Week Five: Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

I asked for a crock pot cookbook for Christmas this year, thinking that an actual book would help me stay motivated and organized in my efforts to complete #10 on my 30 Before 30 list. I have a tendency to bookmark random recipes on blogs or from friends’ links, and it often means that I’m left without anything very appealing when I actually decide to cook. Or, I’m left with endless recipes for things containing black beans, sweet potatoes, or both.

before

I am going through a pretty intense sweet potato phase right now, and the obsession seems to be mostly confined to baking the sweet potatoes and topping them with a little butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Sweet potatoes are so good that they really don’t need much embellishment, and the few times that I have tried recipes with sweet potatoes and a bunch of other crap, I’ve been disappointed.

handmade52.5 chicken and sweet potato stew

This stew is very, very, VERY simple – it basically contains carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and chicken. It is proof of either my dedication to this Handmade52 project or my interest in this particular recipe that I actually bought, cleaned, and cut chicken breasts. I am really intimidated by raw meat, and this was actually the very first time that I bought and cooked chicken on my own. In spite of my poor parents’ endless lessons on cleaning and cooking chicken in any number of ways, I am both grossed out texturally and squicked by the whole “it’s raw chicken be carefullllll” thing. But I suffered through it, and maybe it wasn’t as bad as I feared. (I’m not going to start cooking it often, but at least I’ve, you know, done it.)

serious yum

The main problem with this recipe is that it sort of doesn’t fit into my easy-quick-set it up before work crock pot expectations. There’s a lot of peeling and cubing of the ingredients. It took me about a half an hour to get this all ready, and adding a half hour to my morning routine to cut up raw chicken is not really in the cards. So I saved this for a day off, and that meant being able to cook it on high rather than all damn day. It started smelling really tasty just as I sat down around 5pm to get through the end of the book I’ve been reading this week, and it was hard to wait the remaining two hours to eat. The flavor is hard to describe, and not one that I’ve tasted before. Something about the combination of spices made this much tastier than I expected. Maybe it was the celery seeds? Either way, I really enjoyed this, and am looking forward to having it again!

it's a good thing this was tasty!

Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew
From Crock-Pot Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes
Makes 6 servings

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (mine were gigantic)
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (I used a whole hell of a lot of baby carrots)
1 can (28 ounces) whole stewed tomatoes, undrained (I might just used diced next time)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Combine chicken, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes with juice, salt, paprika, celery seeds, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and broth in the slow cooker. Cover, cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours. To serve, sprinkle with basil.

Week Three: Freezer Burritos

I’m not sure anyone who’s out there reading this will be shocked when I say that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to burritos. So this week I tried an experiment, namely making a whole bunch of burritos and then freezing them for future lunches and dinners. My brother stopped by while I was still cooking (or, just as the smoke started pouring out of the microwave, but more on that later), and simply didn’t believe that I have never made my own burritos before. “But you like them so much, why wouldn’t you just make them yourself?” And I could only answer feebly, “Because Chipotle already does it perfectly?”

I found this Everyday Food recipe a few weeks ago and immediately printed it out. It seemed very easy, and bean burritos are my favorite anyway. Plus, I’m enough of a beginner that I need instructions for freezing and then subsequently reheating food to be spelled out for me line by line.

I set out to make these on Tuesday night, and it sort of started off badly and continued downhill. I didn’t calculate ahead of time that I had not bought the quick kind of brown rice, nor did I make anywhere near enough. Luckily, the long cooking time for the rice gave my slow ass time to chop the onions, garlic, and jalapenos. (Disaster number two: thinking that because jalapenos aren’t that hot, I didn’t need to pay attention to my hands and touching my eyes. Idiot.) Anyway, basically, you get the onions, garlic and peppers cooking, add the tomato paste (I’m still not sure I am happy about this addition; it totally overpowered everything) and beans, and cook until everything gets nice and combined.

