In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Post 113 ~ The Optically-Optimal Omelet

Today I completed a goal I've been trying to reach for two decades. And I only set one (very small) kitchen fire.

It's been twenty years since I took Life & Careers class at the Orchard Park Middle School. That's the class that used to be called Home Ec, but has gone through many iterations, and when my child takes it someday, it will probably be called something else. But two pinnacle learning moments stand out in my mind from that class:

Here is my 6th or 7th grade
school photo, complete with
popular 90s "wispy" bangs
and braces. You're welcome.
1.) Using a fork to make the little criss-cross pattern on the tops of peanut butter cookies is one of life's singularly pleasing experiences.

2.) I cannot make an omelet to save my life.

I tried. I really did. Despite Mrs. Huen's careful guidance, I just could never get the spatula to gracefully glide along the pan and turn that golden full moon into a half moon of egg like the other kids could. I resolved myself to making other egg dishes - mostly scrambled, poached, or my other specialty: Eggs Over Violent (nothing is ever "easy" with eggs for me).

But today, for some reason, I decided I needed to make an omelet. Here's what I used:

  • 2 eggs scrambled with a splash of milk
  • One shredded brussel sprout
  • Half a tomato
  • Several thin onion slices
  • Butter
  • Garlic salt
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Chives
In my smaller stick-free pan, I melted some butter and sauteed the veggies. When they were cooked, I slid them onto a plate, and into the pan went the scrambled egg.

Here's where things started out really, really good.

The egg gently cooked in the pan, and I rotated the pan around to get the liquid egg nicely spread around the edges. Mrs. Huen would be proud. When the liquid bit was concentrated just in the very center, I put my ingredients onto one half and topped it with shredded cheddar. Mmmmm... Melty cheese...

Wait! Focus! 

: : PAUSE : : 

In my defense, the spatula I've gotten in this semester's apartment is awful. It's curved up on the sides, and the other option is a small, blunt wooden spatula. I tried using both at once today.

: : UNPAUSE : :

I slid the wooden spatula around the edge, and it immediately started to shred. I pushed it and prodded it and instead of all of it flipping at once, just the outer edge flipped - kind of a 1/3 flip instead of a one half. Of course, the flipped edge immediately adhered to the melty cheese.

Don't panic. I grabbed the other spatula and slid it under and took the stubborn outer edge with my fingers to try to coax it over the rest of the way, burning my fingers in the process.

Then, I tilted the pan, hoping gravity would aid me. It did!

But about two inches of outer edge broke off of the omelet and flipped right on top of the electric burner.

Soooo much smoke. 

I scooped it off the burner with the spatula and let it smolder away while I tried rescuing the omelet. Because now, it was flipped beautifully, but there was a burst-open tear right across the top. 

So I flipped the entire thing over. The underside is a hot mess. Quite literally. But the top is beautiful, as you can see in the picture above. It was truly photo-worthy, especially after I slid it expertly (ha!) onto a plate and topped it with shredded mozzarella and chives.

The Accidental Chef today.
Well, a year and a half
ago. But close enough.
And it tasted DIVINE. 

And so, my little Life & Careers readers, we have two lessons to take away from this post today:

1.) Looks don't always matter - it's what's inside (melty cheese! sauteed veggies!) that's important and

2.) Don't believe every perfect photo you see in a cooking blog! And don't underestimate the hard work and struggle that might have gone into it.

But in the end, it was totally worth it. I've gained practice, and I think with the right utensils, I might actually master the omelet someday. In the mean time, I devoured this one with a hot cup of coffee, and am now ready to continue grading!

Yours in the love of good food, lessons and experience,
AL


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Post 112 ~ More meal prep - Helped along by my new favorite kitchen gadget

Remember in Post 110 when I finally worked up the courage to try my convection oven? MAN I wish I had gotten braver sooner. The convection oven is fast, convenient, and makes prepping my week's meals SO easy.


Here's what's on the menu for this week:

  • Monday is my day off, so I made a pizza. Another post will be coming soon about that!
  • Tuesday: Savory orange glaze pork chop with green beans and roasted pepper
  • Wednesday: Leftover roasted chicken (another post soon on that) with potato and brussels sprouts
  • Thursday: Greek marinade pork with Brussels sprouts (can you tell I splurged on an order of them?) and some roasted pepper
  • Friday: Tangy chicken breast with - wait for it... well, you already know.
Here's what you'll need:
~ Brussels sprouts - about 10-15, shredded
~ Green beans
~ 1 Orange pepper that has to be eaten soon Or Else
~ Leftover roast chicken and potato (I'm totally cheating a little on this post)
~ 2 pork chops

