Monday, February 28, 2011

Baked Butternut Squash with Grilled Chicken Breast


I'm still slightly a novice with cooking squash, but this turned out pretty good (for the most part). I quartered the squash, seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon and brown sugar (most of which just fell onto the pan), and then baked in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. I smeared a little butter on top after it came our of the oven. (Butter makes everything better.) One thing that I definitely recommend and will do next time is to peel the squash. Leaving the skin on during the cooking process makes it slightly more difficult to eat and definitely hindered me from stuffing my face.

To prepare the chicken, I started by letting out a little aggression and flattening them slightly. To do this, place the chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap and go to town with a mallet or heavy skillet. I ended up making a dry rub of sorts for the seasoning - it consisted of garlic salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, hot paprika and curry powder. Spray the grill pan with a little Pam to prevent sticking and cook to perfection.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Braised Beef Short Ribs with White Beans and Tomatoes

I always see braised short ribs on menus at restaurants or being bade on some cooking show, so here's my first attempt at creating a dish. I like how seeing something made on television makes me think I know how to cook a dish, but this turned out quite well for a first attempt. After all, the only thing that's new here is the cut of meat; with that in mind you are free to add whatever flavors you want while just preparing it slightly differently to accommodate for the cut of meat.

  • 2 lbs beef short ribs
  • salt 
  • pepper
  • garlic salt
  • rosemary
  • fat rendered from pancetta (or some neutral oil)
  • red wine (Malbec)
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans cannellini beans (drained)

Season the short ribs and sear both sides in a large skillet/pot. I happened to have some pancetta in the fridge so I rendered the fat from it to sear the meat, but you can also just use a neutral oil such as vegetable or canola oil instead. Remove the ribs and deglaze the pan with a few cups of red wine (I had an open bottle of Malbec on hand). Add the tomatoes along with a can of water, place the short ribs back in the pan, and bring to a low simmer. I cooked the dish for an hour and a half in total, skimming the fat off the top as you go along. Add the beans for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Macaroni & Cheese, Kale Greens w/Pancetta, and Lemon Pepper Chicken

WARNING: Here's another one of my southern comfort inspired meals. Do not operate any heavy machinery after consumption. You may want to get your nap spot ready in preparation for this one.

Making greens was always a big production growing up. Because they cooked down sooo much, it would take multiple grocery bags to yield a decent quantity in the end. I can picture the kitchen sink full to the brim of the leafy vegetable as they soaked to get cleaned. For those of you that are not familiar with the art of preparing greens, allow me to shed some light on the subject. 1) Remove the stem by folding the leaves along the stem lines and tearing out. (They're tough and unpleasant to eat.) 2) Place in a large bowl (or sink) and cover with water. 3) Move the leaves around in the water and let them sit for a few minutes. 4) Drain and repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times to make sure all of the dirt and grit is removed. This can be a time consuming process depending on the quantity you're making, but it will be worth it in the end and give you a great sense of accomplishment. Now the greens are ready to be turned into whatever delicacy you can imagine.

I started by dicing 1/4 pound of pancetta and putting it in a large pan over medium heat. Once you have rendered the fat, add in a diced shallot and saute. After the shallots have become translucent you can start adding in the greens and letting them wilt down. You may have to do this in batches so that there is enough room. After all of the greens have been added to the pot, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. (Nutmeg + greens = great combination.) I also added the chicken drippings from the roasting pan for some extra flavor and then let the greens cook through. And don't forget to taste and adjust your flavors!

To prepare the chicken, I simply coated with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic salt and lemon pepper. Then bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. And boom goes the dynamite...

This time I tried yet another method for making what some would consider the comfort food of America: macaroni and cheese. And it starts with one of the classic "mother" sauces known as a bechamel. Start by melting 2-3 tbsp of butter in a sauce pan and adding a similar amount of flour. Stir together and ideally it should be the consistency of wet sand. Allow it to cook for a little while, but you don't want it to brown. Add in a can of evaporated milk (or a few cups of regular milk - whatever you have on hand works) and bring to a boil. Whenever using a roux to thicken a liquid, it is imperative to bring the sauce to a boil to activate the starch. Reduce the flame and melt in your cheese(s) - now you have a mornay sauce! This time I used a combination of monterey jack and cheddar. Fold in your cooked macaroni noodles (I started with a mug and a half of uncooked noodles). Fill a casserole dish (or whatever will hold the cheesy goodness) and sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and a little salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.