Experiment

Accidental Chinese-Style Chicken Fingers

Last night I had some newly bought boneless chicken breasts from a $1.99/lb sale at Hannaford, wanted to use them, make it fast, be different and please the kids, and wanted to stretch them as far as possible. I sometimes make fried chicken with a dry coating based on flour and/or oatmeal, but for some reason – perhaps recent talk of making allergy-free pancakes sometime (after I get syrup for them) – I thought of making fried chicken strips in a batter coating. Hadn’t done that before.

I searched and found this recipe for eggless Chinese shrimp batter, which seemed like just the thing to adapt for chicken.

It looked like too little, so I doubled it. I also used soy milk instead of water, initially, then mainly water to thin it. It was way too thick. We’re talking a lot of extra liquid, perhaps almost a cup on a recipe that when doubled called for half a cup. I cut up two boneless breasts into thin strips, picturing relatively short chicken fingers. Dipped them in the batter and fried them in oil deep enough to cook one side, flip them and the other side. Deep fryer would presumably be better.

They came out nearly perfect, except I seasoned the batter and it came out a bit odd. To me. The kids loved them. It may have come out odd because I grabbed the poultry seasoning and poured some in, then found the poultry seasoning toward the back of the cabinet and realized I’d used the nearly identical container of ginger. At that point I’d have been better off leaving it the ginger, salt, pepper, garlic powder and pinch of red pepper, not adding poutry seasoning and rosemary. Oh well.

The other problem? No dipping sauce! I love dipping my Chinese chicken fingers, which they looked identical to, in duck/plum sauce. Kids didn’t care, but I decided to try whipping up something fast. Used a little red plum jam, less grape (would have used more plum and no grape but that is a closeout item and a favorite of the kids we may not find again any time soon), some water, lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger, heated briefly in the microwave and stirred into a thinner liquid than I might have preferred. It worked, except for being too strong on the grape flavor. If I plan these ahead sometime, I’ll make or buy something better.

The batter made me think I could do something similar to make fritters. I could also see adding oatmeal for a crunchy fried chicken batter, taking it away from the Chinese style.

Stay tuned for further experiments, and perhaps pictures, which are still on the camera.

Allergy-Free/Vegan Cake

I need to do a comprehensive post or series of posts about my cake experiments. I have one recipe that works for cake that is eggless and free of dairy. The trick to finding that kind of recipe easily, if you have that pair of allergies, is to search for vegan and whatever type of recipe. Discovered that when I was doing clunky searches for no egg and dairy free or whatever. No need to be a vegan yourself, and you can ignore some of the finer points like making sure every ingredient complies strictly, but that community has done a ton of crossover work applicable to egg and milk allergies.

I’m reminded of this because today I experimented with making orange flavored cake, and recently perfected a yellow/vanilla cake variant of what started out as a chocolate cake recipe. I have the hardest time getting the chocolate version to come out great, but my son loves that flavor and can’t eat most chocolate. You know… milk chocolate.

I have also made versions with mango-peach applesauce and dried apricots, pumpkin (much better than my efforts to get a no-egg pumpkin bread to work without being too moist), mocha (in theory), and, very successfully, strawberry for my daughter’s fourth birthday. Sometimes I haven’t exactly measured the changes I’ve made, but it’s easy to take the concepts and extrapolate.

I know, I’m being a tease, but I’d also like to collect up the relevant pictures before I post it for real. Stay tuned Real Soon Now…

General Gao’s Turkey Meatballs

I invented these recently, off the top of my head, inspired by General Gao’s Chicken. Haven’t recorded it as a recipe as yet, but I did replicate it from memory, closely enough to figure a recipe should be easy. As is winging it. Thought I’d post the picture, anyway. It’s so pretty.

Pancake Twist

The kids love pancakes, and they’re an inexpensive, easy meal, not driven out of line even by the addition of scrambled eggs with ham and cheese.

I bought a bag of corn flour a while back, and haven’t used it for anything except as a substitute for part of the white flour in a banana bread. That I won’t do again, as I thought it detracted, rather than added. Then again, the bit of the banana bread we made into French toast may have been enhanced by it.

A few days ago, pancakes it was, and for us that means Bisquick. I’d like to test making scratch pancakes sometime, but Bisquick is convenient and tasty.