Seasonings:
~ 5 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 single serve packs dressing: Greek and French
~ 1 tsp brown sugar
~ about 1/4 cup orange juice
~ Chives
~ Garlic salt
~ EVOO
~ Butter

All these meals really take is just a little forethought. Earlier today I got two pork chops and a chicken breast out to thaw. Once they thawed, I put them each in a ziplock bag. Onto one pork chop went a single-serve packet of Wegman's Greek dressing (yes, I bring half of Wegman's grocery store with me when I travel to Singapore). Onto the other pork chop I shook some Worcestershire sauce and orange juice (I'm a big fan of impromptu marinades). Onto the chicken breast went Wegman's French dressing and about a teaspoon of brown sugar. Into another bag went the sliced pepper with some EVOO and garlic salt. I let them marinate for a few hours. 

Before I prepared to cook them, I sliced and steamed the brussels sprouts and beans, and prepared them in the containers. Then it was time for the fun part. This time, I had decided to go all out with the convection oven. I set everything onto the rack like this:



Then I topped the Worchestershire pork chop with some chives, and put the whole thing in the convection oven, set it on "steak" for "0.8 kg" because I don't speak metric and have no idea what I'm doing, and turned it on.

About halfway through, it instructed me to flip everything, and at this point, it was looking like I was going to have to add more time, but surprisingly, when the timer went off, everything was cooked - I poked a knife into each piece of meat and juices ran clear. I was happy that the peppers even had a little browning to the edges that nicely roasted veggies can get!

Into containers they went, I made myself a pizza for dinner, and cleaned up the kitchen (really, I only had a cutting board, some utensils and the rack and pan to clean - that's it!) and settled in for the evening knowing that when I come back from my long, late days, dinner will be waiting for me! With a glass of wine, of course.

Ooh! That reminds me! I've discovered a really nice wine, and it seems to go on sale quite frequently! Grant Burge Shiraz, from South Australia is my new favorite! It is big on flavor and not "harsh" like a lot of the *ahem* less expensive *ahem* wines that I've been finding. The best part is that this one is frequently on special, so I bought another bottle as well as a cabernet sauvignon to try. Life is looking up for the Accidental Chef!

Yours in the love of good (convenient) food and good (and reasonably priced) wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Post 111 ~ Prepping ahead for a busy week

If you've been with me, loyal readers, these past six years, then you know that sitting down at the end of a day to a home-cooked meal and a glass of wine is one of my greatest joys. And although my schedule has gotten busier, it's still an aspect of my life that I've worked to maintain.

Don't get me wrong - some nights, there's nothing quite like take-out in your pajamas. Or a Lean Cuisine when you're in a rush.

But for the most part, I really enjoy eating something that I've prepared. But how to keep that habit going when you know you're facing a non-stop week?

Watching my mom prepare dinners for my grandmother and for my dad to take to work has shown me that sometimes, it takes just a little more time to prep a couple meals at one time. So I've started doing just that.

On Mondays, I don't have classes, so in-between other tasks like class prep, laundry and errands, I spent a little time in the kitchen to prep lunches and dinners for the week - all in all, I'd say about 45 minutes in the afternoon and 30 minutes in the evening. Here's what I did, and here's what you'll need:

Veggies:
~ 1 small bag radishes
~ 1 large zucchini
~ 1 large carrot
~ 2 peppers (red and yellow)
~ 1 small onion
~ 3 cloves garlic
~ 3 tomatoes
~ brussels sprouts (for later)

Meat:
~ 2 pork chops
~ 2 small chicken breasts (or one large one, halved)

Seasoning:
~ Italian herbs (ratatouille)
~ Garlic salt (1 chop)
~ Rosemary (1 chop)
~ Coarse dijon mustard (1 chop)
~ Italian bread crumbs and parm (chicken)

And EVOO and butter and salt, of course.

First, I chopped up a bunch of veggies. Some went into a pot with onion and garlic for ratatouille, and others went into baggies with a little water to keep them crisp to take to work with hummus or dressing and a piece of fruit and a granola bar. I made short order of that job with a big chef's knife and a cutting board.



Once the ratatouille was sitting and resting and the veggies were stored in the crisper, I got the large chicken breast and two pork chops out of the freezer to thaw, then I busied myself with the rest of my day.

That evening, I heated some EVOO in a pan, and placed the pork chops in to start browning. One one chop, I placed a sprig of rosemary and garlic salt, and on the other, a teaspoon of coarse dijon mustard. While they were cooking, I shredded the brussels sprouts (which I suppose I could have done earlier that day when I was prepping veggies) and steamed them right in a storage container, draining the water out and adding a bit of butter.

