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 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
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.