Nigella’s Praised Chicken recipe

Wow.

I haven’t written about a recipe in forever. To put it mildly, I’m in a cooking rut and have been having the toughest time getting the motivation to make dinners lately. It sucks, I’m not happy about it. We’ve been resorting to soup and sandwiches for weeks, again, and I’m starting to get angsty.

Whatever.

Anyhow, just to back-story this recipe a bit: This year we got 10 chickens from Country Thyme Farm. These are not your grocery store specimens, lemme just say. Not by a long shot.

These guys are Heritage Breed chickens and they are far and away nothing at all like the stuff you would be familiar with in size, flavour and method of cooking. At least, I’m not. A long time ago, when I was in junior high/high school, we were taught about how chickens were classified for sale in Canada. They’re graded for sale dependant upon size, age, best cooking methods, etc… Nowadays, when you go to the store, you really only have one type of chicken to choose from.

Here in Calgary, the more common options that I have seen for chickens are: standard conventional commercial chickens (President’s Choice, Lilydale, un-named store chicken, etc), Hutterite chickens (I’ve only really seen at Co-Op), “Organic” labelled Chicken (President’s Choice, Costco, etc).

If you’re of the lucky few whose grocery store happens to be a little more ‘worldly’, and you’re lucky, you might be able to find other interesting prospects in the freezer section like: quail (rarely in a conventional grocery store), cornish hens, ducks and geese.

A few years ago we started to buy our meat directly from farms in whole, half or quarter-sized animals, whole ducks, geese and of course now recently, chickens.

For us, these purchases have always been great experiences and experiments, and really worth it in terms of taste and quality of meat. It’s a completely different beast when the meat you’re eating has been raised on a farm which aims to give the animal its best life possible with the healthiest diet available.

As for chickens, these are definitely more flavourful. The meat is admittedly a lot tougher than a standard grocery store bird because these guys have been living their lives outdoors running around eating bugs, enjoying the sunshine, grass and ability to roam around to their heart’s content, plus these birds are mature birds. These birds aren’t very large, but they are fully grown! I don’t think many people are aware, but nowadays, grocery store birds are not fully matured at slaughter, nor is their size normal for a bird that is confined to a limited amount of space and its only purpose in life is to become “a piece of white breast chicken meat on your plate”.

Anyhow, we were given the heads-up that these birds are not quite your normal roasting birds when we picked up the first half of our delivery, back in September. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to that key piece of information. For the first couple of birds, we just roasted them as normal or if I was feeling particularly impatient, I’d spatchcock the bird first then roast it in half the time of a normal roast chicken.

Needless to say: Bad idea. Well, not entirely true. It still tasted amazing, but it definitely not a tender bird; you knew these guys ran around all over the place when given the opportunity just by how tough and stringy the meat was. I say tough & stringy, which in my mind sounds like an awfully negative descriptor, but strangely, it’s not. It is what it is, but not in the way that you’d think of being a poorly raised bird that’s on its last legs, as it were. It’s just a really lean meat bird.

Fast forward to Sunday: The weather has officially begun turning to winter, the snow has begun to fall, the clocks were turned back an hour, and dinner was begging to be something warm and comforting — Nigella’s Praised Chicken.

I’ve always been curious about how this chicken recipe would taste and it turns out that this is probably one of the best recipes for this kind of chicken, especially in its whole bird state. It seems not a lot of people cook using a whole bird in its un-butchered state, nowadays, except in the case of a roast chicken. Most people opt for chicken pieces and leave it at that. Such a shame.

Anyhow, the recipe is ridiculously easy. All you need is a large pot, some carrots, celery, onions, a bit of your favourite herbs (I used sprigs of tarragon & a couple bay leaves), a whole chicken that’s been squished a little flat, and in my case: some thick cut bacon, a spoonful of chicken ‘better than bouillon’ base for the liquid, a few generous sploshes of white wine vinegar for the acid/wine component when deglazing the pan, plus a drizzle of tuscan-infused olive oil for extra flavour.

To serve, I would absolutely do as the recipe suggests and have it with rice. I’m not a fan of dill, so I didn’t use it in the recipe during cooking or serving. Although, please do make sure to have some good strong mustard on the side. The dijon mustard was a huge eye-opening revelation for me with this chicken.

