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Archive for November, 2008

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You know, for a while I was really thinking that this panko stuff might have been all hype.  The culinary community has seen its share of hit-and-run fad foods…you know what I’m talking about.  If it’s not gnocchi showing up on every Spotted Pig-wannabe-gastropub’s menu (uh, like, two years too late), it’s a rash of clone-ish New York frozen yogurt shops reproducing faster than you can say Afro-Latino-Asian fusion.  Not that there’s anything wrong with gnocchi or frozen yogurt (and definitely not with The Spotted Pig); it’s just that after you’ve eaten your eightieth chipotle-soaked, creme fraiche topped cliche, you pretty much never wanna see the stuff again.

While I can’t say that panko isn’t next in line to be forgotten as quickly as it was hyped up, I am a genuine fan of its uncommon crunch and extreme versatility.  Fo’ sho’, misfits.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with panko, think Japanese breadcrumbs.  According to the good people at Ian’s Natural Foods…

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“panko” means child of bread; it’s lighter and crisper than your typical breadcrumbs, and it absorbs less fat, too.  You may have unwittingly tried them at a Japanese restaurant, as many roll their tempura in panko before frying.

A random visit to another food blog, The Missing Ingredient, reminded me that I’d been meaning to try panko at home.  The author of this blog adapted a Food and Wine recipe to make Panko-Crusted Chicken with Mustard Sauce.  Because I’m a bit over chicken this week, and wasn’t in a mustard state of mind, I used the recipe as inspiration to do my own thing.  I ended up dipping the shrimp (peeled, but with the tails on), into a thin wasabi-soy mixture that I devised, rolling it in the panko, and then baking it for 15 minutes.

This satisfies my innate, lifelong urge to peel things, dip them into wasabi-soy mixtures, roll them in panko, and then bake them for 15 minutes.  AND the shrimp don’t scream as piteously as a boyfriend which is HELLO LIKE A MAJOR BENEFIT.

Tah-dah-easy as anything, no frying involved.

Having officially popped my panko cherry, my thoughts now, naturally, turn to my next high.  Will i top a casserole with it?  Roll lightly-oiled chunks of vegetables in it before roasting?  Sprinkle it on a salad?  Sprinkle it on a baby?   How about you, gentle misfit readers?  Any other uses for my bag of panko?  I’ll put my money where my mouth is: the person who comments on this post by Sunday, November 30, with the best original recipe idea using panko crumbs will win a free bag!

Panko Wasabi Crusted Shrimp
Makes 2 servings, 1 if he’s not fast enough

Go Get:
1/2 lb. shrimp, deveined and rinsed, tails left on
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 Tablespoon wasabi paste (I prepare mine fresh from powder for the highest potency)
1 Teaspoon rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups panko crumbs

Go Do:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, tamari, wasabi paste, rice vinegar, olive oil, and enough pepper to taste. Toss the shrimp with the sauce and set it aside for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors soak in.

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Pour a third of the panko into a shallow bowl (to avoid waste, continue to replenish your panko in small amounts). Pick each shrimp up out of the sauce by its tail and drag it through the panko, using your fingers to pat as many crumbs onto it as possible. Gently lay it on the cookie sheet and repeat with the remaining shrimp.

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Put the shrimp into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the tails turn bright pink and the crumbs develop a golden color. If desired, whisk some tamari or soy sauce with some dried ginger for dipping.

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Wax philosophical with me, misfits:

Have you ever noticed that “simple pleasures” usually aren’t that simple?

For example, a picnic in the park under a shady oak tree presupposes a lot of not-so-simple conditions.  First, it should be a nice day.  Then, you’ll probably want company for your outdoor repast, right?  I mean, if you’re me, you’ll just kidnap The Boy from whatever he’s doing and make him come with, but WHAT IF YOU’RE NOT ME?  Well…interacting with the “Real World” is probably a lot easier for you, so I guess it’s a fair trade.  Then there’s the whole issue of finding a good tree without too much crabgrass underneath it.  No anthills with ants to crawl up your tutu if it’s daytime.  No mosquitos to bite you in the center of your forehead if it’s nighttime.  You’ll also want a nice view of the outside from the inside, but a terrible view from the outside looking in since you’re probably boozing illegally and you don’t wanna get busted because the cops don’t think it’s funny when you tell them that the bottle actually contains the liquefied remains of your Aunt Beatrice and her dying wish was to be responsible for intoxicating her loved ones one. last. time.

So!

If all that comes together, then you have to figure there’ll be 89,000 other peeps at the park wanting to do the exact same thing, so peace and quiet, let alone a place to lay in the grass without your head attracting every bratty kid’s errant frisbee within a six-mile radius (which is totally my particular talent/cross to bear) might be a bit much to ask.

Yet, most of us can probably claim to have experienced a few really nice picnics.  Proof that these so-called “simple pleasures” do, against all odds, happen.

