Jane’s Pasta – Quarantine Version

IMG_4986We call this “Jane’s Pasta” because my sister in law made this for my kids one day when it looked like there was nothing in the refrigerator. Everyone has some kind of meal that they can whip up with very little planning. Spaghetti (and anything) is probably pretty common, but this came out good, and everyone in the family loved it, so I figured it was worth sharing.  It’s certainly not one pot, but planned right, it can be ready in about an hour, and it’s always best the next day.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 box Thin Spaghetti or Angel Hair
  • 1 lb (or whatever you have) of ground beef, pork, turkey, etc.
  • 1 16 oz jar tomato sauce (I prefer Newman’s Own Marinara, but you go by what you have).
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 cup parmesan (freshly grated)
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Fresh greens if you got ’em: basil, parsley or oregano
  • Dried spices to taste: I use adobo seasoning, onion powder and garlic salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

  • In a large pan that you’re going to use for the pasta, caramelize the onions using olive oil or olive oil and butter.  Salt and pepper the onions, and keep them from burning, using chicken stock if necessary.
  • In a separate pan, season your raw chopped meat (I use 80/20) with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic salt and adobo seasoning and cook till brown, drain and reserve.
  • Grate about two cups of parmesan cheese, reserve.
  • Bringing a pot of water to a rolling boil, cook your pasta according to the box.
  • Combine chopped meat to carmelized onions.
  • Add sauce and 1/2 cup of parmesan.
  • Add pasta with at least 1/2 cup of water from the pot.
  • Mix and bring sauce to a boil.
  • Rest and either transfer to a dish or serve in the pan, garnish with parsley, basil or top with parmesan.

 

 

Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes

On a recent trip to the West Coast I was advised to order Swedish pancakes from a local restaurant near San Francisco. Being an intrepid, but skeptical pancake eater, I did.  They were amazing not just for the taste but the unusual texture.  A bumpy consistency that reminded me of those kambucha drinks or bubble tea.  It was unusual but not unpleasant.  I determined the magic ingredient was oatmeal and the secret is letting the ingredients sit for a period of time (some recipes claim overnight is best, but I found 30-45 minutes did the trick).    I found a few great recipes online and on especially here that called for a quart of buttermilk.   Now I’m no diet fanatic but that did seem excessive.  Fortunately, I was down on all ingredients, but in my estimation they came out perfectly.  So my modified version is below.
Ingredients
  • 1 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions

  • Mix dry ingredients together.
  • Add wet ingredients.
  • Let settle for 45 minutes
  • Use a 3/4 cookie scoop to make pancakes on a hot buttered grill or pan.
  • Serve with maple syrup AND BACON.

Schnitzel (Boneless Fried Chicken)

img_1736I found schnitzel to be ubiquitous when I visited Israel, and like their hummus, delicious everywhere I had it.  Their schnitzel is so much better than what ours has become, basically a chicken nugget- that I was inspired to try and recreate it.  Of course thanks to the Internet, that’s pretty easy since there are lots of great recipes out there.   The one I started with is from Janna Gurr.  As she notes, and I agree with, it is best served with hummus, pickles and something green, like a salad.

Even though it is fried in oil, a good schnitzel should be light — not heavy, so make sure your oil is the right temperature and get your pieces in and out quickly.

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 half pounds of chicken.  (If you buy fillets you won’t have to pound them).
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with:
    • Onion powder
    • Garlic Salt
    • White Pepper
    • Adobo Seasoning
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola and Peanut oil for frying 

Directions

  1. If necessary, pound your chicken to scallopini thickness or whenever your hand gets tired (I find it optimal to not just pound but also cut the breasts in half or smaller.  This allows me to put more pieces in the pan at once, cook them faster and provide each one with more crispy surface.  But that is for you to decide).
  2. Beat the eggs in a bowl with dijon mustard and 1-2 tablespoons water.
  3. Prepare the flour by sifting it together with the additional spices.
  4. Add your Panko to a bowl and prepare a plate covered with wax paper next to it for finished pieces.
  5. First—Dip chicken in flour mixture.  Then, shaking off the excess, drag through egg mixture, and when done, drop in Panko. Place finished pieces on wax paper while you prepare oil.
  6. Using at least a 12-inch cast iron pan or equivalent, heat your oils to medium high temperature.  I find that the addition of a small amount of peanut oil adds a tremendous amount of flavor where canola oil has almost no flavor at all.  I tried sesame oil but it has too much flavor.
  7. Fry each piece for 2-3 minutes.  They should be golden brown, not dark brown.
  8. Salt them upon taking them out from the oil, and set them on brown paper bags (if your grocery provides these) or paper towels to try.