We have a whole bunch of different kinds of mustards in our fridge, mainly because TheHubbs quite likes having options at hand (and to a lesser degree, so do I) but up until this point, I had never really put much thought into how much a mustard can impact the flavour of something depending on what kind of mustard you used. I am officially a fan of mustard options ^_^

Nigella’s Praised Chicken – My Way

1 large chicken

Garlic & Tuscan Herb-infused olive oils

4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into generous pieces

White wine vinegar

2-3 onions

2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

1-2 stalks celery, sliced

Chicken bouillon

2L water

bay leaves, summer savory, thyme

salt & pepper, to taste

Lots of Dijon mustard (or your favourite) & rice for serving

On a chopping board put your chicken breast-side down and press down until you hear the breastbone crack. I used the lid to my super huge, oval, heavy, enamelled cast iron pot to bash the chicken until it flattened as best as possible. 
Heat the large cast iron pot over medium heat. Cook the bacon until some of the fat renders, it doesn’t need to be cooked through or crisp. Remove the bacon pieces to a bowl and add the chicken, breast side down, to brown for a few minutes. Press & squish the chicken down so that the meat makes good contact to the pot to brown nicely, then raise the heat and turn the chicken over to brown the bottom as well. Remove the chicken back to your chopping board for a bit. 

Add the bacon back to pot to render down some more fat, adding some olive oil if needed to help sauté the carrots, onions & celery until nicely caramelized. Once the veggies are cooked, deglaze the pot with white wine vinegar and let it bubble down a little before adding the chicken back to the pot, nestling it in among the veggies.

Cover the chicken with water, it’s fine if the very top of the chicken pokes out. Add the bouillon, herbs of choice, and season with salt & pepper.

The chicken should be almost completely submerged by now and if not, do add some more water. You want it pretty much covered by this point!
Bring everything to a bubble, clamp on the lid, turn the heat to low, and let it cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. 
Serve the chicken and accompanying vegetables with lots of rice, adding a ladleful or 2 of liquid over each bowl, as you go, and putting mustard on the table for the eaters to add as they wish.

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Jambalaya!

Mmmmm… so tasty!

I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever eaten jambalaya before — either at a friend’s house or at a restaurant or wherever, and as far as I can remember I’m pretty sure that I’ve never had it. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never had it… or if I have it was a poor representation of the dish and I’ve subsequently erased the whole episode from my mind, which is a possibility.

Last Saturday we were invited to an old coworker’s of The Hubbs’ for dindin and unfortunately, as wonderful a cook as his wife is, she had a bit of a disaster happen with her attempt at jambalaya and as a result I’ve been rather craving something that is a little bit better. I have to laugh because the way she was telling it, the whole dish just became a comedy of errors from the get-go: when she decided to make the jambalaya, it turned out she didn’t have a lot of the ingredients. Then she accidentally burnt the rice. In an attempt to salvage what rice there was unscathed by the burning, she decided that the addition of tomato sauce & cayenne pepper might work. It basically ended up being a mildly spicy tomato rice dish. It was okay, but it wasn’t jambalaya and it was a little too sweet for me.

So after that whole fiasco, my tastebuds were in great need of a more recognizeable interpretation of jambalaya — I have to laugh at myself, because once again, my tastebuds have decided to crave something in which I’ve never eaten before and so I didn’t know quite what to expect when we finally got to eating supper tonight.

Sunday night I had taken out some chicken thighs to defrost with the intention of making jambalaya later in the week. I knew that at some point I would have to do some grocery shopping for the remaining ingredients which I didn’t have and all I vaguely knew was that I would need some sausages and maybe some shrimp. Beyond that I figured I probably had everything else on hand — well, I was mostly correct. The only thing I was missing was the bell pepper and lucky enough for me, Mom had some red ones and gave me one this afternoon.

I am pretty sure that the jambalaya I made isn’t authentic — what is an authentic recipe, anyhow? Is there such a thing anymore? Mom does weird stuff like cutting ingredients out or adding stuff that totally clashes with the dish on the grounds that it’s supposed to make a recipe “healthier” and then it doesn’t even resemble the original anymore, that just irks me to death. I dunno, maybe I’m just being nit-picky, fussy and closed-minded. *RAWR!*

