Sunday, December 29, 2013

Crabcakes with Lemon-Caper Aioli

Many people that enjoy eating well spend a good bit of money around the holidays, whether it be at a nice restaurant for New Year's Eve or shelling out some coin to cook some lobsters or a prime rib at home.  This year we went extravagant on making these crabcakes, splurging on good jumbo lump meat.  You can find high-quality canned crabmeat at your fishmonger or a decent grocery store.  The jumbo lump variety will probably be around $18-$20 per pound, if you don't want to spend that much claw meat is about $5 per lb cheaper.  I doubled the recipe and used a pound of each, freezing half of the cakes for a second round of holiday eating.  These cakes are the real deal, all crab, just enough bread crumb to hold them together.  You can make them as described below for a tasty main dish or form golf ball size cakes for little appetizers.  The lil guys would cook up in 2-3 minutes per side. 

The lemon-caper aioli brings a briny and bright touch to complement the rich crab.   

These are very easy and quick to make, and if you're looking to serve up something fancy to your guests and want a do-ahead meal, this is a good option.  From the fridge to the plate in less than 10 minutes with little work.

Two important notes- don't press down while cooking, and don't agitate them while browning- let them develop a crust by letting them be.   

Crabcakes with Lemon-Caper Aioli
four servings

1/2 C mayo
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 ts lemon zest
1.5 TB capers, drained and chopped
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb jumbo lump crabmeat
4 scallions, green part only, minced
1 TB fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped (never cook with the curly variety)
1/4 C Hellmans or your preferred mayo
2-4 TB fresh breadcrumbs, homemade preferred
1.5 ts Old Bay seasoning
freshly cracked black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 C AP flour
1/4 C veggie oil
scallion or chive, for garnish

for the aioli-
Combine the mayo through garlic in a small bowl, mix well.  Season to taste with S&P.  Slowly add the olive oil while whisking to emulsify.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, will last a few days. 

for the cakes-
Empty the crab into a bowl and pick over for any shell fragments. 

Place a sheet of parchment paper over a sheet pan. 

In a large bowl, mix the crab, scallion, parsley, mayo, 2 TB bread crumbs, Old Bay, and a pinch of fresh black pepper.  Mix thoroughly yet gently and then fold in the egg.  Test a golf ball size or so to see if it stays together and will hold shape, if not it may need another 1-2 TB of breadcrumbs. 

Make four cakes slightly thicker than a hockey puck, about 3" in diameter and 1.5" thick.  Stash in the fridge for at least 60 minutes, up to 24 hours, covered with plastic wrap. 

 When ready to cook, heat up the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Place the flour in a shallow dish or plate and add the cakes one at a time, coating well and shaking off any excess.  When the oil is shimmering hot, fry on one side for 4-5 minutes, until a brown crust forms.  Do not move while browning or shake the pan.  Cook on the flipside for 3-4 minutes until nicely browned.  Plate em up and serve topped with the aioli and a touch of scallion or chive for garnish.  Side of risotto with a generous amount of parmigiano reggiano optional but recommended.  A crisp, dry white such as Pinot Gris would wash this down properly.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Spinach, Mushroom, Artichoke and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

We never rarely eat chicken at home.  Beer can chicken during the summer is probably 90% of our dining on home-cooked poultry.  Although we did have this chili not too long ago (a great alternative to the usual chili) and we like to put cooked chicken on a pizza.  And when the wife is away, baking chicken wings is my go-to meal when cooking for one. Seeking a change-up in our meal plan, I thought stuffing chicken breasts with spinach, mushrooms, and feta would be damn tasty.  Then I decided artichokes should join the party.  Since chicken breasts can be quite boring, this Mediterranean stuffing sure did transform plain chicken into a tasty meal.  Serve with some brown rice and a green salad, that's dinner.

It was hard to tell while the chicken was packaged, but after getting home and pulling out my breasts, I realized I had some massive portions of meat.  Like Dolly Parton of poultry size.  Depending on how big your breasts are, you could have enough stuffing for 4-6 pieces.  Any leftover stuffing should be tossed, as you're most likely handling that and raw chicken with the same hands. 

Don't buy those feta crumbles, that's not good eating.  Spend a couple more bucks for a real imported block and dice it yourself.  There will be some leftover to make this or this

When cooking the mushrooms, try to spread them out as much as possible in your skillet so they saute, not steam.  Work in batches if necessary.

If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you need to get one.  They are cheap and are the best utensil for searing meats like this chicken or burgers, steaks, etc.  Did I mention frying bacon?  Lodge is a good affordable brand. 