Sunday dinner is another one of those simple pleasures, and if you’ve ever tried to make a nice, juicy roast chicken (doesn’t count if someone gets salmonella), you may have had one of those not-so-simple nights where you hurl the Le Creuset at the wall, screech incoherently, let your head spin 360 degrees on its axis, and free base Xanax and red wine while your family and friends shake their heads and go, “But she used to be such a nice girl…”

What I’m saying is, usually the first few attempts are a bit messy and frustrating and time-consuming and may involve meat thermometers, brining bags, fancy roasting equipment, screaming smoke detectors, kitchen twine, hysterical sobbing, soggy stuffing, Chinese takeout menus, recreational drugs or, AT THE VERY LEAST, giblets that were accidentally left inside the bird.  With their plastic wrapping.

None of that need happen to you, of course–you’ve got your Bad Mama Genny to uh, you know…keep things simple.

(Edited 1/6/09:  And hey, if you remembered to grab those giblets and wanna try your hand at some traditional gravy, try this link for The Kitchn’s take on a “Proper” Giblet Gravy!)

Perfect (and “Simple”) Roast Chicken

Go Get:
1 whole chicken (be picky here: an organic, free-range bird will yield the best results)
Butter (approximately 1/4 cup)
2 Tablespoons dried parsley (obviously, fresh versions of all of these herbs is nice, though dried works just fine; if you do use fresh, remember to multiply quantities by a factor of 3)
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions:
Make your life easy and put the butter and the herbs in small bowls before you start handling the chicken (the seasonings can be mixed together in the same bowl).  Preheat your oven to 450F and line your roasting pan.  Note the weight of the chicken-you’ll need to know this later to approximate cooking time. Unwrap the chicken, remove any giblets from the cavity, pluck any stray quills, and rinse (inside and out), with cool water. Gently pat dry and lay it in the pan, breast-side up.
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Gently separate the skin from the flesh of the bird without detaching it completely or tearing holes in it–do the breast, legs, thighs, and as much of the back as you can reach.  Now, using your hands, rub butter on the skin of the bird, over the entire surface, AND between the skin and flesh of all the parts.  Repeat this process with your herb rub, making sex noises as you go.  Buttering and seasoning both over and under the skin ensures deep, even flavoring and a juicy chicken.
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Put the chicken into the oven and note the time.  30 minutes later, reduce the heat to 350F, and note the time.  Here’s where the weight of the bird comes in.  For a 3 lb. bird, you’ll want to bake it for approximately another hour.  For every pound after that, add about 15 minutes to the cooking time (for example, my last chicken weighed 5 lbs., so I baked it at 450 for half an hour, then turned it down to 350 and baked it for another hour and a half).

If you’ve got a meat thermometer, 165F is the standard for safe poultry.  I’ve baked chickens using my method many, many times and it has always gotten the chicken to that temperature–if you’re not sure and don’t have a meat thermometer, cut into a thick part of the bird.  The flesh should be white, with no traces of pink, and the juice should run clear.
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This is the kind of deep color you’re going for. When your bird is done, take the pan out of the oven, carefully remove the chicken from the pan (I use a set of sturdy wooden salad paddles for this), and place it onto a large cutting board. Let it rest for at least ten minutes before carving.  (And save the leftover bones and skin in a freezer bag to use for making stock at another time.)

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A word on “prom food”…you know what I’m talking about.  The generic meal that they used to serve you at high school dances, a meal which has only grown up only imperceptibly, if at all.  Now, in your adulthood, prom food masquerades as a “crowd-pleasing” meal at corporate events and even weddings.

Allow your Bad Mama Genny to narrow this food phenomenon down to its key components for you:

  • Chicken cutlet, breaded to preserve moisture through multiple reheatings, in a thick, greasy sauce–this sauce may be vaguely lemon-y; do not be fooled, it is still prom food.
  • Tough green beans-they may be referred to as “al dente” on the menu, an Italian term literally meaning, “to the tooth.”  The Italians meant it to refer to food that has not been overcooked, which retains some of its bite.  Prom food cooks mean it to refer to food that has not been cooked at all, and which retains so much of its bite that you look like a cow when you have to masticate it for 3 minutes before swallowing.  The beans may be vaguely lemon-y, do not be fooled, they, too, are still prom food.
  • Mashed potatoes, whipped to the consistency of glue, with ample paprika on top to disguise a color which is remarkably like Benjamin Moore’s formula 2129-60, Mt. Rainier Gray.
  • Salad greens, probably bastardized by a few hefty handfuls of shredded day-glow orange cheese, accompanied by a thick, monstrously sweet dressing which is supposed to remind you of vinaigrette, though it really just reminds you of, well, since the Benjamin Moore people are being so helpful here, formula 2103-30, Peatmoss.
  • And, probably the least offensive item on the list, a white roll, also very “al dente,” served with decorative pats of butter.  I say it’s “probably” the least offensive item on the list because there’s still a very good chance that prom roll will be the very thing that chips your tooth, clogs your trachea, or gives you lockjaw.  Prom roll is rock hard and almost undoubtedly recycled.  I would tell you to check for bite marks, but actually, prom roll is impenetrable by the teeth of mere mortals.

