Choose your Own Adventure

Remember reading those books, or trying to read them to your kids?

I was never satisfied until I had read through every possible ending.  Sometimes I would start at an ending and work my way back to see how the story developed and sometimes I would read the book in the way a normal book is read just to make sure that I had explored all alternatives. I’m not sure anyone that knows me would be surprised at this.

Anyway, this is possibly your chance to go on a similar adventure.  Each of these posts will happen at some point, so don’t worry if your favorite isn’t chosen.  We’ll get there.

 

“Japanese” Chicken

In which I discover why reading is fundamental.

It’s probably good that I got bifocals the last time I went to the eye doctor.  Looking at this recipe, I swear I read “Japanese Chicken” and since it was on the same page as the Egg Foo Yung, I decided that we could have an Asian night and I would cook those recipes.  While looking at the recipe, I couldn’t figure out why it was called Japanese chicken when there was nothing Japanese about the ingredients.  When did they start using tarragon in traditional Japanese cooking?  But this was Iowa and well before I was born, maybe tarragon was exotic?  I also had a hard time realizing that “Pour over chicken” was not “Parmesan Chicken.”  Perhaps it was the handwriting?  Right before I went to cook this recipe, I realized that “Japanese” actually said “Popover”.  That gave me a lot of answers.Popover Chicken

But there were still more questions.  Like what kind of chicken?  Cooked chicken?  Raw chicken?  I took a guess.  I think I guessed wrong, but considering the information I was working with, it was certainly not as bad as it could’ve been.

We had gone to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens and the kids had all gotten a coupon for a free junior cone of custard for completing the scavenger hunt, so we did backwards dinner where we ate dessert first.  I believe that things work out the way they should most of the time.  Because we had bellies full of custard, no one was hungry immediately upon getting home.  So it was less important that dinner took over a half hour longer than estimated.

As a warning to anyone that may try this, raw, still slightly frozen chicken thighs on the bone do not cook

completely at 350 for 50 minutes.  This information will come in handy for all sorts of things, so remember it.  However, if after 60 minutes, you turn the oven up to 450 and cook them for another 15 minutes or so, the pink goes away.DSCN2458

Another note, raw, bone in chicken produces a lot of juice.  This will make the popover part of the dish turn into something that somewhat resembles a dumpling.  Only the top of the popover is that delicious, light airy substance that we love to fill with homemade jam. (Not in this dish, but in general).

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I think done correctly, using pre-cooked chicken, B/S chicken breasts, or some sort of shredded chicken, this would be a really nice sort of fun meal.  Like a pot pie…oh, like a potpie…That is a brilliant idea for someone’s upcoming birthday.

After this meal, I think I owe my family one of my normal meals with a delicious cake or great dessert.  Even if the main courses are crap, Great-Grandma made great cakes and desserts.

Popover Chicken

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 t salt
1 T oil
1 T chopped Tarragon

Beat first 4 ingredients together for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add oil.  Beat 30 seconds more.  (Do NOT overbeat)

Pour over chicken in a casserole. (Maybe this meant a chicken casserole, not just a casserole dish?) Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 or til done.

Egg Foo Yung

In which I think I should’ve ordered take-out.

There are times where I fail at a meal completely.  It doesn’t happen often, but it does occasionally happen.  Since John can remember, there have been only handful of meals that we absolutely could not eat.  This was one of them.  It wasn’t something like that episode of Chopped where the contestant mistook salt for sugar.  The dish didn’t burn.  The eggs weren’t spoiled. It was nothing that I did wrong.  It was the recipe.  Maybe cooking Chinese food created by Iowa farmers with German heritage was a bad idea.  Maybe my expectations were too high.  I do remember thinking while looking at the ingredients “how bad can this be?”.  DSCN2449

We spent the meal creating alternative names for this dish.  Egg Foo Yuck, Egg Foo Old, Egg What the F!&@.  It was horrible.  It tasted like the Rock River smelled a few years ago when the carp all got herpes and died.  The river was a stream of dead fish, the fish got caught up in the trees on the side of the river.  The smell was horrific.