A food thermometer is important for roasting or grilling meats so you don't overcook your animals or even worse, serve people food that isn't cooked properly.  Steaks and such you can judge by the firmness, but for pork and chicken I always use the thermometer.  Cease the cooking when the temp reaches 5°F of the 'done' temp, it will reach that mark while resting.  For chicken, that's out of the oven at 160°F.  And with this recipe, the middle of the chicken is stuffed, so you want to probe in the thickest part of the breast that is all meat.     

Spinach, Mushroom, Artichoke and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
4 large or 6 medium chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 small onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
8 oz cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bunch spinach, trimmed of stems
6 oz artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 C diced feta cheese
2/3 C AP flour
2 large eggs
1-2 C fresh bread crumbs

In a large skillet, saute the onion in a bit of EVOO over medium heat until softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Season with a pinch of S&P while cooking.  Add in the minced garlic and cook for another sixty seconds.  Remove to a large bowl and let cool.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the mushrooms, in as much of a single layer as possible.  Once they have lost some moisture after 3 minutes or so, add in a bit of EVOO and stir.  Cook until just browned, stirring often, another 4-5 minutes.  Add to the large bowl with the onion. 

Wash your spinach and leave dripping wet.  Add to the skillet and cover for a minute, then stir with tongs until it is wilted.  Remove to a work surface layered with a few paper towels.  Squeeze out as much moisture as you can, then chop finely and add to the bowl with onion and mushroom.  Add in the chopped artichoke and feta as well once everything has cooled.  Season with freshly cracked black pepper and stir it up.  

Fire up the oven to 350°F.

Assemble your breading station- one pan with AP flour (season with S&P if desired), one pan with bread crumbs, and one shallow bowl with the eggs, beaten lightly.

On a work surface appropriate to handle raw chicken, make a pocket in the middle of each breast with a sharp knife.  Slice carefully so you don't halve the breast.  Stuff each with as much filling as you can, packing it in with your finger or a spoon.  Close each breast with 3-4 toothpicks.

Get a couple TB of canola or vegetable heating up in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  While heating, begin the breading.

Breading station-

Roll each stuffed chicken breast in the pan with the flour with your right hand.  Your leftie is for the egg and bread crumb.  Roll in the egg and let excess drip off, then coat in the bread crumbs turning a couple times.  Place on a sheet pan or plate.  

Once your oven is up to temp and your oil is rippling, turn that fan on and get to the frying.  Gently place in the skillet, the closed sides towards the middle.

Cook until nicely browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Watch carefully so you don't burn the bread crumbs.  Flip onto the other side and place in the oven.  Cook until temp reaches 160°F in the thickest part of the meat, about 12-15 minutes.  Let rest for 5-10 minutes, remove the toothpicks, then slice into medallions. 

 This little end of the chicky got toasted a little too much in the pan, so that went to the chef. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cauliflower and Brussels Sprout Gratin

The final months of 2013 have been flying by.  I'm pretty sure September didn't even exist this year.  10 days till Christmas??  When the hell did this happen?  Thankfully, my better half did most of my shopping for me, so I don't have to worry about the push to find gifts this year.  Do you have any kitchen gadetry on your list?  I never remove a gift certificate from D'artagnan or tasty pig parts from Nueske's from my list.  If Santa thinks I've been good this year I hope to get one of these high-end thermometers.  It's also time to think about what kind of beast to roast this holiday season. 

Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  I hope you've grown to appreciate these yummy veggies.  Healthy for you and quite inexpensive.  They are tasty simply roasted in the oven with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.  This recipe however, steps it up.  This is a decadent side dish, perhaps for your holiday meal.  Vegetables swimming in bacon, butter, and cheese?  Okay. 

If you've never prepped Brussels sprouts, it's easy.  Trim off the end with a paring knife, then quarter them lengthwise.  The outer couple leaves will come off, and that's great- you don't want those. 

Making your own fresh bread crumbs is very worth the effort.  Take a day or two old baguette, cut into pieces that will fit in your food pro and process until you have crumbs.  So much better than buying them in a can. 

What else do you need to make this lovely dish?  Some quality cheese.  Real deal parmigiano reggiano and Gruyere.  The latter is expensive, but it's worth the splurge.  You'll have some leftover to make this classic soup this winter.     

If you don't have a strong love affair with onion like I do, you can omit that in this recipe- just make a roux without them. 

After you saute the pancetta, if there's not enough fat reserved, borrow some from your little tub of saved bacon fat in the fridge.  If you don't have one of those, make some damn bacon and save the fat in a little tub and place it in the fridge. 