We shan’t crucify the prom/corporate/wedding caterer people here, for they likely do the best they can under the circumstances.  Nevertheless, as I sat in the meeting that evening after having consumed this, this, this…FUCKALL STUFF, I thought about the kind of food that had been conspicuously absent from my life, the kind of food I wanted to make for myself upon my return.

So how about some Miso Honey Salmon?

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Miso Honey Salmon
Makes 4 servings:

Go Get:
1 lb. salmon fillet
1/3 cup mellow white miso (Miso-Master is the best from what I can tell)
1/4 cup raw honey (regular old honey is fine, too)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
fresh ground pepper

Go Do:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Lay the salmon on the baking sheet, skin side down. In a small bowl, combine the miso, honey, and garlic until well-combined. Spread the mixture on the top and sides of the salmon in a more or less even distribution. Add a dash of fresh-ground pepper to the top, and put it into the oven. Bake it until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the glaze has developed a nice, dark-caramel-y look, about 25 minutes.

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It struck me this week that I use food to mark time.  Take this exchange between The Boy and me, for instance:

BMG: “When did we mail that package to my family…was it before or after the beef stew?”
TB: “Hmm…don’t know about the beef stew…but it was after the Greek Pizza…and before the latkes…”

After a bit more of the same, we both became COMPLETELY AND INEXPLICABLY ravenous.

Ten minutes later, as I contemplatively chewed my High-Fiber Steel-Cut Oats with Extra Flax (ahaha, just kidding, it was a pot sticker), I thought about what that means, this condition whereby people mark the events of their lives by what they ate for dinner that night.   I realized that it’s really not just the final product that imprints itself on our minds and memories–it’s how we got there.

For example, I remember with alarming accuracy the sploosh that my last goat cheese pizza made when it hit the kitchen floor, even though I shouldn’t have been making dinner at all since I’d had an awful day at work but I was just trying to make things nice for us I WAS JUST TRYING TO MAKE THINGS NICE SO SHOOT ME FOR TRYING TO MAKE THINGS NICE.  I don’t remember how the pizza tasted because I don’t eat food that’s touched the floor because I have standards and people with standards don’t–okay, that was a fun game of pretend, anyhoo, the pizza was still pretty good.

Food is pretty consistent for me–it winds itself throughout my day as a kind of soundtrack.   Defrosting, marinating, chopping, steeping, wrapping…these are the activities that pepper my day at least as often as checking email, mending fishnets, engaging in primal screaming, and sending harassing and objectifying text messages to The Boy.

So really, it’s never just Beef Stew night…it’s more like Beef Stew day.  Which means two things about the cooking you do:

One, it had damn well better be fun (we always have fun when we cook, don’t we, misfits?)

And two, the emotional risk and reward have gone way up.  That pizza damaged my ego far more than if I had poorly reheated a can of…whatever comes in cans.  Right now all I can come up with is corned beef hash.  That comes in cans, right?  But if feels like it shouldn’t.

Well, anyway, you get what I’m saying.  So the joy that comes from a phenomenal success–well, that’s heightened as well.  So as exaggerated as it may sound, the life of one who cooks is full of highs and lows, isn’t it?  The lows often looking something like your Bad Mama Genny kneeling on the floor sobbing over a pizza puddle with her mouth full, intermittently screeching, “IT HASN’T BEEN TEN SECONDS YET!  IT HASN’T BEEN TEN SECONDS!”

So how about a recipe for Dairy-Free Garlic Mashed Potatoes?  Comforting food for those times when you need comfort.  Like when you’re a cheesy mess throwing a temper tantrum on the kitchen floor.  Just, uh, maybe let someone else handle the sharp knives and open flames, ‘kay?

Dairy-Free Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Makes 2-3 generous servings

Go Gather:
4 large potatoes
salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 3/4 cup almond milk (or soy, or rice, or moo…whatever works for you)
2 T. dairy-free spread of your choice, or butter (despite being a lactard, I can tolerate butter.  When you can tolerate butter, you should go for it)
2-3 teaspoons olive oil

Go Do:
Wash the potatoes and cut into small chunks (I don’t peel mine-I usually leave the skin in for flavor and nutrition). Put them in a saucepot with enough water to cover them by an inch, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Let them boil until they’re tender; remove from heat, drain, and cover.

Add the minced garlic, “milk,” and “butter” to the hot potato cubes. Use a large spoon or potato masher to smash the potatoes and incorporate the other ingredients. When it’s at the desired level of chunkiness (my desired level of chunkiness is CHUNKY), determine whether or not you’d like extra milk, and add salt and pepper to taste. When you’ve done this, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the potatoes and gently whip it in.

Now wipe away those tears, take a spoon to those potatoes, and get trashed.  You’ve earned it.

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