Monday, April 18, 2011
Time for another food blog!
One of the hardest things to learn when starting to cook is how to time your dinner so everything is ready at the same time. The only thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. In time, you'll know roughly how long it takes to steam brussel sprouts (about 10-15 minutes) or sear a 1" steak (about 7 minutes per side). This also varies by your stovetop and pans, so your cooking time may be different than mine.
Practice, practice, practice.
I also recommend watching copious episodes of Iron Chef or Chopped.
Tonight I made lamb chops and rice for dinner. Using my practice, practice, practice for multi tasking dinner, I got everything together at roughly the same time in about 25 minutes.
While not practical for every meal, when you have a very fast cooking meal, I recommend having all your ingredients pre rinsed, chopped, and ready to go in bowls. Professional chefs call this "mise en place". It is French meaning, "everything in place". My lamb chops will take a mere 10 minutes to cook, so it's important that I have all my ingredients ready. I will not have time to chop and drop, or things will burn or get overcooked.
- Lamb chops seasoned with herbes de provence, salt, pepper, and a dash of olive oil.
- A bottle of my favorite wine for drinking, Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Merlot. I'll use a tiny bit for a red wine sauce at the end.
- Fresh brussel sprouts, cleaned and cut.
- Seasoned pilaf rice package, where I will add chopped onions and bell peppers, frozen peas, and chicken stock. Normally I make my own seasoned rice, but tonight I am tired and need something quick, so a packaged rice will do.
- Sliced bell peppers and tomatoes for a salad. A red wine vinegrette salad dressing. Not show is the lettuce, which is already washed and in a salad spinner.
Remarkably, I am only going to be using two pans for this. My saute pan, and a steamer pot. The rice will cook in the lower half, and the brussel sprouts will steam above in the steamer section. Nice, eh?
Brussel sprouts are placed in the steamer.
I turn my stove on. Medium high for the lamb chops, and medium for the steamer pan. While my pans are heating, I make my salads.
When steamer pan is hot, I add bell peppers and onions and saute. When they have softened slightly, I add the chicken stock, rice, and seasoning. Peas do not go in yet.
Brussel sprouts are added to the top of the rice to be steamed - about 15 minutes on the clock.
By now, my saute pan is ready for the lamb chops.
While lamb chops are sizzling, rice is simmering, and brussels are steaming, I start loading up the dishwasher and wiping down counters.
5 minutes left on the clock, I add the frozen peas.
I take the lamb chops out of the pan and on a warm dish to rest. To the pan that has a lovely brown frond from the searing lamb chops, I add about 1/4 cup red wine, and couple tablespoons of chicken stock. When that starts to simmer, I add 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in cold chicken stock to thicken the sauce slightly. I whisk it until the sauce thickens.
Everything is ready! Time to plate!
Scoop of rice pilaf, steamed brussel sprouts, and seared lamb chops with a red wine sauce.
Served with salad and a glass of wine.
Over half of this meal is veggies. The lamb portion is small faction of this meal, but very, very flavorful. Believe me, we have very full, happy bellies.
Total Calories: 623
Carbohydrates: 65g (48.3%)
Fat: 19g (31.1%)
Protein: 28g (20.6%)
I could have had a Whopper Jr and small fries for dinner for 600 calories, or I could have my salad, lamb chops with red wine sauce, rice pilaf, brussel sprouts, and a glass of wine.
How much would you pay for this in a restaurant? $25-30? Would you believe this meal cost me less than $10?
2 lamb chops, 3oz total: $2.60
Glass of Wine: $3 ($12 for the bottle, about 4 glasses total)
Brussel Sprouts: $1.50
Total: ~ $8.50
Sunday, April 17, 2011
I haven't done a food blog in a while. I've been busy with visiting friends and pet projects. Tonight, I remembered to grab my camera while making dinner.
Sunday roast chicken is one of my favorite meals. However, with sweltering Georgia heat just days away, my roasting pans will soon go into summer hibernation. Hot ovens and 90-104F days just do not mix.
