Back to Basics: Butterflying Meats and Poultry

Ming Tsai does a good job of demonstrating this technique:

I often butterfly chicken breasts, they cook quicker and are less likely to dry out. I butterfly, rub with olive oil and season with garlic, rosemary, a bit of salt and pepper, then fry up quickly in a hot skillet. Takes as little as 3 minutes a side, depending on the thickness. Then you can serve with rice or potatoes and a vegetable for a quick dinner. Or slice and toss with salad for a quick lunch.

Growing Up Trixie

Originally published 9/13/09

My first strong female literary character was Trixie Belden. She rocked. You have to be a woman, and probably a woman of a certain age, to be a hardcore Trixie fan. A friend’s sister gave me my first Trixie Belden book when I was in the hospital for surgery. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.

It is fitting then, that I begin the series on Food in Fiction with Trixie Belden and one of the first recipes I tried on my own, cooking for my parents, adapting  and experimenting, even then.

Perfect Hamburgers

  • 1 slice bread, crusts removed
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste

Soak bread with milk for 5 minutes, mix all ingredients together completely. Form into 4 patties and grill or fry to desired doneness.

This works especially well with extra lean ground beef, keeping it moist and flavorful, even if you like them cooked to medium-well.

Burger week begins right here…

Back to Basics: Preparation

I was watching a cooking show the other day and was annoyed. Why you ask? Because they were doing a segment on the basics of cooking and besides making you feel that your kitchen wasn’t complete without every gadget imaginable, their suggestions for menu prep were laughable.

Their suggestion? Pre-measure everything into little glass bowls (like custard cups), set the little bowls out all over your counter, in the order you’ll use them. Then and only then should you start preparing your recipe. Really?

Let’s set aside the fact that most of us don’t work in a kitchen with 92 yards of counter space on which to spread out all the little bowls with neatly measured teaspoons, tablespoons and 1/4 cups of ingredients. How many of us want to quadruple our clean-up time by washing a dozen little bowls? Best case scenario, you fill your entire dishwasher with the dishes from one recipe. Hey, at least you can run it while you prep your next recipe…oh wait, you can’t because you’re out of little bowls.

I hate the fact that instead of making cooking accessible and fun, they made it sound like you needed a chef’s kitchen in order to begin and made the entire process arduous.

I’m all for preparation. Reading through a recipe and setting all the ingredients out on the counter (just not pre-measured) makes sure that you won’t get halfway through your recipe and realize you don’t have cream of tartar or eggs. And if you get in the habit of putting away each ingredient after you’ve used it, there will be two benefits. One, if you’re interrupted by a screaming child or annoying door-to-door salesman, you won’t have to wonder if you added the 2 tsp of baking powder or not. And second, when  you’re done, you’ll find that your counter is pleasantly clean, with space to knead those biscuits or spoon out those cupcakes.

Honestly, having my ingredients out and putting them away as I go has saved many a recipe, because I’m a notorious multi-tasker with sometimes less than successful results. Many a sauce has been saved from extra cayenne or too much salt.

And as far as utensils go, I get along just fine with my shiny new whisk, my bamboo spatula, my silicone spatula, forks, spoons, a variety of knives and a couple of different sized graters.

Hope that helps you feel more confident in the kitchen. Cook on…

Back to Basics: Pie Crust

Blueberry Pie photo by JeffreyW

I’m terrified of pie crusts. I can honestly tell you I’ve never made one. Ever. Until today.

I always thought that there was no way I could succeed at – it seemed like a science experiment that I was unprepared to undertake. I wasn’t quite wrong.

See a few years ago, my friend Alton (not that one) wrote a post on Ratios, a cookbook that was part science, part math, part foolproof recipes.He chose to try out the pie crust recipe and made it sound so easy that for quite sometime I toyed with trying it out.

Ratio isn’t a recipe book so much as an explanation of the different ratios that go into making various dishes. For example a pie crust is a ratio of 3:2:1. Three parts flour. Two parts fat. One part liquid. Put the ingredients together in these amounts and in this order and you get pie dough. This is the fact. The science. The structure behind cooking. The art is determined by how skillfully you blend the ingredients. What changes you make in ingredients.

Tonight I decided that with my desire to go back to the basics, this was a good a place as any to continue that journey.

Here goes nothing.

For perfect pie crust all you need is this ratio:

  • 3 parts flour
  • 2 parts fat
  • 1 part water
To that I added a touch of sugar and salt.  (I used 1-1/2 cups flour, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt , 1 cup butter and 1/2 cup water).  Sound easy? It was. And while not perfect yet – after all it was my first pie crust and working with it takes some practice. Hence JeffreyW’s photo and not one of my own. It was flaky and tasted ok.  I made blueberry turnovers. And I can say, I’m no longer afraid of pie crust.

There are some tricks to mixing together your perfect ratio.  Cold, cold, cold is the first tip. I cut frozen butter (oh, and I use butter instead of shortening in most everything because I like it and I always have it on hand) into small pieces and then put it back in the freezer, along with a glass mixing bowl, a measuring cup of water, my pastry cutter and my marble rolling pin.

I whisked together the flour, sugar and salt then cut in the butter with my pastry cutter, but not too much, the butter was already small, when those small pieces were smaller by half I stopped.  It was warm in the kitchen, so the butter softened quickly. I added the water, mixed it together until everything was moistened, then kneaded it lightly by hand. I divided into two sections, wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator until chilled. Then I rolled it out for turnovers.

I was still a little unsure of how thin to roll it out. This is something I’m going to research and play with and see what I can come up with. Maybe Mrs. J will have some suggestions.