When the pork chops were finished, I transferred them to containers. I cut the chicken breast in half, and breaded it with Italian bread crumbs mixed with parmesan (my old standby) and set them to sizzle in the same pan I had just cooked the pork in (I didn't feel the need to rinse it - it just added extra flavor!).

While the chicken was cooking, I placed the rosemary chop in the container with a hearty serving of ratatouille, and the dijon chop in the container with the brussels sprouts. I could have easily subbed another veggie for a serving of ratatouille, but I was really craving this dish and decided to have it a few times this week.

Once the chicken was done, I placed one half on a plate with our favorite Proven├žal concoction and the other in a container with another good scoop. The remaining ratatouille went into a ziplock bag and was laid flat in the freezer for fast thawing later this semester when I need a quick side.



One meal went on a plate, three meals went in containers. I stacked them in my fridge, and after late classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I had ready-made dinners that could be microwaved and ready to enjoy in two minutes flat.

With, of course, a nice glass of wine.

Yours in the love of good food, good wine, and good, fast convenience,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Post 110 ~ Finland-inspired fish and potatoes (Alternatively: I used my convection oven and the world didn't end)

So, that's a rather long title.

Just like it's been a rather long time since I've posted. My apologies. Life has this nasty habit of just HAPPENING the moment you turn your back.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Two stories go into the introduction of this evening's dinner:

1.) My parents and I, during the summer break, took a lovely trip to the Baltic. We took an RCI cruise from Denmark to Stockholm, Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Helsinki and had many grand adventures along the way. We were surprised at the fact that the majority of the ports we visited were quite "citified" and so, the food offerings were largely restaurants that seemed to either be chains or restaurants reflecting a different culture than the one we were in (pizza and spaghetti in Denmark?). As it is the nature of a cruise that one visits the ports that are accessible by sea, I am sure that things are different when one ventures further inland, and indeed, our hopes are to return to Scandinavia to journey further into the heartland. But our most authentic "food moment" by far was in Helsinki, where we ventured to a local market, a magical produce/hot food fair, where we were lucky enough to eat our way through the town's culinary joys. We enjoyed salmon, potatoes, vegetables, chowder, even crepes. And the herb that was prevalent throughout in heaping spoonfuls (well, not on the crepes) was DILL. So that's story #1.

2.) I live in fear of my apartment's convection oven. It's a microwave... and an oven. God didn't intend microwaves to get that hot. I used it once, in a past apartment, to make a pumpkin pie, but it found me plastered against the opposite wall the entire time, convinced the apartment was going to explode. If you follow my blog, you know I love to roast, broil steam and bake my food. But alas, I have been using a cooktop for the last three years. No more! I resolved that I would, this semester, the start of Year 4 in Singapore, use my convection oven. And so I did.

Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ A fillet of tilapia (I use frozen, because that's what I can get)
~ Lemon
~ Dill (I brought over some freeze-dried herbs that I got at Walmart and LOVE them)
~ Coarse-ground salt
~ EVOO
~ White potatoes
~ Snap peas
~ Rosemary
~ Corningware
~ A convection oven and a sense of adventure

I put a fillet of tilapia in a good ole New York Corningware dish (imagine my delight when my new apartment came furnished with cookware from my home state!), and, nostalgic for my summer voyage with my family, added a hefty spoonful of dill. I topped the tilapia with two slices of lemon, some onion, some salt, and some more dill. Then I halved some potatoes (will dice the next time; they did not cook evenly) and added some snap peas. I drizzled EVOO over them, added the remains of some not-so-fresh rosemary I had wilting away in my crisper, and put the whole thing in the Evil Machine.

And I hit "grill." And selected "fish" (the primary ingredient, no?) and stabbed in "0.4 kg" because, well, it seemed a reasonable metric equivalent of a corningware dish with fish, potatoes, peas and seasonings.

And I hit "START."

I couldn't take it. 17 minutes. I went to my laptop and busied myself with tomorrow's class prep so as not to think too hard about what might be happening in the other room.

10 minutes in, and I poked my head around the corner. My kitchen was not, in fact, engulfed in flames. It carried on.

And then it beeped.

In the bottom of my corningware dish was ...

...A beautiful dinner. I put it in for 5 more minutes (then heated the potatoes some more later) and served it with a normally-harsh glass of Singapore-bargain chardonney, but found that the dill and lemon softened the wine, coaxing out its oaky, fruity undertones.

The aroma and flavor of the dill brought back fond memories of my time with my family in the Land of the Vikings just a few short weeks ago, and all was well in my world.

I have, it would seem, conquered my demons. And opened up a great new world of cooking for myself!

Yours in the love of good food, fair wine, and the adventure of life abroad,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.