Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Archive for January, 2012

Cajeta Bliss… 1

Posted on January 29, 2012 by Sahar

One of the great things about living in Texas are the traditions of Mexico.  Of course, Texas was part of Mexico prior to the Texas Revolution of 1836.  But, even after the Texicans took over, most of the Mexican traditions that were here before stayed, thrived, and were & are loved.

Especially the food.

Here is one of my favorite recipes: Cajeta.  Goat’s milk caramel.  The word came from the Spanish phrase “al punto de cajeta”, which means a liquid thickened to the point at which a spoon drawn through the liquid reveals the bottom of the pot in which it is being cooked.

No doubt you’ve seen cajeta on shelves in the grocery, especially those that cater to the Hispanic market.  My favorite off-the-shelf brand is Coronado.  Cajeta can be used as an ice cream topping, in sweet recipes, over apples, on and in cakes, on churros (sweet fried dough), and even eaten straight out of the jar.

Admit it. We’ve all done it.

Now, to the nuts and bolts of the recipe.  The most important thing is patience.  This is not a quick recipe.  It takes about 2 – 3 hours to cook.  If you do a larger quantity (this recipe is easily doubled), it could take 4 – 5 hours.

The second most important thing is a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  This will help keep the milk from scorching as you slowly cook it down.  If you use a thin-bottomed saucepan, the likelihood of scorching increases expedentially and all your work will be wasted.


1 qt. goat’s milk (Do not use low fat)

1 c. brown sugar, packed (If you want a lighter colored cajeta, use white sugar)

2 tsp. vanilla extract (Do not use imitation vanilla. Yuk.)

1/2 tsp. salt (Use kosher or fine sea salt, not table salt)

1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 tbsp. water


Cajeta Ingredients


Have a large bowl or a large baking dish nearby.   In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla.  Stir frequently until the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and place it in the bowl or baking dish.  Stir in the baking soda.  The mixture will foam up – a lot.  Hence the bowl or baking dish to contain the spill-over.

After adding the baking soda

What the baking soda basically does is change the chemical composition of the mixture to make it “softer”; i.e. to help keep it from sugaring up.

Keep stirring until the foaming subsides a bit.  If there is spill-over that has coated the outside and bottom of the saucepan, be sure to wipe it off before putting it back on the burner.  If you can, pour any milk that ran out of the saucepan back in.


After about 30 minutes over low heat

Continue cooking over low heat, stirring frequently.  You don’t want to walk away for too long or you run the risk of scorching the milk.

After about 1 hour


The whole process will take about 2 – 3 hours.  It seems like a very long time, but the end result, when everything is done properly, it’s worth your time.

After about 1 1/2 hours. Note how the milk is beginning to thicken.


The thickened cajeta after roughly 2 - 2 1/2 hours

When you have reached the point where the cajeta has thickened significantly, be sure to stir constantly to keep the mixture from burning.  Continue cooking until the cajeta has reached 220F on a candy thermometer or until it thickly coats the back of a spoon.

The finished cajeta

When the cajeta is done, pour the mixture into a bowl or measuring cup.  If there is a any cajeta that looks like it might be too dark (like it’s about to burn), don’t scrape it off into the cup.

You’ll end up with roughly 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups of cajeta.

Final yield


This will keep in the refrigerator, covered or in an airtight container, for about 2 – 3 weeks.  If it lasts that long.  Try not to eat it all sitting in front of the TV.





Baking the Perfect Chicken Breast 0

Posted on January 06, 2012 by Sahar

Chicken.  For the last 60 years, it has been the most popular meat in America.  And no wonder.  It’s inexpensive, easy to prepare, and, most important of all, delicious.

Chicken hasn’t always been a food for the masses.  Up until World War II, chicken was primarily grown on small farms and were used, not for food, but for eggs.  Chicken was generally only cooked when the hens could no longer lay eggs or the roosters became too old.  Chicken has been called the “Gospel Bird” because Sunday was the most frequent day it was eaten.  The pastor or priest would come over to the house for Sunday dinner and would be offered the best piece.  After mass food production was developed during World War II, chicken became readily available to most Americans; inexpensive, and the most popular protein in America today.

Now from the history lesson to the cooking lesson…

I’ve said in many of my cooking classes that chicken is one of the great blank canvases of the culinary world.  And boneless, skinless chicken breast is the blankest of all canvases.  They have little flavor on their own, can be easily overcooked and dry, and, most important for many people, have little to no fat.  They are easily the most popular part of the chicken.

You can remedy most of the shortcomings of boneless, skinless chicken breast with a few simple steps.  Marinating them for several hours, or up to overnight, will help with flavor.  Using a little olive oil will add fat without ruining whatever diet you may be on.  But, if you overcook the chicken, all of the flavor you add won’t make a bit of difference.

So, here are some rather large boneless, skinless breasts.  They will vary in size depending on the brand (Tyson, etc.), whether the chicken was raised conventionally, or is organic or free range:

Trimmed boneless, skinless chicken breasts


You want to trim the breasts of any bone fragments (usually rib) , cartilage (from the keel bone) , and excess fat (usually found on the underside of the breast closest to the thigh and outer edge).

Now, a great way to add some flavor and moisture to the chicken is marinating.  In this illustration, I marinated the chicken in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  But, you can use any flavor combination you like.

