Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chicken and Dumplings

Merry Christmas everybody!!  As always, the Christmas vacation flew by, even with some extra days off to extend the festivities.  We've had lots of fun with family and friends, plenty of good food, and maybe a cocktail or three.  Santa kicked ass this year, he's such a great guy.  We're still knee deep in wrapping paper and playing with our new toys.  I hope you had a fantastic Christmas, if you celebrate that sort of thing. 

Chicken soup might be good for the soul, but chicken and dumplings are good for the everything.  Maybe you call it chicken and biscuits.  Call it what you want, just make sure it's on your dinner table this winter.  Like mac-n-cheese or lasagna, this meal delivers when you need some comfortable food.  It might be super cold out and you're yearning for a tasty hot meal.  This dish is a winner when you have a cold or a touch of the flu bug and need some yummy broth in your tummy.  It's best when made with homemade chicken stock.  You are stashing your chicken carcasses, wing tips, and other bits and pieces of chickens in the freezer right? Right?  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight? 

 My recipe notes-

For the chicken, plenty of options.  I baked some chicken thighs seasoned with S&P, let them cool a bit and then chopped up the meat.  You can make your own thighs, breasts, tenders, or buy one already cooked.  For the peas, I like the frozen variety over the canned kind.  If you don't like to shroom then feel free to omit the fungi.

If you don't have a food processor, mix the dough in a large bowl with a spatula.

When making dough, super cold butter is best.  Diced into cubes and a 10 minute chill in the freezer does the trick.  And when you have the dough made, don't keep it right next to the stove or anywhere else warm, you don't want the butter to melt yet. 

Chicken and Dumplings
6 servings

6 TB unsalted butter, 4 TB 1/2" dice and very cold
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb of mushrooms- cremini, shiitake, or some of each
1 large carrot, 1/3" dice
3/4 C dry white wine
1 1/4 C AP flour plus 1 TB
3 C low-sodium chicken stock, homemade preferred
3 C cooked chicken, chopped
3/4 C baby peas, defrosted
1/4 ts dried thyme
S&P
1/2 C whole milk plus 2 TB

For the dough-
Combine 1 1/4 C flour and the very cold pieces of butter in your food pro.  Pulse 5-10 times until the butter is cut up to pea-size chunks, then add the milk.  Pulse just until the dough comes together, do not over mix.  Form gently into a ball, set aside. 

For the chicken-
Fire up the oven to 425F.  In your big ass cast-iron dutch oven, melt 2 TB of the butter over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot and shrooms.  Cook, stirring often, until the veg is soft, about 6 minutes.  Add in the wine, let that cook down for about 90 seconds, stirring.  Sprinkle in 1 TB of flour, stir to coat well for about a minute.  Introduce the stock and thyme, season with a touch of S&P.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stock thickens a bit.  Stir in the chicken and the peas.

Bring it home-
Using a spoon or TB, make your dumplings slightly larger than 1 TB.  You'll have about 20 or so, place them evenly over the chicken soup in the dutch oven.  Bake for 25 minutes, uncovered, then broil on high for 2-3 minutes to brown the dumplings, watching carefully of course and rotating if necessary.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving. 


It's chicken soup with a breaded roof.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pistachio Cookies with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Hey there!  It's that time of year again for the annual holiday cookie post.  For once though, I'm giving you a tasty recipe before Christmas, so you have plenty of time to bake for Jesus' birthday celebration or NYE.  Last year's cookie was a newbie, the Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal, the season previous to that was an old favorite, Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies.  I guess I like pecans in my cookies??  If you don't jive on that nut, or want something sweet yet different than a cookie, how about making some Butterscotch Bars?

Making cookies sure does help get in the holiday spirit, like listening to my BB King Blue Christmas album while decorating the tree.  It would also be nice to have some of the white stuff precipitating outside, sure would look pretty with the Christmas lights glowing underneath a layer of fresh powder.  Chicago has set a record for consecutive days without measurable snow, tomorrow will be 290.  December has already seen a day with a 70F degree high.  Add it to the list of fucked up weather the last couple years, with the hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, heat waves and droughts.  Yet climate change is just something those goofy scientists and lefty liberals made up to convince others to hug trees, save whales, and stifle big business.  I know I often write about the weather, but it's so directly related to food it's hard not to speak on the subject.   

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/?ui=2&ik=068e5d3347&view=att&th=13bb0afbf1a08d48&attid=0.1&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P_BBG3HO8KKnLiWVxUp3t7r&sadet=1355972118840&sads=CnaT12GHwZEZUptUJvxA57GzXZk&sadssc=1

But hey, let's not let the last couple centuries of burning fossil fuels ruin our holiday spirit!  Let's make cookies!!  Santa doesn't rely on an internal combustion engine to power his vehicle, BTW. 

You'll need a food processor and stand mixer, and if you don't have these items now is a great time to purchase them on a sale.  You do buy yourself a gift every year, right? I'm typing on mine!  If you bake often, (which I don't but have a problem limiting my kitchen gear) a silpat or silicone baking mat is lovely for easy clean-up. 

Speaking of ease, buy pistachios already shelled, the quality won't suffer. 

If you don't want to mess with the chocolate, feel free to omit it.  My better half does backflips for dark chocolate, and I like the way the cookies appeared to have been decorated by a 5 year old.  I didn't press down enough to flatten them before baking, so they weren't as flat as I would have liked. 

Pistachio Cookies with Dark Chocolate Drizzle
makes about 24 cookies

2 C shelled raw pistachios, about 12 ounces
1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
1/3 C confectioners sugar
1/2 ts kosher salt
1 ts vanilla, homemade preferred
1/2 ts almond extract
1 ts water
1/4 C white granulated sugar
2 oz dark chocolate
1/2 ts vegetable or canola oil

Fire up the oven to three honey.  Spread the pistachios out in a single layer on a sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 6 minutes.  Let cool a bit (spreading out on another sheet in a single layer) before processing in your food processor until finely ground.  Pulse until ground so you don't end up with paste.  

In the bowl of your stand mixer, attach the beater blade and the butter, sugar, and salt.  Beat on high until light and fluffy,about 5 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.  Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour gradually, until just blended.  Don't over mix!  Add the vanilla, almond extract, and water.  Using the spatula, fold in the pistachios and then form into a ball.

Using a TB or spoon, form about TB portions of dough into round balls, like making meatballs.  Put the granulated sugar into a small bowl and roll the little dough balls around to coat.  Place on a sheet pan lined with a silicone sheet or parchment paper, 2" apart.  Press the balls down slightly with a fork to flatten. 

With 12 dough balls per sheet pan, you'll have one pan in the middle rack of the oven and one in the top zone.  Bake for 10 minutes, then switch the pans, bake for another 10 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned.  Cool on a rack placed on a foil-lined sheet pan. 

In the microwave or a double-boiler, melt the chocolate with a touch of oil.  Drizzle over the cookies and then let set for at least 30 minutes.  Will keep at room temp in a closed container for a few days.
 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Boston Baked Beans

Beans, the magical fruit.  I've been magical for 4 days in a row, thanks to plenty of leftovers from making a giant batch of these beans.  Which were pretty damn tasty, lined up next to some smoked piggy parts from this place.  

Fuggedabout those wet beans in the jar, as delicious as they may be baked in the oven with some diced onion mixed in and roofed with bacon.  That's how it was done in my house.  But if you want to do the real deal Holyfield, from scratch, this is the way to go.  Classic.  Boston baked beans.  Right down to the accent.  Nomahhhh.  Pahhhk the cahhhh.  Why Boston?  It's all about the molasses.  Sure, it takes time, but winter Sundays are built for recipes like this.