The Egg Foo Yung was horror movie worthy.  It was like dirty socks mixed with dead fish.  The texture was silken tofu-y.

It was like something that Gordon Ramsey pulls out of a drain on one of those episodes of Kitchen Nightmares. You know what I’m talking about.

In case you are wondering, cans of chop suey vegetables are really just cans of bean shoots with 3 pieces of carrot and one piece of celery.  It is gross on so many levels.  It looks disgusting, it smells disgusting, there is nothing good I can say about it.  I’m hoping to not find more recipes that call for this ingredient.

Canned shrimp is probably fine in other uses, but even so it didn’t ruin the dish any worse than anything else.  I really can’t think of much that would make this dish worse except a can of tuna…and serving it with soy sauce like the recipe suggested.  Don’t do that.  It makes it worse.   DSCN2451

If you have decided that my description is not scary enough and you are going to insist on making this, it probably takes 20 minutes on low and covered to set the egg, but please, do not make it.  You will regret wasting the ingredients, you will think of all the delicious things you could’ve made with those eggs.

Thank goodness this was not the only thing we had for dinner.  The roasted beets with blueberry vanilla goat cheese and the zucchini and tomatoes cooked with Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning were delicious.  And the other dish I made to go with it was something I thought was called Japanese Chicken, but that’s the next post.    Popover Chicken

Cabbage Salad

Cole slaw is something we all grow up with.  It’s usually mayo based, or vinegar based and not that interesting.  Occasionally you get cole slaw that is amazing for some reason, like at Bismarck’s Bar and Grill where they add bacon.  But normally, it’s something we eat as a side dish because of tradition more than anything else.  Cabbage is cheap. It is mostly used the cut the richness of fatty foods.  (See what I did there?  Cheap Cabbage/Rich food? I’m hilarious.)  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone exclaim “Cole Slaw!  That’s my favorite!”

dscn2408.jpgThis isn’t cole slaw.  It is a cabbage salad. It was John’s favorite part of the meal.  He said it was the only part of the meal he didn’t think he’d get sick of eating as leftovers.  I thought that perhaps the onion rings were a little much.  I am not sure if I would’ve preferred them to be thinner slices or chopped more, but they were too much.

But it’s not memorable.  I wrote up the first part of this when we first had the salad.  A few days and a few recipes later, I can’t even remember what the salad tasted like.  It was good, it was fine, it wasn’t worth having it the second day if there were other options.  And it kind of sucks for the salad.DSCN2377

Actually, thinking back, this would probably be a great accompaniment to grilled food. There are hot days where a nice cold cabbage salad is the perfect thing to go with a nice pork shoulder, rubbed with onion and herb paste and slow roasted on the grill all day long.  Or BBQ chicken.  Nice and moist and falling off the bone.  That tang of the barbecue sauce.  But this salad is never going to be the star of the show.  It’s always going to be a member of the chorus.  It might get a line or two in a major production, but it’s ultimately going to back to its waitressing gig to wait for the big break that will never come.  I mean, come on.  It’s still just cabbage salad.Cabbage Salad

Pork Meatballs

In which I make pork meatballs

Who even knew that Cream of Onion soup was a thing? Apparently, it’s just me.  I asked John that question when he got home and he knew. I know my friends are laughing at me as they read this.

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I haven’t used canned soup in over a decade.  There were all those articles about sodium content and then I realized that it just didn’t taste like homemade soup from fresh ingredients. I am a snob. I like what Andy Warhol did with cans of soup.  I ate canned soup growing up.  I have eaten recipes that other people have made with canned soup, but I just didn’t buy it or use it in my own cooking.

 

So when Miles chose this recipe and it called for a can of cream of onion soup, I had no idea that was a thing that still existed.  I knew about cream of asparagus, cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, I think I had even seen cream of shrimp at one point, but because I don’t look in the canned soup section of the grocery store, I just didn’t know.

