Righting past wrongs

When I was in high school, I was inspired to make cordon bleu. Escaped filling, pink chicken, an epic fail.

I never ventured near the thing again until yesterday, after deciding my deadly cordon bleu trial of past was probably long enough ago for me to safely try it again.

It’s not hard to find a cordon bleu recipe online but after yesterday’s success, it’s become one of the few things I’ve made so far that I am confident enough to replicate without searching up a recipe. The one that I did end up following came from allrecipes.com: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-cordon-bleu-i/

Instead of using bread crumbs though, I adopted my little alternative from when I made crispy oven baked chicken wings and used crushed cornflakes instead. I had some egg white left over from a chilli lime aioli I was making (which turned out more like a honey mustard mayo, but more on that in a later post), and so after I had rolled up everything in the chicken and skewered it together, I rolled the meaty package in some flour, then in the egg whites and then in the cornflakes.

I also used mozzarella instead of Swiss, only because I had mozzarella already and didn’t want to waste it. Instead of ham, I used bacon.

To accompany the chicken, I also roasted some potatoes and my favourite type of sausage, chorizo. I did intend on making a gravy with some chicken stock but I ran out of time and thought it would be fine without a sauce, which it was.

It was sometime before placing the chicken in the oven that I realised a huge mistake I had made in my first cordon bleu attempt: I had tried to cook it on the frying pan. How embarrassing!

At the same time, I was making a spaghetti frutti di mare for my parents, which also turned out amazing thanks to a fantastic recipe. I did take some photos but none turned out good enough to post up, however DO check out the recipe and try it out – you will not regret it if you’re a seafood lover. Just a quick note: I didn’t use clam or fish stock as the recipe called for. I had some chicken stock already so I just used that (cue heavy intake of breath from food snobs everywhere). I didn’t have actual clams either – the seafood I used were mussels, squid and prawns. It was really, incredibly easy to make as well; definitely another keeper, hurray!

Crispy cordon bleu with roasted potatoes and chorizo. Photo: Tao Lin

Crispy cordon bleu with roasted potatoes and chorizo. Photo: Tao Lin

 

 

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I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight

Have I ever written about my 2-month exchange to Germany? Probably. But, I’ll mention it again. In 2004 I stayed with a German family in Baden-Württemberg as part of a school exchange after their daughter, Stephi, came to NZ and lived at my place for 2 months. Her and her family offered me a lifetime’s worth of experiences and fond memories, for which I will always have my door open to them should they ever venture to this part of the world, or wherever part of the world I may end up in the future.

My eyes and mind broadened with my first dazzling experiences of musical theatre, the bustling glühwein-scented air of German Christmas markets and the magical walk up to Schloss Neuschwanstein where I experienced my first beautiful and delicate snow fall.

It was also the first time I had cornflakes-coated cordon bleu and I remember telling myself that one day, I would learn how to master that amazing coat of crunchy goodness.

While I’m on the topic of German food, German bread is so, so, SO good. If you’re hanging around in the south of Germany, you should make the effort to source out your nearest Fidelisbäck bakery. The smell itself will have you wading in puddles of drool.

Back to the chicken – fast forward 9 years (9 years!!!!?!?!?) and you have me gleefully bashing up 4 cups of cornflakes with a rolling pin in preparation for coating 30 little pieces of chicken nibbles. There’s plenty of recipes out there for cornflake-coated, oven-baked chicken and the one I chose to use was, surprise surprise, by one of the teams who competed on My Kitchen Rules this season.

I upped the amount of cornflakes I used since I had heaps more chicken to work with, I added some additional seasoning (“Roast chicken” seasoning from Masterfoods) and it also took much longer to cook and brown up (about 50 minutes as opposed to 20 in the original recipe). I did have some trouble with getting enough cornflake mix to stick to the pieces but they turned out exceptionally crunchy anyway and they were cooked perfectly to that meat-falling-off-the-bone type state. They probably needed some kind of creamy dipping sauce but I hadn’t thought much past getting the chicken right. One step at a time!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Second attempt

In my last post I wrote about my enthusiastic use of lemon juice in making lemon herb chicken. I decided to try it again with a lot less lemon to see what it would taste like and not surprisingly, it went down with a lot less puckering. I used less than half the amount of lemon juice I used the first time but you could definitely still taste it.

