Sunday, July 18, 2010

More on Avoiding the Rubber Chicken

When I first started this blog, I wrote about reheating chicken breasts without making them rubbery. I wanted to expand on that for a minute and let you know about this awesome product that I found.
First, I should explain that I like to cook a bunch of chicken breasts at the beginning of the week and keep them in the fridge so that my husband and I can take them to our respective jobs and eat them for lunch. (I use the word "respective" loosely, as my current job totally blows.) Reheating that chicken in an oven is obviously impossible at work, so its either eat the chicken cold, or microwave it. Either way makes the chicken harder to eat, so I've started marinating the shite out of all the chicken before I cook it. Remember what a marinade does? It starts breaking down the fibers of the meat before you cook it so that you get a more tender product. Its like sending Mr. T in to give your meat a good, eight hour talking-to before you put it on the grill. But I don't always feel like mixing up a marinade from scratch (I've got to save my energy for more important things like cocktail hour and writing this blog... the two sometimes happen simultaneously), and that's where this awesome product comes in.

1888 Premium Olive Press is this killer dirty martini mixer that is the very first of its kind. (Google it and order some pronto! Or, if you live in Texas, you can find it at your liquor store.) Seriously, no one else has ever thought of this, and that's just crazy: its made by pressing whole olives in a giant gazillion-pound press, taking the olive juice and bottling it. This happens to make a dangerously good dirty martini because your cocktail ends up tasting like olives, not ocean water. It also makes a bad ass marinade. I have been pouring 1888 over chicken breasts, salting them, and letting them sit overnight before I roast them in the oven. This way, not only is the chicken super tender when it comes out of the oven, but it stays super tender when I eat it cold or reheat it in the microwave. It only flavors the chicken lightly, which I like, because a lot of marinades are BBQ or smokey flavored, and I'm not always in the mood for that.

As advanced as the culinary arts have become, its funny that there are still only two ways to tenderize meat. You either marinate it, or beat the crap out of it. For real, those are your two options. Even on an angry day, I'm much happier to pour a bottle of olive juice on my chicken than start a fight with it. (And then I can enjoy a martini at the same time. Score!)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tricia's Top Five Reasons Why Showgirls is the Best Movie of All Time

Okay, not really. I'm writing about cooking stuff, I just thought I'd change it up a bit to give my google searches some variety and to try and expand my fan base. I do think Showgirls is an awesome movie, by the way. It makes me laugh for the entire 2 hours.

Dear Tricia, What would your top 5 kitchen utensils or items be? Why? Any specific brand(s)?

Top 5 is the perfect number for you to ask for because once you start getting up to 10, the kitchen tool junkie in me starts to show her true colors. For real, you should have seen me when I opened up some of my wedding gifts. "A citrus reamer?? I've always wanted one of these!!" I don't know if my husband was ready to see that side of me. Alright, this was tough, but here goes.

1. As far as knives go, you don't need an entire fancy set. Let's be real- you're never going to use all of them and you probably don't need extra crap on your counter top. So a chef's knife is most important. A chef's knife is a large (usually between 8-10 inches), all purpose knife with a straight blade (as opposed to a serrated blade... you know, those zig zag-shaped blades that you use to slice bread with and it hurts extra bad when you cut yourself? Um, hypothetically speaking, of course.) that is used for any chopping, dicing, slicing, etc. I prefer my Global knife because it comes in two sizes and the smaller one fits my hand better. Its also really light and easy to sharpen. (Knives are a whole other blog. Read that one here.)

2. A paring knife. That's the tiny knife with the tiny handle and straight blade that is used to slice really small stuff and cut fruit with. I use my paring knife for little things like picking lemon seeds out of lemons and other random tasks that don't even involve cutting. I prefer a Shun paring knife because it has something like 14 types of steel in the blade, and again, really easy to sharpen. I've had my knives for years and don't plan on getting new ones anytime in the near future. Both of my knives are Japanese... leave it up to those guys to make as awesome of knives as they do cars. Driving around in my Honda and using my Japanese knives makes me feel like I'm representing my Japanese homies pretty well.

3. Tongs are basically an extension of your hand. They're completely awesome and they're probably every one's favorite utensil in professional kitchens. I used to carry mine in my back pocket. Tongs are used to grab hot stuff, flip it over in a pan, take hot pans out of the oven, grilling, and can be used anytime you don't have a hot pad or a towel. Instead of using a spatula to move stuff around in a pan, they give you more control to grab things and move them where you want- you gotta show that food who's boss, and tongs will help you do it. I'm not brand specific when it comes to tongs, they just need to be sturdy ones that aren't too big to handle comfortably, and they need to be all metal so that they don't melt when you're handling said hot stuff.

4. A heat-safe, rubber spatula. I make a lot of eggs (and coincidentally, most of my blog questions happen to be about eggs), and a rubber spatula is the best thing to cook them with. When you're scrambling eggs, or making them over-easy, or whatever, a rubber spatula keeps everything from sticking to the pan and because its flexible, gives you more control. A plastic spatula is a disaster. I hate them. Also, you need a heat safe spatula so that, duh, it doesn't melt in high temperatures. Nothing says unappetizing like melted plastic in your food. Restaurant supply stores sell my favorite ones (they're always white with a red handle), but if you're not near one, Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table sell Le Crueset ones that are really sturdy. (And they always come in pastel colors around Easter. Bonus!) Don't buy the Cuisinart ones: I accidentally ate a splinter that came out of the handle of one of those. Unpleasant doesn't even begin to describe the cat-hacking-up-a-hairball-like noises I made during that experience. It wasn't cute.