Meanwhile, I decided to cook more rice, but in the microwave this time, because I didn’t want to use the same pot on the stove again? I really don’t know. I thought it would be quicker somehow, and something went wrong somewhere, because even though it still should have been way short on cooking time, in the amount of time it took me to let my brother in (and for him to help me carry my new desk into the apartment), the microwave was smoking, the rice blackened, and the tupperware warped and melted. (My apartment still smelled like burning the next day).

handmade52.3 freezer burritos

At this point it was almost 9pm and I was starting to lose interest in ever eating these burritos… but my brother convinced me to snap out of it and I wrapped them all up and ate one, too.

bean burrito

And it was pretty tasty, all told. The flavors had a lot of time to combine, and it wasn’t too liquidy, so it didn’t ooze too much.

frozen!

I’m glad that I have seven future meals all ready to go, but this whole experience has definitely broken a bit of that whole MustFollowRecipe rule-following internal strictness, because the recipe? Made a decent burrito. But the way I’d make a burrito myself (rice, black beans, peppers and onions, salsa, cheese, sour cream and/or guacamole if I’m feeling indulgent) would have been better. And I can still make them ahead and freeze them.

Say it with me now: DUH.

Week One: Pad Thai

Introducing my newest project, Handmade52! My goal is to create/craft/cook/bake/make something new each week for the duration of 2011. A whole project of cooking or crafts would probably be a little overkill, so I’m hoping that by combining them all into one big, nebulous project, it will be easier to stick with it. Of course, my rule-following self is already struggling (mentally) with such a vague guideline, but it’s okay.

This week I decided to start with something that I have loved for a long time, namely pad thai. I remembered that Kasia had a recipe that she was obsessed with, and since we tend to have similar tastes, I asked her to share her recipe, which came from Jaden Hair’s Steamy Kitchen cookbook. I pulled the book off the shelf at the library that afternoon, and made it on my day off today. As usual, the prep took me way longer than it probably needed to, and involved an overly large number of dirty bowls and cooking utensils.

perhaps it is a result of watching too many cooking shows

I had intended to just use the original cookbook recipe, but I had some trouble finding some of the ingredients to make my own pad thai sauce, and ended up buying a pre-made sauce. Of course, that package came with a slightly difference recipe, and I was sort of disorganized when it came to combining the two.

mixing, lots of mixing

The end result? Was a little underwhelming, and I was SO disappointed after what felt like a long time cooking for such a simple recipe. (It probably wasn’t as long as it felt, but a few near-disasters made it seem like forever.) The problem, I think, was that I bungled the noodles, which needed to soak before being stir-fried. Except the package I bought said to cook them like regular pasta, and I followed the recipe’s instructions rather than the package’s. The noodles were stiff and undercooked, which made it sort of hilariously difficult to mix all the ingredients together. (The noodles were stubbornly staying in one rather solid chunk.) I also probably used too much chicken. Or maybe not. I’m not sure anymore. I would try this again, though, because I think with some practice I can get it right.

handmade52.1 pad thai

Chicken Pad Thai
(Adapted from Steamy Kitchen’s Shrimp Pad Thai and the recipe on the back of the A Taste of Thai Pad Thai sauce, and inspired by Kasia)

8 oz dried rice noodles
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 lb ground chicken
2 tbsp chopped garlic (4 cloves, or thereabouts, which seems like a lot looking back)
6 scallions, chopped
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 lime, cut into wedges
1/2 cup chopped unsalted dry roasted peanuts
1 3.25 oz package Pad Thai Sauce

Soak noodles according to directions. Scramble the eggs lightly in a separate pan, and set aside in a separate bowl. Heat oil in wok. Add chicken, and stir-fry until cooked through. Push the chicken to one side of the wok, and add garlic and green onions to an empty area of the wok. Stir-fry until fragrant. Add the drained noodles, the cooked eggs, and the Pad Thai sauce. Stir-fry until the noodles are soft and all ingredients have combined. Add the peanuts and bean sprouts and cook a minute more. Serve with a lime wedge. Makes about 4 servings if your bowls are big like mine.

