Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pesto Chicken, take two.

The second attempt at this dish went a lot smoother.

I've noticed that if I attempt to guess what is half before pounding, I'm always wrong, so I cut the chicken breast into thirds after I pounded it. It was interesting to note that it was a lot more difficult to make them flat when they weren't already cut. It makes sense if you think about it; the structural integrity of the chicken breast was kicking in with full force. (Add that to the phrases I'd never think I'd write.)

Splitting a chicken breast into thirds is a whole lot more difficult than splitting it in half. What I managed (and I'm not sure I could do much better) was two about even pieces, and one half piece. It's frustrating (gee, why can't chicken breasts be symmetrical!) but good at the same time, because those half portions will come in handy for Jeff's brother's kids.

I picked up the basil from my friend, and then had to go to Meijer afterwards to pick up more mushrooms. For some reason, this week, there are no shiitake mushrooms. The best I could do was pick up a mixed bag of shiitake, oyster, and baby bella. At least they had the mushrooms I needed in some sense, even though they were already sliced. The oyster mushrooms weren't used (mainly because I know nothing about them), but they tasted interesting. They had the traditional mushroom taste, but the cap (if I'm using proper terms) was a little tough to bite through.

When I got back to my car, I was pleased to find that my car stank of basil. It was a pleasant drive home (not sarcasm, it really smelled good.)

Instead of cutting the recipe for the pesto down to the amount I needed (a measly 1/4 cup), I decided to keep it the size it was written and expect leftovers. It requires 1 1/2 cups of basil, packed in the cup. That's a lot of basil. The basil I was given was the traditional type used in pesto, with the small leaves. Lots of tiny small leaves. 1 1/2 cups of tiny small leaves. I was plucking for 10 minutes. I don't know if the freakin tiny small leaves made the pesto taste better in the end, because it was the first time I made it. I really hope it did, because I was not thrilled by the end of ten minutes (if you couldn't sense by my use of grammar). (Not to say I'm not immensely thankful for the free basil, trust me, I am. Tiny freakin leaves.)

The whole pesto recipe was a lot mushier than Kittencal's recipe. For I all know, it could be just the fact it was done in full rather than cut down. Hard to say. We put it into the preparation bowl with the chicken broth, and realized that the whole thing was liquid. This made my idea of straining the pesto out fly straight out the window. Instead, we cooked just the pesto for a minute or so.

The mushrooms, beside the fact that they were pre-sliced, turned out alright. The portions are coming together better, as I lessened the amount of pasta to 1 ounce. Jeff questioned my 1 ounce of pasta, but I explained to him the 3 ounces last time was too much. I figured, if it wasn't enough, we could be sure afterwards that 2 was the right amount.

Unfortunately, I screwed up slightly with my timing on adding the seasoning, so the end result was bland. It's the second time that I've made this dish and not put the thyme in with the mushrooms, rather, remembering right after I've removed the mushrooms and started cooking the sauce. So, I end up putting the seasoning into the sauce. Which ends up being drained when the mushrooms are plated, as I don't want the mushroom sauce interfering with the chicken. Therefore, the seasoning is lost. Lesson learned.

Looks pretty good, doesn't it? (Tasted good too.)

Jeff still isn't sure he likes the fact that he can taste/feel each fiber of the fresh chicken. I like it, though. It will suck returning to frozen chicken when all of this is done with. Maybe I'll have to find another excuse to buy it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pesto update and local seafood

I've found a lemon pesto recipe that hopefully will fit right in with the dish. Depending on how strong the lemon flavor turns out, I may have to remove the lemon part from the sauce for the chicken. I eventually may even remove the broth part, which is the main reason it's so watery. I simply wonder about the flavor difference, or if the chicken broth actually has a purpose in heating up the sauce. We'll find out sometime, but not tonight.

(I'm excited to receive my supply of fresh basil tonight!)

Last week, while picking up some fresh Parmesan cheese at Martins (I may never go back to the powdery stuff again...), I stopped by the fish counter to see if they had clams, mussels, or oysters. I usually shop at Meijer, however, each time I've been there recently it's been too late in the night to see what they have in their fresh fish selection. I talked for twenty minutes with the fish woman behind the counter, and I truly appreciate her honesty about their products.

I believe that most people who walk by the fish counter at any supermarket think that everything through the glass has never been frozen or has been shipped in today or yesterday. Some of that's true, some of it isn't.

Shrimp, cooked or uncooked, are usually brought in frozen, then thawed and displayed. You really can't be entirely sure about how long it's been sitting there (it was something I didn't bother asking, since I knew this fact before talking to the woman). That's why it's always important to buy individually flash frozen shrimp. They only take ten minutes to thaw, so buying them already thawed is a waste. The only difference, at least at Martins, was the fact they had a few different species of shrimp, compared to the standard shrimp available in different sizes at Meijer.

The shellfish (besides for shrimp) are brought in fresh and (mostly) alive on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Open shellfish shouldn't be cooked, as that means they're dead. After cooking, shellfish that remain closed should not be eaten. I tried asking why they wouldn't open, but the fish lady had no great reason. I'll have to Google it.

About half of the fish selection are brought in frozen, then thawed. For fish such as perch, yellowfin tuna, or other fish that are not fished particularly close to Indiana, it's disappointing to know that you aren't getting the full flavor it should be. Such is life in South Bend. The most interesting thing I noticed was that the fish that were brought in fresh were labeled as "Fresh", while the fish that were brought in frozen didn't have any label on them at all.

A related note: The term "Fresh" means never frozen, usually transported on ice. The trouble with this is we don't always know how long it's been on ice. Check for a fishy smell. If it smells fishy, don't buy it. (Ironic, I know.) That's why frozen fish are often better to buy, but like I said, it looses it's true flavor. Choose wisely, or experiment. Don't bother experimenting with frozen salmon, though; it's awful in every way possible.

