Sunday, July 13, 2008

    My Coleslaw

    The food processor of my childhood was large, loud, possibly rickety, and a washed out 70s-style plastic color. I only remember it being used for vinegary coleslaw, which my family brought to every summer cookout. My two-week old, stainless steel and black Cuisanart 14-cupper slashes vegetables in seconds and cries out for more. I've been happy to oblige by making two batches of gazpacho since my kitchen warrior arrived.

    My gazpacho tastes real good, but doesn't photograph well.

    Gazpacho is my ideal summer soup -- in the dead heat, it takes less energy than a salad to eat, cools you off,
    and fills you with vegetables. I also like that every time I eat it, it tastes a little different, both in my kitchen (too much garlic the first time, too little tomato juice the second), and at every restaurant that I've ordered it (red, yellow or green bell peppers, consistency, sour cream or not, crab or shrimp or not and so on).

    My favorite gazpacho, which I realized today I've been eating for over half my life, is served at G&M Cafe in downtown Charleston. I remember it being chunky and cucumbery, but now that I've made my own, I expect to have a different description after I visit there next month.

    I think gazpacho is a mood food -- when you make it, its taste and texture are affected by your state of mind, the time you have, and your tastebuds for the day.
    Not in the mood to have garlic breath? Halve the amount in your recipe and grind in extra pepper. If you're in a hurry and you put too many bell peppers in the food processor, the ones on the bottom will over-puree while the ones on top will be too chunky. It still tastes good though.

    After a few more batches of gazpacho, I think I'll continue on exploring my new machine with different ingredients that require other blades. Gazpacho though, is destined to become my coleslaw.

    When I researched recipes online, I knew I wanted a pretty basic one that I could doctor. Click here for the one I've been using.

    Recipe: Gazpacho

    (Original recipe, in blue, by Ina Garten and published on

    I like to use this recipe as a base, and double it each time I make it. It's not that much more work for a lot more soup. Who wants to cook much in this heat anyway?! To double it, sometimes I still use one cucumber, but more than double the peppers and tomatoes, or some combination of those ingredients. Next time, I'm going to go heavier on the cukes.

    1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
    I disagree, don't waste the seeds! Any kind of cucumber will do.

    2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded

    I like to mix it up, with yellow or orange along with the red.

    4 plum tomatoes
    Next time, I want to use heirlooms, but all tomatoes work. Get whatever's freshest.

    1 red onion
    I think a whole onion is a whole lotta onion and from now on I'll only do 3/4 of one when doubling. Red onions are so flavorful, but so strong. Get your onion goggles at the ready!

    3 garlic cloves, minced

    The amount of onion or garlic you use depends on your mood, or possibly the company you'll be keeping. After eating gazpacho three days in a row last week, I got very tired of having garlic breath, and I spend most days alone!

    23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)

    If doubling, you likely only need 5. I've noticed the vegetables absorb some of the tomato juice after they soup has sat for a while, but 6 cups seem like too much juice.

    1/4 cup white wine vinegar

    Double to your taste.

    1/4 cup good olive oil

    1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
    Just sprinkle in a little, no need to measure. I prefer to use less salt, more pepper.

    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    No need to measure, just grind it in. Lately I've been using multi-colored pepper in everything.

    Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess!
    The 1-inch cube part is a little overprecise, just get them chopped, roughly, as best you can. She isn't being hyperbolic with her exclamation point though -- if you want a pureed soup, fine, pulse away, but if you want texture, you gotta watch it.

    After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
    As you process the different vegetables, the bowl you pour them into will begin to look like art. I like to add lime juice as well. It's okay if you don't have time to let it sit. I like to top mine with a little low-fat sour cream and a slice of lime.

    Saturday, July 05, 2008

    Chicken Lessons

    Last Wednesday, during the daily summer afternoon thunderstorm, I spent about an hour boiling, cooling, and shucking seven ears of corn. I even added a little milk to the water for sweeter kernels. The corn was given to me by a friend who bought extra at one of New Orleans' weekly farmer's markets. She suggested I stick it in the freezer, though I wasn't sure what to do with it from there. During a tipsy conversation with three friendly, funny women at a bar last week, I was instructed to boil and shuck it all, then refreeze and use in various salads and side dishes throughout the summer. Yes, I've gone from trading restaurant recommendations to sharing cooking tips!

