Thursday, January 28, 2010

Batter Pudding anyone?

Or as you Americans probably call it, Yorkshire Pudding.

Funny, even though Yorkshire is the proper English name for it, my very proper English grandmother always called it Batter pudding. In fact, I have to force myself to call it Yorkshire pudding when I'm talking to "yanks" about it.

Growing up, I always thought I was the only kid who had Yorkshire pudding on a semi-regular basis. After all I was the one with the grandmother who was actually born and raised in England. That always made me feel a little different, a little special. It still amazes me to learn how many of my adult friends actually like Yorkshire pudding.

My grandmother was an incredible cook, which probably makes all of you who know anything about English cooking laugh a little. Yes, I know English cooking has a reputation for being bland and not worth the price of admission. But Nanny, as she was known to me, could make food delicious. While she could do just as good on American fare, she would still make her old English favorites all the time. While my mouth still waters for some of her fish & chips or her bacon pudding, I must admit I don't miss the jellied tongue she made every year for New Year's.

She grew up during the depression. She was forced to drop out of school at 14 and get a job to help keep the family afloat. And it was while preparing meals for her mom, dad and two little sisters that she learned to cook so well. And I can still hear her voice, with her English accent telling me how much her Daddy loved her batter pudding. How even as a teenager she could make the best he'd ever tasted.

She had been making them for so many years by the time I came around, that she would laugh if I ever actually asked her for a recipe. I made the mistake one time of asking her for the recipe for her "baby's head" (the English terminology for a steamed suet pudding) and it took her almost an hour to give me approximate ingredients and a visual of what consistency I was aiming for. Then she had to call me back when she remembered she actually had a recipe of sorts written down.

So, sans recipe, she made her batter pudding by "feel". And that's the way she taught my mom. And it's the way my mom explains it to me every time I want to make one and call her up and ask her about specific quantities. So I have finally given up on looking at a recipe, and I just go by feel. And in an effort to not risk screwing it up, if my mom happens to be here when I want one for dinner, I let HER make it.

The important thing to remember about Yorkshire pudding is that they will not always be consistent. Even my grandmother would occasionally complain (or more appropriately shout, "Ah, bloody hell!") about the fact that hers fell, or never rose in the first place. My mom still jokes every time she puts one in the oven that crossing fingers & hoping it rises is the most important ingredient.

So bearing that in mind, I can give you the "recipe" that worked for me tonight. TONIGHT, I paid attention to how much flour, salt, etc I put in the bowl so I could share the recipe without simply googling someone else's recipe for you. But as I learned from my Nanny and my mom, I can't promise results.

Yorkshire (Batter) Pudding

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup of milk (probably could have used a splash or two more)
1 egg, beaten
1-2 Tbsp meat drippings

For the batter, mix ingredients in a bowl thoroughly (you want it to be the consistency of very thin pancake batter). If you happen to have an egg beater (the little hand mixer with the handle that you manually turn), use it and make my grandmother proud. But if you're like me, just use a fork. :) Set the bowl aside for at least 30 minutes to an hour so it can rest and come to room temperature.

Once your meat is done and removed from the oven, spoon drippings into a glass pie dish. (Note: pie dish is the right size for this amount of batter, you can always increase the ingredients and make a larger pudding.) Place dish in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes to get it hot. Remove dish from oven and pour in the batter. Return to oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Let cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Note: If you're fancying Yorkshire pudding, but aren't making a roast, you can use shortening or oil in the bottom of the pie dish instead. And if you want individual popovers, you can always make them in muffin tins.

Adding a few twists......

OK, so years ago I had this great idea for a cookbook. I thought it would be a lot of fun to write a cookbook (and maybe even sell a few). But I really truly have always believed my recipes are just tweaked versions of other people's recipes. Now I know Simon Cowell preaches you should always "make it your own", but I couldn't see having Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray sue me because my recipe was just a wee bit too much like theirs. So my idea for the cookbook was to give people ideas versus recipes.

But it got too convoluted. There was no actual THEME to the book. I just couldn't see making it marketable since it wouldn't really appeal to the crowd that wanted to cook everything in less than 30 minutes or to the crowd that was so in love with butter they only wanted Paula Deen type recipes. I had a million random tips I wanted to share and I wanted it to make sense.

