Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homemade Broth makes Chicken Divine

No, this cheesy deliciousness is not something Mom would approve of. Even though there is broccoli in the dish, I'm pretty sure that if it's made invisible by a layer of caloric goodness, all of its nutritional value also is canceled out. But I did do something Mom would approve of while making Chicken Divine: I used the bones of the rotisserie chicken that I shredded to make homemade chicken broth.

Believe me, I'm really not getting all high and mighty on myself. I once went to Costco with Mom and she basically forbid me from buying frozen chicken breasts because they're too expensive compared with buying whole chickens and cutting them up yourself, which is what she does. But that's not what I do. The few times Bryan and I tried cutting up a chicken, we had to call ex-butcher Charlie or refer to a book, and we still didn't do it right. So now I just make sure to buy my frozen chicken breasts and thighs, as well as rotisserie chickens, when Mom's not around. And as a consolation (to my guilty conscience), I make broth out of the bones.

It's nothing fancy. I just cover the bones, skin and fat with water and cook it in the Crock-Pot overnight, then strain the chunks and skim the fat after it cools in the morning. But compared with store-bought broth, the flavor is amazing. Somehow, Mom's is about a billion times better. It's probably because she uses a thermal cooking pot, which I would recommend to anybody who makes soup more than once a week. But dang, are they hard to find in America.

Anyhoo, I'm still going to share the recipe for Chicken Divine, which I got from Heather years ago and have made for countless people since then. It's a crowd-pleaser, so enjoy!

Chicken Divine
1-1/2 c. uncooked jasmine rice
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (or about 4 c. shredded rotisserie chicken meat)
2 broccoli heads, cut in bite-size pieces
Family-size can of cream of chicken soup
1 c. mayo
1-2 T. curry powder
1-2 T. lemon juice
2 c. cheddar cheese
1/4 c. bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook rice according to package directions. Spray 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray, then layer with rice. Cover with shredded chicken, then broccoli.

Mix chicken soup, mayo, curry powder and lemon juice, then pour on top of casserole. Top with cheddar cheese and bread crumbs. Cook for 35 minutes, or until bubbly and top is brown.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Keeping the hubby happy with Grandma's recipes

This is fun. Not only do I get to ruin my mom's recipes, but now I also get to ruin Bryan's mom's recipes. I suppose I could have watched Connie make Bryan's favorite childhood dish, Seafoam Salad. Better yet, I could have helped her make it. But I had better things to do on Christmas Eve, like watch holiday movies on Chiller. Hey, we don't get that station. That's a good enough excuse, isn't it?

I have a better excuse. This was the first Christmas I have had the chance to celebrate in Bryan's hometown since we first started dating in the early part of this waning decade. I'm not going to say that I'm happy to be out of the newspaper industry, but there certainly are aspects of it I'm never going to miss. Like having to work nearly every single holiday, or at least enough of the surrounding days that holiday travel was impossible.

So getting laid off has had its benefits, that's for sure. For once, I didn't have to work, trying to squeeze in a meal with family after an exhausting day, or to even cook a harried holiday meal on or in between work days. For once, I got to put my feet up and enjoy a week that much of the nation has off every year of their lives. So thank you, to my wonderful inlaws, for giving me that week of relaxation.

Oh, so you came here for a recipe, not to hear me make up excuses for my laziness?

Well, here you go. A holiday classic from Bryan's Grandma Dorothy:

Seafoam Salad
15-oz. can pears in heavy syrup
4-oz. package lime jello
8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
12-oz. can evaporated milk, thoroughly chilled

Drain pears, reserving syrup. Mash pears and set aside. Heat syrup to boiling, then add to the lime jello, stirring to dissolve. Gradually beat in softened cream cheese. Stir in mashed pears. Chill until almost firm (about 30 minutes).

Beat evaporated milk until soft peaks form. Fold whipped milk into pear mixture. Chill at least six hours before serving, preferably overnight.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cheesecake is so not about the crust

Maybe one of these days I'll actually use the fancy springform cheesecake pan my aunt and uncle got us for our wedding 2-1/2 years ago, but until then, premade crusts in disposable dishes it is.