img_1733

Favorite Oatmeal for Winter Mornings

oatmealIf you cook most of the meals in your house you are likely to either fall into a rut or grasp greatness by experimenting with new things.  I am always trying to simultaneously improve what I’m making and trying to capture some far-off, once-tasted flavor or texture that I experienced in the past. Sometimes I have an innovation so small (like using the toaster for Grilled Cheese) that I don’t feel it’s worthy of writing down. But when I get requests from my family, I know I should.  This my family’s favorite oatmeal for winter mornings recipe.  If you know me and have read this blog, then you’ll know it’s nothing complicated– just a matter of adding some extra stuff to an existing recipe (on the Quaker Oatmeal box. Is that what you call a round container made of cardboard?).

The recipe calls for making two cups of oatmeal as its largest size– but that’s hardly enough for one hungry person, let alone a family. I initially doubled it but didn’t want to choose between milk and water as the liquid- so I used both.  I also felt that the end product prepared as recommended was relatively tasteless (see my previous experience with that here). Since oatmeal contains a significant benefit of fiber, I thought, “how can I make it more appealing to kids?” Of course the answer is sugar, but in what form, how much and what else?  Following the lead of every other instant oatmeal on the shelf*, I added cinnamon, brown sugar and nutmeg and rather than add lots more sugar, I opted for maple syrup extract, which is has more flavor and less sugar than its fully syrupy parent.

Of course, vanilla and more salt than the recipe calls for, and I have experimented with adding a tablespoon of butter for ‘soul.’     Lastly, I understand that not everyone likes the same inclusions so I prepare those separately.  For the serving pictured above it was toasted pecans and raisins.   It was a hit.

Ingredients

  •  4 cups oatmeal (I used Quaker Oats–different oatmeals may have different cooking times)
  • 1 3/4 cups Milk
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/16 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp maple extract

Optional Inclusions

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • raisins or dried cranberries
  • Toasted pecans or walnuts

 

Directions
Again, nothing special here:

  1. Boil the milk/water combination
  2. Add the oatmeal.
  3. Simmer (stay close by) for 10 minutes.
  4. At about 9 minutes add the other ingredients.
  5. Serve in individual bowls and serve inclusions separately.

 

*Note: whether you utilize the fat/sugar grams or glycemic index to measure your food’s health you can tell that a majority of the available instant oatmeals are loaded and should be avoided at most costs.  Check out the Internet if you want detailed analysis.

Crazily Addictive Banana Pancakes

Every once in a while my daughter, who is the lieutenant chef, has a special request, and of course, within reason, we try to accommodate it.  This morning was Banana Pancakes.   Cliche, right?  We often get them at Harry’s in West Roxbury (where they are to die for) but that does require getting up and getting dressed. We found a great recipe at Kitchen Treaty that we played with. I knew it would be good because it involves buttermilk.  The recipe had a few revolutionary suggestions.  One was to let the batter sit after combining it, so the rising agent (baking powder) can do its job. Brilliant!  Pancakes were definitely the fluffiest banana pancakes we have ever created.  Also, the suggestion of using a scooper was a mind-blowing improvement that I never thought of, and significantly aided the process.    As a postscript you should know that there is never anything in my house but real maple syrup and this is for two reasons.  One, I live in New England, so of course great (and super-expensive) maple syrup is always available.  Two, “Pancake Syrup” is a horrifying fraud that aside is likely to negatively affect your health with its ingredients.

pancakes, banana pancakes, fluffy banana pancakes
Fluffy, hot, delicious and just-slightly crispy banana pancakes are so good you will be sorry you made them.

In any case, this is a good morning activity, but the clean up was extensive (and not yet done as of this writing).