In the rules I set up for myself, I decided that I was going to follow the recipes exactly as written (except in cases where there were no instructions).  So with my shopping list, the boys and I set out for the grocery store.

The grocery store with children is always a challenge.  I like the company, to a degree, but they need to figure out how to steer the cart where I want it.  I hate the number of times I have to say “no” about things.  We are normally the loudest people in the store (and everywhere else we ever go), but our loud is normally more pleasant than obnoxious (or so I like to think).  We enjoy being together and making each other laugh and we are friendly.  Anyway, we went to the meat section and there was no ground pork.  There was pork sausage and pizza sausage, but no plain ground pork.  I asked the guy at the counter if there was any.  He explained that he couldn’t get any out because he was cutting something else and cross-contamination and whatnot, but if I could wait until 2.  It was noon.  I wasn’t going to drive back to Stoughton for ground pork.  I could’ve gone to the meat market across the street from my house, or as the kids suggested, I could just grind my own.  It’s a pain, but doable.  I grabbed some country style ribs and put them in my cart and started to walk to the yogurt area, when I saw the guy from the meat counter waving behind me.  I’m sure we were hard to find in the store since we are so quiet and all…This sweet, sweet man had taken pity on me and had stopped what he was doing and secured me the two pounds of ground pork I needed for the recipe.  He wouldn’t let me thank him or say anything to him about it or even acknowledge that he had done it because the store cameras may pick up the action.  I just hope he realizes how much I appreciate his efforts.

DSCN2340I, stupidly, didn’t start the recipe until much later than I should’ve because I was baking something else that I had started too late.  The oven was set at 375 for that and I forgot to turn it up to 400 which I didn’t realize until the end of the cooking time.  It might’ve cost me a bit on the browning of the meatballs, but they were still cooked through. I ended up getting supper on the table and had just enough time to eat before I sent John off to a Euchre tournament at the coffeehouse.  You know, like everyone does.  I figured it might be a good way to start meeting people in town.  John likes Euchre.

At dinner, instead of having epic rap battles, coming up with punny new jokes, or discussing new game ideas, we discussed these meatballs.  Nick was sure they had too many onions and picked them out.  (Reminder to self to cut them smaller next time).  The flavor of the pork was good.  The bread soak held in the juice.  Nick doesn’t think meatballs should have bread. I didn’t bother to explain the bonding principles to him this time.  I just rolled my eyes.  For some reason, the meatballs’ flavor reminded me of the inside of potstickers.  No idea why.  The cream of onion soup didn’t make the creamy sauce I was expecting from reading the recipe.  It was creamy, but could’ve probably benefitted from the addition of some milk to thin it.  John commented that this was one of those recipes where, if he had made it, he would’ve been very proud of himself, but because I had made it, it was just ok.  Miles ate it and declared it delicious, but that might’ve been partially prompted by the ego he had invested in having chosen the recipe.  He declined seconds and was “starving” by bedtime.

It’s not a pretty recipe.  It doesn’t make something eye-catchingly beautiful.  I’m sure there are ways to make it look better, but I’m not going to make that sort of effort for family dinner when it’s already late and everyone is starving and has places to be.DSCN2354

This is the sort of dish that is a great base for experimentation.  It could benefit from the addition of mushrooms, or French-fried onions on top of it.  You could easily make the balls smaller and serve them at a party on toothpicks.  Throw them on bread with whatever sort of veg you want, add some cheese, make a sandwich. Make the meatballs, make the soup, make meatball soup.  Add to pasta.  Meatballs are good.  Make your own cream sauce for these, if you prefer.

These are good basic pork meatballs.  Not the sort of dish I get overly excited about, but am rarely disappointed to be served.
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*This recipe is part of a red spiral bound book that was originally the Iowa State College Freshman Handbook that was presented to the Class of ’53.  The pages have been pasted over with recipes.

 

Danish Puff

In which I make a recipe titled Danish Puff.