When using dried beans, you should soak them first to prepare them, soften em up a bit.  The easiest way is to trow em in a pot and cover by 2" with cold water, and let sit 8 hours or overnight.  If you're pressed for time, bring that mixture to a boil and keep at a boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 1 hour.

I'm here to yell you, the smell of onions sizzling in bacon fat is the eighth wonder of the world.  I'd make this recipe just for that.  If only the Yankee Candle people would take me seriously.....

Boston Baked Beans
makes enough for 8 magical servings, as a side

4 oz salt pork, rind removed, 1/2" dice
2 slices bacon, 1/4" dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
8 C water
1 lb dried white beans, i.e navy, picked over and rinsed, soaked
1/2 C plus 1 TB mild molasses
2 TB brown mustard
1 ts cider vinegar
S&P

Fire up the oven to 300F, rack in middle.

In your big ass heavy dutch oven, cook the salt pork and bacon over medium heat, stirring often, until most of the fat is rendered, about 7-9 minutes.   Add in the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Introduce the water, beans, 1/2 C molasses, mustard, and 1.5 TB kosher salt.

Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Cover and carefully transfer to the oven.  Bake for 4 hours, stirring halfway through. 

After 240 minutes of baking, remove the lid and give it a good stir, then continue to cook uncovered until it reaches a thicker syrupy consistency, about another 70-80 minutes.

Remove the beans from the oven, stir in the remaining TB molasses and cider vinegar.  Season with S&P to taste.  Serve immediately or keep on low heat for a bit, while you're watching the Bears beat up on the Packers in the first half. 

These Boston Baked Beans will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge. 

Now you lookee here.  This is the best bacon in the world.  Seriously.  The chef for the POTUS even says so.  You can get some right here.




Saturday, December 8, 2012

Salisbury Steak

I love Salisbury Steak so much, it was in the short rotation of birthday meal requests of my youth.  Not too many folks would hold such a relatively peasant meal in high regard, but I have a love affair with onions.  All things genus allium, actually.  I know my Mom hated slicing all that onion, but she did it anyway, at least once a year, to make her kid happy.  While the other one cursed my yearly dinner choice.  Salisbury steak and Boston Cream Pie made from scratch, that was a familiar pairing most every November third.  Her version is one of those well-used yellowed index cards in the recipe box, decorated with brown spots of gravy.  This recipe is similar, although omitting some old school items like the beef bouillon cube, and introducing new ones like a shot of Korbel brandy.  Every bite brings me right back to the kitchen table as a 12 yr old, just like every time on the radio I hear the Stones' Paint it Black I immediately recall laying on the living room carpet watching China Beach four feet from the tube. 

You are making caramelized onion gravy, therefore you must serve this with mashed potaters.  That's not a suggestion.  Substituting ground beef for the sirloin is a cheaper option if your ponies didn't win this week.  We didn't have any fungus on our dinner plates growing up, but they do make a nice addition to this meal if you like to shroom. 

My wife, the intelligent foodie that she is, prefers the Wisconsin Club for her birthday meal.  Perhaps you've been there?  They know how to cook, and tend the bar quite nicely as well. 

Why the funny name?   

Salisbury Steak
2 large servings

for the steak-
1 lb ground sirloin
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 ts Worcestershire sauce
1/2 ts dry mustard
1/4 ts onion powder
1/4 C seasoned bread crumbs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper

for the gravy-
1 TB butter
1 TB EVOO
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, halved and very thinly sliced
pinch kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
shot of brandy
2 C low-sodium beef broth
1 TB ketchup
1/2 ts Worcestershire sauce
8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced and sauteed (optional)
2 ts cornstarch
water
S&P, if needed

Gently mix all the steak ingredients, shape into 2 large or 3 medium patties.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the very healthy fat EVOO.  Once nice and sizzly hot, add the beef patties.  Cook until browned on one side, about 3-5 minutes depending on the shape/heat, then flip and cook until done, another few minutes.  Remove from the skillet onto a plate, tent with aluminum foil. 

Turn down the heat to medium, add the very thinly sliced onion and season with just a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook until well browned, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the brandy and scrape the pan well to loosen all the tasty bits.  Fond, if you prefer the technical term.   Add the broth, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, stir well.  Let this mixture reduce a bit, cooking for about 5 minutes over medium heat.  To thicken the gravy a bit, make a slurry by stirring a ts or so of water with the cornstarch.  Add half of the slurry to the sauce, stir to incorporate.  If after a couple minutes it seems thin, add the rest of the cornstarch/water mixture.  

Return the cooked patties to the skillet, toss in them shrooms too if using.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and let the patties heat through, spooning oniony gravy over them to warm and season them.  Taste your gravy and season with S&P if needed.  Probably only needs a bit more freshly cracked black pepper, as I like this dish to shout ONION! BEEF! PEPPER!  Serve when the steaks have been heated through and your gravy has thickened to your liking.  If it becomes too thick, you can thin with a bit of broth or water. 

Look underneath them onions caramelizing.  That's the tasty bits stuck to the skillet from cooking the steaks, which will add much flavor to the gravy by deglazing the pan with a shot of brandy and scraping with a wooden spatula. 


Salisbury steaks, swimming in onion gravy with a side of roasted-garlic mash potaters.  That's a solid winter meal right there.  You don't even have to wait till your birthday.  



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Classic Macaroni and Cheese, Updated

This is the last mac-n-cheese recipe you will ever need.  It's simple and quick.  Just cook the pasta, turn a roux into a bechemel into a mornay sauce, top with yummies and fire it up.  Typical recipes instruct you to bake the dish, which can often result in a dry mac.  To avoid that, this guy is all about the stovetop and the broiler.  Of course, obtain the highest quality cheddar cheese you desire- I used extra-sharp Tillamook, hailing from Oregon, a very tasty upgrade from my usual cheddar from the great state of Wisconsin.  The Monterey Jack adds a nice tang to the dish.  The cayenne pepper is optional, if you don't like it spicy then feel free to omit it.  The Dorito and Cheez-it topping is also optional, although highly recommended, if not slightly ghetto.  But super tasty.  Looking for a crazier version of mac-n-cheese?

Classic Macaroni and Cheese, Updated
8 servings as side

6 slices white bread, torn into quarters
8 TB unsalted butter, 3 TB cut into 6 pieces and chilled
handful nacho cheese Doritos, crushed
handful Cheez-its, crushed
1 lb cavatappi or elbow macaroni
6 TB AP flour
1.5 TB dry mustard
1/4 ts cayenne pepper
5 C whole or 2% milk
12 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Pulse bread and 3 TB chilled butter in food processor until coarse crumbs, about 12 pulses.  Set aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot with 4 quarts of water and 1 TB kosher salt, until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Using the same pot, melt 5 TB butter over medium heat.  Add the flour, mustard and cayenne, whisk constantly for 2 minutes to develop a lightly browned roux.  Whisk in the milk gradually, then turn up the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat back to medium and whisk occasionally until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.  Off the heat, add the cheese a handful at a time and stir to melt.  Add the cooked pasta and stir well, turn down the heat to medium-low and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring, until everything is heated through and steaming.

Fire up the broiler to high, set rack in the middle of your oven.  Transfer the pasta mixture to a 13X9 broiler-proof dish.  Sprinkle the bread crumb/butter mixture on top, and then the Dorito/Cheez-it mixture.  Broil for a few minutes until nicely browned, of course watching the whole time to avoid burning, and rotating the dish if necessary.  Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin Bread

Only a week until the biggest food holiday of the year.  Searching for a good recipe for the showcase of the meal (turkey and gravy)?  That will get you started.  As will this bread, starting your morning by breaking your nightly fast.  