Anyhow, back to my jambalaya…

Jambalaya

I’m pretty sure I don’t actually own a cookbook with a recipe for jambalaya, but I do own Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything for my iPad! As much as I love downloading cooking apps, I have a hard time cooking with my iPad — it’s just too dangerous! I get stuff everywhere when I cook & bake! I am pretty sure that iPads don’t like getting sticky, messy and spilled upon, so I tend to only read(?) the apps from start to finish, playing all the videos and making sure to bookmark/star all the recipes that interest me for future reference when I’m feeling more brave about taking my iPad into the kitchen. I admit, lately I’ve been using it more often in the kitchen, but I’m terrified of getting stuff all over it still. It does make cooking so much easier when you have the recipe right in front of you, but sticky/dirty fingers do not mix with touchpads and that is something I’m going to have to rectify soon. I’ve read that you can put your iPad into a big ziplock freezer bag and you can still use the touchscreen without any problems, so that is probably something I ought to try before I really get junk all over the screen or spill something on it.

According to Mark Bittman’s recipe, making a version of jambalaya using only chicken & sausage and omitting the tomatoes, changes the name slightly and is referred to as a “brown jambalaya”. I happen to like the taste of rice & tomatoes, so I decided to keep the tomato component in my version by using a can of tomato sauce, which reduced the amount liquid, in this case chicken broth, required to cook the rice.

I have to say, for my first attempt at jambalaya, I’m really, really impressed. It was so incredibly tasty and pretty easy to make, too! I didn’t think that jambalaya would be complicated to make, but I didn’t think it would be as easy as just continuously adding more ingredients to the pot as the last one finished cooking and then finishing it off by just letting everything come together as you stirred it all around so stuff wouldn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. Me likies jambalaya! The Hubbs really enjoyed it too, which pretty much made the recipe a winner and absolutely worth keeping as it was written.

As a side note: The Hubbs did mention that jambalaya tends to be quite hot & spicy, so I guess I did make it a lot less spicier than it could have been, but the recipe only called for a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. It was just pleasantly piquante, for my tastebuds and I was perfectly content with that but if you like your food spicier, by all means have at it and add as much as you need to please your tastebuds! Oh and I didn’t have andouille sausages. I have no idea where to buy those actually, so I just used a plain pork sausage instead. I enjoyed the resulting flavours from having such a mild sausage in the dish, a lot of people might actually be highly offended that I omittied a pretty crucial ingredient from the recipe, but sometimes you have to make do with what you’ve got.

Jambalaya
olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, diced
4 cups chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tsp dried thyme
1 can (398ml) tomato sauce
2 cups long-grain rice
4 chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
2 pork sausages, cut into bite sized pieces
2 handfuls shrimp, shelled, deveined & defrosted (optional)
minced fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish
salt & pepper, to taste

Heat enough olive oil over medium high heat to coat the bottom of a large cast iron dutch oven.
Add the onions, garlic and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper and cook until the onion softens and just begins to brown.
Push the veggies aside, add the sausage pieces and cook until the fat renders out and pieces start to brown nicely.
Add the chicken, cooking until the pieces are no longer raw looking on the outside, then season with cayenne and thyme, stirring well to combine.
Stir in rice, making sure stuff isn’t sticking to the bottom, and let everything cook for a few minutes just to absorb all the yummy meaty juices.
Pour in tomato sauce and chicken stock, bring everything to the boil, stirring constantly.
Turn heat down to medium and cook uncovered, stirring occassionally so bottom doesn’t stick, until rice is tender and liquid’s absorbed — about 20-30 minutes.
When rice is cooked, if using shrimp, stir them into the rice, let cook 2-3 minutes until then turn off the heat, cover and let rest for 10-20 minutes.
Top with your choice of garnish and serve.

Strange….

Okay, so I’m feeling not so hot today — but that seems to be the case most days, especially on the weekend. So really, this is nothing new. Pain is bugging me beyond belief and I don’t know what to do about it other than just take The Moose, hole myself up in bed with the cats and my iPad until they kick in, and then decide whether I am capable of doing anything remotely productive for the rest of the day.

Around 11am, The Hubbs convinced me to get up and get some breakfast. That was a few hours ago. It took me that long just to decide what to eat and then to make it. So I made a small pot of joak again this morning, it seems to be a weekend thing for me nowadays when I’m feeling so wretched and I can’t think. Yanno, thinking about it, I should just make it a Friday night habit to just make a crockpot of joak so it’s ready for whenever I get up because it would certainly make things a lot easier and faster to get food into me as opposed to taking hours humming and hawing about everything.

