I’m sure it must be more efficient to heat the small space of the microwave than a full sized oven so I thought trying out baked potatoes in our new convection microwave would be a good start. I set the oven to 400F and let it preheat. This seemed to take a long time but while it was heating I washed 2 large russet potatoes and pricked them in several places. Then I rubbed them with olive oil and salt and put them in a shallow oven safe pan. When the oven was hot I set the timer for 60 minutes. I couldn’t resist checking on them so at about 30min I flipped them over.
When the potatoes were almost done I decided to try asparagus as well, so I put my tray of asparagus in (with olive oil and salt) and watched them until they looked done (I like them when they start to get a little darker green in colour with just a tiny bit of carmelization on the tips). This takes 5-10 minutes depending on how thick the spears are.
Well experiment #1 was a success. Now what to do next?
I am not a huge fan of the chicken breast but paired with salted lemons and rosemary it really is quite yummy.
I learned to make salted lemons from a friend who also has a lemon tree. Lemons preserved in salt are traditionally used in Moroccan cuisine and can be added to anything from couscous to your favorite bbq recipe. These briny little lovelies are super simple to make. Wash fresh lemons (preferably right off your tree if you’re lucky like me to have one growing in the backyard). Quarter the lemons and place in a glass jar with a glass lid. Fill the jar with enough fresh water to cover the lemons and add table salt until the solution can’t take any more. I start by adding a handful, shake the jar to dissolve the salt. If all the salt disappears, add more salt and repeat until you have leftover salt on the bottom of the jar. Don’t worry if the lemons are floating, they’ll do that for a while. Place the jar in a dark cool cupboard for a month, taking it out at least once a week, shake it and add more salt if there’s none left on the bottom. Your patience will be rewarded. The lemons loose some of their bright yellow colour but they are not spoiling and will keep for several months in the jar.
I make use of my vacuum sealer when chicken breasts are on sale and make up a bunch of packets of my Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breasts. I make up packets of 1, 2, 3 or more chicken breasts depending on how many people I’m generally cooking for at the time. I just divide the marinate and chicken into vacuum bags, seal and toss them in the freezer. When I need something easy for dinner I just thaw a packet (in the fridge during the day works great). As the chicken thaws it marinates and is ready to go when you are.
Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breasts
¼ salted lemon minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic (more if you like)
2 tbs olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Toss all the above into a zip top bag. Seal and massage bag to mix all ingredients together. Let marinate in the fridge for 1 hour (up to overnight).
Remove chicken from marinade and either grill or roast.
To grill: cook on med-high heat for about 20 min (8-10 min per side depending on thickness of chicken breast)
To roast: I like a little colour so I drop the chicken into a very hot oven safe skillet and sear the chicken on both sides. I then tent the skillet with foil and place in a 350F oven for about 20 min (again – checking to make sure it’s done – maybe longer for thicker breasts).
I am fearless in the kitchen when cooking for myself.
I’ve been lucky. Everything I’ve ever made has been edible and many of my kitchen inventions have become staple meals. My original recipes are not really that original, they’re the combination of what’s on hand and my recollections of real recipes I’ve actually made or at least read. As long as the combination of ingredients seems to go together, then I can make it into a meal I’ll eat.
My free-style cooking started while going to university living with roommates. I fell into being the primary dinner cook for the three of us because I liked doing it. We all bought groceries and brought scavenged food items from our mothers’ kitchens after weekend trips home. I would make dinner each night from what I found in the fridge and cupboards. We kept our kitchen pretty well stocked with basic cooking and baking supplies and even had a modest spice rack. The meals were simple. Some of the meals were really good, some were just ok. No one went hungry. There was the zucchini summer – everyone’s mom sent us zucchini from their garden – but that’s a whole other story.
Sometimes, the simplest invention can be a home run. Long-time friends came to visit me a couple of years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a few years and their kids had grown from babies to pre-teens. The kids were asking their mom about the time in university when we were roommates. My friend said “Did you know that Jacqui INVENTED your favorite dinner?” I was totally surprised and asked what that was. “Pineapple Rice” the youngest yelled out “I can’t believe you’re the ONE, WOW!” This came as a total shock! Pineapple Rice was born of necessity to figure out dinner from the only ingredients we had one particular evening. Long grain rice, a can of pineapple tidbits and a piece of leftover ham. Who knew something so simple would become a family favorite meal?
2 cups long grain rice
2 cups cubed leftover ham
1 20oz can pineapple tidbits
1 tbs butter
Drain juice from pineapple into a large measuring cup and set aside pineapple tidbits.
Add water to juice to make sufficient liquid to cook rice (I use the instructions on the rice – for 2 cups rice it will usually be 3 to 4 cups of liquid).
Cook rice according to package instructions (add ½ tsp of salt to liquid if not called for in rice instructions).
When rice is done, stir in butter until melted and then add pineapple and ham and mix together and serve.
Baking is not my strong suit so when asked to bring dessert to “games night” at friends I strongly considered leaving it to the professionals. However, since I’ve been trying so hard to stick to a pretty healthy eating plan, I thought maybe doing something where I knew the ingredients would be a better call.
Although for almost all my culinary adventures I’m up for doing from scratch. This past weekend I opted for the simplest most idiot proof cake I know. 1 box angel food cake mix and 1 can crushed pineapple – mix – bake – serve with cool whip. It’s easy and, surprisingly, good enough to serve to guests (or in my case bring to a party).
I’d remembered that the cake was pretty hard to remove from the tube pan so I thought it would be prudent to line the bottom with parchment to make sure I had a pretty top to serve. All was going along well until I turned the cake over to cool. The top rim and sides stayed firmly attached to the tube pan but the nicely lined base of course did not. Before I could right the cake I had a ring of hot sticky angel food cake on the counter.
All I could do is laugh. I put the mangled cake on a plate and arranged it as well as I could but as a cake it was a dismal failure. As I was picking at the pieces, and thinking how really yummy it was, I had a stroke of genius. Could I turn this into a trifle? And thus the “Pina Colada Trifle” was born.
Pina Colada Trifle
In a pretty glass bowl layer:
– slices of cake
– pineapple tidbits (1 20oz can drained)
– pineapple whip
– flaked sweetened coconut (about 1 cup total)
1 Angel Food Cake Mix (just add water variety)
1 20oz can crushed pineapple (in pineapple juice or water not syrup)
Empty cake mix into a very large bowl.
Add whole can of crushed pineapple with juice and stir together for about a minute (it will foam up and be very fluffy).
Bake according to box directions. I find it usually takes the maximum minutes on the box as it is a very moist mix.
Cool cake completely.
Slice into thin slices (20 or so).
Fat Free Cool Whip (1 container thawed)
1 4oz can crushed pinapple (or as much as desired)
Drain crushed pineapple.
Mix crushed pineapple and cool whip together and keep cool.