My first idea for the book was to show frugal shoppers how they could plan ahead and incorporate some time saving into that 10-pound family pack of ground beef they bought to save money. It would involve freezing some raw, making some freezable meals, and cooking a meal now that would allow some leftovers. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a cooking show than a cookbook.

But of course, all my random ideas were still a bit too convoluted for a cooking show. There wouldn't be a theme whatsoever. Show #1 would be the ground beef idea. Show #2 might be about making homemade baby food (something I did for all 3 of my kids). Show #3 might be about incorporating lots of veggies into a meal (bare in mind this was a few years before Deceptively Delicious came out). Show #4 may be about how to make homemade chicken stock, how to freeze it, and a good soup recipe to make at the same time that could utilize some of that freshly made stock. Show #5 may be "do ahead steps" for stay-at-home moms who were very hands on with their kids, yet wanted to put a good meal on the table. See.........way too convoluted. So I finally just gave up on the idea.

But since I now have this blog, and a few of you have already asked me via email for some of my tips, tricks & stock recipe, I figure I can finally do what I thought about doing years ago. And it might actually be appreciated in this format. Random tips intermixed with recipes. There won't be any rhyme or reason to it. Posts will probably still coincide with what I'm making in my kitchen that day or questions I get asked from friends.

Sorry, for rambling. Not exactly a recipe is it?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Well since I mentioned it on FB, I thought I'd add the recipe (no pics since I managed to mess up my ankle before cooking dinner last night. Cooking with all my weight on one foot is difficult enough without trying

to take decent pics at the same time! LOL)

I make this soup a lot since we have a lot cooler nights than I'm used to. Soup really warms you up on a cold, snowy night, and it's something you can add some spicy salsa to in order to really heat you up. And most importantly the kids like it (even though Gabe will invariably take 2 hours to eat a small bowl, acting like it's going to eat him, yet saying, "Mmmm" after ever bite. Go figure!)

Here is my original "recipe". I wrote this down years ago after I made it for a neighbor who had a baby and she wanted the recipe. I kept it on hand in case I was ever drawing a blank or was making a special trip to the store for specific ingredients. Thankfully I did since I've given it to at least 3 friends on FB recently.

But like I said in my last post, I don't really 'do' recipes. So every batch I make is tweaked usually. I am a firm believer in make do with what you have and don't rush back out to the store because you are missing one ingredient. And I'm also a firm believer in chalking recipes full of veggies for nutritional value. You'd be amazed how a kid may start to like a veggie they "hate" just because it tasted really yummy in a certain meal. Just don't tell Gabe I sometimes hide a finely chopped carrot in there.

This is the crockpot version. This recipe fills a programmable crockpot to the brim, so you'll have to adjust accordingly based on the size of your crockpot. However, I usually make it in my Le Creuset stockpot and let it simmer. I'll give you those instructions as well.

Chicken Tortilla Soup (Crockpot)

1 lb boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
1 lb boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 15 oz cans ranch-style beans (if you substitute regular pinto beans, additional spice will be needed)

1 zucchini, diced
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper (I usually use red to add some color & sweetness), diced
3-4 tsp chili powder
1-2 tsp cumin
bunch of cilantro, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
10 oz box frozen, chopped spinach (just put in frozen)

Throw all ingredients in the crockpot and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low all day.

Serve with shredded mexican blend cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro & crushed tortilla chips (or hot, fresh tortillas from a local mexican restaurant. Believe me, the special trip makes a BIG difference!)

Stockpot version:

Sautee chicken in oil. Remove from pan. Sautee veggies about 5 minutes (if spinach is thawed add it at this point, if still frozen add when you add the broth). Add tomatoes & beans. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Add broth, spices & meat. Put lid on it and simmer about 45 minutes.

There are many other options as well. This recipe works GREAT with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Or leftover roasted chicken from another meal. What I do most often is just use the chicken that I used to make my homemade chicken stock, also using this fresh, homemade stock for the soup. And the veggies are optional as well. If you aren't feeding kids (or if they like things really spicy) you can always throw in a jalapeƱo or two. Tonight I threw in some celery & carrot since I had it on hand. Like I said, Gabe isn't too fond of cooked carrots and will use that as an excuse to not eat. So I take the time to chop it really, really fine.