Besides for the larger variety of shrimp, I also noticed that Martin's has sashimi grade yellowfin tuna and blacktip shark fillets (both brought in frozen).

That's right, this guy.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

Isn't there some law about killing sharks for food? Something to do with sharkfin soup? Japanese people? Ocean conservatives? Holy crap, people.

Anyways, I asked about cooking it, even though I don't plan to support the market. Apparently, it's best to grill it like a steak. It has it's own distinct flavor (like salmon does), rather than tasting like whatever you cook it with (like tilapia). Interesting, and unsettling.

Since I love sushi and sashimi, I asked about the yellowfin a little bit more. They receive the fish as a large fillet, then they cut them, individually wrap them and put them on ice. Thankfully, this frozen stuff isn't the same source Martin's sushi counter gets their fish from. The sushi people receive their fish fresh, never frozen. (Whew!)

I'm still not over the fact they have shark for sale. I'm going to need to do research on this.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pesto Chicken, take one.

This weekend, Jeff and I will be cooking for pretty much his whole family. Brother, wife, kids, sister, fiance, mom, dad. Oh, us too. The total is somewhere around 10. As per usual, when I cook for anyone that isn't Jeff, I insist on doing at least one practice run, which usually turns into around 3 by the time the actual meal comes around.

The meal of choice is chicken paillards with lemon pesto sauce, and a side of mushrooms with a cream sauce. The chicken part is based and edited out of the first cookbook we bought. (By the way, if anyone can inform me about how to pronounce "paillards", I'd be grateful.)

The chicken is pounded flat, coated with a lemon zest/flour breading, sautéed with butter, and the chicken is plated. Then, a mixture of pesto, lemon juice, and chicken broth are boiled in the same pot, and poured over the chicken.

The mushroom dish was originally a main course type of meal, but Jeff and I both decided it would be better as a side. It includes shallots, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bella mushrooms, all sauteed. Then, the sauce, which is chicken broth and heavy cream, is boiled. Everything is mixed together along with parmesan cheese and pasta.

We did our first test run last night. It turned out fairly well, but, as expected, the menu requires editing. One of my main concerns is portion size; a lot of the cookbooks we have make too large of portions.

Normally, we purchase frozen chicken in a big bag (more cost friendly), but, to make the best meal possible, we have to use the best food, so fresh it was. Instead of using a whole chicken breast per person, I cut them in half. I found that doing this made a better portion, but I think I'll split them in thirds for the next trial.

The most remarkable thing that happened with the chicken was the difference in texture when cooked. Because we had bought fresh chicken, we could taste the individual fibers rather than compressed chicken. It was fabulous (and expensive).

The next part that was tested was the pesto. Normally, Jeff and I would use a pesto from a jar that we bought. It was very tasty, but I wanted to make as much as I could for this meal. The recipe I used was Kittencal's Perfect Pesto (from, and the flavor was interesting. Different from the jarred stuff (as well as the pesto I had made myself before this that ended up rather bland), the main difference besides flavor was how much olive oil there was. This Kittencal's was barely a paste. When cooked with the broth and lemon juice, it tasted good. Fresh. I still want to do better, though.

A side note about the pesto sauce: I think I will have to semi-strain the sauce, as with the broth it was far too juicy to include a side dish. We ended up using a separate dish to hold the mushrooms. I'm one of those people who hate having food contaminated with other pieces of food. Unless it's mashed potatoes.

The mushroom dish was fairly successful, however, by the time I had some on my separate plate, it was lukewarm. This tells me I need to add the ingredients with the skillet still hot. The portions of the mushroom dish are tricky, because it was meant to be a full meal. I cut it down by a third, but there was still leftovers, possibly because I didn't reduce the amount of pasta enough. I'll reduce the pasta more and/or the amount of mushrooms.

I expect to do the second test tuesday night, because I'll be getting some basil from a friend. Until then, I need to find a better pesto recipe.

A very late introduction

If I was doing things right, I would have started this blog when I started cooking. However, I started cooking more than a year ago, so we'll just have to start in the middle of things.

A few things you should know:
1. I love cooking. I read cookbooks in my free time. I bought a recipe book for my computer (which is big, considering I am reluctant to use software that isn't free). I watch the food network continuously. I watch any food related videos online, on Hulu, if possible. (Most of the time this ends up being something Chef Ramsey has done, which admittedly is not very educational, rather, entertaining. Although, I did learn a little about shucking scallops the other day.)
2. I have no intentions of ever getting paid for cooking. None. I receive my joy simply from cooking for others; I have little joy from cooking for just myself, as the title implies.

I learned the basics of cooking from my mom. How to brown ground beef, how to trim chicken, how to cook rice. Growing up, the meals she produced were always good, and empty plates were abundant. More than a year ago, due to budget restrictions from my boyfriend, he had to start purchasing his own food to cook. We started with Hamburger Helper, Rice-A-Roni, and Shake-n-Bake. But those became dull to me. I found the website, where you can enter in the ingredients in your kitchen and it will find recipes that you can make with what you already have. It started out with just advanced shake-n-bake type recipes, where we would make our own breading. But as we kept gaining ingredients, stocking the kitchen with both food and supplies, our skills were fine tuned. We bought our first cookbook, and learned even more. Because of that experience (and two more cookbooks later), I'm confident enough to tackle new recipes on a weekly basis. My goal is to be able to take anything from the supermarket and know how to use it properly. It's an extreme goal that I never expect to complete, but I know I'll learn plenty while trying.

So far, so good.