Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009 - More food

Photo by Linda Long

I made a really delicious meal last night and had to share the information. Oprah strikes again with "The Conscious Cook" by vegetarian Chef Tal Ronnen. I decided to try his Gardein "Chicken" Scaloppini last night and it is one of the best meals I've had in a long time. Unfortunately, I was unable to do it "vegetarian" as I couldn't find the Gardein brand of chicken breasts at my local Whole Foods. I think everyone who watched the show wanted to try to the same recipe. The bottom line is that this is a good recipe, vegetarian or not.

Here's a few tips and comments. The Gardein brand is considered to be an excellent replacement for chicken but it may be hard to find. I was also confused because their web site has Tuscan Chicken Breasts but I didn't see plain ones except perhaps in the frozen line. Also, I couldn't find precooked Udon Noodles. So I bought a package of uncooked round udon noodles, probably a lot cheaper. You boil it like any pasta and it comes in single serving bunches. I found that one bunch is plenty for two servings. I created the noodle cakes by packing the cooled noodles into 3" plastic lined ceramic ramekins and compressing them with a small bowl on top. I put them in the fridge on hour before I started the rest of the meal and they came out great. They stick together nicely and the plastic wrap makes it easy to remove them from the ramekins. When you fry them don't put the heat too high as mine started to burn fairly quickly. Keep a watch on them.

I did use real chicken breasts but I found that one breast per serving is too much. You could get 4 servings out of two breasts pretty easily. It wouldn't hurt to pound down the breasts so they're thinner as it would cook quicker. I kept mine thick but they were delicious. They just took longer to cook.

The pea shoots are a little tough when they're done and therefore hard to cut with a fork when eating. The next time I do it I'll cut them in half at the very least. That makes them a little more fork-friendly and probably easier to cook. From this point I followed the recipe closely. The sauce is amazing, it's what makes the dish so good. And I even forgot to add the chives but it was still excellent. I did use the Earth Balance butter and it worked great. It's a great tasting butter substitute but not low in fat. It's not too time consuming for something this good. Give it a try. I'm now tempted to buy his book and next time I will definitely try the Gardein breasts. m

Sunday, October 11, 2009

October 12, 2009 - Soups on

My homemade chicken noodle soup—2009 edition.

Cooking and cooler weather seem to go hand and hand in my world. And my first goal is to start filling the freezer with some good home made soups to get me through the next few months. And with cold and flu season coming—no doubt you've heard about that this year—chicken soup is first on my list. I bought a chicken at the farmers market and started reviewing recipes. I couldn't find the perfect combination in any of the books so I improvised. I wanted something pretty traditional with lots of vegetables. I ended up with chicken, green beans, corn, carrots, celery, onions, peas and lots of noodles. Not to mention a concoction of spices that I had on hand. Most notably some dried basil and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I probably over did the noodles. I think it would have been wise to have broken them up a bit more because they're big and sloppy and hard to fit on a spoon. Oh well, now I know.

Week two I made a great beef stew. I actually bought a beef roast, but I got out my mom's old Fanny Farmer cook book and it said that if the roast is less than 4 pounds it's better to use it for stew meat, otherwise the roast would probably be dry. See, I'm learning and in fact I have done small roasts in the past that just never really came out great. I'm just one guy so I always bought small roasts. Along with the tender beef chunks the stew owns potatoes, peas, carrots, green beans and onions in a great broth. Ahhhh, winter is looking good.

And today, a sweet potato and black bean soup. Actually it should be called a vegetable soup with black beans. Of course all locally grown veges from the Hilldale farmer's market. Next time I'm adding another can of beans. The cayenne pepper gives it a good kick. So that's a great start on the filling the freezer. I think a good chili is next.

It was a nice weekend. I've been cleaning up the studio for the Open Arts Studio Tour next weekend. Don't forget. Artist's all over Madison and Dane County are opening up their studios to the public the weekend of October 17 and 18 from 11:00am to 5pm. You can view samples of all the artists participating at the Community Galleries of the Overture Performing Arts Center downtown. Grab a map and plan your own custom tour of your favorite artists. As for me, I'll be working on some lamps during the weekend with about 30 or so on display. Hopefully the rain, sleet and snow will hold off for a little while and give us a great weekend for the tour. Have a great week and feel free to send your favorite soup or cold weather recipes. I'm always looking for more. m

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6, 2009 - Washington Island

Schoolhouse Beach

Washington Island has become one of my favorite spots. From the wonderful ferry ride to the rustic cabin, Schoolhouse beach to Fisk's fish fry, it is a joy to visit, even briefly. This year I went up for a weekend with my good friend Carol. I met Carol through another friend years ago but I realized that we have never spent a lot of time alone together as we are usually in the company of our mutual friends. It was fun to get to know each other better. The long drive gave a great opportunity to just talk, a rare event these busy days.

We really got lucky with the weather. Although indications were that we would have some off and on rain, we really didn't experience any beyond seeing evidence that it had passed earlier. Some wet pavement and sand. We also saw many dark clouds threatening the peninsula across the bay. I think they got it more than we did. And it was warm with the sun making itself known throughout the weekend. This made the ferry ride over and back that much more enjoyable. There's nothing like the anticipation of slowly moving toward the island and seeing the great vistas of water and islands along the way.

We're so lucky to have found an affordable and yet rather luxurious cabin to rent. It's solitude and views of the water and water foul make it very special. And it has a better than average kitchen which makes meal prep a joy. Not to mention the fireplace, both in the house and down on the rocky beach. We biked at least 1/2 the island stopping for the dunes, a great coffee house, and soft serve and a cheezburger. In the evening there was a great meal with games and lots of talking in front of a roaring fire. It all ended too fast but I felt very relaxed and satisfied to have gotten away even for such a short time. The quality of the environment can make even a short visit rejuvenating. And I needed it. It's been a long year and I'm grateful that I have good friends and such a great place to escape to. m

The wonderful fireplace with Carol making dinner in the background.

Carol watching the water foul on the beach in front of the cabin.