Roast chicken used to conjure up images of all day cooking, so I reserved it mostly for the weekends. I'd still rather have fun on weekends than cook all day. A found a recipe for "Fast Roast Chicken" in a recent publication of "Everyday Food". I did a double take. Say what? Fast roast chicken?
Apparently, what they did is cut off the backbone of the chicken, spread it flat in a roasting rack, and baked it at 450F. I've tried it 3 times now, and it works perfectly for me. I can cook a 5-6lb chicken in about 45-60 minutes! The normal way with the whole bird takes 2 hours or more.
Tonight, I decided to make Sunday roast chicken and roast veggies. I cut up potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, and bell pepper, put them in a baking dish with a smidge of olive oil, about 1/4 cup water, and an herb de provence seasoning blend.
I cut off the backbone of a whole chicken. (If you don't know how to do this, I highly recommend learning. It's easier than you think. Do a google or youtube search. There are so many how to videos these days.) I made a lemon herb seasoning that I stuffed under the skin.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons herbs de provence
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest (very fine)
1/2 squeezed lemon (about 1 tablespoon juice)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
couple of grinds of rock salt
What to do with that backbone you cut off? Don't throw it away! Make a chicken broth with it! I threw mine in a crockpot with extra onions, carrots, and celery that weren't bad, but starting to wilt. This will become a base for the onion soup I plan to make tomorrow night.
Also being made is a chocolate-orange gelato. I made the mixture the night before, and I just added it to the ice cream maker for dessert tonight.
While that was all cooking, I was writing this blog to you, my Spark friends!
Here's the final product after a mere 45 minutes in the oven! A fully cooked, roast chicken and potato/veggie side dish! Very healthy, and pretty rapido for a roast chicken!
While I finished uploading that picture, my chicken has finished resting, so it's ready to be carved. Dinner tonight, and roast chicken for sandwiches and salads for the week.
If you'll excuse me, dinner is waiting.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
I had a friend from Seattle come for a visit, so I was away for the weekend. It gave me a chance to test my "vacation" mode for my plants and pets.
Big concern was my balcony vegetable garden. Last year I started growing tomatoes with great success. But when we went on vacation, they all died. Container plants need more water than yard plants. So this year, I built my container garden with "vacation" mode in mind. I set up a lot of my containers to handle "self watering" pots.
You know those Aqua Globes, as seen on TV? I found a used wine bottle works great, with more capacity.
This is an empty gewurztraminer wine bottle being used to auto water my pepper plants. This works on the same principle as the Aqua Globes. Insert into the soil so it creates a seal. Then as the soil dries, it pulls water from the bottle.
The cats just got a big bowl of food and water, and a clean litter box. Evidence abounds that they ate, pooped, and napped. They were healthy and well, and meowing at us happily when we got home. They have been following me from room to room.
The new pets, the fish and snail, also made it through a night unsupervised. I discovered before I left, however, that the betta was sick. It turns out his loss of appetite was not due to "hara hachi bunme", but due to the poor conditions he lived under in the pet store. Poor betta. My first clue there was something wrong was the second day I had him. The water was unusually clouded for a freshly poured tank. The water had a milky white haze, usually indicative of a bacterial or algae infection. That was pretty unusual for a brand new bowl - I just got it. I added the snail, thinking it may be an algae bloom. It got worse.
Time for evasive action. I separated the fish and snail. I put the snail into a small container. I noticed the betta had a funny white patch on his head. I changed 50% of the betta's water from his bowl every day, and changed 100% of it every 2 days, rinsing the bowl and all bowl ornaments with vinegar thoroughly. (Vinegar as long as it is rinsed is non toxic to fish, but washing with bleach can be bad, unless a dechlorinator is used before adding fish.) Basically trying to reduce or eliminate any infections from the water. I also added a single rock salt chip into his bowl with each cleaning. He's a freshwater fish, so it's crucial not to raise the salinity too much. Adding a single rock salt chip won't harm him, but is bad for any bacteria or fungus that might have hitched a ride. Before we left for the weekend, I fed him, then changed his water again, rinsed the bowl and ornaments with vinegar, and added a rock chip again. I left him with a pristine clean water. I left him with no food to decay and muck up with the water. (Bettas are fine without food for a day or two.)
