Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sauerkraut and wurst

I told Hilary I would post this recipe for her. I have eaten a lot of sauerkraut and this is my favorite way. German sauerkraut is different than this. It is much more mild. It often has things like apple and bits of bacon in it. I imagine that this recipe is the Dutch peasant way of making it, modernized, of course, to fit American grocery stores.

These are the ingredients:

1 jar of sauerkraut--make sure to buy it in a jar, the canned stuff is nasty. I haven't tried the deli section kind. I usually buy a big jar of Steinfeld's. You may want to start with the smaller jar.
1 polska kielbasa--I prefer the lite kind.
1 package of bacon--don't substitute pre-cooked.
1 pot of potatoes

Here's what you do, in no particular order:
1. Cut up the kielbasa into serving sized pieces. (A package has eight servings.) Put them in the bottom of a pot. Pour the sauerkraut and juice over them and heat until bubbly. I usually put this on about the same time as the potatoes and just let it simmer until the potatoes are done.
2. Cut the potatoes into bit sized pieces. I peel them, but that is a taste issue you'll have to decide. Put them in the pot and cover them with water. Salt them heavily. Potatoes are where flavor goes to die. Cook the potatoes until they are tender, drain them, and then put them back on the hot burner to dry a bit. This won't work for those of you with gas stoves, but the pot usually is hot enough to dry them on its own.
3. Cook the bacon. You can do it in a pan, but I like this method from America's Test Kitchen: Preheat your oven to 400 and put your oven rack in the middle. Arrange the bacon on a rimmed baking sheet (the slices can overlap just slightly), and bake until crisp and brown, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet front to back halfway through. I find I like my bacon in a little longer. Save the bacon grease.

So here you are at the table with your pot of sauerkraut and kielbasa, your pot of potatoes, your plate of bacon, and your bowl with the bacon grease in it. Now what?

This is how I like to eat it. My kids, the deconstructionists, eat everything separate. I put some potatoes on my plate and I mash them up a bit with my fork. I put some sauerkraut on top and a kielbasa piece next to it. I take a piece or two of bacon and crumble it over the sauerkraut and then I top it all off with a spoonful of bacon grease. I usually salt and pepper too, but I don't think Aaron does. Then I mix everything together lightly to work that bacon grease throughout.

A magazine I was reading a while ago polled its staff about their favorite comfort foods. This is one of mine. I smell the sauerkraut and the bacon, and I know I'm about to enjoy something wonderful with fond memories of Opa. Aychamahockies. (That's what Opa said after the prayer and before we ate. I imagine it means bon appetit and I know it's spelled wrong.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Your best tips

This is more of a discussion question than an actual recipe: what are your favorite tips for cooking good food while also (1) keeping the food bill down or (2) making the cooking quicker and more convenient? Discuss. Use examples. (That's my short stint in teaching composition coming through).

I'll start. Our local Walmart sells a 10 lb bag of chicken legs for under $5. That's the thigh and drumstick still in one piece, with bones and skins still very much in evidence. They're not even the handy Individual Quick Frozen variety. Okay, they're so cheap I can't pass them up, but they're obviously inconvenient.

So lately (now that my oven is available again), I buy this package, dump the pieces in a big ol' mixing bowl with marinade and somehow manage to shove it into my fridge. Sometime later when I remember, I throw it all in the oven and cook until the meat is falling off the bones. I usually have baked chicken with potatoes that night for dinner, which for the two of us barely makes a dent in the amount of chicken produced. So I let the rest of it cool, pull the meat off, and keep enough for three or four individual meals in freezer bags in the freezer.

I guess that is a lot of steps, but it doesn't seem like extra work, and then you've got chicken ready to throw into just about anything (chicken quesadillas at the drop of a hat). Someday I guess I'll have to weigh the meat and compare it to the weight of the bones, skin, gristle, fat and all that gets thrown out. What is the real price per pound here?

Oh, and I have to mention that you can drain off the fat and keep the juices. Is that the stock or is stock something different? Anyway, it gels in the fridge (really, like jell-o), and you can put a couple of spoonfulls into lovely sauces.

Now it's your turn. What do you do?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yummy Chicken

Well, here goes! All those chicken recipes made me think of my one of my favorite chicken recipes. It's from America's Test Kitchen. I usually serve it sitting in the sauce; that way the kids get some of the taste of it without being grossed out because their food is touching.

Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Sweet-Tart Sauce with Tomato and Thyme

1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I usually just spray the pan good with spray fat.)

Sweet-Tart Sauce
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (again with the spray fat)
1 shallot, minced (or 1/4 c. onion)
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 c. chicken broth
1 Tbsp. white vinegar (The recipe calls for 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar--any combo of mild vinegars would work. This is what I like and have on hand.)
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. dried thyme (2 tsp. fresh)
1 1/2 tsp. light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. butter (I only use 1)

For the chicken:
1. Spread the flour in a shallow dish.
2. Pound the thicker ends of the breasts to get an even piece of meat. (The thinner your meat, the quicker it cooks.) Pat dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. (I like garlic powder too.) Dredge through the flour to coat and shake off any excess.
3. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken and cook until light golden brown on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm in a 200 oven, if desired.

For the sauce:
Add the oil to the skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallot, tomato paste, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook until the shallot is softened, about 1 minute. Stir in the broth, vinegar, thyme, and brown sugar, scraping up any browned bits. Simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, about 8 minutes. Stir in any accumulated chicken juice. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time. Off the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Greek Couscous Salad

I came up with this one day when Anna needed lunch and just used what I had on hand. Later, I added a few more things after thinking about it.

Cooked couscous
Can of chopped tomatoes, drained
Sliced olives - I used black but can use kalamata if you want more of a kick
Crumbled feta
Seasoned chicken (optional)
Sliced fresh basil

Mix it all together in proportions that you like.