Finally! I have a kitchen to prepare meals in. there are limitations, don’t get me wrong. i am getting frustrated over some of them, to name a few the fact that the oven is too small for my pizza pan, the stove is situated so close to the wall that i can only use small pans on the right hand burners and the fact that the burners are so close together that my larger frying pan makes three burners unusable.
but hey, it beats not having any way to cook.
this feast is not the first thing i cooked in my new room. that honor goes to a quick, down and dirty bacon eggs and cheese sandwich on a kaiser roll. i like the simple things, let there be no doubt. it was the best thing i had tasted in a long time, finally able to cook and not depend on the skill of others and questionable choices of ingredients. but that is an aside, this is a post about this week’s feast. i wanted this week to be something that was quite tasty, not too touchy (so i could learn my new kitchen) and of sufficient quantity to have leftovers for a few days. this train of thought led me to a one-pot sort of dish, something i could do the prep work for and then just let it roll at a simmer for a bit. i think that chicken is the best suited to this type of prep (with the exception of brisket but as you all know, thats another story). chicken with root vegetables, a nice simple bread and something on the side. that something on the side practically leaped out at me while i was shopping. the eggplants are probably the best i have ever seen. the size and shape loan themselves easily to stuffing. and so i did.
Chicken with Stewed Root Vegetables
Basil and Black Pepper Bread
The longest prep item on today’s menu was the bread. Because of this and the fact that i managed to sneak off to a movie in the middle of cooking today’s meal, i started the bread at around 9:30 in the morning. Baking is an area that i need more practice and discipline. i tend to be a bit too ad hoc for it. there are very strict demands on ratios of ingredients for really good bread and one of these days i will get around to forcing myself to observe them. I even bought a kitchen scale specifically for measuring out bread flour and all that. well, it stayed in the box today. here is how i made this loaf of bread.
3 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 1/4 cup of very warm water
pour the flour into a large bowl, better yet, sift it in unless you are a bit lazy, like me, then you just pour it in. make a well in the center of the pile of flour. pour your yeast into there. i suppose about one of the little packets would do. i use yeast in a jar so my measurements are decidedly lacking. drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil around the outer edge of your well. then, slowly pour the water around the edge of the bowl. the key is not to let the hot water directly get on the yeast. too much heat and you are going to kill it. around this time, you also want to start your oven heating to 325. mix up your flour and other ingredients until it starts to come together. it should still be flaky and falling apart at this point. very dry. if its moist, you have added too much water, add some flour to even it out.
sprinkle some flour onto a convenient clean countertop. then dump the contents of your bowl onto the sprinkled flour. you want to work the dough by folding it in on itself and pressing it down with the heel of your hand. do this over and over and over and over until the dough takes on a smooth elastic consistency. it should take somewhere around five minutes. proper kneading is the first essential step to proper bread, don’t skimp on it.
ok, bread kneaded, shape it into a ball and then put a little olive oil into the bowl you used earlier. put the dough in on top of it and turn to cover the surface of the dough with a bit of oil. put this on your stove top covered by a kitchen towel until it has doubled in bulk, likely around an hour. this will take longer in cooler locations, thats why i cheat and turn the oven on.
after an hour (during which i did the first baking of the eggplants and dried out a baguette for the stuffing in the conveniently-on oven), re-flour your countertop and turn the dough onto it. you want to punch down the dough and re-knead it. this is the time that you want to put in any extra ingredients such as in our case today, the basil and black pepper. this would be the perfect time to put it some cheese, dried tomatoes, jalapenos, whatever suits you for bread. as for me and today, i finely chopped the basil and sprinkled it over the punched-down bread. a couple twists of black pepper and then i worked the dough until the add-ins were evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a loaf and cut three or four diagonal slits in the top of the loaf. this will help it get a nice crispy exterior. put the shaped loaf onto an oiled baking pan and put it back on that warm stove covered by a towel for another 30 minutes or until doubled in size. this second rise is often left out and it makes a huge difference. after the second rise, bake in your nice and toasty oven for about 25 minutes or until nice and golden brown on the outside. share and enjoy.
2 Medium Sized Eggplants
half a leftover baguette
salt and pepper
while the bread above is rising, bake your eggplants in the 325 degree oven for around 40 minutes or so, turning once. i used the same baking sheet to brown off some sliced baguettes to make into breadcrumbs for the stuffing, remove the bread when you turn the eggplant so it doesn’t burn. you want them to be soft but not mushy. after they have baked, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. this will save you from burning your fingers too bad. with the eggplants laying flat, slice off the top (not the stem, the top as you see it with them laying down), discard and scoop out as much of the meat of the eggplant as you can without damaging the structural integrity. mix the scooped out eggplant with the nice and toasty baguette pieces, crushed as well as you can manage. mix in one egg, salt and pepper and grated parmesan cheese. you can add more to it if you like, a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to give it a little morrocan flair but it really doesn’t need it. combine the filing thoroughly. i found myself a little limited, kitchen tool wise so i actually used my meat mallet to crush the baguettes into the mixture. worked pretty well, an unrefined mortar and pestle. spoon your filling into the eggplant shells, place in a baking dish and refrigerate until about 30 minutes prior to service. when you are 30 minutes out, put them back in the hot oven and bake until browned on top.
Chicken with stewed root vegetables
8 Chicken Thighs
1 can chicken stock
2 cans water
3 large carrots
4 small potatoes
8 cloves of garlic
ok, one pan actually becomes two here because the chicken really benefits from being browned off before tossed in the pot. take a large stockpot and chop your carrots, potatoes and onions into it. you want large pieces that are going to be substantial and keep their shape during the cooking process. we are making stewed vegetables, not a soup. salt and pepper the vegetable and pour over the stock and water. bring this to a boil and then lower to a simmer.
meanwhile, in a small frying pan with a bit of olive oil, brown off the chicken thighs in batches. salt and pepper then before cooking and cook skin side down first. you will get a bit of sticking to your pan but thats just flavor there. would have been great for making a pan dripping gravy if i had been so inclined. place the browned off chicken on top of the vegetables in your stockpot, not completely submerged but not really stressing if they fall in. cook the whole deal for about 45 minutes with the lid on. once the vegetable and tender but still firm, dish out, straining as much liquid as possible. and thats just about it.
oh, i did have a nice dark weiss beer along with it. was quite tasty.
Eddie came along again for today’s meal, it really is a fortuitous circumstance to have at least one person here that i get along with well enough to share a meal with. cooking for an audience adds depth to the experience and keeps me honest, no cutting corners with no witnesses. again, the reaction was good, the eggplant was especially well received. i should realize by now that usually the simpler the dish, the better the reception. its just natural that by not poking around too much into a taste structure of a dish that you would be able to better express the natural goodness of good ingredients. i take it as a lesson, remember simplicity and let the ingredients do the talking.
hope you enjoyed, more in the coming week. i have half a notion to do a mexican themed meal next week, more as my fickle wanders to and fro.