The recipe calls for two cups of Bisquick. I used under two cups, but added an ambiguous somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of the corn flour. The total was somewhere between an even two cups, and a little below.

The corn flour was not overt in the resulting pancakes, but the batter was thinner than normal, without adding extra milk as I usually have to do. It also seemed to affect in a subtle, positive way how they “tanned” in cooking. They were tasty, perhaps subtly less cakey.

I’d absolutely do that again. I also wouldn’t mind making my own corn pancakes, as opposed to using Jiffy corn muffin mix. I figure follow a recipe for scratch pancakes, which I could probably guess at edibly enough if I were stuck without access to a recipe, but use half or more corn flour mixed with white flour.

Anyway, I just thought to mention it. I have a backlog of stuff to post here, though I won’t generate much new until we are financially more stable. There’s only so much I could post about cooking on the cheap, before I start trying things I’ve not made and perhaps not wanted or been able to afford before, let alone now.

Pilaf Experiment

We love chicken Rice-a-Roni, and usually eat it as part of a periodic meat-free supper, which gives us variety and saves a little money. Well, until we’re so broke that Rice-a-Roni is a luxury versus, say, plain rice.

I’d realized recently that I could probably make something vaguely like Rice-a-Roni myself. I don’t know exactly what they use for flavorings, apart from obviously chicken, and I’m pretty sure there’s salt, saffron and sage in there. Chicken seasoning, generally. I may even be wrong about the saffron, and I certainly can’t replicate that as I have yet to spend the $21 required to buy some at Wal-Mart.

Most of the time I will search online for recipes to examine and, if not follow, source for ideas. I didn’t do that. Deb had suggested breaking up spaghetti into tiny pieces for the pasta component. We had some we were given that looked thinner than the store brand we usually buy, so I used that, ultimately cutting little bits off a few strands at a time with kitchen shears. Worked well, aiming them into a cup, with just a few jumpers.

I used almost a cup and a half of white rice. Someone in the family gave us a 10 lb bag of Goya brand. Usually we buy and use brown rice, but it’s nice to have both available, with white being better for this. To that I added a quarter cup or so of pasta bits. The proportion looked remarkably like Rice-a-Roni, so I figured I was on the right track.

In the meantime, I had put a cup of water in the microwave for a couple minutes, then dropped a bullion cube into it. In practice the dish needed two, so next time I would add the second one up front.

To the water I also added seasonings. Mainly I wanted any that would benefit from softening and releasing flavor in the water, like celery flakes, but for convenience I ended up putting all of in there. I was conservative with everything except the turmeric, and that wasn’t intentional. It was mainly for color, but the flavor worked, as long as it wasn’t all you could taste, which is why I ended up with the second bullion cube. Which was still a good idea, based on volume. I also added white pepper, rosemary, savory, poultry seasoning, lots of (powdered) sage, and tiny bits of crushed bay leaf, oregano, cumin, marjoram, and probably something I’m forgetting. Plus salt, which feels weird because I seldom use it, and at that I didn’t use much.

I followed the standard procedure, as if it were an oversized box of Rice-a-Roni. Three tablespoons of butter, melted in a frying pan that has a cover, then the rice and pasta tossed in and swished around to get coated with butter, stirring periodically until a lot of the pasta picked up a tan.

Then I poured in the cup of seasoned broth, and added about two more cups of water. It looked like it was going to run low later, so I added a quarter or so more. Rice cooking proportions, basically.

In this instance I added a bullion cube to the pan while there was still substantial water, after I realized I needed more, and I sprinkled on more poultry seasoning, sage, and rosemary to help enhance and balance the expected flavor. Mostly, though, I simmered and stirred until done, exactly as if it were Rice-a-Roni. Our poor high-sided frying pan has seen better days, so I have to watch it or it sticks badly in the middle, closest to the heat, where the coating gets mosts stressed.

It was beautiful to look at, nice and fluffy. Everyone loved it, but it was extremely mild in flavor. You knew you weren’t eating Just Rice, but it could have stood up to a lot more herbification. Now I’m eager to experiment. I can picture how I would improve on it, modify it, even make completely alternate varieties, like beef.

We ate it with a giant butternut squash, which was tasty and added heft to the meal, and green beans, which the kids – well, Valerie – ate better than I’d expected. Excellent combo.