Anyhow, I made a small potful and I’m finding it’s really kinda tough to get the proportion of rice to water correct when making such small quantities. I always end up having to stand at the stove for at least a half hour watching so my pot doesn’t overflow and then add more water because the water’s evaporating faster than the rice can cook to my desired consistency.

So today, I dunno what posessed me to do so, but along with my usual 2 dried scallops, a couple of leftover roast chicken wings from the freezer and a smidge of salt (I remembered the salt!!), I added two heaping tablespoon-fuls of ground flax seed o_O; I’ve been rather uncomfortable again as of late and figured that the flax seed might help. I was just unsure as to what it would do to the taste and consistency of my joak.

I have to say, the flax isn’t a bad addition. It smelled kinda meh while cooking, it had this slightly weird wheaty-smell to it and produced a gooey film on the surface, but that could have also been from the starch coming off the rice since I’m using short-grained rice nowadays instead of long-grained rice. The flax flavour is almost non-existant from what I can tell, which I am glad for. Trying a bowl of joak with just a little bit of green onions and a smidgen of fish sauce (instead of my usual “let’s add everything!” concoctions), the flax has made the texture lighter and kind of slimey yet watery. The watery-slimy consistency is a bit odd because normally I make my joak nice and thick, kind of like a french Canadian pea soup, if that makes sense and the flax seems to make the joak get cold a lot faster while eating.

If you were just eating this like normal,and not scrutinizing the bowl for taste and texture, you probably wouldn’t notice the flax seed at all. To be honest, the only way you can tell there was flax in it, is by appearance — my rice porridge is no longer a pristine rice-white. It’s now speckled with little brown bits. Looking at it, it kind of reminds me of… a dirty, fuzzy, white sheep. That is probably the strangest mental picture anyone could conjure up to associate with a bowl of rice porridge, but it seems to be rather comforting in its own right to me.

…So yea, I think I may use the flax in my joak from now on…

As a completely unrelated side note: I have been slightly productive today while I was waiting for my joak to finish cooking. I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and then I made The Hubbs another batch of cereal bars.

These bars seem like they’re going to be quite a bit different than the last one because of the cereals I used. Obviously the cereal bars are never going to be exactly the same everytime I make them, but this time around I used: the remaining dregs I had in my big glass jar with granola and “healthy” cereals, Kellogg’s cornflakes, Honey Bunches of Oats, Nature’s Path Flax Plus Red Berry Crunch, and chocolate Weetabix minis. It’s the weetabix that is going to be the interesting factor for these bars. They’re just going to be these big chunks of something that don’t break up.

For the add-ins I used: 1/4 cup ground flax, 1 cup of chocolate chips and 2 cups of trail mix I bought last week for the sole purpose of making cereal bars that had cashews, raisins, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and almonds. The binding ingredients are haven’t changed since last time, but using only 1 cup of chocolate chips this time makes it so that the bars aren’t as overwhelmingly candy-like as last time, thank goodness. Hopefully The Hubbs still likes them and to be honest, I kind of wish I could eat them myself.

Wheee… leftovers.

I’ve just made approximately a 5 quart pot of Japanese curry to go with the leftover coconut rice & peas from last week.

Why? Because I just toss stuff into the pan willy-nilly and things just end up this way. I still don’t know how to cook, it would seem and I fail at cooking for only two people at a time.

*sigh*

We’re gonna be eating curry for a loooooong time, here, at Casa del Moose-O.

Japanese Curry

2 potatoes, chopped
1/3 of small bag of baby carrots, kinda chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 zucchini, chopped
leftover braised, boneless beef shortribs
leftover braising juices from shortribs
1 package Japanese curry roux

Pretty basic stuff — at its most basic, I just toss everything into the pot and cover with water and cook until veggies are soft.. For a little more detail: sweat the onions and garlic for a bit until soft, add the potatoes and carrots until… I dunno, until I felt like adding the leftover beef with the beef juices and then top with water. Simmer until the veggies are soft (mainly the potatoes & carrots), then add the curry blocks and let it simmer some more until you’re ready to eat. Serve with lots of rice.


Japanese curry with beef

Reggae Reggae Chicken with Coconut Rice & Peas

Pretty easy dindin to make since the majority of it is just marinating the chicken in the Reggae Reggae sauce then tossing it into the oven to cook until the chicken is done.

