Friday, January 29, 2010

Simple chicken soup

I have been feeling under the weather - with a cough/cold/sore throat. Unimaginably grumpy - poor Madame. So I thought maybe some chicken soup might help. As you can imagine preprepared chicken soup doesn't do it for a variety of reasons. So I needed to make some. This is an unbelievably simple way of doing it - and surprisingly good given the amount of effort involved. As Madame would say, "the taste to effort ratio makes this worth doing". Not quite as high praise as "we can serve this to people", but still worthwhile. The vegetables and chicken aren't browned, so there is no flavor from caramelization. It's just chicken/aromatics/stock/water. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but the prep time is very short. As you will see from the method you just bung them all in the pot.
1 whole roasting chicken (this one was about 5lbs)
2 medium onions sliced pole to pole
6 medium carrots cut into 1 inch pieces
6 stalks celery roughly chopped
2 Fennel bulbs washed and quartered
3 Kaffir (Thai) lime leaves
3 inches lemon grass cut on the bias into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups (or so) water
1 Chipotle pepper
3" piece of fresh ginger peeled and roughly chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
Clean out the cavity of the chicken and remove the silly pop up timer (if present). Place the whole chicken into a large dutch oven. Sprinkle the flavoring ingredients (except the salt) into the pot, add the liquids. Bring to a simmer over a medium flame and then simmer for at least 90 minutes with the lid on. The chicken will make its own broth while it cooks. If you cook it for longer than 90 minutes (and it does get better with time), then discard the vegetables 1/2 an hour before the end of cooking and put in fresh vegetables. The old vegetables have given everything up so you will need fresh to get them to taste of something.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brining boneless/skinless chicken breasts

As we have heard on many occasions, brining chicken is a good way to keep the meat juicy - especially for parts that are naturally dry - like boneless/skinless breasts. Many of you know that I will almost always choose an opportunity to get some fat/flavor into my dishes, but sometimes that simply isn't an option.
Yesterday afternoon I was presented with about 3lbs of boneless skinless chicken breasts of varying thickness and told that they needed to be grilled. No it wasn't that peremptory, but the people concerned had clearly experienced dry chicken before.

There really aren't many opportunities for getting flavoring in, so brining was it. It is pretty straightforward and doesn't require a whole lot of precision, just some attention to hygeine.
1/2 cup table salt (3/4 - 1 cup kosher salt)
6 whole cloves
6 whole cardomoms (green or white it doesn't matter)
12 whole peppercorns
12 coriander seeds
2 star anise
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 cups ice cubes
4 cups ice water
3lb chicken breasts

In a non reactive pan put the first 8 ingredients. Bring to the boil and stir until the salt/sugar are dissolved. Immedietaley add the ice too cool. Pour liquid into a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and add the cold water. Add the chicken breasts. Seal the bag, expelling all the air.
Refrigerate the chicken breasts for 1 - 2 hours. No more than 2 hours.
When ready to grill, pour the liquid off the breasts, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Make sure you carefully wash down the surfaces that have touched the raw chicken.
 Cook the chicken on a high heat grill for a couple of minutes/side. Thicker pieces will need longer than thinner pieces of course. Use the nick and peek technique to check for doneness.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mushroom Risotto

At a conversation over dinner earlier in the week our friend Claudia was bemoaning the fact that risotto rather intimidated her, but she really liked it. So I suggested that while Madame and friends were playing tennis, she should come over and play in the kitchen and we would make dinner. That seemed like an excellent plan, so she came over and made a very good risotto. I have to admit it was rather nice having someone else doing all the work :-). This turned into some general instruction around chopping, sequence, ratios, and technique. All good.
The key ratio is the ratio of rice to liquid. Typically this is between 3 and 3 1/2 to 1. Hence 7 cups stock for the 2 cups of rice in the recipe below.
Ingredients (for 8 as a starter)
4 portabella mushrooms cut into small cubes.
2T butter
7 cups chicken stock (you may not use all of it, but make sure you have enough)
6T mixed dried mushrooms (optional)
2T olive oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley chopped finely
2T butter
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
In a 4 qt saucier melt the butter, and when melted add the chopped portabellas and cook gently over lowish heat until all the water has evaporated. Meanwhile put the chicken stock and dried mushrooms into a sauce pan and heat almost to boiling.
When the portabellas are cooked, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Rinse and dry the saucier. In the saucier heat the 2T olive oil until a piece of shallot just sizzles. This is nowhere near the smoke point. Add the shallots and turn the heat down to sweat the shallots. You want to avoid getting any color onto the shallots, but they want to be soft. Add the rice and turn the heat up a bit, toasting the rice. You want to see some very slight browning and a slight translucency. About 4 minutes. Make sure that you do stir the mixture to make sure it doesn't stick.
Once the rice is toasted, deglaze with the white wine. It will evaporate quickly, but leave its flavor compounds behind. As soon as the wine is absorbed, add 1 ladle of hot stock to the rice. Stir until the liquid is absorbed - essentially once you drag the spoon through the rice, the bottom of the pan should be almost dry. Every time the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock, and stir. Repeat this process a few times.
Eventually (after about 6-8 additions), the stock will start to be absorbed more slowly. So at this stage add the stock in 1/2 ladle increments.
Remove the rehydrated mushrooms from the stock (assuming that you are using some dried mushrooms too), and chop roughly to be the same size as the portabella pieces. Add the chopped mushrooms to the portabellas.
When the risotto has the right texture - creamy and with a slight resistance to the bite, add the mushrooms and stir through. Now add the cheese, butter, parsley. Stir and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Serve immediately in warmed bowls with teh same wine that you used to deglaze the pan initially.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Poached pear with Cashel blue cheese and pistachio brittle

In the previous post I described pistachio brittle. This was for the pear/blue cheese dessert at this event.  We bought the cheese at Scardellos (of course), where we also took some of the Stellekaya wines for the hard working staff there to try.

This is the recipe for making the dish, illustrated below.
This is a relatively simple dish to make, but has a great wow factor.
Ingredients (serves 12)
6 bosc pears peeled, quartered and cored
3 cups sugar
2 cups red wine
4 oz Cashel blue cheese
8 oz crushed pistachio brittle (about 1/3 of the recipe from the previous posting)

In a 4 quart pan, dissolve the sugar in the red wine and bring to a simmer. Add the pears and ensure that they are well coated. Simmer for 90 minutes stirring every so often to make sure all pears are covered. The pear should turn a deep purple on the surface.
When the pears are cooked and the liquid is syrupy, take the pears off heat and reserve the syrup. Cut 12 of the pear quarters into small cubes (1/3 inch). Fan the other 12 quarters.
Lay the fanned quarter on the plate, make a tower with the pear cubes, the cheese and top with a little brittle.
Spoon sone syrup onto the plate and serve.

The Pistachio Brittle

For the most recent underground dinner, we had a dessert involving poached pears, some blue cheese and pistachio brittle. Why pistachio brittle? you might ask. Simply because we had some pistachios and I thought they would go better with the pears than traditional peanut brittle would. And by all accounts it did!
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 cup butter - preferably unsalted, chopped into small cubes
2 - 3 cups shelled, roasted, salted pistachios
1 t baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

In a straight sided pan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side, place the sugar, water and corn syrup. Bring to the boil, stirring frequently over a medium flame. It should rwach a full, rolling boil after about 10-15 minutes.Add the butter and cover the pan for a couple of minutes. The thermometer will be in the way, so do the best you can.
Put a "flame tamer" under the pan (or a cast iron pan) such that the heat is properly diffused, preventing any hot spots in the pan. Cook and stir the mixture until it reaches about 280F. Be very careful that you o not get any of this mixture on yourself during the process. It retains heat and sticks as well.
Add the pistachios and stir to incorporate. Continue to heat until the temperature reaches 305F. You should stir the nisxture the whole time. By adding the nuts while the caramel is a bit cooler gives the mixture a bit of a chance to toast the nuts for extra flavor.
Once it has reached 305F, stir in the baking soda and stir. The mixture will foam up, so be careful.
Pour into a greased baking sheet, smooth into the corners with a palette knife and allow to cool.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Underground dining featuring Stellekaya wines

It's been a busy week. On Thursday Dave Gilbert and I worked to deliver some appetizers at a charity wine event honoring Ntsiki Biyela - the wine maker from the South African winery called Stellekaya. On Sunday + Chris F and Graeme F. (no relation to each other despite the F. for last names), we put together a 7 course dinner for a carefully selected group of wine and food lovers. In subsequent posts I will outline some of the recipes - at least those that I know about! here, I will simply outline the dishes and attach the required "Food Porn" photographs!

Dave's web site will have more details and more pictures.

The Charity Event
For this event we made 7 appetizers. They ranged from soup to dessert. They are

  • Chinese Pumpkin soup with cinnamon foam and crispy fried sage leaves
  • Seafood lollipops
  • Sous vide beef tenderloin over mealie porage
  • Bacon and eggs - braised pork belly topped with a quail egg and a tomato vinaigrette
  • Spiced fruit beggars' purses
  • Dried fruit shooters with whipped cream and passion fruit puree
  • Layered gelees of Baileys/Banana/Colada and rooibos tea 
Rooibos tea - or red bush tea is a drink made from a bush native to the  Western Cape Province of South Africa. The better grocery stores in the US are beginning to carry it.