Lentil Barley Chicken Soup

I roasted a little 4 pound chicken yesterday, and we ended up devouring the whole thing in one meal. Never saw the kids eat so much chicken or gravy. Bother were especially good, though.

That left me with a carcass that could still be used for stock and some meat for a smaller soup, but nothing as meaty as usual when I do that. That came together with my itch to try something different, like a lighter soup (usually I make more of a stew), or something with beans or lentils, and with my realization (duh) that I could cook some standalone chicken to add if I had a skimpy carcass, or wanted to make soup without having roasted a chicken. It’s just something that comes to mind with a whole chicken in the name of maximizing food value.

I decided to try inventing what amounted to a lentil soup in chicken stock. I hadn’t eaten lentils, as far as I can recall, since my mother made lentil soup from surplus food lentils when I was a teenager. I didn’t even consult recipes for inspiration, as I do most of the time. For instance, to see what people spice lentils with in soups or other dishes.

In an effort to get a bone-free cooking down of the carcass, I used the pasta insert in the stock pot, with maybe an inch of water up into the insert at its height, and the carcass simmering and steaming there. I turned it regularly to cook the chicken flavor and residual spices into the water, while softening up the remaining meat to shred off.

That worked well. Once I had the meat off the bones, I removed the insert and put the meat in the water, then added things like celery flakes, red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, bay leaf pieces, and I forget what else. It was completely unmeasured, but not huge amounts of any one thing.

I started thawing three boneless chicken breasts, one tiny and the other two maybe middling. While that happened, I cut up two modest cloves of garlic and a small onion, cooked them up lightly in butter in the frying pan I planned to used for the chicken, then put the majority into the pot, turning the heat off until I could cook the chicken.

When the chicken was thawed, I trimmed as needed and cut it into tiny pieces, not exactly cubes, but on that idea. That went in the frying pan and cooked through, with the residual onion and garlic, to the point of browning on one side. As it started cooking, I added a little red pepper, some sage, a lot of black pepper, some savory, a little more celery flakes, and probably something I’m forgetting.

When that was done, I added it to the broth, then immediately added some barley and close to half a bag of lentils. The lentils could have waited a little longer, as they cook fast, but they didn’t liquefy completely as peas seem to do. Or perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough to find out…

When the rest was essentially done, I added half a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, more for added color and interest than because there was any need. Where I didn’t add raw carrots as I usually do in a chicken soup, you could easily. I also tend to use frozen peas in a chicken soup, but lentils and peas would kind of overlap. Both of those were represented in the mix, at any rate.

I also spiced it a little more as it cooked and as I tasted. That included a little basil, as I thought it needed the sweetening effect that would bring, though the frozen veggies also help take out the kind of bite I wanted to counter.

In the course of it I used a tiny pinch of nutmeg, earlier, and a tiny amount of turmeric, which I have been using in, well, nothing really. It felt right. It’s a spice that I didn’t find I could match well to foods based on how it smelled. You know, smelling it and being able to say “that would go well in that dish” or “that would complement those other spices in this dish” almost intuitively.

Oh, so the soup? Raves. The kids each got a taste ahead of time. One loved it, then didn’t touch hers to speak of. The other one wasn’t excited by it, but ate a significant portion, mainly the chunks of chicken I made sure were in her bowl plentifully. Deb and I could barely get enough of it. I had feared it being too onion flavored, but that didn’t stand out at all. In fact, nothing did. I’d say I could detect a hint of the turmeric, but the flavors blended nicely, and the textures and relative amounts of the barley, chicken and lentils were perfect.

I took some pictures, but I was enthusiastic enough that I thought I’d post rather than trying to remember after some delay.

I will definitely make something like it again. We served it with French bread on the side, which doubles as something the kids will fill up on, even if they aren’t keen on the main dish.

Chicken Melt

Simple yet tasty. At lunch yesterday I had the kids by myself, so I thought about giving them tuna, despite Sadie’s “no!” when asked. That made me think of tuna melts to be different, especially given the presence of a chunk of sharp cheddar – almost too sharp – that the kids seem to love.

Then I remembered a boneless chicken breast with sweet barbecue sauce I had leftover from the oven a couple days ago.

I sliced that thin, across the grain, and laid it out on two slices of bread in the toaster oven tray. I topped it with large crumbs of sharp cheddar, not covering it completely, as with slices or a coherent layer of shredded cheese, though YMMV.