Holidays bring tradition.  The same day off of work every year so Mom and I can roast turkey wings and make stock for the gravy.  The gravy boat that gets used once a year.  The tablecloth that gets used once a year.  The kids making place cards that resemble little turkeys that were raised on Three Mile Island.  The donation we make to our local food pantry.  Back in the day we would always pile in the car and go cut down our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.  The leftover cold turkey sammiches with mayo and a lot of black pepper.  That's tradition.  Another Thanksgiving tradition that I look forward to? The James Bond marathon on TBS.  Even though I've seen them all, and including commercials each movie is like seven hours long, but they're still awesome.  Fifty years and going strong, and I can't wait to see Skyfall.  Daniel Craig is a badass 007! Connery will always be the classic favorite, but Craig is pretty damn good.

This pumpkin bread can be thoroughly enjoyed at any time of day.  You can eat it at room temp or warmed up a bit with a slab of butter melting on top- which is how I should have taken the photo, but time didn't allow for that.  It's quick to put this together, and super tasty.  I prefer a thick slice for breakfast with a mug of hot beverage.

I like to borrow techniques from Cook's Illustrated, because they know what the hell they're doing.  Hours and hours and hours in the kitchen testing and testing and testing recipes allows them to be the 007 of cooking knowledge.  You don't argue with that.  In this recipe, their guidance states to cook canned pumpkin a bit with some typical pumpkin pie spices.  This lovely advice not only intensifies the flavors by caramelizing the sugars, it removes that annoying tinny aluminum taste you sometimes find in canned goods.

This recipe makes two loaves, if you don't have two 8.5" X 4.5" pans, use the second half of the batter to make pumpkin muffins, as I did.  Cooking time for the muffins around 20 minutes, until toothpick comes clean.  I recommend procuring the best baking spices you can get from a fine purveyor such as this place or this establishment.

This recipe illustrates the need to always read the damn thing thoroughly before you begin- some ingredients need time to warm up, some need to be heated to bring out flavors, etc.

Pumpkin Bread
makes 2 loaves

Topping
5 TB light brown sugar, packed of course
1 TB AP flour
1 TB unsalted butter, softened
1 ts ground cinnamon
1/4 ts kosher salt

Bread
2 C (10 ounces) AP flour, measuring by weight always recommended
1.5 ts baking powder
1/2 ts baking soda
15 oz can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 ts kosher salt
1.5 ts ground cinnamon
1/4 ts ground nutmeg
1/8 ts ground cloves
1 C granulated white sugar
1 C light brown sugar, packed of course
1/2 C vegetable or canola oil
4 oz cream cheese, diced while cold and then softened
1/4 C buttermilk
1 C walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

For the topping-
Add all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix with your fingers until resembling wet sand, set aside.

For the bread-
Fire up the oven to 350F, rack in the middle.  Grease two 8.5" X 4.5" loaf pans.  Whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the pumpkin puree and salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  Cook until reduced to about 1.5 C, stirring almost constantly to avoid burning, about 6 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the white and brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese.  Stir until combined, let sit for a couple minutes to allow the heat to melt the cream cheese, then stir until thoroughly combined with no visible pieces of cream cheese.

Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk, then add this to the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine.  Fold in the flour mixture, small lumps are okay, don't hurt yourself.  Fold in the walnuts last. 

Pour/scrape half of the batter into each loaf pan, or one loaf pan and a muffin pan, or make one loaf at a time.  Sprinkle the topping over batter evenly.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle come out clean.  Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.  Let cool for at least 2 hours, then enjoy.  The bread loaf and muffins will last a few days at room temp, and will also freeze well.   


 Life moves fast.  So then must the seasons.  I still have green tomatoes from the garden on the counter, while winter's first flurries lay a thin blanket of white on the coldest surfaces they can find.  Happy Thanksgiving y'all.  I'm sure you won't have to look far to find something to be thankful for. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I was informed that I could pick anything I wanted to make for my birthday dinner.  Thoughts of lobsters swam through my head.  Large pieces of grilled red meat sounded enticing.  A cute little lobe of foie gras would have been decadent.  But the first thing I really wanted to eat, knowing that I could be a bit selfish in my choice? Cauliflower.  See, we haven't been able to eat any of it lately, due to feeding the little one.  Cruciferous vegetables and beans are things Mom abstains from for the time being.  Unfortunate, because cauliflower is damn tasty when prepared properly...which isn't difficult, as this post shows.  It's fall, it's getting cold, and roasting cauliflower and then zapping it into a soup for a starter course made a good start to my birthday meal.  Oh, and I bought myself a new stick blender as a present, so the anxiety to try it out was growing.  The motor in the old one finally gave way, after about 5 years of use.

My free tip for this dish- warm the bowls with very hot (microwaved) water 5 minutes before serving, of course emptying the bowls before filling with soup.  That will keep the soup toasty warm until the last spoonful. 

Another cauliflower recipe with similar elements.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
4-5 servings as side dish

1 head cauliflower
EVOO
S&P
6 slices bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, diced (about 1 C)
3 C chicken broth (homemade always preferred)
1 TB fresh thyme plus 1 ts
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 ts freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 C heavy cream
2.5 C milk
1 C parmigiano reggiano plus 1/4 C

Fire up the oven to 400F.  Roughly chop the cauliflower into pieces about 1-2" in size.  Spread out on a sheet pan lined with foil and drizzle with a bit of EVOO, toss well, then season lightly with S&P.  Roast for about 35-40 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Put a large cast iron dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat.  Add a bit of EVOO, then get that bacon sizzling.  Cook until crisp, stirring often, then remove with a slotted spoon.  Cook the onion in the bacon fat until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the cauliflower, broth, 1 TB thyme, nutmeg, and salt and pepper.  Turn up the heat to medium high and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Introduce your stick blender to the situation, or puree in batches in a blender.  Next to the pot is the cream, milk, and 1 C of the cheese.  Stir and adjust seasoning if needed with S&P.  Return to low heat until warmed through, then serve in bowls with the reserved bacon, thyme, and cheese. 


Friday, October 26, 2012

Parmesan Crusted Baked Chicken Thighs

We are proud of the fact that virtually every night for dinner it's a home cooked meal.  No fast food, nothing microwaved, our entrees don't come wrapped with cellophane ready to pop into the oven, no pre-made processed food loaded with preservatives and other crap with ingredient lists a mile long.  It's tastier and healthier that way.  But I won't lie to you, cooking from scratch every night isn't easy.  Some meals are not difficult, like risotto, or a couple pan-seared pork chops or grilled ribeye.  Some recipe ideas we look forward to making, from ones that are old faves to something brand new.  Occasionally it can be a struggle to think of something to cook, then ensure you have the right ingredients on hand (and thawed!), and then get it on the table somewhere near dinner time.

 This is about as close as we get to last-minute food for a weeknight dinner.  After spending 5 minutes going over every other possibility we don't want to eat, by the time the oven is pre-heated the chicken is ready to be cooked. 

 There's no real measuring to this- just eyeball your breading station ingredients and off you go yo.  

One thing I will insist on- using an internal thermometer to know when this protein is fully cooked.  This ain't no kobe beef or wild salmon that can be eaten at varying degrees of doneness, chicken must be cooked until it reaches a minimum of 165F.  Sure, you could knife into it to peek at the color of the meat, or see if the juices run clear, but then you would be drying out your meat losing all that jus.  And that would be a bad bad thing.

I cook with chicken thighs instead of breasts.  They have more taste and are cheaper.  Your choice.  Okay.  I also like to use a mix of panko and regular bread crumbs.  Just panko will do.  Plain bread crumbs aren't crunchy enough.  A crust of Ritz crackers, cornflakes, or potato chips would also be yummy.