The rice I’ve totally winged from a few recipes I read last night from Nigella’s Kitchen book plus epicurious, bigoven and allrecipes.com while trying my darnedest to get to sleep. What I’ve gathered from most of the recipes is that it needs some beans, some coconut milk and then some stuff like onions, garlic, salt and thyme, which is exactly what I’ve mixed into my rice cooker.

There are no measurements, as usual, but it smelled pretty good. I’ve made 2 cups of rice using my leftover “almost-refried bean-lentils” that were stashed in the freezer and thawed along with whatever juices drained out, a generous sprinkling of dehydrated onion flakes, some granulated garlic, a carton of coconut milk, a generous pinch of dried thyme and a pinch of kosher salt (since I have no idea how salty things will taste with the already seasoned lentils).

I am really hoping that the rice tastes good, because if it does, it means that the leftovers will be really yummy to eat for the rest of the week ;) The chicken is already smelling really good — for some reason I never imagined jerk chicken marinade to be sweet. Oh damn… now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if I needed to put a pinch of sugar into the rice as well…? Oh well!

Wish me luck, it’s the first time I’ve ever had jerk-anything and reading the ingredients on the bottle, there are SCOTCH BONNET PEPPERS in it. Eep!

Tasty things to do with Rice Ball Swans.

Yea.. okay, that sounds really weird, but lemme explain — Mom’s been making me rice balls for the last week or so, in 3lb batches and traditionally when she makes these, usually for Chinese New Year, she always makes a whole bunch of neato shapes: balls, swans, a “nest” for said birds and with the rest of the dough, just makes a big long snake for the bottom of the steamer basket to cut into chunks and eat how you please.

The first batch she made last week, I just took home the balls to eat and she kept the swans and most of the snake. Sunday, when she & Dad were headed out to Older Bro’s for dindin, they dropped off all sorts of stuff she had been busy making: some homemade dumplings that are similar to ha gao only they had turnip and pork inside, a big pie plate of lo bok go (it’s gonna be so tasty once I fry up the slices in a little oil til crispy.. so yummy!) and a full 3 lb batch of rice balls. Swans and all.

So tonight is my first crack at this batch of rice balls and I decided to sacrifice the swans. For some reason this week’s rice balls seem to be tastier than last week’s batch and I am unsure as to why. Regardless, I took the two swans out of the bag, hacked them into round slices and topped the pieces with lots of cheese, some hot sauce and the last of the bison meatballs that I smashed into bitty pieces. After nuking til hot and cheese meltied, I doused the whole thing in what remained of my birthday bottle of Three Banditos Salsa Olivos from Biggieness.

I have to say, it’s pretty damn tasty. Like nachos, only better because they’re not hard and crunchy which would ordinarily make my mouth hurt. And a lot more filling and comfort-foody. The rice balls are nice and warm and soft, but not chewy like mochi is. These are just like… well.. a densely-textured rice cake. I call them rice balls only because that’s the form they take, but really, we’re essentially talking about a rice dough that’s steamed until it’s a solid mass and cut into chunks to be eaten.

My typical way of eating rice balls is that I just chop the balls into rounds, nuke til hot and then douse in soy sauce & sesame oil… and if I happen to have some vietnamese fish cake/sausage on hand, oh happy day! Pretty simple, and again, comfort food.

My third way I’ve come to making them is I just cut them into rounds and then pan-fry in a little oil before dousing the lot in soy sauce and sesame oil. Not really much different than the nuking, but it just gives it a nice crispy fried texture on the outside. And really, who doesn’t like fried noodles?

So having to deal with this whole no-wheat thing, as much as I’ve been griping about the lack of bread and crackers in my diet the last couple of weeks, I’m really not suffering as badly as I have in the past. I think everytime I have to revisit this “no wheat/carbs/starch” thing, it gets easier only because I know and am remembering what I can eat that will keep me feeling full and relatively satisfied. And if I’m lucky, I will soon have my hands on a soda cracker recipe which will save me having to fork over seven bucks for a tiny little wee box of crackers at the organic store everytime I need a hit.

A bread recipe too, in time, will come when I’m ready to start experimenting with wheat-free baking. Right now, the cravings for bread aren’t nearly as bad as they were when I first started eliminating it a few years back. Yes, I still crave a sandwich or a slice of toast with butter, but I don’t feel as desperate for it since I’ve found that Glutino makes a decent-ish bread approximation (compared to Kinnikinnik, at least. Their breads, the first brand I tried way back when, are rather icky) and I have a loaf now stashed in the freezer, divided into sliced pairs, so I am set for the next while. When the need for “real” bread overtakes me, I know where I can easily buy my supplies and I know a rather *cough* hawt, gay *cough* boy who is willing to share his knowledge with me.