In it went for a top brown cycle. With tuna I’d often do part of a second top brown cycle to make the cheese especially melty and bubbly, but for the chicken that was enough.

It was delicious. A shame the kids weren’t enthusiastic, distracted instead by the Terra vegetable chips I noticed we had and served with it. Speaking of unexpectedly tasty things that perhaps shouldn’t work, but do. Sadie wouldn’t eat hers but guarded it with her life. I ate half of Valerie’s, and she did eat most of the rest.

Anyway, it turned out to be a cool thing to do with leftover chicken.

Sweet Potato Fritters Experiment

A couple days ago I came up with an idea, inspired by plain old potato hash browns Deb made not long ago, and the zucchini fritters I tried. Why not something has brown/fritter/potato pancake-like with sweet potatoes?

So I risked one modest sweet potato on an experiment. I peeled and then shredded it into a bowl. I diced finely a couple slices of s small to medium onion, guessing correctly that it would go well. I added an egg, just a dab of oil, a couple heaping tablespoons of flour, a glop – probably a couple tablespoons – of maple syrup, and a handful – probably a quarter or third cup – of brown sugar. Also a dash of ginger and about half the size dash of nutmeg. Mixed it all thoroughly, which gave me something about the right texture.

I cooked flat round globs of the mix in some oil in a frying pan until they seemed to be done, which due to sugar caramelizing tended to mean they were unexpectedly dark. Flipped a couple times as needed and then put them on a plate.

I would love to say they were perfect, but they need further experimentation. However, I was on the right track. They were delicious, if too sweet and too caramelized, and got raves from Deb, who thought the onion was inspired and in perfect proportion. Since onion itself tends to fry up sweet, it’s not as weird as it might sound.

Doing them again, I would probably cut the syrup and/or brown sugar out almost completely, relying on native sweetness. I was thinking the sugar would also contribute to holding them together in patties, but it probably wasn’t enough of a factor to matter.

I’ll have to try it again soon, as I still have a few sweet potatoes that will need to be used. It does make a good sweet potato extender. One small to medium potato was enough for the four of us to have plenty. It’s also a taste sub, at least with so much sweetener, for candied sweet potatoes, but with less work. We had them with oven barbecued chicken (par cooked on the stoved, smothered in sauce of my off the cuff making, then baked at length, drumsticks for me and the kids and boneless breast for Deb), mashed, and corn.

Chicken Dumplings Gang

I made an amazing chicken stew concoction based around the fairly meaty leftover carcass of a roast chicken. Part of the impetus was a confluence of remembering when my mother made us chicken and dumplings when I was a kid, looking for something different, and noting the dumpling recipe on the Bisquick box. Basically it was an excuse to try dumplings for the first time in decades and at the same time make efficient use of my 59 cent a pound roaster.

Essentially it was like making chicken soup, but I used potatoes and barley as I would in beef stew, not rice or noodles. I hope I can recreate it someday, because it was almost perfect.

The point of the post is to ask if anyone has thoughts on making dumplings without Bisquick, on optimally cooking them, and on storing them if any remain. We ate the majority of the stew and all nine dumplings. Well, two of us did. Sadie wouldn’t even taste hers, and Val only ate some because I spooned some into her and reminded her how much she’d loved the pre-meal tastes. We had an early supper so I can go do some stuff and everyone can just snack later.

I wasn’t sure if I should simply leave them in with the stew when I refrigerated it, or instead pull them out and store them apart.

Zucchini Fritters

I partially answered my own squash question, finding a ton of zucchini recipes online.

So when I turned off the computer in deference to thunderstorms yesterday afternoon, I started experimenting ahead of when I would otherwise have started making supper. I decided to try making zucchini fritters, using two of the five at the linked page.

I didn’t use any of these recipes, but I was intrigued by the pancakes, faux crab cakes, and Lucky Olive’s Zucchini ideas there. I don’t have any Old Bay seasoning, nor having I smelled or tasted it to my knowledge, so I’d have to wing it, combining the seasonings that are, in some proportion, a part of Old Bay. Which already sounds like something I’d come up with, except I seldom use the dry mustard in anything but Laurie’s Spicy Chicken (which I may as well repost here, if Google is going to have such an insanely hard time locating the post).

I also thought zucchini enchiladas sounded intriguing, though it intrigued me as much that it didn’t call for canned enchilada sauce, and could presumably be adapted to chicken, or a mix of chicken and veggie.

