Sunday, January 30, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Pot Pie

Know how I know I love my husband? Because he hates broccoli and I married him anyway. Seriously, this is a big deal to me. I love broccoli so much! And he won't eat it. Also Brussels sprouts, but as I understand it there are a lot of people who subscribe to that particular brand of crazy, and I don't love sprouts near as much as I love broccoli anyway.

Mr. Panda travels a lot for work, so I take advantage of the weeks when he's away by cooking the crap out of some broccoli. Which is why this week's recipe is for Broccoli Cheese Pot Pie!

2 tablespoons of butter (butter substitute ok)
1 onion
2 medium yellow potatoes, peeled
2 packages frozen broccoli florets
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup flour
2 cups half & half (non-fat ok)
4 to 8 cups shredded cheese, depending how cheesy you want. Any variety would be good, I think- cheddar, Swiss, you could even use pepper jack if you want some kick!

Chop the onion as fine as you like. If you cut it up really tiny you'll get the flavor but you'll probably lose the onion texture, so it's entirely up to you. 

Cube the potatoes, again as big or as small of chunks as you like depending on what kind of texture you want. Put them in a stew pot or Dutch oven with the onions and butter. Stir over med-high until the butter is melted and coats all the vegetables, then lower the heat and let the vegetables soften.

After a few minutes, add the stock and broccoli to the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes (longer if you left the vegetables very chunky). 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the half and half and flour. Add to the stock and vegetables after they've simmered. Stir in the cheese.

I don't bake, and I do consider making pie crusts baking, so I generally use store bought crusts. For these pot pies I actually used Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough, which was really good. I spooned the filling mixture into individual ramekins, then baked in the oven according to the dough instructions. It would be just as easy to make this in a large traditional pie dish, but it's a bit liquidy, so cutting pieces would not be ideal. Of course, if you want a drier pie, you could always adjust the amount of stock you use. 

Mr. Panda (and all you crazy broccoli haters out there) do not know what you are missing, cause these were awesome. The recipe made four individual pies and I am frankly excited to get to eat them all by myself (over the course of a week, not all in one day, of course). I think next time I make these I will omit one potato and substitute a shredded chicken breast instead.

Confession about the pictures: I had kind of a long and tiring week, and couldn't be bothered to get the pictures set up with lighting and nice background and blah blah blah. Sorry. But here is what they came out lookin like. Kind of.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Part Two: Lemon Caper Chicken

So Mr Panda and I sat down to leftovers of the bland carbonara this evening because, did I mention that the recipe made a ton of food? Well, it did. And I'm a big proponent of not wasting food if it's at least edible. Just because it wasn't as tasty as I had hoped doesn't mean it should go down the disposal. If it was bland the first time though, it was even more bland the second time around because it didn't even have the creaminess it had when it was fresh.

To make it more interesting, I decided that I would add a little something. What goes well with sort-of-carbonara pasta? How about some sauteed lemon caper chicken... with no recipe? This is about adventure right? So I went for it. And I'd like to note that Mr Panda pushed me to find a recipe, but I told him I was going to do this on. my. own.

Having never sauteed chicken before, I was a little worried that I would undercook it. To solve the problem I sliced two chicken breasts into strips about an inch and a half wide. I felt that by using strips I would have a better sense of when the meat was done. I melted two tablespoons of butter in a saute pan, and added a tablespoon of minced garlic. Once the butter was melted down I added the chicken and started stirring. When there were no more visible pink spots I sprinkled two tablespoons of lemon juice over the meat and threw 1/4 cup of capers in as well. The only thing left was to stir constantly until the chicken became nicely browned and the capers burst apart.

How did it turn out? Amazing. I think I've made it very clear in this post and the last that the carbonara-packet was a failure. After that, I was really thinking that this was a week that would not be adding anything to my repertoire. What do you know? Lemon caper chicken saved the day! It was so easy that it's hard to believe I had never tried it before. I can not wait to make this again, maybe with some roasted red potatoes and steamed veggies? So many possibilities!

Week two score:
Packet-carbonara: 0
Lemon Caper Chicken: 1

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Part One: Carbonara

I have to start this post off with a couple of notes about my husband. First, he has requested that he no longer be known as Mr. Pants and go back to a name I call him elsewhere on the Internet, which is Mr. Panda. It's a reasonable request, and I'm going with it.

