process with the bottom rack.

The filling will move and slosh if you don't go slowly and carefully!

5. Gently and slowly (and carefully!) push in the bottom rack.

Slowly. Carefully. You can do it. Patience is annoying, but it's a virtue for a reason.

6. Close up your oven and bake. Pat yourself on the back.

If you do use more than one rack, be sure to switch pans between the racks halfway through for heating that's as even as possible!

Now you'll never have to cry over spilled quiche. 
Not that I ever have. 
(Ok, ok - I've spilled filling 3 times...)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Foil - Entertaining's Best Friend

Can you imagine actually getting to enjoy time with your guests instead of spending most of the party with your arms in soapy water, scrubbing pan after pan, while everyone else has a grand old time? Well, here's a fancy little trick to help cut down on clean up - line your baking pans with foil!

This is something that I do to help lessen the amount of time I spend cleaning up at work each day. It is primarily a trick for roasting vegetables and baking or reheating dishes that are already in containers, like casseroles and quiches, and it helps keep your oven clean! 

The only exception I can think of to doing this is pastries and cookies because foil will reflect light and heat onto them, causing your baked treats to burn more quickly than normal. Cookies and such should be baked on sheets lined with parchment paper, which is another great way to keep pans clean!

It's not difficult at all. Here is what to do: (If you scroll down really fast, it's kinda like a flip-book. Kinda.)

1. Line your pan with foil. One layer is fine for heating foods in dishes, like pies, casseroles, etc., but for roasting vegetables, roll out some extra foil and fold in half to make a double layer. This will keep the foil from tearing and leaking oil or juice onto the pan. Getting the pan underneath messy would kinda defeat the purpose, y'know.

2. Put your items on top of the foil and bake or reheat. The foil will catch any drips, spills, and splatters.

3. Remove your delicious foods and sit them off to the side or let your guests schnarf them, then peel back the foil.

4. Keep peeling...

And voila - a perfectly clean pan that can be set aside to cool and then put away! 

Is using foil like this wasteful? Yes, but you can keep using the foil until it gets too dirty AND it does waste energy to run hot water while washing your pans or to use the dishwasher, so either way, you're spending a little money to clean up after you cook. However, this way, clean up is a snap, and it's really no more foil than you would use to cover a couple containers of leftovers. 
As long as the foil doesn't become too filthy, it can be recycled.

When roasting vegetables for non-parties on foil like this, I've even closed the foil around the leftovers to make a little parcel and stored it in the fridge just like that. When I wanted to reheat it, all I had to do was pop it in the oven on a sheet pan - it was already wrapped up in foil for easy heating!

Have pots, pans, and other wonderful cooking items that require the use of steel wool? 
Balled up foil works just as well! That's a great way to reuse the foil you use to keep your pans clean.

Try wholesale stores like Sam's Club and Costco to find great deals on huge rolls of foil that will last months.

Using a little extra foil in exchange for more time with my friends and family during my next party? 
Yes, please! :)

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Executive Chef and Owner of No Place Like Home in Louisville, KY. Writer, actress, chef, professional cook and professional eater.