Punk'in seeds

One of my favorite spices is ancho chili powder.

Anchos are nice and spicy but not hot. Perfect for good flavor but don't scare away Frankie. I use it making chilli, spicing up beans, etc. I usually buy the dried smoked chilis and cut out the white parts, remove the seeds and pulverize them in a spice blender. They keep forever. Once in a while, the particular lot I buy is still kind of moist and I'll have to dry them in the oven at about 170-deg-F for a couple hours.

So, last night, while the wife and kid were working on the jack 'o lantern, I grabbed the seeds and went to work. Cleaned them up, sprinkled them with ancho chili powder, salt, pepper and gave 'em a quick squirt of olive oil and baked them at 250-deg-F until crisp. Yum.


Focaccia, kneadless

FocacciaSunday evening meal. Like to make it a special one. Sunday nights should be special. Everyone gearing up for the week. We were having italian sausages simmered for several hours in tomato sauce over pasta and we wanted some fresh bread (or as Frankie calls it: "Papa's good bread") to go with the meal, but after a long day of parenting, I was bushed.

I read a book a while back called No Need to Knead. Her basic premise is you get more rustic looking breads (big irregular holes and such) with less kneading. I don't think the premise is valid but it sure sounded appealing when I wanted a fresh loaf. So I weighed out water (200 g, warm tap), a T or so of honey, 1-2 t of dry yeast, olive oil (2 T) and swirled the mixture in my plastic bowl I use for raising dough. Then, I tossed in unbleached white flour (300 g) and salt (5 grams) and mixed the mixture with a metal spoon until it came together, and mixed another couple turns and closed it up (this container I use has a 2 mm diameter hole in the top for venting the gas) and went to wrestle Frankie.

Within an hour and a half, it had risen nicely. I sprinkled on some flour and squashed it down. It wasn't as sticky as I thought it would be. I let it rise a second time only about a half hour. Then I plopped the mass into a 10 inch dark, non-stick cake pan (oiled lightly) and preheated my oven to 450-deg-F.

I pushed the blob out to fill the pan, Frankie painted the surface with oil, I sprinkled rosemary and coarse sea salt on it and let it sit uncovered for 15 minutes. Then, I docked it and pushed it in the oven for 15 minutes. Wow. What a focaccia for very little work!

However, it was very soft. Very flavorful but very soft and chewy. A great bread but don't know if I'd like it as a staple in our repertoire of breads. Definitely fit the bill for an exhausted parent.


Chicken 'n Noodles (wicked fast)

soupA neighbor of ours makes the absolute best chicken and noodles we have ever had the luxury of tasting. She makes her own noodles and even invited me to witness this stupendous dish being prepared. There's really no big secret. She made a tender noodle using flour, some oil, water, salt and hand rolled them. No biggie. The chicken soup was also nothing secretive. A good stock derived from a bone-in chicken, veggies, etc. I kept looking for the secret ingredient. She told me it was the Knorr's cube she used. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find anything unconventional that made her soup so special. I left after the tutorial. A few days later, we were talking about the soup again and she mentioned "oh yeah, and a stick of butter" (was added towards the end of cooking). Bingo.

She essentially "mounts" the soup with butter. I don't think this is mounting as it's usually used, but the end result is still decadent richness.

The other day while driving Frankie to school, she requested chicken 'n noodles for dinner. I thought, great, a weeknight and all I have is some frozen boneless chicken in the freezer and some dry noodles in the cupboard. Butter to the rescue and voila! A wonderful fast chicken and noodles in a flash was born. We use it pretty often now and is it yummy.

Quick Chicken and Noodles
onion, 1, chopped,
garlic, a few slivers
olive oil, about 1-2 T
carrots, a bunch, chopped
1-2 chicken breasts, frozen, boneless
water, ca. 2-2.5 quarts
parsley, dried, 1T
salt, 2t
pepper, to taste
oregano, dried, 2t
egg noodles, most brands are good, 1/2 lb, dried
butter, 3T

Saute onions, garlic, carrots a few minutes, toss in hunks of frozen chicken and water, parsley, salt, pepper and oregano; bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove chicken and chop, return to pot. Drop in noodles and continue simmering 10-15 minutes. Finally, stir in butter and serve. The butter takes care of all your shortcuts (boneless breasts, no stock, etc.) and since we don't throw in gobs of it, it's not even that unhealthy since it yields at least 4 healthy servings. Enjoy.


Desperation Dinner #2 (in a long drawn out series)

sausages_potatoes_peppersOver the years I've noticed the color of cookware can have a profound impact on the food. When baking, dark cookware darkens food more while bright aluminum sheets make it tough to darken the bottoms of cookies. Makes sense; absorbs more heat and transfers it to your food. I guess that's why my orange terra cotta tiles in the oven are so perfect for pizza. Browns the bottom at just the right rate so the top can brown at about the same rate.

When it comes to baking in a pan though, I prefer darker cookware. Cast iron is a favorite of mine but sometimes I just prefer something lighter. My second favorite bakeware is enamel on steel. The speckled stuff. Sturdy, cheap, perfect for roasting roots.

This meal, inspired by my Mom (who does this in clear glass most of the time, my least favorite bakeware) is the best. Everything gets a nice crust to it and cooks evenly. AND, it takes about 30 seconds to prep and about 40 minutes to bake (while I play with the kid). With that ramble in context: I chop frozen italian sausages, peppers and potatoes into about the same size cube (bit size), toss them into my enamel on steel pan, drizzle olive oil over it all, salt, pepper and rosemary, shake to distribute the oil and spices and bake at 400-deg-F for about 35-40 minutes. You can use any vegetable medley you please and it's a simple complete meal (as long as you're not a vegetarian).