Second, despite swearing that he read my first post, when I told him that the base of this week's recipe was a carbonara sauce from a packet he said "Isn't that cheating?"

No. No it's not cheating, because as I said, I am not setting out to make new original recipes here. My goal is to make 52 things this year that are new to me and that are easy enough for the average person to make with no exceptional talent, skill or effort.

I do agree that if all I did was open the packet (or web recipe for that matter) and prepare the food exactly as the directions said, this would be a pointless project. I think this week's carbonara experiment is a perfect demonstration of how I'm not doing that, though. Which is exciting! Well, it's exciting to me anyway.

Third note: while this week wasn't going to be in two parts originally, it is now. If you read both parts you'll see why, I promise.  

I started with a packet of Wagner's Carbonara mix. I don't remember where I picked this up, but it's been in the pantry for a few weeks. Carbonara is one of my favorite things to eat when I go out, so I figured if it was as easy to make from home (with the assistance of a packet) it would be a good thing to add to the Panda Kitchen repertoire.

Of course, I should have known better, but we'll get to that.

The packet wording suggested regular bacon as well as some vegetables and pasta. I love regular bacon on almost everything, but it seemed a little pedestrian for this. I picked up some really nice, fatty pancetta instead. For the veggies I used some mushrooms and peas.

First I pulled the pancetta to shreds with my hands. This was almost ridiculously fun, although I can't really explain why. Probably something to do with how many wayward pieces of pancetta made it to my mouth instead of the pan. The shredded pancetta then went into a hot pan and got nice and crispy.

Next, after removing the pancetta from the pan- but leaving the rendered fat behind, of course- I added the peas and mushrooms and sauteed them for about two minutes. Pancetta back into the mix and toss it all together till it looked like this:

I used fettuccine as the pasta base because of all the strand types of pasta it has my favorite consistency. Sauce, pasta, sauteed goodness and voila! We had this:

It looks very pretty, no? Sadly, it was pretty much tasteless. The peas, mushrooms and pancetta were very yummy, but the sauce was just bland. Like I said, should have known better than to try to recreate a carbonara sauce from a packet.

I won't be making this again any time soon. It was low effort, but it was also low flavor, and we Pandas can't have that.

Tomorrow: Part Two! How this experiment was redeemed!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Last Week: Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

It turns out that if you tell people you're going to start blogging, some of those people will pay attention. And they'll subscribe to your blog. Better yet they'll tell other people they've subscribed to your blog. All of this is nice and all, but, um, hello pressure. I feel like I went to an open mic night and it turned out people actually came to listen.

But I'm glad you're here. No really, you'll keep me honest! It's a good thing.

Now on to the food! I confess that I started the project before I had the guts to jump in and start blogging, so we're already a little bit behind here. Secondary confession, I also made my resolution about a week after New Year's Day. And then didn't do anything about it for a few days. That means we are exactly one week behind. Easy peasy catch-up I say! (This is a food blog, I should say easy peasy ketchup instead?)

Last week I made a curried chicken recipe in the slow cooker. I started with Wasabi Prime 's recipe and then kind of wandered down my own path from there.  I don't have any pictures this time because, like I said, I didn't know at the time I was going to start blogging. And I don't have any pictures of the finished results because, well, I ate them. I ate all of them. Because this was so good. I hope this turns out to be a good omen for this project!

2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
2 peeled and chopped sweet potatoes
1 chopped onion
1 jar pre-made curry sauce (I recommend something with a strong-to-spicy flavor)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 can lite coconut milk
1 bag frozen peas
Rice for serving over

I love my slow cooker. If you have a slow cooker you don't need me to explain why I love it. If you don't have a slow cooker, get one.  I have this one, and it has done very good things for me. The slow cooker has saved me on days when I have no time to cook and on days when I completely forget to take something out of the freezer and I have no time to wait for anything to thaw. The latter was the case on the day I decided to make this curry chicken.

So long as you can make sure most of the fat and juices are drained away, you are ok to put frozen chicken into the crock pot. Frozen or not, take care to make sure the chicken is the first thing to go in, then cover with the veggies, then the sauce and coconut milk. I know that in the original recipe, Wasabi advised not adding the garbanzo beans until the end, but I found them to actually be too firm that way. If you prefer a softer texture, go ahead and add them in with the other vegetables.