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 bananas (if you only have green ones, you can add 1/4 table banana extract)
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter  (room-temperature soft or melted and cooled)
  • 1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Two shakes of cinnamon
  • 1/16 teaspoon butterscotch extract
  • Powdered sugar or maple syrup (or both) for topping

DIRECTIONS:

  1. First assess your bananas– if they are green-ish, like mine, we found you could submerge them in hot water for about 5 minutes to make them softer and slightly sweeter.   That’s helpful, but not a total solution.   Because greenish bananas are less sweet and have less flavor, we added about 1/4th teaspoon of banana extract.  Also, if you get a hot buttered pan and you can get a ‘crisp’ exterior, it will bring out more of the banana flavor.
  2. Add your bananas to the bowl of a standing mixer. This can ensure a good mashing.  If you have anger issues, you can mash them separately and later.  Add the buttermilk, eggs (one at a time), butter, vanilla, banana extract if using and butterscotch.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift and add the the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk together to combine.
  4. Add dry ingredients to your wet one.  Mix gently.
  5. Let the batter rest for about 5 minutes. You’ll see bubbles.  (Depending on your pan’s size, you can likely make a test pancake, and by the time it’s done and eaten you’ll be ready to make the rest)
  6. Melt butter in a large frying plan. Using an ice cream scoop, I was able to do two at a time.  I feel it’s necessary to wipe-dry the pan between pancakes because it facilitates better pancakes and reduces the chance of burning the butter.  When the pancakes bubble, flip them over, and then after about 35 seconds, take them out.
  7. Serve with sides, topping and maple syrup.  You can make them early and toast them to suit late-risers.

Breakfast of Champions!

Bagel, Salami and Cheese
A breakfast sandwich composed of Soppraseta, Swiss Cheese and a well-toasted bagel

bagel_with_cheese_and_salami

When I first called this “The Breakfast of Champions” I was being facetious. Unlike its eponymous namesake, it has basically all the wrong things going for it. It’s high in fat (thanks to the salami). It’s high in sodium, thanks to the cheese and the salami, and it’s high in sugar due to the massive carb-load of the bagel. Also, it doesn’t even contain eggs (which Hazel Grace would object to). That being said, it tastes really, really good, and is perfect for those about to trek out into the cold, cruel word who need to be fortified for a long time.

I use three ingredients:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Bagel
  • Jarlsberg (Swiss) Cheese
  • Salami

Though it’s a simple makeup,  it’s always about personal preference. If you want to add stuff  to change its texture or flavor, like mustard, banana peppers, cole slaw, or any typical sandwich topper, go ahead.  But bagel sandwiches do get messy, even when prepared correctly.   So, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right.  (This assumes you don’t have one of those assembly line toasters that have frustrated legions of college students and hotel buffet visitors).  And doing it right means cooking it in three stages:

Directions:

1. Toast the bagel (lightly).

2. Melt the cheese on the bagels.  (I use foil to ensure no over-melting onto toaster parts)

3. Finish by covering the melted-cheese bagel with salami and toasting on high, or broil (if you promise not to walk away from the toaster).

4. When salami is crisp, and cheese bubbly, remove from toaster and let set, two-three minutes.  If you don’t allow it to cool, the cheese will slide off.   Let it set and cut into halves (or make a sandwich).

 

More on this sandwich

My father used to make this for breakfast, where I grew up outside of metro New York City.  There, you can’t fall down without hitting a great bagel.  Now, I live in Massachusetts and look though I might, it seems great bagels are hard to come by.  You can argue with me, but you can’t win.  It’s a matter of taste and birthright; if you were born in the tri-state area, you likely have a higher standard for bagels than the rest of the country.  I don’t why that is, but I know that people who move to Massachusetts from California simply stop eating Mexican food.  Is our Mexican food bad? No, it’s just that they are used to something very different, likely more authentic, and in all reality (with few exceptions), much much better.   And really, Mass is kind of weird that way.  Though I have eaten in Chinese restaurants around the country and on both coasts, only here in Massachusetts did I find Chinese restaurants that serve rolls with dinner.   Bread rolls.  Rolls made of bread. But I digress.

So there are two keys to making this sandwich perfect.  One, start with the best ingredients.  I find the Applegate Naturals soppressata is a reliably tasty item.   Sure, we could argue about the

Salami, Swiss Cheese and an Everything Bagel
Making a great meal, even for the low arts, starts with the best ingredients (when you’ve got ’em).

history of soppressata and cured meats and I don’t doubt there are better, more authentic versions out there.  But Applegate is good and easily available;  and it in comes in a package (horrors!) which makes it easier to keep inventory control.   Jarlsberg, is of course, the most famous brand of Swiss Cheese, and is frequently sold in triangles, guaranteeing it will be nearly impossible to slice.  However, you’ll need to slice it.
The second thing is patience.  You may want to simply toast everything together, but  I find skipping any of these steps results in things being soggy where you want them to be crispy or spongy where you want them to be melty.

