Let's talk turkey . . . or cooking . . . or chicken . . . or butter. Today we'll discuss all of these. Let's begin with butter. Remember Vacation Bible School? Yes, I attended every summer; and one of my best memories is making butter. I can't imagine how the butter-making demo was linked to a Bible tale (water to wine?), but it remains as my most clear memory from VBS. Each child was given a sealed Mason jar filled half-way with cream. We were told to shake. Perhaps this was just a clever trick to seal our little mouths as dozens of children shook vigorously their jar. My recollection is that it took an hour, but in reality, it was probably only about seven or eight minutes. You can do this same demo with your child. One moment there was thick white cream coating every inch inside the jar, and a moment later there were balls of butter floating in a slightly milky liquid. Bam. Butter. Well yesterday I performed that same dairy process with a Kitchen Aid mixer . . . quite by mistake.
Wow! That crema de leche here in Costa Rica. It's clearly so full of milk fats that if you don't watch it at all times (or have your mixer on high and walk away), you'll get butter. And there's no recovery. I've tried . . . though I refuse to completely bail on what should be delicious whipped cream. Worse case, we've got a nice, very sweet butter that can be spread on our breakfast toast. It's so sweet that with only a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon, we'll have cinnamon toast. But back to our culinary voyage.
Recall that the other day was National Taco Day and that I recently made home made chicken Alfredo. I'll post the recipes today, but first lets do a little how-to.
Mis en place, mis en place, mis en place. You're tired of hearing it from me, but it is indeed the easiest way to prepare any meal, to plan for a second meal/dish from similar ingredients, and to keep your kitchen clean as you cook . . . a theory that Rusty simply cannot grasp. After all, who wants to be faced with a sink full of dishes after you've prepared a simple meal. Where's the fun in that?!
Now there are two schools of thoughts on mis en place: place each ingredient in a cute little get-'em-at-Williams-Sonoma nesting bowl set, or just place everything together somewhere in your kitchen (together being the key word).
Hate is a mighty bold word, but I hate flour tortillas. They taste like flour, lard, and water, which is precisely what they are. Contrast the corn tortilla . . . corn meal, lard, and water. Much better. In any event, when I'm cookin' Mexican, you can bet that I'm using corn tortillas; and they're very easy to find here in Samara. Now be warned, if you want that little fried taco shell for your taco, frying it is a tad tricky. My method employs two pair of tongs, one in each hand, attempting to keep that tortilla from sticking together in the center, while obtaining some type of shell form. But in reality, one could simply fry-up a flat tortilla and still have a tasty outcome. After all, whether your shell is piled-high or stuffed with yummy stuff, it will still be tasty. Also, there are about 9,427 methods on the Internet to achieve a taco shell form, many require no frying at all. So get creative.
Cooking the pechuga, which is Tico-Spanish for chicken breast (with our without bone). Brace yourself, here comes the important part: you can't screw-up this process. There is something about the chicken in this country. You can over-bake it or over-grill it. You can boil it for hours, fry it until its coating is nigh burned, but you'll still get a juicy piece of chicken. Is that an absence of antibiotic thing? A chicken-diet thing? A free-range thing? We don't know; but we've spent many a fascinating afternoon discussing the delicious chicken here. Yeah, we talk chicken. Hey, I said that the possession of leisure wasn't all it's cracked up to be!
So today we're tackling the mis en place for:
- The best salsa you'll ever eat.
- Crispy chicken tacos;
- Corn-black bean salad; and
- Chicken Alfredo
Here's the take-away. You need only one important thing to cook, and to cook like a pro . . . a quality, sharp knife. Whatever it takes. Money should be no object. The most dangerous thing in your kitchen is a dull knife. You'll need a pot/pan/call-it-what-you-will of any size except tiny. You'll need a couple of decent size bowls/dishes. That's it. Will a food processor speed up the process? Sometimes. But you don't want to chop your peppers in a food processor . . . even the most experienced chef can end up with a watery mush o' peppas. A food processor is easier for onions; but otherwise, unless you're feeding an army, you're not chopping/slicing so many items that you'll tire and need a nap. Well, I've used that sad excuse, but . . . . Will you need a cocktail? . . . possibly . . . but you're not going to be exhausted by chopping for about 10 minutes.
So let's get ready to cook, and not merely bake. Though I'm still bake-obsessed. And we'll revisit that Key lime pie very soon . . . after I sort-out that butter-versus-cream issue. The cannoli? Well . . . lo que hay.