The treatment seemed to work. When I got home, he was swimming happily in his bowl - which was still very clear and clean looking, even without a water filter. He ate all his food ravenously. The strange white patch is gone. I'm calling him cured! I bought medicine just in case my "home cure" water treatment didn't work, but looks like I didn't need it. Yay!
Maybe I should have been a vet!
BTW, betta is now regularly sleeping/resting/playing on his leaf "hammock".
I've bought an aquarium, and set it up with live plants and decorations. However, I'm having trouble balancing the pH of the water due to the live plants. I wanted to make a semi "natural" aqua scape, but it is presenting challenges I didn't expect. I feel like I'm in chemistry class again with all my water testing and pH tests!
The live plants are lovely, but they are making the pH too high. I've never had an aquarium with live plants, so this took me by surprise. I want to adjust it to neutral pH before I add the fish and snail. I have a piece of driftwood on order, which is supposed to naturally lower the pH. I'm trying to avoid chemical additives, as I want to try to make a semi "natural" balanced ecosystem. I also think the driftwood will look cool.
Here's what the tank currently looks like. I tried to make a slightly "asian" theme since the betta is from the rice paddies of "Siam".
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I bought Data the Betta because I miss having a fish. I grew up with aquariums, and I haven't had a fish in a very long time. I'm becoming obsessed with the idea of creating an aquarium with a mini self sustaining ecosystem, but I'm doing more research about what I need to do. For now, Data the Betta and Spot the Snail are happy enough in their bowl.
When I got the fish, the girl at the checkout counter told me that she taught her betta tricks. That gave me the idea that I wanted to teach my fish tricks! I'm sure it is doable. I had goldfish and bettas as a kid. I can say quite definitively that bettas are more intelligent than goldfish. Goldfish are like pekingese of the fish world (cute, but not bright), and bettas are like a tiger (when you look at him, he looks right back at you).
Ever seen a betta chase and stalk live food? Last night I caught a small insect that was crawling on my desk, and I put it in the betta's bowl. He was keen, and lightning fast. It's incredible.
You can teach almost any animal to respond to stimuli with food rewards. I taught my cat to sit and beg. Maybe I can teach my betta to sit on a leaf on command, too.
He is already recognizing that when the purple ring goes in the bowl, it means food is coming. This morning I put the purple ring in the bowl, and he immediately came up near the water surface, awaiting the menu. I dropped in some pellets, dried shrimp, and flakes, to see what he would like.
He took a nibble of this, a nibble of that, then swam off. He didn't "clean off his plate". He ate what he needed, then stopped eating.
I got my super high tech fish bowl cleaner - an old turkey baster - and removed the uneaten morsels so it wouldn't dirty the bowl. As I was doing so, I was thinking Data the Betta had something to teach me. About the lesson of not overeating, or eating when not hungry.
Monday, April 11, 2011
With all the pets and plants I've added to the household, my morning routine is getting quite structured!
6:30am - Wake up, feed cats, empty litter boxes, make coffee
6:45am - Water plants, check on fish
7:00am - Make breakfast - bowl of cereal, yogurt and frozen blueberries
7:15am - Start work
I'd like to get morning exercise in. I'm going to have to get up earlier. Today I'm going to get my exercise done at lunch, because I don't have other errands to run.
Yesterday I bought a pH test kit for my aquarium. I read something online about a health troubleshooting bettas. One of them was "Problem: Fish stays mostly at the bottom and only goes to the top for air. Solution: Check water quality." I thought he was hovering near the bottom because he was getting used to his new environment, but I noticed that some of his colorful scales were peeling back and were black instead of blue. Hmm. So I tested the pH of his water. It came out relatively acidic. I tested the pH of tap water versus Brita filtered water, and discovered the Brita filter makes the pH more acidic! Ack! I thought I was helping to reduce the chlorine levels, but I was altering the pH! Not good!
I drained out half the water, and replaced it with tap water treated with the fish store conditioner to remove the chlorine, then added it to the remainder of the water already in the tank until it was neutral pH. I feel so bad. Poor little guy.
It will probably take a day or two for him to feel better with the water change, I'm guessing.
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