#10: Cook something in my newly inherited crock pot

It’s no secret that I’ve been meaning to continue learning how to cook new things this year. This extends to using the crock pot that I inherited from my grandmother’s stash. And since half of my life lately seems to be motivated by finishing Scavenger Hunt 101, knocking #63 (a kitchen appliance) off while I’m accomplishing a 30 before 30 goal at the same time? Obvious.

before

After a brief poll on twitter, I decided to go with Marianne’s Slow Cooked Black Bean Soup, because my black bean-obsessed phase doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. I used leftover gift cards to buy a cheap immersion blender, and dusted Ghami’s crock pot off. Marianne cooked her soup in a much larger crock pot than the one I have, so I cut the recipe in half.

during

Things worked out so that my sister was over to enjoy this easy dinner with me, and let me tell you – this was SO tasty, and coming home to a good-smelling apartment that contained dinner that was ALREADY COOKED? Felt awfully luxurious. The soup ended up on the spicier side, which would probably be good for most people, but for my weakling’s palate, one habanero seemed just a touch too spicy. (I forget that when I use one in chili, the recipe itself is much bigger so the impact is smaller. And actually, I just wrote “one hot pepper” on my grocery list, so didn’t remember to try to look for the chipotles that Marianne used.)

black bean soup

So I learned not only that the crock pot is as great as it seems like it would be, but also that non-canned beans aren’t nearly as much of a hassle as I had originally assumed. And! I didn’t even splatter my entire kitchen with black beans while using the immersion blender. So I’d call that a pretty damn successful dinner.

I Hope the Next Thing I Cook Is Prettier

As I mentioned last week, I realized recently that time is running out when it comes to my 28 Things. So I’m trying to hurry up and learn how to cook some new things. I think that my original intent when I wrote the list was to learn how to cook new things that become staples, which is kind of unfortunate, as after yesterday I’ve learned how to cook two new things (or maybe a better description is that I tried two new recipes) and neither are the kind of things I am really going to need to cook again with any urgency. (And actually, it’s just occurring to me now that maybe what I really meant was to learn new cooking techniques? Who knows.)

Anyway, this is all the lead up to say that last night I made this Three-Bean Super Stew from the Vegetarian Times. It’s a stew with black beans, chickpeas, lentils, a tomato, a bell pepper, and some spices. And it was good! The coriander and cumin combined with the beans made for a really wonderful flavor. My main issue with this was that apparently I can’t read, and I was surprised when this turned out to be soupish/stew-y in texture, and very, very mushy. (But the mushiness, I think, was due to the fact that I overcooked the lentils, which seems to happen every time I cook something with lentils. I am beginning to think that I only like lentils in canned lentil soup.) Also, it’s brownish, mushy texture and color made it completely unphotogenic.

But still! I cooked something new! And I have food for the week!

Any thoughts on what I should try next? People keep telling me to learn how to make tomato sauce from scratch, which I am not feeling a burning need to do, or pizza. Maybe I’ll make homemade pizza. Do you think pizza dough is above my current cooking-knowledge scale? I’m kind of afraid the answer to that will be yes.

Learning to Cook Is Probably Mostly Mental

#21 on my 28 Things to Do While I’m 28 list is to learn to cook three new things. I am still pretty damn psyched about feeling confident with making chili and sausage risotto, and I wanted to force myself to expand my repertoire a bit. Of course, now my birthday is three months away and I haven’t learned to cook anything new at all, so I’m starting to panic a bit. Because this list is clearly supposed to make me worry about stuff, rather than gently inspiring me to do more and be happier.

April 28, 2010

So today I decided to try what I think is a Mark Bittman recipe from the New York Times for Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing because if there are two things I love, they are sweet potatoes and black beans. The end result was not very photogenic at all, and I suppose it would have been a little less jarring if I’d expected it to be more like a potato salad. Don’t get me wrong, it was very, very tasty (black beans, sweet potatoes, onion, red peppers, with a sauce made of jalapenos, lime juice, and garlic) and maybe it’ll be better as leftovers when the flavors have had time to meld. But it was a lot of flavor. Still, I’m glad I’m back to tentatively trying new things. Sort of.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Are Perfect Any Time of Year

Or, peanut butter m&m cookies can be Christmassy if I say they are, so there. At last year’s holiday lunch, my good pal Pookie brought some to-die-for peanut butter cookies with m&ms in them. She told me the recipe came from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours, which I immediately borrowed from the library in order to copy down the recipe. I know that I have claimed before that the Joy of Cooking peanut butter cookies are perfect, but the last time I made them, I really found them to be way too dry and crunchy. I guess it’s a week for trying things out I’ve been meaning to for a while, because when I realized I had Christmas Eve off and nothing to do until the evening, I figured it’d be as good a time as any to make these cookies. I mean, what’s more Christmas Evey than baking cookies? (Well, probably a lot of things, but who’s counting?)