So for now, I shall eat the rather shameful excuses for crackers that I bought yesterday out of desperation and know that soon, I will have homemade crackers and bread that won’t each cost me the price of half a tank of gas for my little car… cuz that’s basically how much it costs just to have something proper to eat with cheese.

Chinese Rice Porridge

Last night at the ungodly hour of 100am, I made joak.

In the crockpot. I just had a bowl for breakky and it was awesome.

When my parents first bought a crockpot, we tried making joak in the crockpot as our first recipe to try and it failed rather miserably. We didn’t know that it took a LONG time to cook stuff in there. Like ~really~ long time. Anyhow, the results of that first batch were extremely disappointing and we never touched the thing again until I started cooking for myself and experimenting.

I rarely make joak on weekends, unlike my parents who make a huge vatful every Saturday, because you can’t just make a small pot of the stuff. The amount of water required for even ½ a cup of rice is rather staggering. The Hubbs doesn’t like joak and I can’t usually finish a batch on my own. Not only that, but making it tends to take at least a couple of hours until it gets to the proper consistency, so it’s not a quick breakfast option when I’m really desperate for something that won’t upset my tum and is hot and filling.

I tried the crockpot thing again last night and left it to do its thing in its own sweet time. I am so happy to discover that it worked ^_^ I like having joak on the weekend. Growing up, you knew it was the weekend because Mom had a big monster pot of joak on the stove burbling away first thing on Saturday morning. Nowadays, even though Mom makes the exact same quantity, that same big monster pot will usually last through the weekend, which is nice because all you have to do when you’re hungry is scoop out a bowl, nuke it til it’s hot and you have instant sustenance.

The crockpot joak I made was kind of bland, but that’s because I didn’t add any flavourings to the pot other than a few dried scallops and the tiniest smidge of clam base. Normally when I make a pot of joak, I use a leftover frozen roast chicken carcass and toss in some dried scallops for extra added flavour. Whenever I roast a chicken, I’m usually pretty lazy about carving off the meat because I want to have enough meat on the bones for later on — I’ll take off the breasts, the legs, thighs, the mini drums and that’s about it. The rest of the meat on the carcass, along with the wings, I’ll toss into a big ziplock bag and throw the whole thing into the freezer specifically for joak. Come time to make the joak, all the remaining meat from the carcass falls off the bones and it makes for a really yummy bowl. The flavours were originally a little weird for my parents because of the stuff I season my roast chickens with, aren’t exactly Chinese flavours — garlic, rosemary, lemon pepper, etc. But to be honest, I don’t think you can actually make a terrible pot of joak. When Mom makes joak, she usually uses a handful of dried scallops and then tosses in a big hunk of pork to the pot and salts generously. For some reason I ALWAYS forget to add salt to my pot of joak, which kind of explains why I pour in so much fish sauce into my bowl. (That and I really just like the taste of fish sauce… Mom thinks it’s an addiction.)

When I woke up this morning, I went to check on its progress and found it to be the most perfect consistency! I’m so thrilled. Not only do I have a REAL breakfast ready for me to last the whole weekend + snacks, but now I know I can easily make it in the crockpot and it will work!

Usually we make joak using long grained rice, but talking to one of the boys (who’s Japanese), he mentioned that he prefers to use short-grained rice instead for a better taste and consistency. I figured since the rice was going to be in the pot for 9+ hours, I mind as well give it a whirl. Worst that could happen is I would have had to transfer the whole thing to a pot and boil it on the stove if the rice hadn’t broken down enough. I have to say, I like it. It gives the joak a creamier consistency, which is quite pleasant, and the grains of rice kind of melt but they’re not totally disintegrated. It’s a rather nice change. Long grained rice tends to explode into nothingness in the pot and doesn’t give the joak nearly as creamy a consistency as short grained rice does.