More Brussels sprouts.  A very similar dish with just cauliflower. 

Cauliflower and Brussels Sprout Gratin
4-6 servings as side

2 oz pancetta, diced
3/4 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed into florets
3/4 lb brussels sprout, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 TB unsalted butter
1 TB pancetta or bacon fat
1 small onion, diced
3 TB AP flour
2 C hot milk
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise
1/4 ts fresh nutmeg
3/4 C Gruyere cheese, freshly grated
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated
1/4 C bread crumbs, freshly made from 1-2 day old baguette

Fire up the oven to three hundred and seventy five degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small skillet, render the fat from the pancetta and cook until crisp, stirring often.  Set aside and reserve 1 TB of the fat.  

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.  (That's cold water with a full tray of ice cubes)

Warm the milk and garlic cloves in a small saucepan over low heat. 

Boil the cauliflower florets in lightly salted water for 4-5 minutes, until they are tender yet still firm.  Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon to the ice bath.

Boil the Brussels sprouts for about 3 minutes, until tender yet firm.  Quickly end the cooking process by placing them into the ice bath.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and bacon fat over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes, until the flour is cooked a bit and darkened to a caramel color.

Remove the garlic cloves from the milk and slowly add to the roux, whisking as you go.  Cook for a couple minutes while whisking until you have a slightly thickened sauce. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the Gruyere.  Season with the nutmeg, a touch of freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt. 

Pour 1/3 of the sauce into a gratin dish.  Drain the vegetables well and spread them evenly in the dish.  Pour the rest of the sauce over.  Layer the breadcrumbs.  Cover with the parmigiano reggiano.  Lastly, top with the bacon bits (pancetta). 

Bake for 30 minutes uncovered, until nicely golden brown and smelling all delicious. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Guinness & Cheddar Soup

Awwwwww yeah.  Beer Cheese soup season!  Sure it's got some calories to it, but when your diet consists of eating whatever you want as long as you make it, then meals like this are welcome.  It's holiday season, don't fight it.  Or, do those little things Woman's magazine encourages like always take the stairs, park far away at the shopping mall, don't eat half a rack of Christmas cookies in one sitting.  Speaking of which, I need to find some cookie recipes. 

This recipe is a slight variation on the Cheddar Ale Soup, with a touch less cheese and of course the addition of the lovely black stuff.  Even if you don't like Guinness (God help you) the flavors reached in this soup are so very tasty.  As I always preach, quality ingredients are key to good flavor.  Get a good brick of sharp cheddar and shred it yourself, don't just reach for that bag of pre-shredded crap from Kraft.

Next to quality ingredients, having the right tools helps tremendously.  If you don't have a stick blender, there's still time to let Santa know.  Blending soups right in the pot is so much better than trying not to make a mess pouring hot liquid into a blender. 

Guinness & Cheddar Soup
4 servings

2 TB unsalted butter
2 medium carrot, diced
2 celery, diced
1 large or 2 small onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
4 TB AP flour
18 oz Guinness (or similar stout)
2 C low-sodium chicken stock
1.5 C milk (I used 2%)
1.5 ts Worcestershire sauce
1 ts mustard powder
8 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 ts cayenne pepper, optional
splash Guinness

In a medium pot, combine the chicken stock, milk, Worcestershire, and mustard powder.  Stir and keep warm over low heat. 

In a large cast-iron dutch oven or large pot, melt the butter and then add the EVOO over medium-high heat.  Once nice and hot add in the carrot, celery, and onion.  Season with a pinch of S&P.  Cook, stirring here and there, until softened and just starting to color, 6 minutes or so.  Add in the garlic and stir until fragrant, thirty seconds.  Sprinkle the flour over the veg and stir often for 3 minutes.  Introduce a third of the Guinness, stir well to deglaze the pan and get then whisk to get the roux started.  Add the rest of the beer slowly while whisking to smooth out the mixture.  Once your beer-flour-veg combo is combined well, add in the warm stock and milk.  Stir and bring just to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low, simmer for about 10 minutes until thickened slightly. 

Blend with a stick blender or in a blender until all veg has been liquified.  Taste and add more S&P if needed. 

Return back to the cooking vessel and over very low heat, add in the cheese a couple handfuls at a time, stirring and melting each addition. 

Ladle into soup crocks or bowls.  If desired sprinkle with a bit of cayenne pepper.  Top with the last little bit of Guinness in your can or bottle, a 'foam' if you will.  Sure the term is popular, but this is not some trick of molecular gastronomy.  It's beer.  Serve with some crusty bread and a pint.  Slainte.