The thing about these old recipes is that often I have no idea what the thing I am making is supposed to be like.  I have no idea if I’ve had the dish before because I don’t know the names of everything I’ve been served.  I do the same thing with music.  I know lots of songs, but can’t tell you titles of most of them.  Which gets into the whole misheard lyrics thing.  So quick sidebar, about 2 years ago I heard that the song “Little Red Corvette” was coming on the radio.  I was a kind of excited because I was actually going to hear what that song was.  I had known about the song for ages, but never knew what the song was.  Except when it came on, I totally knew the song.  I had just always thought that when Prince sang “Little Red Corvette”, he was singing “Feeling coming back”. I guess that would be a proper response to the song to “I Can’t Feel My Face.”

Reigning myself back in here, Danish Puff.  The big lesson here is that you can’t take yourself too seriously and you have to be able to correct things while cooking.  One of the biggest things that I tell the kids about cooking is “read all the way through the recipe before you get started”.  I followed my own advice, but I read through the recipe the day before or something and then life happened and there was the stinging nettle incident and so when it came time to make this recipe, my head wasn’t exactly where it probably should’ve been.  Plus, I knew that I should’ve been starting supper instead of making DSCN2303pastry.  I made the pie dough, but wasn’t sticking together right.  I added more cold water, but it just didn’t seem right.  I know what pie crust is supposed to be like and that you want to add just enough water to hold it together.  Something in my head said that it needed more fat. I had put in two sticks of butter before because of the way the recipe was written, but noticed in the instructions that it called for only one stick.  I had skipped over the part where it said I only needed to put half the flour in the bowl for the crust.  The other half was used for the filling.  Crap!  And by now the dough was getting to the point where I was sure it was overworked,

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but how do you add butter after the fact?  I got out the food processor and loaded everything back in there with a bit more flour and tried again.  This time the dough was smooth and pliable.  It was easy to roll out into oblong shapes.  It’s amazing what happens when you read instructions.  I needed to double the filling to compensate for the doubled crust.  At this point I was just hoping the recipe would taste good because otherwise that’s a lot of wasted ingredients.  And considering I was flying blind with this recipe…

DSCN2323Reading the recipe, I got the idea that it was pie crust with choux pastry spread on top.  Choux pastry is the stuff that cream puffs and eclairs are made out of.  It’s rich and eggy and if you don’t let the steam out, deflates and gets sort of creamy inside.  That was exactly what it was.  There was nothing sweet about the pie crust or the choux, just richness, a bit of crisp, the almond flavor.  The sweetness came in from the glaze poured all over the top.

The recipe said to bake the Puff between 350 and 400 for about 50 minutes.  I opted for 375.  The pastry on the darker pan on the top rack took about 5 minutes less than the pastry on the pan on the bottom rack.  It also didn’t specify how to make a powdered sugar glaze, but I already knew how to do that, I just didn’t know how much needed to be made. I guessed and used about a cup or so of powdered sugar and just enough water to make it smooth. dscn2352.jpg

Frankly, it’s delicious.  We had that as a snack before dinner, since I had neglected to make dinner until the Danish Puff was done cooking.  We also had it as a snack after dinner, for breakfast this morning, probably some for a snack later on. It may benefit from some slivered almonds sprinkled on top just for that added crunch.  One might consider whether or not it needed something spread between the layers of pastry.  No one would complain if I made it again.

Danish puff

Danish Puff

1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
2 cups flour
1/4 t salt
2 T cold water
1 c. boiling water
1 t. almond extract
3 eggs
powdered sugar icing

  1.  Cut 1/2 cup margarine in 1 cup flour and salt until resembles coarse meal.  Add cold water and stir until blended.  Divide dough in half and press each half into an oblong on an ungreased baking sheet.
  2. Place boiling water and remaining 1/2 c margarine in saucepan.  Bring to boil. When margarine is melted add flavoring and remove from heat.
  3. Immediately stir in remaining 1 cup flour.  Beat mixture smooth and add eggs one at a time beating well.  Spread over pie pastry.  Bake 350-400 about 50 min.  Frost cakes while hot.  Cut into slices and serve warm.

16 servings