Thursday, July 21, 2011

Seasoned Chicken With Mushrooms

After reading a cookbook from a Cajun restaurant in Alaska, I was inspired to to more mixing of spices. This mix turned out absolutely fantastic, and though I didn't measure my proportions, I'll try to estimate them. I made it again a couple days later for another dish and that was good too--so I think it's fine if your measurements aren't exact:

Seasoning: (mix together in a separate bowl before sprinkling on the chicken.

1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt (or maybe 1/2)

Clearly from the picture, I made a very small amount, just three chicken thighs. So if you're making a lot, mix up plenty of extra seasoning and just keep it in a container until you need it again.

For the chicken:

1. Pour 4-5 tablespoons of veg oil in the skillet and let it heat till it has little bubbles beginning to form.
2. Sprinkle the seasoning on the chicken, and lay them in the skillet seasoned side down. Be careful, it will start sizzling and popping as soon as you put the chicken in the oil! Season the top side of the chicken.
3. Cover, and let the chicken cook for 2-3 minutes. Then turn the chicken over and add some sliced mushrooms. If the pan is starting to look kind of dry and you're worried about burning, add a half cup of water.

You want to keep a little bit of moisture in the bottom of that pan so it doesn't burn, but don't flood the chicken and mushrooms. If you do it just right, the chicken will get a nice little crispy layer on the outside, and the mushrooms will soak up the intense flavor of the seasoning and get a little  crispy as well. So if you do add water, leave the lid off for a little bit until some of it boils off. Keep testing the chicken with your fork and turning every so often until the middle feels no longer feels squishy, but nice and firm.

I like to serve this kind of thing with lentils or rice and a nice salad. I'll definitely be doing this one again!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

I have always wanted to be able to fly...not in a plane. Anyone can do that. I've always wanted to just be able to spread my arms and soar on the wind, carefully adjusting my height and speed by tilting my body or arms and catching rising warm air to push me higher and higher. That is, in fact, how I fly in my dreams. And that is how Trei learns to fly using the kajurahi wings on the Floating Islands.

It was a bit of a coin toss whether Trei would be able to join the kajurahi (the band of island flyers with special wind-sight) at all. He was, after all, only half islander, and that on his mother's side. But fortunately for him, the kajura did not have the power to choose those who would join the novitiate. That was entirely up to the wind dragons, who lend their power for the kajurahi to use for flying.

Rachel Neumeier's book, The Floating Islands, is a fantastic combination of inventive fantasy lore and the much more real-world problem of pending international battle. For the land where Trei was born (Tolounn) is famous for its army that always follows orders and will stop at nothing. The emperors are hungry for more conquests, but the Floating Islands stand in the way. But when they figure out a way for their mages to harness the energy from huge steam engines, they attack the Floating Islands, and push away (using magic) the wind dragons, which are keep the islands afloat. The islands begin to sink, and the Tolounnese soldiers throw up ladders to invade.

But what can Trei and his small band of kajurai novices do? And for that matter, what is Trei's cousin Araene, supposed to do? They are both orphans, the only family that they have is each other. But girls live a very regulated life on the islands, and Araene has a hard decision to make when her parents die of the fever. Should she let Trei leave the kajurahi and his dream of flying in order to be her guard and chaperone? In a moment of confidence, Araene chops off her hair, "becomes" a boy, and uses her incipient magical ability to join the mage's school. She always wanted to be a chef, but when she started tasting magic as various spices and flavors, she decides that whatever it might lead to, she does want to stifle her new ability. But when she arrives at the school, she promptly breaks all the rules, the most serious of which was taking an egg from the fire dragon living in the heart of the school and promising to quicken the young dragon. And yet, this very egg, Araene's magical ability, and Trei's flying ability coupled with his past knowledge of Tolounnese manners might be just what the Floating Islands need to regain and establish their independence from the ambitious Tolounnese.