Since I haven’t been to T&T in forever (like.. uhm… since my car accident) I didn’t have my usual black eggs to eat with my joak. My normal bowl of joak would consist of lots of fish sauce, black eggs and green onions. Today, I foraged around in the pantry and found all sorts of tasty additions. I think I’ve found my new way of eating joak when I am without black eggs in the house. Along with my usual chopped green onions and fish sauce, I also added some sesame oil (something I rarely do, usually I find it too oily) and some pork floss. Tasting it, it was still missing something. Then I noticed my bottle of furikake – mine has nori, sesame seeds, egg, and bonito flakes. I dumped a little of that into the bowl and it was just awesome ^_^ My bowl looked rather… dark and murky with funny flecks of colour, but it was really darn tasty.

I think I shall be making joak like this from now on so I won’t have to worry about having nothing to eat when I can’t decide what to eat.

Proud of myself, I am!!

Baby Bro’s been having dindin with us for the last couple of nights since Mom & Dad are in Montreal doing the family obligation thing.

He was actually out of town for work last week and finally got back home on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday I made a long overdue batch of lasagne, with a three hour simmered sauce, lots of cottage cheese and of course spinach. I had originally planned on adding some sliced zucchini, but I’m not doing so well on these antibiotics. They’re kicking my ass as usual and so I’ve been bogged down with complete exhaustion on top of the never ending soreness and pain — so no grocery shopping for me to get the little extras I wanted for the lasagne. It was still tasty, but I admit, it’s not as mind-boggling as when I make the sauce and noodles from scratch-scratch. There’s nothing that can top that.

Tonight, I made: Risotto with peas, pork chops with sour cream sauce and braised romaine lettuce.

For some reason, I’ve always had a tough time with making risotto. I’ve tried and tried and tried, but I’ve never been able to get it perfectly cooked. I’ve always had one or two grains of rice here or there that are still kina hard or else it’s been super stodgy and gloppy from sitting too long.

Well, I can now confidently say that I can make a tasty risotto bianco. It just took me downloading Jamie Oliver’s iPhone app and watching a 10 minute risotto tutorial from start to finish to completely understand how to do it and not be afraid of it. Yea, go figure. I’ve watched tv shows before in the past about doing risotto, but for some reason, this time it finally clicked.

So tonight I made for the three of us, too much food, but that’s neither here nor there: risotto with peas. I had originally thought I would make risotto with peas & pesto, but after awhile I figured it would just be too many flavours going on with the pan-fried pork chops and the braised lettuce. Yes, braised lettuce has flavour, though apparently not a flavour that Baby Bro enjoys.

The recipe I used is from the iPhone App, but here’s a basic risotto recipe from Jamie’s website which doesn’t look too much different from what I used tonight, I just added just under a cup of frozen peas to the rice when it was done. I have to say, totally unrelated to anything, the man definitely has himself a cooking empire now. Wowsers.

The biggest thing that made me understand how to make risotto was not being afraid to add liquid. LOTS of liquid, in my case. I dunno if it’s because of our climate here or perhaps my rice is super dehydrated or what, but it’s always seemed to me that the quantity of stock that recipes call for has never been enough to get the proper consistency. Watching the video and being told that you can keep adding more liquid until it looks right made a huge difference. You won’t kill a risotto by adding too much liquid as you go along. Hurray! And now knowing that once you’ve finished up all the stock, using hot water to get that perfect consistency makes everything taste better, too! The flavours balance themselves out properly when you do that. Hip! Hip! Hurray! I really am quite proud ^_^

For the pork chops with sour cream sauce, I’ve been using this recipe from a Youtube channel of this guy named Freitas-Ex. His recipes rank in the comfort food category and I’ve been pretty impressed by the episodes he’s posted so far (there are quite a few). The recipe is super simple and really doesn’t take that long from start to finish, especially if you use thinner cut chops. Having made this recipe a couple of times now (oddly enough, both times I had already made friends with The Moose… hmmm), I would highly recommend using thicker cut pork chops, there’s less of a chance they’ll become overcooked and if they’re bone-in chops, even tastier.

As a side note — I’ve found over the last few times of making pork chops that a good substitution for white wine that tastes really good in a recipe is diluted apple cider vinegar. Just pour a splosh or two of vinegar into some stock or hot water and use that, it made the pork chops taste absolutely amazing and it did pretty well in the risotto, too!

Now, the whole braised lettuce thing? I was trying to get rid of lettuce and I happen to like my lettuce when it’s cooked… especially when it’s at the bottom of one of those Chinese sizzling hotpots with deep fried bean curd, bbq pork and seafood. The lettuce just sucks up all the cooking juices and becomes wonderfully juicy and flavourful. It’s just wonderful. But anyhow. Apparently my attempt today fell kind of short of the mark in Baby Bro’s opinion. Cooked lettuce, just isn’t his thing. Perhaps next time I will have to add a little soysauce. As far as I’m concerned, it tasted alright. I just warmed a little olive oil in the pan with some garlic, added 2 coarsely chopped romaine hearts, seasoned the whole lot with some salt and pepper and added maybe a quarter to one-third cup of chicken broth before I clamped on a lid and let the pot do its thing on medium low until everything was wilted down.

On the whole, dinner was a success. I’ll have to work on the braised lettuce, but as far as The Hubbs was concerned, he was quite pleased that I managed to get up the energy to make my risotto from scratch. He did buy 2 boxes of instant stuff, just in case, but the homemade was definitely a much better choice. Now I just have to decide on what to do with the leftovers. Nuke’em with some hot water so it’s like normal? Or perhaps scoop them into balls, stuff’em with some mozzarella and then pan fry til crispy? I’m thinking that last option sounds rather promising.

Onigiri!

I made, just now (maybe the last half hour or so) onigiri!

I finally got the hunger-drive to make Cooking With Dog’s Onigiri recipe. Rice balls with a tuna-mayo-wasabi filling (I added green onions as well), soysauce grilled and a miso-green onion grilled. They’re REALLY tasty :o

I’ve not managed to make them so tasty in the past, but now I now how to do it :D

You have to use a good amount of salt water on your hands to flavour the rice and use a decent filling or just paint the outsides and grill them.

Simple yet so complex and tasty all at the same time!

Two cups of rice made 6 fair-sized rice triangles, two of each flavour. I’ve only eaten about 1/3 of the tuna triangle and I’m kina stuffed, but that could also be because I’m really not feeling so great today :( I’m excited to try the grilled miso paste triangle. The other 4 are sitting in the fridge for midnight snack tonight.

I’m pleased. ^_^

I’m not yet stoned, but I am drugged up….

…And once again, I have stuff running through my head.

No surprise, but it would seem that this month, all of the crazy, creative thoughts that are running through my head are food-related in the proper sense, as opposed to food-related in the crafty sense.

The lemon buns, mexican chocolate brownies & the taiyaki have still yet to be made, but I figured that making 61 cimmamon buns with maple cream cheese frosting late Friday night into the wee hours of Saturday morning (seriously, I finished baking and icing everything at around 130am) is an alright excuse for not having tried to make those earlier ideas. Thinking about it now, I think instead of making lemon buns, I would make orange marmalade buns with orange cream cheese frosting. That sounds more interesting, plus I have a jar of ginger marmalade that needs an appropriate destiny other than just buttered toast.

Anyways, lying in bed feeilng rather cruddy and having spent many of my evening hours surfing Youtube or making use of AllRecipes’ Dinner Spinner App, both on The Hubbs’ iPod Touch, until I fall asleep, I’ve been watching mainly Japanese & Korean cooking lessons for things like rice cooker bread, small batches of homemade kimchi, kimchi fried rice & reading a lot recipes for Easter breads like semla, cardamom braids, hot cross buns, etc etc.

Tonight I might actually accomplish some of these things. For dindin, even in my slightly more relaxed state (but still not yet stoned, surprisingly), I am going to make Bokkeumbop (김치 볶음밥), which is the kimchi fried rice and I’m also going to make a pan of potstickers, because that sounds vaguely tasty right now.

As for my Easter bread conundrums.. I have yet to decide how I am going to procede with making any of those. I think if I can get my brain and body to cooperate with me for tomorrow, I might take a stab at that rice cooker bread recipe, primarily for the novelty factor, but also because I’m curious to see how a Japanese bread recipe will taste compared to what I’m used to making. We’ll see… I have high hopes, but don’t know that it’ll necessarily help given my past history.

So yea, that’s what the plan is for the moment… I’m actually feeling rather good about getting back into baking again. It makes me feel like I still have an ability that can be used to its full potential. And in recent weeks, having found out that a lot of people either don’t bake or rarely make things from scratch anymore, has sort of made it a mini-mission for me to give people some homemade goodies just to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I don’t know how people ~really~ perceive the gifts I bake and give to them, but I’m hoping it’s with at least some appreciation.