 

General Rob’s Sesame Chicken

Sesame Chicken, General Gao's Chicken, Chinese Takeout, Quick Chicken Dish
Sweet, savory chicken that will delight your family. So much better for you than Chinese take-out.

My kids love General Gau’s/Tso’s chicken or Sesame Chicken as a dish from Chinese restaurants.  I always knew it was not a health dish, because it was likely rolled in flour and deep fried before being covered with a sickeningly sweet sauce.   I also know that any time you can make something at home, you have better control over exactly how bad it is for bodies, for teeth, and for wallets.

But the great thing for me about either going out for Chinese food or doing take out is that it’s something you can’t make at home.   But trawling through the Internet, I found a great recipe for sticky sesame chicken here from the website Creme De la Crumb.  The author Tiffany, took the recipe from a blog called Six Sisters Stuff, that called for using prepackaged popcorn chicken.      I of course, have tweaked it further because I can’t leave well enough alone.   I think 4 tablespoons of honey is fine (her recipe called for six) and I always insist on fresh steamed broccoli with it, so at very least I can kid myself it’s a balanced meal.

I made this this year for New Year’s Eve and it was a big hit!  I made it first with breast of chicken, but have since found that it can be made successfully with chicken thighs.  This is so far it is the only way to get my kids to eat chicken thighs and requires that I trim the fat aggressively.   Though it seems fancy, the dish is relatively easy to make and always comes out like the picture (above), which is actually my dish.  All the versions of this recipe produce such equally good-looking chicken dishes is really a testament to its ease. You can do it!

Even though this is dish is made at home, it’s still no diet-helper.  It’s double dipped in flour and corn starch, and the sauce features four kinds of sugar (honey, ketchup, white and brown sugars).  Still, it’s DELICIOUS and quick, and still great the next day.  It’s really all in the timing.  I recommend before you start, you set your rice in your rice cooker (this takes about 45 minutes) and trim and cut your broccoli.   If you are going steam or boil it, prepare the pot and the water.

For the chicken, I find it’s easier to do all your cutting before your dipping and coating.

There were some omissions or points of interest in Tiffany’s recipe that I had to either correct or fill in for myself. Her recipe called for “one tablespoon of oil.”  I tried that but found that I need a lot more oil to get the chicken cooked, and since I had to cook it in batches, I ended up using quite a bit more.  At the end, I had a skillet with oil in it, but clearly that wouldn’t have been the case with one tablespoon, hence my direction to pour off the extra oil (but not the charred bits of chicken-stuff. Keep that, it’s good).

That recipe also supposes I have a pan big enough to cook ALL of the chicken at once (since she never mentions taking it out).  That’s not the case, and so I ended up cooking the chicken in batches, and then placing it on a paper towel to dry while I did the next batch (four chicken thighs took three separate batches).   After all the chicken was done, I cooked the sauce and then returned the cooked and dry-drained chicken to the pan.

Lastly, she did not specify what kind of oil to use.  Usually I use canola oil for frying but in this case I added a little peanut oil  as well.   Did I say “not a health food?”   Though high in fat, sugar and carbs, unlike a take-out chinese meal, there were no other dishes, and no fortune cookies, so at very least that was a calorie saving.  And this week, we actually ordered the dish from our favorite Chinese restaurant and my kids voted mine better.  So to recap: cheaper, faster and more popular.  But still not a health food.

 

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, or 4 chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cut into small pieces.
  • canola and/or peanut oil
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 tablespoons corn starch
  • roasted sesame seeds
  • Scallions, washed green ends only
SAUCE
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon powered ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cold water + 2 tablespoons corn starch
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Whisk all sauce ingredients together, set aside.
  2. Arrange in three bowls, the beaten eggs, corn starch, and flour in sequence.
  3. Cut the chicken; dip pieces in egg, then flour, and lastly in corn starch.
  4. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add chicken and cook, stirring throughout to ensure even cooking, 5-10 minutes until cooked though.  You’ll have to do it in batches.
  5. If you have extra oil, drain off some of it.
  6. Combine corn starch and water until dissolved.
  7. Add sauce to pan and bring to a boil.  Add corn starch mixture.  Stir until sauce thickens.
  8. Add chicken pieces, and stir until completely covered.
  9. Place in a bowl and cover with sesame seeds  and green onions.
  10. Serve with rice and broccoli.
  11. Feel immense pride.