They may not be pretty, but they sure are useful. I suppose I'd care more if I actually enjoyed eating crust, but all I'm ever really going for is what's in the middle. As far as I'm concerned, the crust is just there to hold it all together. And besides, it's so much easier to bring to a party because then I don't have to worry about my pan at the end of the evening.

Excuses, excuses. I really did consider making a pretty cheesecake this time, but when I saw that most recipes for the pans call for four bricks of cream cheese, I decided 32 oz. of fat and cholesterol was a bit much for a potluck dessert party.

Oh, come on, if I really cared about my friends, I'd make something like a cranberry-orange nut loaf. But I'd really rather just hear them compliment the cheesecake recipe that was handed down to me from Dad's mom, to my mom after she came to this country more than 40 years ago, that then became a staple at all of our holiday events, and became one of the first recipes I mastered. (Except for the one time when I made the cheesecake at Mom's house, and the "vanilla" was actually sesame oil because she's all about reusing, but not about relabeling. Bryan will never let me live that one down. Thanks, Mom.)

UPDATE: I have just been informed that the recipe isn't actually from Dad's mom, but from his sister, my Aunt Cindy. She says: "I got it from my 1969 Better Homes and Garden Cookbook (wedding gift typical of that era and before) and have been baking it for 40 years!!! It is always a hit and loved by everyone who has tried it."

Cheese Cake
8 oz.-package cream cheese
1/2 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 t. vanilla, divided
Dash salt
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream
Graham cracker crust

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Soften cream cheese, then beat until fluffy. Blend in 1/2 c. sugar, lemon juice, 1/2 t. vanilla and salt. Add eggs, one at a time while beating. Pour into crust.

Cook for about 50 minutes. While cheesecake is in oven, prepare the topping. Mix sour cream, 2 T. sugar and 1/2 t. vanilla. Alternatively, use only 1/2 c. sour cream, then add 1/2 c. fruit of your choice.

Spoon topping on top of cooked cheesecake. Bake for 10 more minutes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dry roast beef gets drenched in risotto

Maybe trying out a new recipe on a huge slab of meat from Costco wasn't such a good idea. I figured, roast beef is so juicy in the middle, so how could I go wrong? Oh, but I forgot, drying out meat is something I excel at, regardless of the cut. The flavor was there, but the texture. ... Usually, being devout carnivores, Bryan and I don't have a problem devouring 5 pounds of flesh in a few days, but this time I had to get creative. The gravy just wasn't cutting it.

So with the weather flirting with freezing and the threat of snow just hours away, I turned to our most beloved soul-warming and hearty meal, risotto.

I realize the plate is a little bare. Thankfully Mom doesn't actually read my blog. But going to the store for salad or some other green fare just seems like such a chore when the weather is so cold. I even had to get creative with the broth since I didn't actually have any. Instead, I soaked the mushrooms in 4 c. of water and used that. I also added about 1/2 c. of my remaining gravy, and it turned out wonderfully if you'd prefer that route. Assuming you don't just have gravy lying around, I'll give you the recipe made with broth.

Risotto with Roast Beef and Wild Mushrooms
0.88-oz. (25 g) package dried wild mushrooms
2 c. boiling water
1 T. olive oil
1-1/2 c. chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. red wine
2 c. beef broth
2 c. roast beef, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese to garnish

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Drain the liquid from the mushrooms into a saucepan with the beef broth, heat to almost boiling and keep warm. Chop the drained mushrooms if they're in big chunks, then set aside.

Heat a stockpot to medium-low, then add olive oil. Cook onions and garlic for about 4 minutes, until soft, then add the arborio rice and stir for another 4 minutes. Add red wine and let simmer until liquid is absorbed. Then add the heated mushroom and beef broth mixture in 1/2 c. increments, waiting to add more broth until all the liquid is evaporated. This is important. Don't stop stirring. Hopefully you have a Bryan who loves the meal so much, he'll stir the whole time!

When you add your last ladle of broth, throw in the mushrooms and steak. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.