Anyway, I was mainly focused on the 4th fritter recipe, but I was intrigued by the 2nd one, as anything that calls for mint is so rare in my experience.

Here is the first recipe I used, as written, with points of concern in red:

3 cups of coarsely grated zucchini
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons of milk
2 teaspoons of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint or
1 teaspoon of dried mint leaves

Place zucchini in colander; let drain 1 hour. In a large bowl, with a wire whisk, beat the eggs until they’re frothy. Add remaining ingredients; whisk until blended. Stir in the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Preheat oven to 200ºF. In large skillet, over medium to high heat, heat 2 tablespoons salad oil. Spoon in fritters batter, using 1 tablespoon butter for each fritter, adding more oil as necessary. Cook 1 minute on each side, until golden brown. Keep warm, covered with aluminum foil, on platter in oven until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings.

First annotation, the flour; this seems to be too little. My proportions were off because I used one cup of zucchini but used a whole rather large egg, but if you compare to the later recipe, the minimalist amount of flour makes little sense. They came out almost custardy, with kind of a soggy texture. The mint flavor went poorly. It would be better simply to steam, boil, even roast or bake zucchini with mint.

I grated one zucchini, resulting in 3 1/3 cups to use. As noted, I decided to use a cup for the mint variant, interpreting 2+ cups as about right for the garlic, oregano and parm variant. Though in reality what I grated was little more than a medium zucchini, so you could interpret the second recipe as saying to use five or six cups.

The grated zucchini went into a collander that nested into a bowl so it could shed liquid, and I mixed in a fair amount of salt to aid that process, letting it sit quite a while.

Anyway, I beat an egg, added and beat in maybe a tablespoon of milk, a teaspoon of flour, a couple dashes of black pepper, and near half a teaspoon of dried mint. Flour by the teaspoon? Still sounds weird to me. Then I mixed in the zucchini thoroughly.

I used olive oil for frying; not very deep. One lesson is they could have used more oil. That second annotation I realized, after momentary confusion, that it was a typo of batter. It’s not saying to add a tablespoon of butter for each fritter.

The modified recipe made four, nice and neat. They were thinner and runnier than the later ones, and I was surprised while they were still cooking as they seemed hesitant to get crispy. Getting Deb to eat zucchini is mainly about texture. That they came out like custard was no help, given that she disliked custard due to its texture.

You could eat them and live, but they were weird. I snacked down about one and a half, including a small piece I gave Sadie that sadly made her uninterested in trying the other kind later. She made a face and discarded it.

Not recommended. But I’d still love some ideas on what to make using mint, since I have a jar of it on the spice rack.

Here’s the recipe as written for the other fritter variety I tried:

2 medium zucchini, unpeeled & shredded
1 cup of flour
2 beaten eggs
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Combine and mix all ingredients. Mixture will be the consistency of pancake batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

I had two cups and a fraction of shredded zucchini, as mentioned, and I decided to treat that as the quantity correct for the recipe. Who’s to say what “medium” means, after all.

The other ingredients followed along, except it was parmesan and romano, rather than straight parm, and I used a little extra, and the clove of garlic was fairly large. I also added a dribble of extra water when I couldn’t even mix the batter, it was so thick. I scoffed at the “consistency of pancake batter” part, but it was, for relatively thick values of pancake batter. The moisture in the zucchini saw to that.

I made the oil deeper for these, and they tended to be thicker. Used slightly higher heat and made sure they were cooked as crisp as could be expected.

Deb liked it.

Valerie ate three of the twelve the recipe made. Sadie didn’t try them.

I thought they were tasty, maybe a bit strong on the garlic, but strong as it was, the oregano flavor shone through too.

We ate all twelve before and during dinner, despite having chicken, rice, summer squash and lima beans too.

I cooked the chicken in the same oil, figuring the flavor infused from the fritters would be a good base. I added a touch of garlic powder, red pepper, generous paprika, dash of ginger, celery salt, pinch of oregano, and some Italian seasoning. It was one of the tastiest batches of random chicken I’ve ever made.

I keep forgetting; I have pictures.

Plate of food for one of the kids, including part of a fritter:

Shredded zucchini, ready for its closeup:

Mint zucchini fritters:

Garlic oregano parmesan zucchini fritters: