Thursday, August 25, 2011

I love a good tool

Conventional kitchen wisdom says you only need a few quality tools in the kitchen to cook pretty much anything. I counter that certain tools, though "they" may call them superfluous, really do make it easier, and more likely, for the home cook to try certain things. That's been the case for me, anyways.

Take my food processor, for example. Once I got it, I made a lot more (and a lot better) pesto. Also, blended bean dips and other thicker dips made a more regular appearance at the table. There were just some things that my blender couldn't do very well.

My crock-pot allows me to cook when I don't have the time or the energy. I just put good ingredients in, turn it on, and walk away. It saves me time, and saves me from eating out and spending money.

Then there was the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Since it's arrival, I'm much more likely to do a cake from scratch, to make frosting, and to make bread even when I'm super busy.

And, of course, I can't forget the knives. My first Wusthof, then my santoku, opened up a whole new world of effecicient, effortless chopping.

My most recent purchase was a large skillet with a wide bottom. It's heavy like a cast-iron, but non-stick. And, the large surface area makes reducing a breeze. I've made sauces in a snap, shortened cooking time on soups and stews, and have finally learned how to saute properly.

Though most of these--other than the knives--aren't essential for a kitchen, they are now essential for my kitchen.

Here's a quick recipe that uses two of my tools to make a fast, tasty, fresh pasta sauce.

Slow Cooker tomato sauce
Several fresh tomatoes
large handful basil
1/4 cup red wine
4 garlic cloves, peeled
salt and pepper to taste
You'll also need a slow cooker, a blender or food processor, and a wide-bottomed saute pan with a lot of surface area.

Cut the tomatoes into big chunks. Toss them into the slow cooker with the other ingredients. Turn to low, and go to work.

Come home, and stir. Turn off heat, open lid. Carefully put mixture into blender. Blend until smooth. Be careful as it will be hot so pulse the blender until you're sure the lid won't pop off.

Transfer sauce to wide-bottomed saucepan. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Go for a little less salty than you think you need since it will be saltier when you reduce it.

Turn burner to high, and heat sauce until it starts bubbling. Turn heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce gets the thickness you want. For pasta, you'll want it thinner. For pizza, you'll want it pretty thick.
When the sauce gets as thick as you want, turn off the burner, and taste one more time, and see if it needs more salt or pepper. Here is where you'd add fresh herbs, a little more salt or pepper, some heavy cream, or even a shot of vodka.

Serve on whatever you like.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Improv Recipe: Chicken Agumba (corn, salsa, tequila, shallots, avocado)

Chicken Agumba. It's my dad's faux-Italian shorthand for an improv chicken dish when you're short on time and money. The Mister and I were both this week--and the CSA veggies were threatening a refrigerator revolt. As always, sub whatever you have on hand.

1 large frozen chicken breast, thawed and pounded flat
2 ears corn, sliced off cob (canned is fine if it's all you got)
1/2 jar salsa (mine was medium)
1/4 cup tequila
2 shallots, sliced
1-2 T citrus juice
1-2 T oil
1/2 avocado.

Cut chicken breast in half and season.
Put oil in medium saute pan, heat up, add chicken. Cook 3 minutes a side, flip, cook another 3 minutes.
flip, cook another 3 minutes, flip, cook another 3 minutes.
Move to plate.
Turn off heat. Add tequila and deglaze pan.
Add corn and salsa and shallots. Cook for 2 minutes until liquid goes down a bit.
Add chicken breasts back in, cover Cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat.
Cut avocado into cubes.

To serve: Put chicken and some of the corn sauce on plate. Top with half the avocado cubes.