Parmesan Crusted Baked Chicken Thighs
3-4 servings, depending on the size of your thighs. The chicken thighs. Not yours. 

4-5 pieces bone-in chicken thighs, (a typical package) at room temp
3/4 C AP flour
2 eggs
1/4 C bread crumbs
1 C panko bread crumbs
1/2 C freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Fire up the oven to 380F.

Set up your breading station- with shallow dishes (I like 9" pie plates).  One for the flour (seasoned with S&P), one for the eggs (lightly beaten) and one for the bread crumbs mixed with the parm.  Season the chicken on each side with S&P, then coat with the flour.  Shake off the excess and dredge in the egg, letting any superfluous run off before moving to the bread crumb mixture.  Coat well on each side and then place on a rack on a sheet pan.  The rack will help crisp all sides and avoid soggy bottom syndrome.  Cook until internal temperature reaches 165F, about 40 minutes, then rest for at least 5 minutes.  Cooking time will depend on the protein size, hence the need for a thermometer. 


It's not the week's most exciting meal, but paired with a pasta salad or green salad, it gets the job done.  A honey mustard dipping sauce spiked with rosemary also helps.  


What are you gonna be for Halloween this year? I'm still debating...I dressed as a chef last year.  I should have made these too for the party. 


I think I nailed it, even got the chicken and spoon you barely see stuffed in my apron.  I left my giant Cutco cleaver at home though, don't want to go missing any more digits.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pancetta Wrapped Stuffed Pork Loin

Happy 100th Birthday Maillard reaction!!

Thanks to French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, we understand the science behind why some foods taste so damn good.  The smell of freshly baked bread, the taste of a yummy steak off the grill, the joy in a fine cup of coffee or crafty beer.  Who would have thought amino acids+sugars+heat=so much fun!  The Maillard reaction could be the most widely occurring chemical reaction in the world, as millions of people at any given time around the globe are cooking something.  The reaction forms thousands of tasty (and some undesirable like 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and acrylamide) compounds in even the simplest of cooking.  I won't bore you with the details, so here's a quick explanation for you- the carbonyl group of a sugar reacts with amino groups on a protein or amino acid to produce water and an unstable glycosylamine, which undergoes Amadori rearrangements to produce a series of aminoketose compounds, which are further rearranged through a multitude of chemical reactions, conversions, and polymerizations, creating compounds responsible for aroma, color, and last but never least, flavor. 

Now that you are thoroughly educated on the subject, let's denature some protein with heat! That's cooking, if you weren't sure.

You having a couple peeps over for dinner and want to do something lovely?  This will impress.  Trying to round second with yo date?  This might do the trick.  Pancetta wrapped stuffed pork loin.  It's like a pig in a blanket, if the blanket was more pig.  It's an oinky double down.  Wait, that sounded like something Guy Fieri would say....you know, the king of douchebaggery.  Time to get to the reicpe. 

Since it's fall, the stuffing ingredients were themed according to the season- walnuts, cranberry, and blue cheese get along real well this time of year.  The options are limitless to stuff the pork with other ingredients.

You might think a pancetta wrapped stuffed pork loin would be quite laborious, yet it's really quite simple.  Cut it, pound it, stuff it, wrap it, roast it, rest it, slice it, and eat it. 

Some quick notes-
If you want to feed a crowd, get a bigger loin, adjust the amount of other ingredients and the cooking time.
Definitely use the rack to roast this on, so the pancetta on the bottom gets all nice and crispy.
When rolling this puppy, do so firmly to ensure a tight roll but don't squeeze so hard you expel the stuffing.
When you cut to butterfly and flatten, pick the tallest, skinniest side (or now the top) of the loin.

Pancetta Wrapped Stuffed Pork Loin
4-6 servings

2.25 lb pork loin
8 oz. pancetta
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 C mayonnaise
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted
1/3 C good quality blue cheese
1/2 C craisins
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced (about 2 TB)

On a sturdy surface, lay down a few layers of plastic wrap.  With a very sharp knife, slice the loin carefully through the tallest side, leaving about 1", so it opens like a book.  Cover with a couple more sheets of wrap, then use a heavy rolling pin or skillet to pound to about 3/4" thickness. 

Cut 4 to 6 pieces of butcher's twine to about 20" length, and lay out evenly on a cutting board (the one for raw meat, not your nice wooden board).  On top of the twine, space out the pancetta evenly the same size as your flattened loin.  You can easily adjust the twine at any time if needed by moving while taught. 

Place the loin on top of the pancetta, and season liberally with freshly cracked black pepper.  Cover all  but 1" from the edges with the mayo.  


Add the stuffing ingredients- the shallot, garlic, toasted walnuts, craisins, and blue cheese, spread evenly on the loin up to 1" from the edge.  Starting on one side, start rolling by getting under the pancetta but leaving the twine behind.  Hold tight once rolled and then tie tight and trim off the excess twine.


With your oven preheated to 450F, blast this pork roll at high heat for 20 minutes to crisp the outer layer of pancetta.  Then turn the heat down to 350F and roast for about another 40-50 minutes, depending on the size of your loin.  If your oven doesn't heat evenly, rotate the pan halfway through.  Cook until the internal temp reaches 145F, start checking after about an hour of total cook time and go from there.


Once out of the oven, tent lightly with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.  Slice into about 1" pieces and serve.  Even Guy would agree, that is off the hook. 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Autumn Slaw with Apple, Toasted Walnuts

The blurry picture of this plate reminds me that sometimes fall can fly by so quick, it's hard to focus.  Reminds me of a picture I took a couple Octobers back of some fall colors on a train between Boston and Portland.  The greens and reds and yellows and oranges all blend into one sixty mile an hour moment.  And then it's gone.


This slaw has a quintessential component of fall-the apple.  A perfect accompaniment to some grilled sausages, or as we did, with this lovely brined pork chop recipe, sans the pineapple salsa.  That's so summer ago.   It's the time of the year to put away your white rums and tequila, break out the whiskey, whisky, cognac, and apple brandy.  Here's a great way to get started with an October Friday evening cocktail.  Speaking of flaming your essential oils, take the step to toast nuts in recipes that call for them, such as this one.  The flavors reached by doing so (dry pan, low heat, shake and monitor often) are much worth the effort.  If you need to prep this dish in advance, keep the apples in a bowl of cold water with a squirt of lemon juice to prevent them from browning. 

 Autumn Slaw with Apple, Toasted Walnuts
4 servings as side dish

1/4 C EVOO
1 TB grainy mustard
1 TB dijon mustard
2 TB apple cider vinegar
S&P
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded
1 tart apple, cored, quartered, and thinly sliced
1/4 C raisins
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 C walnuts, roughly halved and toasted
1/4 C pecans, roughly halved and toasted
2 TB good quality blue cheese

For the vinaigrette-
In a small bowl, combine the mustards and vinegar, whisk in the EVOO and season to taste with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Set aside.

For the slaw-
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, apples, raisins and carrot.  Add the dressing and mix well, then serve and top with the toasted nuts and blue cheese. 


 Jeans and a hoodie- the perfect outfit for fall.  Maybe next year she'll be eating this autumn slaw.  




Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheddar Crouton

When was the last time you enjoyed the classic combination of tomato soup and grilled cheese?  Last winter?  A few years ago??  Before you had a drivers license???  I will only assume that you have at least once in your life paired these items, a childhood classic.  If it's been a while, and you need something warm in your belly for the upcoming chilly fall nights, this is it.  If you've never dipped a melty grilled cheese into a bowl of steamy tomato soup, you have problems.  They even make serviceware for it. 

You are going to make this soup.  I repeat, you will be making this soup.  Sure, it takes some time- but it's not laborious.  It's so worth the time commitment.  This recipe combines tomato soup and grilled cheese into one, in the style of the fantastique soupe l'oignon

The garden is still kicking out tomatoes, those that haven't been canned already are being eaten daily in salads, on sammiches, and a bunch were used to make this soup.  If you don't have access to homegrown or farmers market tomatoes, try to find some heirloom varieties at a specialty grocer.  Although standard plum tomatoes will work too.

No fresh basil?  That's certainly optional, although tomatoes and basil are like Batman and Robin, they work so well together.  Don't have an obsession with garlic like we do?  Only use 1 or 2 cloves.  Tongue can't handle spicy food?  Reduce the amount of hot pepper chili flakes to 1/8 ts.  Of course the soup will be super ass hot right out of the oven, but don't let it sit around too long or your crouton will become mush.  Enjoy responsibly. 

If you don't have soup crocks, here's another yummy autumnal soup to justify gettin yourself a few.  But anything broiler-proof will do the trick. 

Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheddar Crouton
2 servings as main course, probably would serve 4 as a starter

3 lb heirloom plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 ts kosher salt
2 TB EVOO
4 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, about 1 ts (or 1/2 ts dried)
1/4 ts red pepper chili flakes
2 C homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
S&P
3-4 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade, optional
8 1" slices from a sourdough baguette, or 2 or 4 slices from a large loaf- whatever fits in your ovenproof crock
1.5 C freshly shredded good quality cheddar cheese, best be from Wisconsin or Vermont

Fire up the oven to 400F.  Place the garlic cloves in a little foil packet and drizzle with a bit of EVOO and close.  Onto a sheet pan, lined with parchment if you like easy clean-up, place the tomatoes cut-side up.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and then drizzle some EVOO over.  Add the garlic packet to the sheet pan and roast for 60 minutes, your kitchen and most of the house will be smelling all delicious.

Let the garlic cool slightly before squeezing out the cloves.  Add them to a food processor or blender along with the tomatoes and any accumulated juices from the sheet pan.  Pulse until you have a chunky puree, you don't want large chunks and you don't want a thin liquid.  Pour into a medium pot and add the thyme, red pepper flakes, and stock.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer, cook for about 20 minutes.  Season to taste with S&P. 
 

Considering the size of your ovenproof crocks or coffee mugs or bowls, cut sourdough bread slices accordingly.  I had a small baguette so 4 slices fit on top of each soup.  Pour the soup into your holder of choice, then top with the bread and then heap on the cheese.  Place the crocks/mugs/bowls onto a sheet pan, lined with aluminum foil if you like easy clean-up, and bake at 400F for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is all bubbly and browny at the edges.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese, Strawberry-Champagne Vinaigrette

Summer can be defined in various ways.  Meteorological summer occurs during the entire months of June, July, and August (for those in the northern hemisphere).  Astronomical summer is the time period between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox (June 20 to September 22 for 2012).  Some like to bookend the warmest season with Memorial Day and Labor Day.  All of these methods are pretty close, but they are static.  To me, summer is a dynamic entity which fluctuates from year to year.  Those in the Midwest know that some years you may have all four seasons, others you might get only get 3...the shoulder seasons of fall and spring can be fleeting moments where that sweet vest never makes it out of the closet. 

I prefer to define the summer season by planting day and harvest day.  That's roughly delineated by the time between frosts, which varies slightly and of course is not foolproof.  I follow a simple rule, which fittingly my mother taught me- don't plant until after Mother's Day, at least around these (zone 5) parts.  Calculating when to harvest is much easier these days, thanks to the advancement of modern weather forecasting.  You know this guy kills it.

The end of summer/harvest day this year was yesterday, September 18th.  A buckling Canadian air flow threatened the delicate basil plants- they are the first to succumb to the lack of heat.  Other herbs are much hardier, like the rosemary last year that made it through the winter, as it was quite mild. 

Speaking of last winter's warm temps, this summer was quite hot.  Alarmingly fucking hot.  There are no more icebergs to hide under, those who disagree with scientific claims of global warming, because they melted.  I don't see how one could argue against it.  The drought this summer was the worst in over 50 years, but that pales in comparison to all the other jacked up weather events that have occurred the last 2-3 years.  The most jaw-dropping statistics?  According to NOAA, the globally averaged temperature for June 2012 was the 4th warmest June since record keeping began in 1880.  It was also the 36th consecutive June and the 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th-century average.  June 2012 also broke or tied over 170 all-time high temps across America and contributed to the warmest 12 month period our nation has experienced since 1895.  There will soon be a point where any action taken by the world's leaders will be too late, and we'll see irreversible consequences.  But I'm pretty sure the burning of fossil fuels has nothing to do with it.

And I digress. 

You know why caprese salad is so damn delicious at the end of summer? Cause you waited all mfn winter and most of summer to enjoy it.  Ever see that on a restaurant menu in the dead of winter?  That's a sign you're at the wrong restaurant. 


My first attempt at canning was a success- I think, we'll find out in a few months.


Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese, Strawberry-Champagne Vinaigrette
2 servings

vinaigrette-
3 strawberries, hulled, roughly chopped
1 TB champagne vinegar
3 TB good EVOO
1/2 small shallot, minced (about 1 TB)
1/2 ts dijon mustard
S&P

salad-
1 bunch fresh spinach
1/2 C chopped walnuts, toasted
1 rib celery, halved, thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced in 1" pieces
2 oz good blue cheese, crumbled
3 large strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced

Using a stand blender, stick blender, or food pro, combine all vinaigrette ingredients and process to combine thoroughly.
 
Wash and dry the spinach, remove any large stems and tear up some of the big pieces.  Throw in a large salad bowl, then add the celery, red pepper, and the vinaigrette.  Toss well, then add in the strawberries, walnuts, and blue cheese.  Mix gently and serve immediately.  Chill your plates for bonus points.  


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

As recently mentioned, this vegetarian dish was a great change-up to the onslaught of summer's grilled protein.  I like to make fun of strict vegetarians and vegans, but every now and then a non-meat dinner is a great refresher.  

These fritters hit the trifecta- quick, easy, and yummy.  You do, however, have to adhere to a few notes about concocting this recipe.  First, techniques like frying is why you should own a cast-iron skillet.  I recommend Lodge brand because they are cheap, durable, and come pre-seasoned.  Pay attention to how to care for your skillet- no soap, no rust.  After all, you should be frying your bacon in a cast-iron skillet, which not only tastes fantastic it keeps your hardware nicely seasoned and oiled.  Secondly, don't crowd the fritters when cooking.  Give them room to heat up nicely and give you those delicious browned edges.  So, you'll most likely have to cook in 2 batches, unless you have a huge skillet.  Keep the first batch in a warm oven (200F) on a rack over a sheet pan- don't place on paper towel like so many recipes tell you to do- sitting in its oil will rob you of the crispy crust and you'll have a soggy fritter, which is no good.  Thirdly, gas ovens introduce a ton of moisture, so don't keep them in there too long. 

If you don't want to buy greek yogurt, you can let regular yogurt strain though a fine-mesh sieve for 20 minutes to thicken up.  Like most vegetables, zucchini is mostly water- don't skip the salting step, you need to draw out most of the water.  Water+hot oil= problem. 
  
Zucchini Fritters
makes about 6 fritters, good for light meal with a green salad

for the sauce-
1/2 C greek yogurt
1 ts lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
pinch S&P

for the fritters-
1 large or 2 medium zucchini, shredded
4 green onions, green part only, split lengthwise
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 C AP flour
1/2 ts baking powder
1 ts kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 TB veg or canola oil

Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl, mix well, and stash in the fridge to chill.

Shred the zucchini with a food pro or on the large holes of a box grater.  Place a colander in the sink and layer the zucchini, spreading them out.  Spinkle with 1 ts kosher salt, let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fire up a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  In a medium bowl, lightly beat one large egg, then add 3 of the green onions which you have sliced thinly.  In another small bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. 

Strain the zucchini  by using cheesecloth, a clean towel, or a few layers of paper towel- squeeze out as much water as you can, then add to the egg mixture.  Stir in the dry goods (flour and pow) and season with a few grinds of pepper.  Mix everything well so all is distributed evenly.

Pour about 2 TB of cooking oil into your skillet, the fat should be hot enough to be shimmering but not smoking.  Using a TB or small spoon, scoop portions a bit larger than a golf ball and place into the skillet.  Smash down gently with a spatula to form fritters.  Cook on one side until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for about the same amount.  Place onto the rack in the warmed oven until ready to eat. 

Slice the remaining green onion into small pieces, top the fritters with the yogurt sauce, then the onion. 


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pork Tenderloin, Blueberry Balsamic Reduction

This won't be shocking to most of you- there's a lot of people out there whom I dislike.  Shitty drivers are at the top of the list.  I don't even have to be driving in my own car and poor motorists still piss me off.  I'm talking about those alley-honkers.  Them dipshits fly down the alley and then lay on the horn as they near the end, warning about their approach.  So cars traveling properly in the street, people walking their dog(s) on the sidewalk, and kids on their bikes are supposed to yield to them because of an audible warning?? I don't think so.  Proper etiquette would be to slow down, (or not do thirty mph through an alley to begin with) perhaps even make a full stop, and make sure you don't plow into something.  Like me, enjoying a leisurely stroll where I should be, on the sidewalk.  Save the horn honking for what it was meant for- the lightest tap to alert someone to stop looking at Facebook on their dumbphone cause the light is green, laying on the horn whenever a cabbie does the slightest thing to annoy you, and multiple short blasts to gain the attention of a hot chick or for when you are saying goodbye as you drive off from a loved one you won't see for a while.  No other times, including alley-honking, is a car horn necessary.  

On the other hand, I really like some people, especially the Grandmas.  I wanted to make something nice to thank Omma for babysitting the lovely Clare for a few days.  A somewhat quick dinner, as this was a weeknight, but certainly a meal that was restaurant quality.  Thanks to Clare's other Grandma, I had a pork loin doin some chilling in the freeze that was begging for some grill time.  Pair that with a silky blueberry balsamic gastrique, and you got a tasty dinner that says thank you.   

The title of this dish says 'reduction', cause I thought 'gastrique' might sound too fancy for you, but that is the proper moniker.  It's not a difficult task, it's just french for a vinegar/fruit/sugar combination that is heated and reduced in volume.  So go ahead and reduce that sauce, knowing you're practicing classic french technique.  She'd be proud. 

Grilling or oven-roasting a pork loin is easier than cooking burgers, cause you don't have to make the burgers!  You're not buying pre-formed patties from the store, are you?  Let's hope not.  Want more pork tenderloin recipes?  This one is good for the upcoming fall, this guy here is tasty year-round, and if you act soon, there is a small window left of summer to squeeze this herby citrusy grilled loin on your dinner plate. 

Speaking of not much time remaining in summer, the tail end of the season means there's been a lot of dead animal on the grill for months.  Not sure about you, but I'm craving some lighter dishes like this mouth-watering recipe that I can't wait to eat to change up the pace, and this other veggie dish will do the same and use up some zucchini from the garden.

Now, for some important deets.  The way hogs are bred these days, the chances of eating an undercooked piece and ingesting trichinosis is on par with getting struck by lightning.  A touch of very slight pink in the middle of a loin is cooked to perfection.  Of course you could also cook until not pink throughout, but without a brine in this recipe, I would yank it off the grill at about 155F and it should reach the ideal 160F while resting.  Don't let the FDA scare you into thinking otherwise. 

Pork Tenderloin, Blueberry Balsamic Reduction
3-4 servings

EVOO
1/2 medium yellow or red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C dry white wine
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 C blueberries, rinsed
4 TB good balsamic vinegar
1 TB light brown sugar
1 ts fresh lemon juice
2 TB unsalted butter, cold, diced
S&P
1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of any silver skin (that's the concentrated section of silvery fat that will not melt, but don't trim off all the little pieces of fat!)

Fire up the grill for high heat, about 400 degrees F (alternatively, roast in a 375F oven for 22-25 minutes).  

For the Blueberry Balsamic Reduction-
In a medium saute pan, cook the onion over medium heat in a few TB's of EVOO.  Cook about four minutes until translucent, but not brown.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds, then add the white wine.  Stir well, scraping any fond off the bottom of the pan.  Increase the heat to medium-high and let reduce for a couple minutes, then add the blueberries, balsamic, and brown sugar.  You could mash up some of the berries with the spoon, most will burst with the heat during the 10 minutes or so it will take to reduce.  Stir/smash a few times during this time.

For the pork-
With a preheated grill and your protein at room temp, oil up them grates and season your meat liberally with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Grill on a fat side over high heat for 4 minutes, then turn 1/4 and cook its side for 2 minutes, then 4 minutes on the other larger surface, then 2 minutes on the other small side.  Most loins are shaped similarly, this will ensure an even sear on all sides.  Move to a cooler, indirect part of the grill and take the temp- 155F is the goal, continue to cook, turning every 2 minutes, until you reach that temp.  Remove from the heat and cover lightly with aluminum foil.  Don't even think of cutting into this little piggy for at least 10 minutes. 

Bring it together-
While your pork is resting, your sauce should be nicely reduced to purply goodness.  Remove the thyme sprigs, strain using a strainer or cheesecloth into a small saucepan.  Add a squirt of lemon juice, a pinch of S&P, and the cold pieces of butter.  Whisk well to create a shiny, yummy sauce.  Slice your loin bout 1/3" thick and plate on top of the sauce.  Sprinkle some fresh thyme for garnish.  Tastes well with a green salad, a side of rice pilaf, and a glass of Pinot Noir or Gamay.   



Thursday, August 23, 2012

Caprese Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Back to school already?? But it's not even Labor Day yet!!!  Kids these days get screwed.  First they have to trick-or-treat during the daytime, probably supervised by their parental units, which pretty much wipes out any chance of fun pranks or general hijinks.  And now the school year starts before the annual end-of-summer Holiday?  That sucks.  Every summer goes by quick, but now they're getting even shorter.  Were you that kid that looked forward to going back to school?  Nerd. 

We discussed recently about how you should be eating all the fresh, local tomatoes you can find right about now, and conversely why eating tomatoes in winter is stupid.  It's August, there's no way you could tire of eating BLT's with those ripe beefsteaks that are weighing down your tomato plants.  And the plethora of grape tomatoes find their way into salads nightly, mostly green salads and the occasional octopus salad with fresh chili peppers, olives, and balsamic. 


If you're not growing tomatoes, I'm sure you can easily find them at the farmer's market or a nearby farm stand.

Not an anchovy lover?  This might be recipe to change your mind.  Get the good stuff, a small jar of the little fishies packed in oil, should cost you about five bucks.  Don't cheap out and get the crappy ones in the tin- that's not using quality ingredients.

Really hate anchovies?  Then maybe you should just make this caprese salad instead.  

Caprese Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette
2 servings as large side dish

1/4 C good EVOO
4 anchovy filets, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
2 TB red wine vinegar
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C cubed mozzarella
handful basil leaves, larger ones torn or chiffonade

Combine the anchovy, garlic, shallot, and red wine vinegar in small bowl.  Slowly whisk in the EVOO to create an emulsion, or toss everything in and zap it with a stick blender or in a normal blender.  Arrange the sliced tomatoes on two plates and season with S&P.  Add as much red onion to your liking, same thing for some cubed mozzarella.  Drizzle the vinaigrette on top, then add the basil leaves.  That tastes like summer, even if summer vacation is over. 





Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gremolata

In about the same amount of time it will take to post this, you could make this condiment.  Outside of traditional use, it can liven up any dish that needs it- veal, pork, beef, fish, or vegetable.

A lovely summer veg off the grill is zucchini- simply treated with EVOO, S&P, cooked very quickly over high heat.  Delicious in itself, yes, but even more tasty with this citrus, garlic and herb combo.  

When you peel the lemon, be sure to not get any of the white pith- that stuff is bitter.   


Gremolata

1 medium lemon, peeled in thin strips
1/4 C parsley, chopped finely
3 medium garlic cloves, minced

Mince the lemon peel strips, then combine with the parsley and garlic.  Mix well to get everything loving each other.  Can be stashed in the fridge for days and used on practically anything but ice cream or breakfast cereal.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cucumber and Feta Salad with Pita Bread Crouton

I write about it every year about the same time, the fact that there is no other food that defines the season better than the tomato.  Summer=tomato.  And with the mind-boggling record heat this summer season, the tomatoes have arrived a bit earlier than usual.  Although I'm a novice at tomato gardening, I had a variety of plants in the ground a mere two weeks after we bought the land.  These fruits were ready (with a few green ones that fell off in the process) in only 2 months. Five inches high to five seven feet high in 8 weeks.  There's gonna be a lot of BLT's in the next few weeks, I got a big batch of tomato-basil mayo already giddy for the occasion. 

Everyone knows that tomatoes taste best right off the vine, preferably from your own yard, or your Mom's.  Everyone knows that supermarket tomatoes taste very bland, and everyone knows this is because of the produce companies genetically modifying these orbs to have a longer shelf life, full red color, and perfect round shape.  Profit over taste, is what that is.  You know why they do it, but do you know how it happens?  According to Cornell University plant biologist James J. Giovannoni, the tasteless big box store tomatoes have a mutated S1GLK2 gene that results in an extra DNA base which disrupts the gene's sequence, causing its protein to be truncated and therefore inactive.  This gene is essential for activating the production of chloroplasts, which are the organelles that capture sunlight for sugar production.  These chloroplasts are also a main contributor to the tomato's aroma molecules, so those tomatoes you buy in January have less sugar content and less flavor.  Those assholes! 


Why I am writing about tomatoes when there are no tomatoes in the recipe?

That's called irony. It's delicious.  Just like that ugly-ass tomato in the far right-upper corner, that will be super yummy.  The uglier=the tastier. 

We have a good friend who doesn't/won't/can't eat tomatoes.  She was once in Greece, and ordered a Greek salad.  This dish is usually a tasty combination of cucumber, feta, olives, sometimes  thin slices of red onion, and always hunks of tomato.  She asked for no tomato, I believe, multiple times.  When the plate arrived, she was a bit confused to find only a giant mound of tomatoes.  I don't believe she was too happy with that server, as the order wasn't completely understood.  As a side dish for a BBQ this friend attended, I made sure her desire to be tomato-less wasn't lost in translation. 


The cukes for this dish also came from the garden, but you can get them from the store- the only gene mutations in them are the seedless ones.  This is a great recipe to just get the cheaper seeded variety vs. seedless, as you have to dice them anyway, so cutting out the seeds is a easy extra step.

If you have smaller mint leaves, you can just throw them in whole or torn in half- large ones though, you want to chop to avoid chewing on a giant mint leaf. If you can't find watercress, it's not essential, but does add a nice touch.

Cucumber and Feta Salad with Pita Bread Crouton
4 servings as side dish

2 pita breads, cut into 1" squares
3 TB white wine vinegar
1/4 C good EVOO
pinch  kosher salt
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and 1/2" dice
1 bunch of mint, trimmed, roughly chopped (about 3/4 C)
1/2 bunch watercress, roughly chopped (about 1/2 C)
6-8 oz good feta cheese, diced
freshly cracked black pepper

Fire up the oven to tree five oh.  Place your pita squares on a sheet pan and  bake until crisp, about 20-22 minutes.  Shake pan and rotate halfway through, start checking them at 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, add the vinegar and a pinch of kosher salt.  Whisk in the EVOO slowly, to ensure a nice emulsification.

In a large salad bowl, combine the cucumber, celery, and feta.  Add the dressing and toss well, then incorporate the mint, watercress, and pita bread crouton.  Season with pepper and again toss that salad.  Serve immediately to somewhat soon. 


Thursday, August 2, 2012

'Old Fashioned' Cherry Pie

In Wisconsin, there are two sides to take.  You either want to recall Walker, or not. Just kidding, this isn't a political blog, I'm not gonna go anywhere near that mess.  This media is about something much more important, not to mention a topic everyone can agree upon- good food and drink, necessities to life.  The two opinions I speak of are how you, when in the great state of Wisconsin, prefer your Old Fashioneds- sweet, or not.  

Most Wisconsinites I know order (or make) theirs sweet, and always with brandy.  Korbel, to be specific.  Muddled with an orange slice, to be exact.  Some of them even know which bartender at the Club mixes them better than others.  Going beyond sweet or not, there are many other variations on the 6:00PM on a Friday at the supper club favorite.  I prefer mine with bourbon over brandy, which, along with the orange and cherry flavors in a standard Old Fashioned, make one hell of a delicious cherry pie.

I don't bake too many pies, but I finally have a kitchen windowsill to put a cooling freshly-baked cherry pie on. With Team USA competing in the Olympic games in the background, that's a sweet piece of Americana.  I'll work on the 1.5 more kid and the white picket fence thing for the complete Norman Rockwell painting.  

This recipe calls for canned cherries, but if you want to acquire fresh cherries at your local farmers market and stem and pit them, please do so.  The weather in 2012 has not been so kind for that sort of thing, the fruit crop from the farms in Michigan have suffered just as much as the corn crop from the farms in Iowa.

I show instructions to make a simple pie dough, or pate brisee, but you could also use a store-bought dough if you wish.

'Old Fashioned' Cherry Pie

for the dough-
enough for one 9" pie shell and top

12 oz AP (yes, always weigh) flour
8 oz butter, diced and very cold (as in, stash cut up in a small bowl in the freeze for twenty)
2-4 oz ice water
1/2 ts kosher salt

Combine the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl by rubbing the butter between your fingers, until you have pea sizes chunks of butter and smaller beads. The mixture should resemble coarse meal. Add 2 oz of ice water and the salt, mix gently until just combined. You might need 1-2 more oz. ice water, just use enough until the dough comes together without working it too hard.

You can also use your food processor to combine the dough.  Add the salt and then the water gradually, while pulsing quickly just until it looks like coarse meal.

Split the dough in halves, you can weigh or eyeball this. Shape into 1/2" discs and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before rolling out.

for the pie-
2 14.5 oz cans tart pitted pie cherries, drained well
3/4 C white sugar
1/4 C bourbon
3 TB cornstarch
2 TB freshly squeezed OJ
1 TB orange zest
1 TB unsalted butter

Your dough should be made and parked in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before firing up the oven to 350F.

Roll out the first pie dough into something that resembles a 10" circle, and using your rolling pin for assistance, lay gently into a 9" pie plate.  Place onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil, for easy clean up.  Crimp the edges as decoratively as you wish, trimming any excess.

Combine the cherries, sugar, bourbon, cornstarch, OJ and zest in a mixing bowl.  Mix well with a spatula to get everything liking each other, without beating up the fruit too much.  Once mixed, pour into your pie crust.  Roll out the other piece of dough, gently placing on top, again use your rolling pin for an assist.  Trim any excess you might have, then use a knife or a fork to create some vents in the dough- six stabs with a fork evenly spaced, or four half-inch slits with a paring knife should do it.  Pat the top (and especially edges) with a bit of butter, to enhance browning.

Cooking time will be about 70-80 minutes, until lightly browned and every room in your house, even the closets, smell like delicious cherry pie.  You will probably have some juices bubbling out of the crust, and that's okay...hence the foil-lined sheet pan for easy clean up.  

DO NOT cut into this bad boy for at LEAST two hours....or you'll have a runny mess on your hands.  Like Tim Berry always says about a fresh ice sheet, LET IT SET UP!  I recommend serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then devour while you watch Team USA go for the gold.   But any way you slice it, it's a delicious piece of Wisconsin-cocktail-time-dessert. 


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Watermelon, Avocado Salad with Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette

Nine weeks into being a used home owner.  Eight weeks into being a new dad.  Life is moving at warp speed right now.  It seems like we just moved into this house last week, and brought our daughter home from the hospital two days ago in that state of cloud nine happiness, pure unfiltered joy, and an equal mix of confusion and fear about being a parent.  They say that first walk to the car with the new one is surreal, and I'm here to tell ya, they're right.  I got used to the car seat and base being in the backseat for weeks, no big deal...but now there's a kid in there!  I still think it's crazy shit, but it's awesome crazy shit.  I can now laugh about getting pooped on, and so can she.  At least she didn't ruin the shirt. 


Both home ownership and child rearing have presented their challenges, but nothing that we can't handle with love, hard work, lots of patience, and at times lack of sleep.  It's unreal how big she has become in only two months, and also amazing how far we've come in making this house our home.  A work in progress for years to come, house and child.  Some highlights so far are her stretching after waking up, which goes on for like 10 minutes and is so far to me the best thing on the planet.  And having a piece of land, somewhere to put my hands in the earth, treat it kindly and let it provide nice things like flowers and vegetables.  I even like mowing the lawn, there's a pair of old sneakers (gym shoes to some) reserved for the task.  Can't mow in flip-flops, you know.  Hell, can't technically wear flip-flops...it's sort of an outside joke, which is the opposite of an inside joke.  Much thanks to the fam for donating the lawn mower, next item I need to acquire is a gas powered trimmer, cause cutting edges by hand with clippers is a pain in the ass.  Especially when it's been so alarmingly hot this summer.  My neighbors probably think I am crazy to trim with what is essentially a giant pair of scissors, or maybe they believe I just have OCD.  Personally, I reference it as OC-ness, I wouldn't necessarily call it a disorder at this point.  Why not just go buy a 'weed wacker'? I can easily drop money for quality food, good wine, or a new hockey twig, those are undoubtedly needs.  For now I'm okay with the old-fashioned way, I'll save those dollars for diapers.

Wait.  What? For really I haven't posted this recipe yet??  It's become such a fan favorite, it's almost revered as much as this dish, which is quintessential summer-in-a-bowl.  If you buy some champagne vinegar to make this recipe, which is totally necessary, you might think what in the hell am I gonna do with the rest of it?  This other yummy and summery salad is the hell what.  

Here is a slightly different take on the typical watermelon salad- it looks so gosh dang good I had to include two pictures, and I think I took about twelve.  Not only does it appear fantastic, the juicy watermelon is brought to new culinary heights with avocado, goat cheese, basil, and a sweet vidalia onion vinaigrette. 



Watermelon, Avocado Salad with Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette
two servings

1.5 TB minced vidalia onion
1.5 TB champagne vinegar
1.5 ts honey
pinch of sea or kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C canola oil
2 2" thick slices of fresh, ripe seedless watermelon
S&P
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, spooned out of the peel
2 oz goat cheese
4 basil leaves, on the chiffonade

For the vinaigrette-
Add the onion, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper to a small bowl, let sit for 10 minutes to soften up the onion.  Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify, or zap with your stick blender.  Set aside. 

For the salad-
Plate up a nice hunk of watermelon slice, season lightly with sea salt and pepper.  Thinly slice each avocado half, retaining the shape as you fan out on top of the melon.  Season lightly with S&P.  Crumble half of the goat cheese on each slice.  Distribute half of the basil chiffonade on each, then drizzle with the vinaigrette. 


Friday, July 13, 2012

Grilled Tilapia with Mango Salsa

It's halfway through the baseball season, which means it is also halfway through summer.  The summer season always goes the quickest, doesn't it?  And come St. Patrick's Day, it feels as though winter has lasted for eight months. 

Have you grilled as much as you'd like in the first half of the season??  It's been super ass hot for most of the US, so maybe you've stayed indoors like a sissy.  Or, maybe you just need some good recipe ideas to get you cooking outside.  By now, you might be getting tired of the same old brats and burgers.  Have you grilled whole rainbow trout stuffed with oregano, garlic and lemon?  Yes, the wife was very excited to find her dinner staring at her. 


How about cedar-planked salmon?  That always smells (and tastes) so dang good.  And it won't look at you from the plate, if you prefer that sort of meal.

Don't have a plank of cedar handy?  You could make salmon tacos with a deliciously refreshing slaw.    

Maybe you'd like to try some swordfish?

Need to eat on the cheap? Tilapia is not expensive, and grills up quick and yummy.  Make sure you oil the grill grates thoroughly, so the filets don't stick...or maybe you got one of them fish grilling basket things.  An easy way to lubricate your cooking surface is by wetting a piece of paper towel with veggie or canola oil, and then use your tongs to rub the hot grill grates.  

If you like the heat, you can use a large jalapeno or more than one small guy.  Using the seeds and ribs of the pepper will also bring more warmth to the salsa.   The tilapia will need to marinate for about an hour, so plan ahead for this time.  After you put the salsa together and warm up the grill, dinner is on the table real quick. 


Grilled Tilapia with Mango Salsa
2 servings

1/3 C EVOO
1 TB lemon juice
1 TB minced fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 TB dried basil
1 ts freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 ts kosher salt
2 tilapia fillets, about 6 oz each

1 large mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 TB minced red onion
1 TB chopped fresh cilantro
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 TB lime juice
1 TB lemon juice
S&P to taste

3-4 basil leaves, chiffonade

For the marinade-
Whisk together the EVOO, lemon juice, parsley, garlic, basil, salt and pepper.  Pour into a resealable plastic bag, then carefully add the tilapia fillets.  Close the bag while pressing out the air, place in the fridge for sixty minutes.  If you desire, turn the bag after half an hour to ensure a good marinate. 

For the salsa-
Combine the mango, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and citrus juice in a small bowl.  Season to taste with S&P.  Place in the fridge while the fish is marinating.  Stir up before using. 

For the fish-
Remove from the marinade, let the excess drip off, warm up the grill.  With well-oiled grates, grill over medium-high direct heat for about 3-4 minutes per side, until cooked through, the fish will flake easily with a fork.  Place one fillet on each serving plate, top with the mango salsa, then add a bit of fresh basil.  Whole grain brown rice and grilled vidalia onion optional. 


As I post this lovely recipe, a much-needed thunderstorm just rolled through, moisture that we desperately have not seen lately.  The temp just dropped from 89 to 70 in 5 minutes.  My tomato plants are so happy I can hear them smiling.  That's right.