Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Chicken Salad

There are two recipes I make regularly that I think are strong enough to form the foundation of a menu if I ever wanted to start my own restaurant. Sometimes I think about doing exactly that, but then I remember that the restaurant business involves hard work, long hours, and no software. Full Stop. Instead, I think I’ll just keep making these favorites for family and friends.

The first is my French Onion Soup. It doesn’t always turn out, but when it does the results are phenomenal. The second is my Chicken Salad recipe. Actually, it’s not my recipe originally. I learned it from my mother, who learned it from her mother. I’m not sure if that’s the end of the chain, either. Regardless, the recipe is fantastic and people always love it every time I make it.

This chicken salad recipe is unique, I’ve never known another person to make it the same way (besides my family, of course). Other people have stumbled onto the same general idea: add a little sweetness to the chicken salad. I’ve seen other people instead add sliced grapes, diced apples, orange marmalade, or some other fruit products. All valiant efforts, but this version is, I think, superior to all the rest.

In addition to the Macaroni and Cheese recipe we also made another big batch of chicken salad for Easter, and everybody loved it like usual. Without further adieu, here is my chicken salad recipe:

Nana’s Chicken Salad

  1. Boneless, skinless chicken breast
  2. Celery (approx. 1 stalk for every 2-3 breasts)
  3. Celery Seed
  4. Carrots (approx. 1 carrot for every 2-3 breasts)
  5. Black Peppercorns
  6. Bay Leaves (approx. 1 bay leaf for every 4-6 breasts)
  7. Salt
  8. Mayonnaise
  9. Major Grey’s Chutney

Put the chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add roughly broken stalks of celery and peeled, roughly broken carrots to pot. Add a handful of pepper corns, a generous sprinkle of celery seed, a sprinkle of salt, and bay leaves. Bring the pot to a boil on high heat, then turn it down to about 75% or less so it keeps boiling but doesn’t go all crazy. Give it a quick stir after it gets going to make sure the chicken on the bottom isn’t getting burned. Continue boiling, covered and undisturbed, for about 1 hour or more.

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Remove chicken from pot. Remove stuck-on peppercorns and allow to cool. Once cool, pat off any extra water and chop your chicken into bite-sized cubes. The meat should be falling apart and stringy, and the cubes will further fall apart once you start mixing so you don’t need to be too precise. Put the chicken into a large mixing bowl. Discard the broth and the vegetables.

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Add a generous sprinkle of salt and fresh cracked black pepper to the chicken. Add mayonnaise and chutney to the chicken in about a one-to-one ratio. Start small, mixing and testing for flavor and consistency. Remember that you can always add more of the dressing, but you can’t take it away. The mayo adds creaminess and richness. It also helps to cut some of the sweetness and tartness from the chutney. The chutney, of course, adds the characteristic “OMG What is that!?!” flavor that people love so much. Salt, as I mentioned, is going to be very important to add because the chicken will be so absorbent of flavors. If you’re at a good consistency but the flavor isn’t bright enough, try adding a bit more salt.

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Dana likes the chicken salad with mustard. I like it plain. It goes great on almost any type of bread or croissants. Sometimes we’ll eat it with lettuce and a big fresh slice of tomato or avocato (or both!).  Most of the time it’s perfect all by itself.

Variations

  1. Add finely diced celery to the mixture, for a little extra crunch and flavor.
  2. Add finely diced raisins, craisins or dried tart cherries. Add a mixture of all three. The extra sweetness and tartness from these fruits makes the salad even more bright and luxurious.
  3. Diced sundried tomatoes bring a slightly more mature, though more subtle, flavor.
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Best Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

A few years ago Good Morning America ran some kind of competition to find the best Macaroni and Cheese recipe. Emeril Lagasse got involved and it was a big production. My mother and I made the winning recipe one night for dinner and I haven’t been able to forget about it since.

This year for our annual Easter brunch Dana and I decided to do a Mac and Cheese side dish, and I knew exactly which recipe I wanted to make. I hopped on the Googles for a quick search through the interwebs, and found the recipe I was looking for. I went to pin it on Pinterest, but realized there were no pictures of the recipe. So, here I am to post a copy of the recipe (with some modifications) and some pictures of the final result.

Emeril’s Best Mac’n’Cheese

  • 1 head of garlic, roasted
  •  1 teaspoon olive oil
  •  1 pound Cavatappi pasta
  •  ½ pound sliced Applewood smoked bacon
  •  1 ½ cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
  •  ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  •  8 tablespoons butter
  •  ¼ cup minced shallots
  •  ½ cup flour
  •  1 quart whole milk
  •  6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
  •  8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  •  ½ teaspoon pepper
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  •  ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375, and roast the whole head of garlic with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil in aluminum foil [1]. Squeeze out and mash all the roasted garlic. Cook the bacon. Set aside. Drain all but 1Tbsp of the bacon grease. To make the topping, mix the bread crumps, parmesian cheese, crumbled bacon and 2Tbsp of the butter (melted).

Cook up your pasta [2] and drain according to package directions (maybe cut a minute off, because we have to bake it)

In the grease, and the remaining butter and shallots over low heat. Cook until the shallots are translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes to form a roux. Bump the stove up to medium, and whisk in the milk and garlic paste. Continue whisking until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining salt, pepper, nutmeg and the Cheddar and Gruyere cheeses.

Mix in the pasta. Mix well. Spread into a 9×13 baking pan. Cover with an even coating of the topping.

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Bake, covered, for 15 minutes or until bubbly. Eat way too much. Tell yourself that your diet starts tomorrow. Seriously.

Results

The version I produced suffered from the lack of roasted garlic. However, it was still fantastic and drew several compliments. By the end of the day, the dish was empty. The cheddar and gruyere combination works extremely well, but the cost of the cheese is a little higher than the usual Velveta. The time and effort to prepare this recipe is pretty high compared to others we’ve tried, but the results are definitely better than others too. If you’ve got the time to spare, definitely consider this one for your next event.

Notes

  1. Or you can be like me. We didn’t have any aluminum foil so we used parchment paper instead. The garlic didn’t roast, but instead got burned and crispy. It ended up in the trash and the final product had an emergency dash of garlic powder added instead.
  2. The original recipe called for Cavatappi pasta. We used something else that I don’t remember the name of. So long as you aren’t using a long noodle (linguini or spaghetti, for example), you should be fine. Penne, elbows, farfalle, whatever you want.


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On Sunday I transplanted my little pepper and tomato plants, which I started from seed and have been nurturing by hand for months, into my garden. Some time on Tuesday SOME RAT BASTARD ANIMAL ATE THREE OF MY PEPPER PLANTS. Whatever it was, it didn’t even completely eat the plants. It just gnawed them off, chewed them a little bit, and left them for me to find. Here’s a big “F You” from nature. Thank you very much.

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Since my pepper plants were all mixed up, I don’t even know which ones specifically were dead. Were they my bell peppers? My Thai hot peppers? A mix of both?

I went down to the Home Depot with the boy, in an angry huff. I bought three new pepper plant seedlings, a roll of chicken wire fencing, and a pair of snips to cut it with. By the end of the evening I had the three peppers replaced with a fun new assortment and I had all my tomato and pepper seedlings surrounded by little chicken wire cages.

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The three new pepper plants I bought as replacements are:

  • Sweet Orange Bell
  • Hot Red Cherry
  • Cayenne

The red cherry peppers, like my pepperoncinis, are probably going to be pickled or chopped up into relish and used on sandwiches. The cayanne peppers will flavor some fresh food and may get dehydrated down into chili powder (or turned into chili oil or even more pepper vinegar). The sweet orange bell peppers will probably be eaten fresh (but I could be talked into roasting and canning them, if I get enough).

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From tragedy, maybe I’ll have created an even better garden with a better assortment of peppers.


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Swollen Buds

Not a real post today, just posting some pictures of the various plants that are ready to burst with springy goodness. First, some of the largest buds on my blueberries are starting to burst:

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I was worried that my cherry trees were sick or dying, especially when they didn’t start budding out and blossoming with some of the other trees last week. However, the buds on my two little trees are swelling up and showing signs of life, even if it is a little later than expected:

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I know transplanting (and trans-continental shipping) are stressful on plants, and I know that the soil in my yard leaves something to be desired. I’m happy to see some signs of life, even if they are moving a little slowly. I don’t expect to get any cherries from these trees this year (or very very few), so as long as they stay alive and build up some good root growth this year I’ll be happy.

Finally, the potatoes in my buckets are starting to leaf out, which has me pretty excited:

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It’s a modest start, but it’s a portent of good things to come. With my tomatoes and peppers in the ground as well, we could be in for an awesome year of gardening shenanigans.


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Gardens Planted

It’s April 15th, you know what that means! Oh wait, you’re probably thinking about tax day instead of the average last frost day in zone 7. If you haven’t thought about taxes yet HOLY CRAP GET STARTED ON THOSE BECAUSE THEY ARE DUE TOMORROW. But, if you’re like me and taxes are done already, you can start concentrating on the important stuff: transplanting my seedlings.

Yesterday I picked up a few bags of last-minute soil amendments: 2 bags of lobster compost (for the tomatoes), two bags of a compost and composted manure mix, and two bags of composted humus. Those got mixed in yesterday, and then I put my tomatoes out for a long day of hardening off.

Last night my tomatoes and peppers spent their first night outdoors. This morning they were all looking healthy and happy, so after checking the extended weather forecast I decided today was the day to transplant. First, I put all the peppers into the right bed with the garlic and onions. All told, there were 12 peppers: 5 “Sweet California Wonder” green  bells, 5 “Long Thai” hots, and 2 “Pepperoncini”. They’ve all gotten shuffled up in the last few weeks of moving in and out, so I don’t know which are which. Here’s the garden with the peppers on the left side, the onions towards the middle and the large garlic plants on the far right:

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In the far back left corner I had some extra space so I jammed in another tomato plant. When transplanting the peppers I pinched off all the “seed leaves” (cotyledons) and planted the peppers a little bit deeply. I don’t think pepper plants put off advantageous roots from buried parts of the stem like tomatoes do, but some of them had gotten a little leggy so the added support would be good in any case.

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Next I put in 9 of my biggest, healthiest-looking tomatoes in the left bed:

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At the far edges of the picture you can see some large tree branches I’ve stood up, as a start of a trellis system for the bed. Eventually I’ll run some lines between these to help support the growing tomatoes (either in lieu of, or in addition to, normal cages). For the tomatoes I pinched off some of the lower branches, especially some of the smaller or creepier ones (some early leaves seemed to have gotten “burned” by being too close to my lights). I planted these as deeply as I could manage, while still keeping the leaves up out of the soil.

I planted three varieties of tomatoes, though they had gotten mixed up almost immediately after sprouting (some of the little planter cells sprouted more than one plant, so I carefully transplanted duplicates to empty cells wherever they fit).

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The only ones I seem to know with any certainty are the Redcurrant cherry tomatoes, which have a distinct look from the other two varieties (Roma and “Super Sweet 100” cherries).

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In total, 10 tomato plants have gone into the ground already, and I’m hoping I got a good mix of the three varieties. I have 7 plants left, including some which look particularly sickly, but are still hanging on to life and may yet surprise. I’m not sure whether I want to try and find a place to plant these, or find them a good adoptive home instead.

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With the two garden beds full, the 2013 growing season has finally kicked into high gear. I can’t wait till we start seeing some results.