It’s a keeper for sure but now that I’ve almost used up all the parsley, I’m keen to try something different next time.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

 

A lesson about rice

Paella’s done and dusted and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt is how deceptive rice is when it’s uncooked. Considering I’ve lived off rice almost every day for as long as I can remember, you would think I’d understand this but nope, definitely not after judging how much paella I ended up with tonight (heaps). No need to despair though, it’s all going to a good and well-deserving cause (my boyfriend’s lunch for the next week).

We worked off two recipes found here and here. We ended up doing one seafood and one with chicken and chorizo – nothing quite as exciting as rabbit…

Both used stock made from salted water and prawn heads – might have chucked in some thyme for no reason as well!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

While that simmered away, we got onto prepping all the non-rice components: sautéing the chorizo, chicken, onions, ginger, bell pepper and tomato paste. I tossed the chicken with some Portuguese chicken seasoning, which is essentially paprika, chilli and lemon, before cooking it.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Added arborio rice (about 400ml to each pan – WAY too much for 4 people, by the way) and kinda tossed that around until it looked like it was translucent. To be honest I couldn’t tell for the chicken paella because of the paprika and everything in the seasoning so just winged it.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

We added the stock after that so the rice was just submerged. This is where I kind of got a bit lost because I wasn’t sure if we were meant to keep adding stock the whole way through until it was cooked al dente and time to caramelise the rice on the bottom (the “socarrat”). I’m fairly certain this is what the recipes called for so that’s what we did.

For the caramelisation, I didn’t want to burn the rice so didn’t push the heat up too high, which ended up not being quite enough. What did happen, though, was because of the inadequately sized pans and the large amount of everything else, we ended up with unevenly cooked rice and some of it ended up browned earlier on in the cooking process. I ended up having to scrape that off and move everything around a bit so it wouldn’t burn – a move I’m sure paella purists would condemn.

Once the “caramelisation” was done, the heat was turned off and the deliciousness was covered with foil for about 15-20 mins.

When I think about it, paella is actually a really simple dish but it requires a bit of experimenting and patience to get right. Like I said in my previous post, I didn’t want to ruin my memory of paella in Barcelona and I don’t think I have, but I also don’t think I did it justice, either. When prompted, my fellow diners said it tasted “really good” and “awesome” but I’m not quite as convinced.

I felt there was a flavour missing, or perhaps all the flavours were there, it was just that they weren’t strong enough. Perhaps a dash of lemon juice? A better stock? I’m not sure…Also, I think next time I would leave the chicken and fish out until later on in the cooking process; once they’re cooked off, put them aside and then add them in closer to the finishing point, otherwise they come out overcooked.

It was a good meal anyway and I learned a lot, especially never to underestimate the potential of uncooked rice!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Chicken pies: Only ugly on the outside

A couple of weeks ago I was gifted a fantastic cook book (Step-by-Step Cook’s Encyclopedia) by my now ex work mates as a leaving present and there was a recipe in it for individual chicken pies that immediately caught my eye, mostly because I thoroughly – albeit a little guiltily – enjoy a good hearty meat pie.

Before I get into the recipe, I have to admit that this was probably one of the least attractive things I have cooked so far due to my haphazard hacking away of the extra pastry. It’s definitely something I’ll be looking more into for the future, not to mention how to make a better puff pastry (more on that shortly!).