The Underground Dinner
This event had 7 courses and was rather more substantial than the charity event. While there was some overlap in dishes, the presentation was quite different.
Dave, Chris F., Graeme F. and I were busy cooking all day Sunday. Dave, of course started much earlier in the week. His planning meant that several of the dishes/ingredients were shared with other events and thus were prepared earlier in the week. Chris F.'s deft hand with the presentation made the dishes look fantastic. Graeme (being the only South African in the kitchen) made the bobotie. The courses were:

  • Chinese pumpkin soup with cinnamon foam, cinnamon perfume and crispy sage leaves. Yes this was a new batch, not left overs from the charity!
  • A trio of South African meats. Biltong and boerewors both (made by Graeme's dad and shipped to me) and Graeme's bobotie.
  • Bacon and eggs - as at the chairty event, except we used sous vide hen eggs this time. This was served with a mushroom ketchup doing duty instead of brown or HP sauce.
  • Kudu biltong (dried, cured kudu - like beef jerky)
  • Duck confit and roasted garlic gnocchi topped with lightly fried monkfish liver
  • Sous vide backstrap of wild venison served over caramelized bananas, garnished with crispy fried plantain strips
  • Red wine poached pears served with a little Cashel blue cheese and home made pistachio brittle.

For this event we made sure we had professional serving help. Nico who has just got his sommelier pin helped Ntsiki with the pouring and kept the cooks honest with place settings, flatware, etc.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve

It was a quiet evening - Madame is out of town :-(. Bryan was free and as usual had some wines to try. So I put together a quick dinner to suit. Of course with 2 of us and several wines to try, it became a bit complex! For the main course I did an old stand-by Served with Pommes Anna (using the Cooks Illustrated recipe) and some sauteed/steamed cauliflower with fresh red chiles.. For a starter I made a room temp black-eyed pea dish, and for dessert a cherry clafoutis using some mysterious liquor brought back by a co-worker from Poland. Dave Gilbert came later and brought a bottle of the Stellekaya Orion 2005 with him. So we just sipped on that without a food pairing. That was a fantastic bottle. The evening did go on a bit and I see 5 used wine bottles (not all empty) shared amount the three of us. That goes some way to explaining why I feel a little groggy this morning - that and getting to bed slightly after 2am! So here are some of the dishes...

Black Eyed Peas
1t neutral vegetable oil
1 Linguisa sausage (you could use kielbasa if you wanted) diced into 1/4" cubes
1 medium red onion diced
12 oz fresh black eyed peas
2 cups chicken stock
1 yellow bell pepper (diced and blanched)
Cabbage leaves blanched - 1 per person
salt/pepper as needed
3 drops lemon juice per serving.
Coarse sea salt for crunch

In a skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook until it has taken on some color. Add the onion and cook some more - softening the onion. Once the onion is soft, add the peas, toss to mix well and add the stock. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 or so minutes. Turn off the heat, adjust the seasoning - that will largely depend on the sausage you are using.

Blanch the yellow pepper dice for 10-15 seconds in boiling, lightly salted water and immediately transfer to an ice bath. Do the same with the individual cabbage leaves.
Place the cabbage leaf on the plate, and trim to desired shape with kitchen shears. Make a small mound of the room temp peas/onions/sausage on the leaf. Add the lemon juice, sprinkle some of the yellow pepper on top, scatter some sea salt and serve.

2003 Hermitage Blanc Paul Jaboulet "Gaspard de Sterimberg" This was crisp enough to cut through the fattiness of the linguisa. It stood up well to the intense flavors, but was otherwise a bit undistinguished. Surprisingly less interesting than the 2005 that we tasted at the Texas Sommelier convention back in August..

Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert from the Limousin area of central France. It is a simple enough dessert, but is very impressive looking when it comes out of the oven. Think giant cherry popover (or Yorkshire pudding) . Like many batters this batter is better if allowed to develop a little, so I make it an hour in advance, and refrigerate it. I hold back a little milk to thin it just prior to makeing the dessert.

3/4 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
6 eggs
1 cup whole milk
Butter to grease the dish
1 lb of pitted cherries. I used a jar of sour cherries in light syrup. These were drained
3T Kirsch

Sift the flour into a small bowl with the salt. Beat the eggs lightly in a separate bowl and incorporate the eggs into the flour using a whisk. Add all but 2T of the milk and whick until a smooth batter is formed. Leave  to stand (in the fridge) for about an hour.
Drain the cherries and then immediately cover with the liqueur and toss to make sure that the cherries are fully covered. Leave these to sit too.
When ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a low oven proof pan (I use a gratin dish) thoroughly with unsalted butter. Mix the cherries into the batter and pour immediately into the greased dish. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes - or until puffy. Sprinkle with superfine sugar and serve hot from the oven - maybe with a little thin cream.