Set your slow cooker to low for 4 to five hours. If you can, about halfway through the cooking time, take two forks and start pulling at the chicken to shred it. This will also help mix up the sauces and vegetables as they cook, as well as really getting the meat fully sauced. If you can't be there to do this, don't worry- just shred the chicken at the end of the process and let it stay in the pot over warm for about half an hour to absorb the sauce. Alternatively, you can put the chicken in all chopped up at the beginning of the process, presuming you remembered to thaw it out or are using fresh.

About the sauce: we used a korma sauce on this originally. While I love Indian food, I'm a sissy when it comes to hot spices. I usually love a korma sauce because it's got a lot of flavor, but is just enough sweet to take any heat off. What I didn't take into account was the coconut milk. Between the coconut sweetness and the natural sweetness of the curry, it was actually a little too sweet. Next time I'm going spicier, like a Rogan Josh (which is quite adventurous for me!).

About the veggies: I truly think most vegetables and beans will do well in this curry. Maybe not broccoli, but cauliflower? Heck yes. I also can't imagine there not being some anchoring starch, but any potato should do, from sweet to red to white- or all! Just remember, the more vegetables you put in, the more servings you'll get out in the end.

About serving: I served this over a simple steamed white rice on the first try. That being said, I'm going with a garlic or a saffron rice next time around. This dish is all about flavor, so find your favorite complimentary rice and dig in. If you have some naan available (or better yet, if you make some on your own) you'll want it with this meal because the sauce is just too good to waste once it's been infused for hours with the flavors of the meats and vegetables. If you don't have any good Indian bread, just lick the bowl. I won't tell!

The First Post

I don't usually make New Year resolutions. For the most part, I think people are tempted to treat resolutions like wishes and they end up saying ridiculous things like "I'm going to make a million dollars this year!" or "I'm going to marry that guy I've been stalking!". Not that those things aren't possible, but they're almost always unlikely. So for many years I haven't bothered.

This year, though, I found myself in the position of wanting to make changes in my life and routines that are small enough to actually do. Two things, especially: wear makeup more often, and cook something new every week. This blog is going to be about that second project (because despite some really nice new cosmetics purchases, I've pretty much already failed on resolution one).

I'm the main cook in my house. It's just me and Mr. Pants right now, and he works long hours so I end up cooking most weeknights. I'm fine with this. Actually, I'm more than fine with this because I find cooking to be both fun and strangely empowering. Like, "Look! What I made! With my hands and some pots and pans and some heat! I made this and it is yummy. Amen." The problem is, I just don't know how to make too many things.

My culinary repetoire:
Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken Parmesan
Baked Ziti (with sausage)
Macaroni & Cheese (homemade, of course)
Marsala Chicken
Black Bean Chicken Stew

Do you see the problem here? Almost everything above is yummy, but after a little while all of that gets kind of tired. And there's just not a lot of variety. Sure, we supplement with frozen or premade meals, but that's just about the worst thing we could do for ourselves besides order pizza all the time (and trust me, we do that, too).

So that's how I got here. To promising to make a new (to me) recipe every week. With the help of my vast library of cookbooks and , I'm not only going to do this project, but I have a feeling I'm going to have a lot of fun along the way.

A few things you should know before we jump in here;
- You'll never see fish on this blog. Ever. I don't eat anything that came out of the ocean. Sorry.

- It's not my intention to make my own recipes. I'm not at that stage yet. I will always link back where applicable and/or credit any books, authors, etc. I will say that I almost always make changes to any recipes I use, so most likely what I do will be anywhere from slightly to wildly different from what the original recipe might say.

- I make up words. I do this often. Feel free to use any Panda-made word you like whenever you wish. I don't mind.

- While I'm certainly trying to keep the Pants family health in mind in my kitchen, this is not a health-food blog. Or even a healthY-food blog. I think, for the most part, cooking at home is almost always healthier than a lot of alternatives, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to use cream, butter and/or frying methods when those are required.

So I think that's it. That's me and that's what I'm trying to do here. I'm happy to have you along for this adventure, whether you're looking to do a similar thing or you're just a fan of recipes. And with that... let's get cooking!