I ended up making 4 double crust pies in mini pie moulds and two single crust (pastry on top) pies in 12cm ramekins with:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 brown onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery sticks, sliced
  • 800ml cold chicken stock
  • 65g butter
  • 55g plain flour
  • 700g skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes of about 1.5-2cm
  • 2 cups frozen soy beans (original recipe called for frozen peas, which I didn’t have but felt could be adequately substituted with soy beans)
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

And of course, rough puff pastry. I followed a recipe in the 40th edition of a Be-Ro Flour Home Recipes cookbook, which simply used:

  • 225g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150g lard & margarine mix (I just used unsalted butter)
  • Cold water to mix

You can find pastry recipes everywhere on the internet in much more detail than here so I won’t go into it this time but my pastry dough was very sticky, which I wasn’t quite sure about…

The original recipe in the book also used button mushrooms, which I didn’t feel any desire to consume so I left it out.

The process of making these pies actually took me almost the entire day because I’m essentially as slow as a sloth when it comes to cooking something I have never made before; slow and steady wins the race?

Anyway, here’s how I made the filling:

IMG_0200

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan, add onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft and golden
  2. Add carrots, celery and half the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low until the vegetables are almost soft – there should still be a bit of crunch
  3. In another saucepan melt the butter on a medium heat and whisk in the flour, stirring for a little bit.
    NB: In the book, the picture of this step showed a very dry mixture, resembling that of crumble but when I did it, it looked more like gravy. Not sure if I got the proportions wrong or not but it turned out fine in the end.
  4. Pour in the remaining stock to the flour mix and whisk until thick on a medium-low heat. This should result in a smooth, thick mixture
  5. Add this to the vegetables and stir in the chicken, thyme and beans
  6. Simmer and stir while seasoning with salt and pepper.

After that I lined the pie tins and divided the mixture between them (or put the mixture straight in for the ramekins), covered with second piece of pastry, cut a X in the middle of each, brushed with egg and baked in a preheated oven (about 200°C/400°F) until the tops were golden in colour and the mixture was bubbling underneath. I think this took around 40 minutes, although I pay more attention to how the actual food is cooking through observing its texture, smelling and when possible tasting, rather than the time…

The pie mixture came out really nice, with everything tender and seasoned well, but the pastry was just a bit dry and boring. I think it’s so important to have a good pastry since that’s the thing you see and eat first. I thought my attempt failed on this aspect but I’m looking forward to educating myself more about pastry techniques.

Teriyaki chicken norimaki

There is perhaps nothing more synonymous with Japanese food than sushi and today, with the help of some online recipes and my Australian Women’s Weekly Cooking School cookbook, I managed to pull off, in a relatively painless fashion, teriyaki chicken norimaki, or sushi rolls.

My previous post covered the sushi rice aspect of this recipe and I found a very easy and tasty teriyaki sauce recipe here. The one thing I did different to the recipe was that I omitted the ginger but it still tasted fantastic.

Once the chicken was done and I had the rice covered with a wet cloth ready to be used, I went on to carve up some cucumber and avocado before starting on the sushi rolls.

Now, this was the first time that I had made sushi rolls and I ended up really over-filling the first one:

Sushi 1

Sushi 2

Being the stubborn person that I am though, I managed to squeeze it all together!

I followed the method from my cookbook which instructs, as follows:

Add rice vinegar to medium bowl of cold water. Place one nori sheet, shiny-side down, lengthways across bamboo mat about 2cm from edge of mat closest to you. Dip fingers of one hand into bowl of vinegared water, shake off excess; pick up a third of the rice, place across centre of nori sheet…

…working from left to right, gently rake rice evenly over nori, leaving 2cm strip on far side of nori uncovered. Build up rice in front of uncovered strip to form a mound to keep filling in place.

Next step was placing ingredients into the centre of the rice and then the instructions for rolling:

Starting with edge closest to you, pick up mat using thumb and forefingers of both hands; use remaining fingers to hold filling in place as you roll mat away from you. Roll forward, pressing gently but tightly, wrapping nori around rice and filling.

At times I found it really fiddly trying to hold in all the filling and sometimes the end of the nori didn’t stick but somehow I managed to get it all together! Once all the rolling was done, I cut them up as thick, or as thin, as I wanted and served with light soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger.

Sushi 4

Itadakimasu!