5. A good non- stick pan for cooking omelets. (Wanna know if its spelled "omelet" or "omelette?" Click here.) I make omelets ALL THE DING DANG TIME. And to get an omelet to flip without sticking, I've found that a non stick pan with no scratches is completely necessary, especially if you don't cook a lot. In order to keep it scratch free, don't wash it with a metal scrubber or use any metal utensils in it. A non-stick pan is also great for making good eggs over easy. One blog reader on my facebook fan page specifically calls this pan her "egg pan." I call mine James.

I feel like I'm neglecting to mention all of my favorite baking tools: my Kitchen-Aid mixer, my mini offset spatula, and my squeezy citrus juicer. The blender is also super helpful. And that food processor that I'm saving up for is going to be awesome. And my French press coffee maker. And my Blu Ray player so that I can watch Showgirls...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fourth of July= Pie and Blowing Things Up

I have to make some peach pies on Sunday for my family, and for those of you who are into some good ol' American pie for the 4th of July, I wanted to repost my vodka pie crust blog titled "American Pie and Vodka, and no I'm not Talking about Tara Reid." The crust is the most flaky, amazetastic pie dough you'll ever use, and yes, it uses vodka. I've heard that when you get it just right, rainbows spontaneously occur, and unicorns magically appear in your backyard.

Dear Tricia, I'm told my pie crusts are pretty good. But I ran into a recipe that calls for vodka! I know the alcohol would bake out, but why in the world would I even want to add it? (And if I was going to pick a booze to add, it would be tequila....)

Sometimes when I think I'm too much of a bad ass in the kitchen (or just too good at pretending like I am), I get an email like this that makes me think, "Wow. I really don't know!" So this was a fun one to research.
It turns out I'm not that behind on my baking skills, as this is a recipe that Cooks Illustrated (For those of you that aren't familiar, Cooks Illustrated is sort of like an awesome science magazine for recipes... everything is fool-proof and it never features Rachael Ray!) just developed last year that had most bakers scratching their heads. They suggested that you take half of the water in the pie crust recipe and substitute it with vodka. So, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of water, use 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of vodka. "But why in the world would you want to waste good vodka?", you ask. If you'd rather have a martini than a glorious flaky apple pie, then get out of the kitchen and go ahead and get back on Facebook. But if you're willing to donate the martini to the pie crust, then this recipe guarantees the flakiest pie crust you'll ever taste. Here's why:

1. Gluten doesn't form in alcohol:
What the hell is gluten? Well, if you're a loyal reader, you should know this. But if not (shame on you!), here's a brief overview: if you've over-worked your pie dough and then try to roll it out, its super hard to get it to roll without it springing back like a piece of elastic. That's because it has a lot of gluten in it. As a visual, pretend that water and flour are like... thanksgiving. And too much thanksgiving = elastic pants.
When you mix water and flour together and keep stirring/kneading/over-all-messing-with it, gluten forms. Gluten is a natural protein that makes baked goodies like bread chewy. But when you're making pie dough, you don't want a lot of gluten to show up at the pie crust party because it makes the crust end up chewy and tough. This can be avoided by not over-working the pie dough. You simply mix the water/butter/flour together until it just forms a ball and then refrigerate it. It's also a lot easier to roll out that way. But as an added bonus (I feel like I'm channelling Billy Mayes here), gluten won't form in alcohol. It's like magic! For some strange reason, gluten just hates alcohol and stays far far away.

2. The alcohol evaporates in the oven:
Lets play pretend again. Pretend you have a really soggy and wet pie dough that you put in the oven to bake. What you're going to take out of the oven in 45 minutes is a doughy, heavy, definitely-not-flaky pie crust. Not enough of the water evaporated out of the dough so it just stayed gross and soggy. But what alcohol does is evaporate completely in high heats. (The same thing happens when you cook with alcohol... you keep some of the flavor but the boozy stuff disappears.) So if you're taking half of your water and substituting it for alcohol, half of the liquid is guaranteed to evaporate, and some of the water will evaporate too. This makes a flaky, light pie crust.

So why use vodka and not some other delicious liquor? Vodka is the most odorless, tasteless alcohol, so it leaves a classic pie crust flavor without any other interference. But if you prefer tequila (or bourbon, like myself. Helloooo Woodford Reserve), why not use it? Have a little nip for yourself and then try it out and let me know what happens. Any other liquor will have more sugar, which means your crust might possibly brown more, but keep a good eye on it while its baking and use some foil to cover the top if it happens to get too dark.
Another helpful hint I learned from researching this recipe is that the dough can be a little more wet and difficult to work with, so try rolling the dough out in between pieces of wax paper or parchment paper to avoid bigger mess to clean up later. But if you're sampling the tequila while baking, a mess might be unavoidable anyway. And I support that.

Here's the recipe:

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

For similar blog entries, check out my archives under the titles, "Rootin' Tootin' Gluten" and "Whoever made up the phrase "Easy as Pie" was a Big Fat Liar."