What Would Cyndi Cook?

That seems to be a question I get asked a lot. Whether it's asking me to post a recipe for something I mention on Facebook or actually emailing me asking me for ideas, I don't think a day goes by that I don't help at least one friend out in the kitchen department.

For starters, let me say I'm not an expert by any means. Just because my FB status says, "Cyndi is making pot roast for dinner", it doesn't mean that mine will taste as good as your grandmother's or that you'll even like my recipe. I do have failures. I do have flops. I do quite often find out that one of my kids apparently doesn't like the same stuff they liked the week before. But I love to cook, so I keep on cooking. And when the house smells really good, I tend to let all of facebook know what I'm fixing.

The idea of a blog called "What Would Cyndi Cook" came from a conversation I had with a good friend, Sarah. It was on my FB wall, so some of you may have lurked as the conversation took place. Basically she told me what ingredients she had and asked for some ideas. I joked that if everyone saw it they would want me to start a website where they could ask me what they should fix for dinner. Now, as nice as it would be to be able to help everyone out like that, I can't risk getting 50 requests for a meal plan while I'm trying to simultaneously cook my family's dinner, referee for 3 hungry kids, observe homework, help put together a puzzle, and start another load of laundry. But the idea of having a weekly challenge or something is under advisement. We'll just have to see where the blog leads.

But if you find yourself in a serious bind, you can still always ask as you have in the past.

I don't really follow recipes, so don't always expect me to be able to give you perfect measurements. So don't be surprised if my entry doesn't always include a formal recipe (you can always respond and say, "Hey, give me the recipe!") Don't be surprised if you need to add more salt. As Rachael Ray always says, "this isn't a recipe, it's more of a method". I don't think I've ever followed a recipe to a T, unless it was something I was baking (I occasionally do stick to a cake or muffin recipe). So consider this blog more of a place to come for ideas - either for what to do with the chicken breasts you thawed out this morning or what to add to your shopping list for tomorrow.

But in order to make this a true cooking blog, I thought I'd share a meal plan from last week:

I was telling my husband what meat options we had in the freezer, and he thought a roasted chicken sounded good. So on Sunday, that's what I did. I didn't google any recipes, I just thought about different "methods" I'd seen on Food Network. I took about 1/4 stick of unsalted butter and heated it in the microwave for about 25 seconds. I basically wanted it the consistency of room temperature butter, but warmer. I added about 4 cloves of freshly chopped garlic, a couple pinches of Kosher salt, and several grinds of the peppermill. Then with my hands, I smooshed (yeah, not a word, but you get my drift) all over the chicken -- up under the skin and on the outside (trying to get all the garlic under the skin so it didn't brown too bad during the cooking process). Then I hit the outside with a little more salt & pepper. I baked it in the oven at 375 for about an hour & a half. The skin came out really crispy. Actually it came out TOO GOOD. I've never been a chicken skin girl, even when I wasn't watching my waistline, but I ate about 1/2 the skin while I was waiting for the chicken to cool off enough for the kids to eat it. It was THAT good.

I served it with roasted broccoli & roasted potatoes (both tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper & chopped garlic.......and the potatoes with some diced onion as well).

I also took advantage of knowing I'd have leftover chicken and planned ahead for Monday's meal. I bought some fresh pizza dough (or you could use the refrigerated in a tube if you want). I sauteed up some onions, garlic, & red bell pepper in olive oil. I rolled out the pizza dough, covered it with some pizza sauce, cut up left over chicken from the night before, the sauteed veggies & some mozzarella cheese, folded it over and made calzones for dinner. They were a huge hit with the kids, who needed a kid-friendly meal after humoring Mommy and pretending to love roasted broccoli the night before.

In the future if I'm actually posting a real recipe, I'll try to plan ahead and take pics as I cook. You know, so it looks like some of those more widely followed cooking blogs. :) But for now I just thought I'd throw out an idea, so you can see how easy it is to plan 2 meals from 1 chicken, and even get the chance to use up some ingredients from your fridge. After all, the calzone would be just as yummy if it had been a mushroom, spinach & cherry tomato one!

Happy Cooking!