    The fresh corn is to the right of the vodka, on the shelf below the container of chicken & rice casserole I made last week.

    Currently, as I like to say, I'm on the dole, so I'm quite able and happy to wile away an hour with corn, Wilco, and sometimes a little vodka lemonade. It's new and different, which makes it fun, and I'm finding that cooking is yet another way to express creativity. It's also practical -- saving money by cooking for Jon and me has become a necessity as I weigh career options. Though he'd be happy to share the cooking, I've become quite territorial in my kitchen, at least until it's time to do the dishes.

    When I started blogging, I realized that in order to become a better food writer, one who can instantly identify an ingredient or technique, I have to be more comfortable in the kitchen. I just needed a larger space, the right tools, more time, and some good instruction to get started.

    When Dana visited from Pittsburgh in May, I asked her to give me a cooking lesson. She's a natural hostess who typically lists 10 dishes when describing her most recent dinner party. In one afternoon, and from memory, she taught me how to prepare baked cod, pan-seared salmon, baked chicken, a five-layer frittata, and a cucumber, yogurt, and cumin salad. I did almost all the work, while she watched and gave easy to understand instructions and encouragement -- as a theater director, she's mastered the art of telling people what to do in a constructive, agreeable manner!

    With her guidance I experimented with spices, cut corners on some recipes, and embellished others. I washed and trimmed two chicken breasts, squirming and squealing the whole time.
    The meal was a success, and making so many things together helped me better understand timing, flavors and textures. It also got me over the hump of the raw fish and chicken ick-factor.

    A week after Dana visited, I made foil-wrapped baked cod.

    When I'm again gainfully employed, the kitchen know-how I've learned the last few months, from putting Panko on everything possible to always keeping frozen fruit, vegetables, fish, and a previously cooked chicken dish in the freezer, will make it easier to balance a job with continuing to save money by eating at home more frequently. Quite a statement coming from a girl who two months ago had never touched raw chicken!

    Click here for the Apricot Chicken Recipe.

    Recipe: Apricot Barbecue Chicken

    The baked chicken dish Dana taught me was so good that I made it again a few weeks later for a dinner party. It's tangy yet sweet, with a little crunch from the onion soup mix -- it could also be prepared with mixed vegetables. I like it over brown rice with a side salad and think it's a modern take on a down-home meal.

    Dana gave the recipe from memory and I made it on the spot, so proportions were eyeballed and approximate. Taste the sauce as you go! With these easy ingredients, you really can't go wrong.

    Apricot Barbecue Chicken

    Ingredients (Recipe is approximate and to taste):
    -Count on about 1 chicken breast per person (or use whatever pieces you prefer). Double or triple the chicken if you want to make multiple meals to freeze.

    -1 medium to large jar apricot jam or spread, preferably low-sugar.

    -1 medium jar barbecue sauce

    -1-2 packs Lipton's Onion Soup Mix

    -1/3 small onion

    *Note: A "glug" is along the lines of the 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi counting technique, which is both a useful tool for approximate recipes and some ironic cooking humor since I live very close to the actual Mississippi.

    Pre-heat oven to 375.

    Trim and slice chicken -- I cut breasts into about four pieces each.

    Using a large plastic freezer bag, combine barbecue sauce, jam, and one packet soup mix. For 4-6 chicken breasts (or as many will fit in the plastic bag), use about 4 *glugs sauce, 4 non-leveled tablespoons of jam, and 1 packet of soup mix. Mix well, then add chicken and massage bag until chicken is well coated.

    The proportions on this really are to taste, and depend on how much sauce you want, how sweet you want it, and the flavors in the barbecue sauce. Both times, I've used more jam than I would have expected. The second time, I made less sauce.

    Pour bag contents into appropriate sized Pyrex or baking dish(es). Top with sliced onion.

    You can also mix the ingredients in a bowl or the Pyrex itself before adding the chicken; just make sure the chicken is coated well.

    Bake for around 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked.