Friday, January 20, 2012

This is not my Kalifornia Kitchen!

As many of you know, I’m a food-lover (obviously) – be it dining out or eating home-cooked meals. I try to cook during the week for myself and the girls, leaving the weekend free for trying a new restaurant or returning to an old favorite. I’m also a meal-planner – much to the amusement of many of my friends. I created a recipe database back in 1991 to hold all the random torn-out recipes that were beginning to overrun my life, and in my database are recipes from magazines, the Internet, cookbooks, friends, etc. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a recipe collector. And much to the chagrin of my family, whenever I cook, I like to try one of those new recipes. There are a few favorites that I may make if requested, but usually I’m trying something new. Not necessarily a good thing when guests are over and it doesn’t quite work out! Whatever, you can always order pizza…(even here - we have Web Pizza. Haven't tried it yet)

Here in France, I’m currently without any of my cookbooks (most went into storage, some are coming in our sea shipment), but I do have my database thank goodness. It’s harder to use without a printer as I can’t print out the recipes, but it still helps me get the kids & I fed during the week. I try to sit down at some point during the week, come up with 4-5 recipes to make, create the grocery list and then be ready to go shopping. Sometimes I make all the recipes I planned, sometimes I don’t. If a better offer comes up, you bet I’ll hightail it out of the kitchen. People tell me I’m a good cook, but I refute that statement. I think I’m a good recipe selector – not a good cook. A good cook to me is someone who can open their cupboards, see what’s in there, and just whip up something delicious – their own creation. I have to follow a recipe – I need the exact directions. Thus the recipe database.

In addition to the grocery troubles I knew I would encounter here in France (I’m a big California, Asian & Mexican food cook – I like it spicy!), the bigger problems I’m having are located in the kitchen. Or actually what is NOT located in the kitchen. Counter space. Storage space. Appliances. Measuring cups. Measuring spoons. Cutting boards. The supply from the rental company has left much to be desired. It has been a challenge for me to not have my normal tools at my disposal. Many will come when our shipment arrives (have I told you how much I can’t wait for our sea shipment to arrive?), but some I am just dealing without.

The lack of counter space is killing me – we had so much nice counter space at home (even more with the remodel that I barely got to enjoy!). I often stand in the middle of the kitchen, hot pan in hand, turning in circles wishing an open space would magically appear in front of me. Nope – nowhere to put things… Once my things get here I’ll be happy to have them, but it’s going to be tough as I have no idea where I am going to put them! This kitchen is tiny! 
 Since microwave takes up 1 side, really only have 1 side of counter space
 No room around the dishes drying & the place to put dirty dishes

One saving grace was the carbon knives I won at my Wine Club Dice Game party at Christmas. They were light & easy to pack, and are so nice and sharp. I would not have survived with the lame knife (yes, just 1 knife) that the rental company gave me. And since they only gave us 6 plates, 6 glasses, etc., I have to hand wash our dishes every time I cook. That’s the breakfast dishes, the lunch prep dishes (the girls bring their lunches to school every day & it’s always something hot I have to cook up and usually different for each of them), the lunch Tupperware things, the dinner dishes, snack dishes, dessert dishes – you name it, I wash it. Every single day – all day long.

As for things that ARE in my kitchen, I’m trying to get used to them. I’m trying to learn to love my cooktop/oven, but it’s been hard so far. The cooktop is an electric one with 3 induction burners. The induction part is great as it means things heat up quickly, but boy do I miss my gas burners and the fact that I had 6 of them! And an indoor grill! Man, my stove at home is awesome. And the oven is so confusing – it’s too smart for me, I can’t figure out how to use it. It’s a multifunction electric oven and comes with it’s own cooking chart. There is Fan heating, Grill, Turbo-grill, Conventional, Combination cooking, and all with varying assigned temps. Then there’s the Celsius/Fahrenheit changes I’m trying to figure out. Can’t I just have an “on” button with a temperature dial?
 My cooktop with 3 different sized "burners"
 the buttons on the right are all the different cooking choices

The microwave seemed extra confusing at first also. Then we bought items that needed microwaving and realized that it actually works well. The items give microwave instructions in terms of wattage and time. So we’ve been able to figure that one out. You put the lower dial on the correct wattage, then turn the upper dial until the appropriate length of cooking time appears. Easy…

The fridge is typical Euro small, though better than other ones I’ve seen. Fridge on top, freezer on bottom. In addition to the fridge in the kitchen, there is a whole freezer down in the basement. I couldn’t figure out why so many of the homes we saw had extra freezers, or that the rental agent was eager to point out how there was room for an extra freezer. Then I discovered the secret – Picards. Believe it or not, France has a whole store devoted to frozen foods. And they are good! I mean good. Many people here stock up on items from Picards and just serve that to their families. Yes, even the French. Trust the French to make good frozen foods. The kids basically live on Picard stuff for their lunches. As we all say here in France, “thank goodness for Picards”! Since we have one right around the corner, it makes it very convenient and easy. Though I am proud of myself for not relying on it too much for actual dinners. Many of the wives at ASP are used to their husbands coming home and asking “what did Picard make for dinner tonight?”