It is truly beautiful watching how Trei and Araene learn to love and look out for one another--not common among teenagers, but somehow realistic and inspiring in this story. They don't always make the best decisions, but they are bold and brave when they realize what must be done, even if it means giving up their freedom and risking their lives. I would definitely recommend this new book to any and all fantasy lovers.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Whole Wheat Rolls with Orange and Honey

I've been reading this amazing book (which I'll probably post on in a few days) that is inspiring me to be more creative in my cooking ventures. One of the main characters in the book has rising magical ability and she loves cooking, and (as all mages perceive magic slightly differently) she tastes magic! It's so fun, hearing different powers, dangers, or abilities described as hot, cold, refreshing, etc, through culinary terms and flavors! 
So here, I decided to try creating some fluffy rolls with a hint of orange....and though I know I don't have the same kind of magical flare for flavors, I must say, I nailed this one on the head. My hubby and I ate four straight out of the oven--definitely a record. Here's my recipe:

2 cups whole wheat flour (plus and extra 1/2 cup) 
1/2 tsp salt
2 large tsp of dry yeast
1/2 - 2/3 cup of half and half
1 egg (beaten)
1/4 cup honey
3 tbs freshly grated orange peel 

1. Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a bowl.

2. Heat the half and half on the stove or in the microwave until it is pleasantly warm to touch. Then combine it with the beaten egg and the honey. 

3. With the dough hooks, beat the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, until thoroughly combined, adding in the orange peel as you mix. If needed, add an extra 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour. Make sure the dough is the right consistency--a little sticky, and just dry enough to form into rolls and not leave your hands covered in dough.

4. Leave the dough in the bowl and let it rise for about an hour and a half. 

5. Roll into balls (I think I made about a dozen with this batch). And place evenly on a lightly greased pan. Let them rise again until they are about twice the size (maybe another 45 min to an hour.) 

6. Bake for about 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 350F. Take them out when the tops are starting to look a little bit darker gold color. (check the picture if you don't know what that means...)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Peach Scones

These scones are incredibly easy and quick to make, and when you add fresh peaches, you'll just want to keep making them as long as your peaches last! This is a pretty small recipe (makes about 12 large scones), which is good because you'll want to make sure to eat them all up within about three days of making them. 

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1 egg
1/2 cup of half and half (start with 1/3 and add a little if you need it) 
1 or 2 peaches

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture is mostly small crumbles of flour and butter. 

Chop up the peach(es) and toss them in the bowl.

Lightly whisk the egg and half-n-half together, and then pour in with the dry ingredients. Mix them with a fork or spoon (not an electric mixer) until just combined. Be sure not to overmix, or the scones will be dense and heavy. Once everything is combined, turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead two or three times by flattening a little and then folding in half. The dough should be stiff and sticky. 

Gently flatten till the dough is about 1 inch tall, and cut into triangles. Place on a greased pan and bake for about 15 minutes at 350F. 

These are just amazing fresh out of the oven with a little butter or cream!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Peaches are in season -- make peach jam!

Peaches are in season once again, and I am thrilled because they are one of my very favorite things. You don't even have to go to a self-pick farm to get a good deal. Watch the sales at the store - I got almost 10 pounds of peaches for a little over $6. It's a great deal considering all the things that you can do with peaches. 

If you have some glass canning jars, definitely consider making peach jam. With 8 peaches this size, I made 7 cups of peach jam--nearly two quarts. In the store, you might be able to buy a pint of peach jam for 3 or 4 dollars. But when peaches are on sale, you can get 8-10 peaches for less than $2, and the box of pectin for the jam is $3-$4. The 5 cups of sugar required are certainly less than 50 cents. All in all, a stunning deal. The box of "Sure-Jell" pectin (which you can buy at your local grocery store in the baking section) comes with a pages of instructions describing the proportions you need for many different kinds of fruit jams and jellies, including peach. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, but you might get the impression that you need a canner or some special machine. That is not so! All you need to do is run your glass jars through the dishwasher so they'll still be hot when you pour in the jam. And then, in a saucepan, boil the caps and rings while you're making the jam. When you've poured the jam up to the top of the jars, fish the lids and rings out of the boiling water with a fork and screw them on--being careful not to burn yourself, of course. And presto! Peach jam for toast, muffins, and scones for the rest of the year! (And it makes a lovely present too.)

When I made the jam this morning, I used my wonderful immersion blender to puree the peaches instead of simply chopping them up. This gives the jam an incredibly smooth texture, which is (I think) easier to spread.

If you don't know what an immersion blender is, I describe mine and what I use it for here.