December 24, 2009

Anyway, these cookies turned out gigantic and they were plentiful. The recipe calls for chopped peanuts and/or crunchy peanut butter, but I went with the IPB standard and stuck with creamy peanut butter and added in just less than a cup of plain m&ms. And I just now tasted one, and they turned out pretty awesome, if a little less chewy than I remembered.

that's a LOT of cookies

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter (I used smooth, but you can also use crunchy)
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups chopped salted peanuts (I used 1 cup plain m&ms instead)

About 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line to baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. (NOTE: I just kept the rack in the middle, and since I only have one silicone mat, the other cookie sheet went bare. It seemed fine.)

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for a minute or two, until smooth and creamy. (NOTE: I don’t have a stand mixer OR a hand mixer, so I used good ol’ elbow grease.) Add the peanut butter and beat for another minute. Add the sugars and beat for 3 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and, on low speed, add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they just disappear. Mix in the chopped peanuts. You’ll have soft, pliable (mushable, actually) dough.

Pour the 1/2 cup of sugar into a small bowl. Working with a level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough between your palms into balls and drop the balls, a couple at a time, into the sugar. Roll the balls around in the sugar to coat them, then place on the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between them. Dip the tines of a fork in the sugar and press the tines against each ball first in one direciton and then in a perpendicular direction – you should have a flattened round of dough with crisscross indentations.

Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. When done,the cookies will be lightly colored and still a little soft. Let the cookies sit on the sheets for a minute before transferring them to cooling racks with a wide metal spatula. Cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough. making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches.

My New Favorite Thing

When I work a Saturday at the library, I often have a lot of time on my hands. Yesterday, this meant that I spent a good long time sorting through the recipes and craft tutorials and articles and videos I’ve bookmarked over the past few months. A lot of the time, I can’t even remember why I saved a particular article, but in most cases, they are recipes or crafts or hacks that I want to try eventually (I saved one about reducing wrist strain by teaching yourself to mouse with your left hand, something that I am definitely going to try).

But what really caught my eye yesterday (and not just because it was before lunch and I was starving) was the recipe for huevos rancheros from the Smitten Kitchen. So while I was at the grocery store this morning, I picked up some tortillas and salsa-making ingredients. I realized later that I still have half a jar of regular old salsa in the fridge from last weekend, but I’m glad I decided to make the salsa fresca, because who knew making your own salsa was so easy? (Well, probably a lot of people knew that. But I didn’t!) I am sure there are better, less sloppy ways to cut up tomatoes, and I probably didn’t need to be afraid to use an entire jalapeno, but oh man was this simple and fresh and fantastic.

Now I’m going to be completely honest here and say that the cooking of the tortilla and egg wasn’t a pretty situation. In fact, it was a complete mess, which happens pretty much any time I attempt to cook eggs. Luckily for me, eggs aren’t the type of food that need to be pretty to taste good. Because this meal? Tasted SO DAMN GOOD. It combines so many of my favorite flavors lately – tortillas, cheese, eggs, fresh salsa, black beans, a little bit of sour cream. It’s hearty and healthy and quick and it even contains protein, which is sometimes a struggle for me when I am cooking. I will have to perfect my technique, but even if I can’t get it right, I will continue to make this for myself. Often.

Labor Day Cookie Extravaganza, Part Two

Roll out and cut out the cookies, and then bake them!

When I said that Labor Day weekend became a bit of a cookie extravaganza, what I meant was: I made two types of cookies that weren’t chocolate chip in one weekend! Gasp! I am not quite sure what got into me this weekend, but the results were awfully tasty. My friends have had Rutgers football season tickets for a few years, and while I always grumble about how tickets are sold out and I can’t just buy a single game ticket, I haven’t done much about it. Patt and Irma have an extra ticket to each game this season, and offered a few to me, so I got to go to the season opener on Labor Day. Since they are big about tailgating, I said, “Hey! I’ll bring cookies,” because what else am I going to bring? And since I’m unofficially boycotting chocolate chip cookies for a while, I decided to be completely crazy and make red and white football shaped cookies. It’s what you would do, isn’t it?