In case you still read this blog looking for recipes, here are some I have attempted in my French kitchen. Hopefully your versions will turn out better than mine!

Tortellini Florentine Soup (we all liked this though I noticed the girls avoided the spinach)
1 9-oz. pkg.  refrigerated 3-cheese tortellini
2 14-oz. cans  reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 10-oz. container  refrigerated light Alfredo pasta sauce (no Alfredo here in France – used a 3-cheese sauce)
2 cups  shredded deli-roasted chicken (they have wonderful roasted chicken here, but I just oven-roasted my own)
1/2 cup  oil-packed dried tomato strips, drained
3 cups  lightly packed packaged fresh baby spinach
1 oz.  Parmesan cheese, shaved or shredded (optional)

1. In 4-quart Dutch oven cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In the same Dutch oven combine broth and Alfredo sauce. Stir in chicken and tomato strips. Heat just to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
3. Add cooked tortellini and spinach to chicken mixture. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes to heat through and wilt spinach. To serve, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes 6 servings.

Serves 6
Source: Better Homes & Garden

 Chicken with Onion and Pepper (girls ate without onion and pepper. Chicken actually got marinated for 2 days as we joined some friends at a local crepe place for dinner instead of making this when scheduled)
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce (found this at the giant Super U in Vaucresson that has more International stuff. Seems thicker than the stuff I use at home)
2 Tbs. honey
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
4 (4-oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 green bell pepper, quartered
1 large sweet or red onion, cut into 4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices
Cooking spray (don’t have this here so used olive oil)

1. Combine first 5 ingredients; pour half of mixture over chicken. Cover and marinate 10 minutes. Set aside remaining soy sauce mixture.
2. Place chicken, pepper, and onion on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cover and grill chicken 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until done, basting with reserved soy sauce mixture. Remove chicken, and grill vegetables 2 additional minutes or until desired tenderness, basting with reserved soy sauce mixture.

Serves 4
Source: Cooking Light’s Light and Easy Menus
WW pts+=5, calories=226, fat=3.5g, sat fat=0.9g, protein=27.7g, carbs=17.6g, fiber=2g, chol=72mg, sodium=849mg. Exchanges: 1 Startch, 1 Vegetable 3 Very Lean Meat.

Steak Tips with Peppered Mushroom Gravy
2  cups  uncooked egg noodles
Cooking spray (used olive oil)
1  pound  top sirloin steak, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (I’ve got to find a new steak to buy – this one turns out too tough and chewy…gotta bone up on my French cuts of beef)
1  tablespoon  butter
2  tablespoons  finely chopped shallots
1  (8-ounce) package presliced baby bella mushrooms (I used regular mushrooms)
1  teaspoon  minced garlic
1  tablespoon  low-sodium soy sauce
3  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
1 1/2  cups  fat-free, less-sodium beef broth (no canned broths here – have to use bouillon)
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
1/4  teaspoon  salt
3  fresh thyme sprigs (just used dried)
1  teaspoon  fresh thyme leaves (optional)

1. Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.
2. While noodles cook, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add steak; sauté 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan; cover.
3. Melt butter in pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in soy sauce. Sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add broth, stirring constantly. Add pepper, salt, and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Return beef to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Discard thyme sprigs. Garnish with thyme leaves, if desired.
Kitchen Notes
Briefly cooking the gravy with thyme sprigs saves the time of stripping the tiny leaves from the stem, but still gives you the herb's woodsy flavor.

Serves 4
Source: Cooking Light Magazine
per 3/4 cup beef mixture and 2/3 cup noodles: WW pts+=9, Calories: 344, Fat: 12.5g (sat 5.3g,mono 4.2g,poly 1.2g), Protein: 27.3g, Carbohydrate: 28.7g, Fiber: 1.7g, Cholesterol: 95mg, Iron: 4.3mg, Sodium: 538mg, Calcium: 28mg

Quick Coq au Vin (I shouldn’t even really post this one as I had taken ground beef out of the freezer instead of chicken so had to use that! But the sauce still tasted good, and I can imagine what it would have been like if I had done it correctly)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups quartered cremini mushrooms
2 cups (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
1/3 cup (1/4-inch-thick) slices Canadian bacon
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste

1. Combine flour, thyme, and salt in a zip-top plastic bag; add chicken. Seal and shake to coat. Remove chicken from bag, shaking off excess flour.
2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 8 minutes or until browned, turning frequently. Remove chicken from pan.
3. Add mushrooms, carrot, and bacon to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in wine, broth, and tomato paste; cook 9 minutes. Return chicken to pan; cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serves 6
Source: Cooking Light Magazine
per 1 1/4 cups: WW pts+=6,   Calories: 230, Fat: 7.8g, Saturated fat: 1.7g, Monounsaturated fat: 3.4g, Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5g, Protein: 27.3g, Carbohydrate: 12.5g, Fiber: 2.4g, Cholesterol: 99mg, Iron: 3.1mg, Sodium: 527mg, Calcium: 35mg

1 comment:

  1. I'll try the quick Coq au vin. Yummy. Last time I made the real recipe it took forever and had a lot of fat in it.