Another favorite in our house is a marinade of ground cumin, salt, and olive oil.  It’s Provençal. And it’s delicious.

Marinade & Chicken Breasts


I like to take a zip bag, usually a gallon size, put in the chicken and pour in the marinade.  Massage (for lack of a better word) the bag so the marinade completely coats the chicken.  Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can, close it, and then place it in the refrigerator. (If you have a vacuum sealer, now is the time to use it.)  I like to marinate the chicken at least 8 hours.  Perfect for doing before you leave the house in the morning.

Be sure to thoroughly clean the counter and utensils when you’re done.  This will prevent cross contamination.



Chicken all ready to marinate


When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with non-stick spray.  Place the breasts on the sheet, leaving space in between the breasts.  I also pour the extra marinade over the chicken.

Chicken ready to go into the oven


I do an initial baking time of 20 minutes.  After the initial cooking time, I use an instant read thermometer to check if the internal temperature is 140F.  (When you use the thermometer, insert  it into the thickest part of the breast.  Be sure not to touch the baking sheet.)  If it’s not, I’ll put the chicken back in the oven for 5-minute increments.  It’s rare that it takes longer than 30 minutes for chicken breasts to cook.  If you have hot spots in your oven, rotate the baking sheet halfway through the cooking time.

If the chicken breasts are cooked above 140F, they become dry.  And that is what you are trying to avoid.

140F. Correct temperature for chicken breasts.

140F. Correct temperature for juicy chicken breasts.


The minimum safe temperature for hot foods is 140F.  At that point most bacteria is dead.  However, most food safety sites recommend poultry be cooked to 165F to kill all salmonella.  If this is something that concerns you, cook the chicken to 165F.  The cooking time will increase to 30 – 45 minutes.  But, the chicken will be powdery dry.  It’s up to you.

Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes once you’ve taken it out of the oven.  This will allow the juices to settle back into the meat.


Juicy boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Rested and juicy boneless, skinless chicken breasts


Dinner! Chicken Breast with Wild Rice and Edamame


During the warmer months (which in Texas is 8-9 months of the year), I’ll serve the chicken with just a large salad.  When the temperatures are cooler, I’ll serve it with a starch and a vegetable.


Hope this was helpful.  Enjoy.


Chain Food Nation 0

Posted on January 01, 2012 by Sahar

Happy New Year to All!  I hope it’s happy and healthy.

Speaking of healthy, I do have at least one resolution I plan on keeping.  Avoiding national chain restaurants.

Taking a peek at the Eater website recently, I found myself reading a list of America’s most popular restaurants. Needless to say, they’re all chains.  Now, I know, to be fair, many Americans don’t necessarily have to opportunity to go to an independent fine-dining restaurant.  Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Applebees will have to suffice.

I’m admittedly guilty of eating at Denny’s myself. When I was in college and drunk. However, I noticed it’s not on the list. But, here’s a helpful list of their biggest misses.

That being said, I have a few thoughts on chain restaurants.

First, they contribute to the dumbing down of the American palate. Bland flavors, indifferent cooking, mediocre food, and forced sameness have been accepted as the norm in the most popular American restaurants. In the Eater story, the author writes that Olive Garden has to sell their pasta soft because their average customer doesn’t like their pasta al-dente. What? Overcooked pasta is a crime against nature. Along with seafood served with cheese and over-dressed salads. Both of which Olive Garden is guilty.  Most chain restaurants don’t even fully cook the food on site.  It’s made in a factory, vacuum-packed, flash-frozen, and shipped to the restaurants for final assembly, reheating and microwaving.  So, with that, the freshness factor is gone as well.

Second, they contribute to the image that Americans are gluttons.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the commercials.  Never ending pasta, bottomless soup bowls, plates loaded with enough food to feed a family of four.

Does the average person really need to eat that much?  I’ve eaten in restaurants overseas.  I can tell you they don’t serve enough to keep you fed for a week.  The portion sizes are reasonable.  You walk away feeling satisfied, not stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.  Flat out, Americans eat way too much. Not just food, but the fat and sugar in the food.  As a country, and the West in general, we consume an average of 4000 calories per capita as compared to developing countries where about 2000 or fewer are consumed per capita (per USDA).

An excellent graph and photographic comparison from 2010, but it’s still very relevant.

Third, waste.  Too much waste is generated by these restaurants.  Over-ordering by management, waste generated at the source, customers sending back overloaded plates, and leftover food thrown away all contribute to the millions of pounds of food and millions of dollars wasted.

Are just chain restaurants guilty of these sins?  No.  I’ve eaten at Mom & Pop operations that serve steaks as big as manhole covers and vegetables so loaded with butter that I literally felt my cholesterol level going up while eating.

Restaurants, especially the national chains, are not going to change their portion sizes.  It’s seen as value for the money.  A great marketing tool.  That being said, there are a few things we as consumers can do to help with our overeating and the waste. If you know the restaurant you’re going to has huge portions, split them.  Skip the appetizer (most of those are the size of the main meal anyway).  Skip or split dessert.  Choose the healthier menu options. Go to restaurants that you know have reasonable portion sizes and enough choices to give you options.  Not everything has to have cheese or cream sauce.

Or, just cook at home.  You can control what goes into your food, the portion sizes, and, if you cook enough, you’ve got lunch for the next day.



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