Glaze the cookies

I used our family’s go-to butter cookie recipe, which is so easy and simple it’s not funny. Of course, the rolling and cookie-cuttering and re-rolling and glazing and icing is not simple. It’s still easy, it’s just a bit labor intensive. Beyond worth it, though. My favorite part of this whole endeavor? The cookie cutter.

My refashioned football-shaped cookie cutter

My mom has quite a stash of cookie cutters, collected during her years teaching the three year old class at her school (they used it for homemade playdough, duh!). She did not have a football. She did, however, have a dog bone. “Who on earth needs a dog bone cookie cutter?” she asked, and proceeded to bend the crap out of it. I took over and was quite satisfied with my design, which looked exactly like a lumpy potato. My dad and then my brother came to the rescue, first with plyers, and then with very specific ideas of what a football should look like. And so I went to work.

August 31, 2008

I used a glaze made from confectioners’ sugar and food coloring, and just your plain old tube of white frosting for the laces. That was a pain, but mostly because I didn’t read the instructions and merely poked a hole in the end of the package, rather than cutting the whole end off. Oh well. The cookies are adorable and I am SO happy with them. Coming soon, to your next Superbowl party: football cookies! (And imagine! Baseball cookies! Basketballs! Those I could do without sacrificing old cookie cutters, even!)

September 1, 2008

The game didn’t turn out as well (I mean, how could it? It’s not baseball!), but there was something pretty magical about being in a sold-out stadium full of people wearing red. Especially since Rutgers’ football team sucked so very badly when I was a student that no one went to games. I’m totally glad I went, and I’m definitely looking forward to going back. Oh, and here’s the recipe for the cookies:

Simple Butter Cookies, recipe from a family friend
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup orange juice
4 1/4 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar; add egg yolk, then juice. Add flour slowly. Chill dough for one hour. Pre-heat oven to 350. Bake 12-20 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies get light brown. Dough freezes well.

Labor Day Cookie Extravaganza, Part One

August 30, 2008

I’ve had my new oven for over three weeks, and it’s been eyeing me from the corner every time I’m in the kitchen. “Bake something! You know you want to!” it leers. I wanted to come up with something really spectacular to bake or cook to test out my new oven, something awesome that I haven’t been able to make thanks to the old wonky oven. I think I was turning it into too much of a production. So I didn’t make anything. But along came a long holiday weekend, one in which I had a lot of free afternoons, so I decided it was time for some cookies already.

New Oven, working like an actual oven! Amazing!

I make A LOT of chocolate chip cookies. I like to make chocolate chip cookies because they always turn out completely fantastic, and every single time I feed them to my friends, they disappear in the blink of an eye. You could say that my friends enjoy those cookies. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the chocolate chip cookies, but there are so many other types of cookies! Fancy cookies and simple cookies and cookies that – gasp! – don’t contain chocolate chips. This weekend, though, I decided, to hell with the chocolate chip cookies, it’s time for something different. So I made some peanut butter cookies.

peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, cooling

I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, the one my mom always used. I haven’t had peanut butter cookies in years, and I forgot how easy they are. Nothing complicated, just butter, flour, sugar, vanilla extract, baking soda, and oh yeah, peanut butter. I had some mini chocolate chips laying around, so I decided to add chips to half of the batter, just as an experiment. My favorite part was the fork criss crosses, of course. When I was a kid, I remember being SO impressed that those pretty designs were just made with a fork, rather than some magical tool as I suspected. My new oven worked like an absolute dream. Or, a dream compared to the horrible and wonky oven I was used to. The recipe says that it makes SIX DOZEN cookies, and let me tell you, there were not six dozen cookies. Only four batches total, and the cookies were not gigantic, either. But that’s okay, because the taste sent me back to my childhood, all buttery and crumbly and demanding a glass of milk. The chocolate chip ones were okay, although I’m sure those people who demand chocolate in everything would be pleased. As for me, I’ll take a regular old peanut butter cookie any day.

Peanut Butter cookies, with chocolate chips.