Monday, February 21, 2011

Chicken Cacciatore!

Several events happily conspired to the creation of this meal - Top Chef's Fabio Viviani made chicken cacciatore on the show the same week that I saw Anne Burrell make her version of it on her show. Then we got a whole chicken in our CSA and Bon Appetit magazine had a tutorial on how to break down a whole chicken into pieces. So the stars aligned and I knew this is what I wanted to do with the pretty bird you see below.

I have to say, I've always been a little unsure of exactly how to cut a whole chicken into pieces so I generally don't do it - hey, a whole roasted chicken has always been just fine for me! But, it was actually really easy and I'm glad I know how.

Chicken Cacciatore
adapted from recipes by Fabio Viviani and Anne Burrell

1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup flour for dredging
olive oil
1 red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken stock
3 springs rosemary, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Salt and pepper your chicken. Put flour in a shallow dish, season with salt and pepper and dredge your chicken pieces in flour, shaking off all the excess. Heat olive oil in an oven proof pot and brown your chicken. You want to get it nice and seared on the outside, but you don't need to cook it all the way through as it will cook the rest of the way in the oven. Remove chicken from pan.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan, if needed, and sautee your garlic, red pepper flakes, onions and mushrooms, scraping up all those delicious chicken bits. Season with s&p. Once your onions and mushrooms have cooked down and are slightly caramelized, add your diced peppers and cook until soft. Turn up the heat and add the wine, stock and herbs. Bring to a boil and let cook for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, dice up your tomatoes and then add them and their juice to the pot. Add the chicken back to the sauce, cover and put in the oven for 45 minutes. When my 45 minutes was up, I have to admit, my sauce was really soupy, a lot soupier than I wanted. I put it on the stove top and brought it to a boil in the hopes of reducing it a bit more. But everyone was hungry and it tasted really good already (like, REALLY GOOD) so we just decided to eat it as it was. It did thicken up as it cooled.

While the chicken is in the oven, make your polenta. You can also serve it over egg noodles, but when there is creamy, cheesy delicious polenta as an option, I don't know why you would.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tbs butter
2 cups grated parmesan cheese

Add cream, water and bay leaves to a pot and bring to a boil. When at a boil add the salt. Chef Anne says you should salt it almost to the point of over-salting it. Interesting! I guess, like pasta, it is your only chance to flavor the corn itself. Sprinkle in the cornmeal (I forgot about the sprinkling and dumped it in, so mine was just a little lumpy) and stir, stir, stir until the polenta is done about 45 minutes. I did end up adding water a few times.

I have to admit some confusion about polenta - is it supposed to stay creamy? Because mine pretty much seized up as soon as it cooled a little. It tasted delicious, but I'm unsure of my consistency. In Bill Buford's great book Heat, he discusses this very situation and finally comes to the realization (wish I had remembered this when I was cooking the polenta) that you should add water to the polenta until it "behave[s] as though it...quenched its thirst." In other words, you should just keep adding liquid until it doesn't immediately soak it up anymore and then cook until it is done. I don't know - either way, mine tasted good and was a great base for the cacciatore sauce. Steeping the bay leaf in the liquid while bringing it up to a boil is a genius move and adds great flavor.

I was hoping this would be delicious, but I actually knocked my own socks off, and Elaine said it was good too, and she really knows what she's talking about. The chicken was so tender and the sauce was absolutely lip-smackingly delicious. I think Axel F had two servings. Boom.

Elaine AGAIN made a really unique and delicious dessert, which I have no doubt she will share soon.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Creme Tangerine

Here's the agreeably weird dessert I made the other night to go with Jenean's incredibly delicious Pasta Puttanesca (and the insanely good cheesy bread OMG so good). I had seen something similar to the tangerine part of it in a martha stewart as a quick dessert (just sliced clementines steeped in a cinnamon simple syrup). I made some additions and adjustments (including star anise, which turns out to give sweet things an unusual and very wonderful flavor), adding a creamy component inspired by a dessert I had when I was in Paris (frommage blanc and rhubarb compote, which was similarly weird, in that it was unlike any dessert I had ever eaten, and also sort of addictively good, creamy and tart and refreshing). I'm calling it Creme Tangerine in honor of the Beatles song (Savoy Truffle), written by my favorite Beatle, George.

Creme Tangerine
serves 6

6 to 8 tangerines (or clementines)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
4-6 cardamom pods
1 star anise
1 16 oz tub of cottage cheese*

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and star anise. Bring to a boil, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.

While the simple syrup simmers, peel the tangerines, break into 4 quarters** and cut into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Place the tangerine pieces in a dish that will allow the syrup to submerge and soak all of them equally. Pour the hot syrup over the tangerine pieces and leave them to marinate for about an hour.

In a food processor or blender, whip up the cottage cheese until very creamy and smooth - it will take on a beautiful silky texture.

To serve, spoon out the cottage cheese cream equally among 6 bowls, and top with tangerine pieces and plenty of the delicious syrup.

*The cottage cheese was wonderful, and a little salty, in a really pleasant way combined with the tart and spicy tangerines and syrup, and I recommend trying it that way, considering it was so cheap and uncomplicated. However I'm thinking the next time I try this I might do half cottage cheese and half mascarpone, which seems like it would have to be awesome; or 2 parts cottage cheese to one part yogurt, which I read is a way of imitating fromage blanc. ACTUALLY I just found this recipe for making fromage blanc at home (which looks a lot like a great Michael Chiarello recipe I've used for homemade ricotta)... which I'll do when I want to turn this fast and easy recipe into a bigger project, because it sounds delicious.

**As you see in the picture, I just sliced the tangerines whole, across the sections, into rounds. It's very beautiful looking, but we all agreed it was a little hard to eat, which is why I suggest breaking it into quarters before slicing. If you love the look of the rounds, go for it that way - it wasn't THAT hard to eat, honestly.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fast and Easy Pasta Puttanesca, If You Know What I Mean

Elaine and Axel F came over last Saturday for dinner and a viewing of Inception, so I'm not even sure if we really ate this meal or if it was all in someone's mind. I made pasta with a tuna puttanesca sauce which really was the stuff of dreams (lamest joke ever? possibly). I've seen several people do this and I think its just delicious - the tuna makes it a heartier dish and puttanesca is one of my favorites with all the brininess of the olives and capers which just seem to go so well with a seafood component.

1 lb pasta (I used spaghetti, you can use whatever you want)
olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cans good tuna (really, do yourself a favor, at least for this dish and get some good tuna packed in oil)
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives (I don't have to tell you to take the pits out, right?)
3 tbs capers
1/2 cup white wine (I used a delicious South African Sauvignon Blanc, which was perfect for drinking with dinner as well - wish I remembered the name of it, sorry!)
1 can tomatoes (mine were whole plum, but you could certainly used diced as well; but again, get the good stuff)
flat leaf parsley
zest of one lemon
reserved pasta water

Put a pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Season generously with salt, bring back to the boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Reserve about a cup of pasta water before you chuck it all down the drain! But, remember that you want to take this water out of the pot near the end of the cooking time so that its nice and starchy.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for a couple of minutes just until you can smell the garlic and then add the tuna, breaking it down with your spoon. Add the olives and capers, cook for a few minutes and then add white wine. (You may want to turn the heat up a little before you add the wine, so you don't lose too much heat off the pan.) Let reduce slightly, about a minute and then add your tomatoes and their juice. If you've opted for whole ones, you will need to break them up with your cooking utensil. Add the chopped parsley, lemon zest and pepper to taste. Depending on the consistency of your sauce at this point, this is where you want to add the pasta water - you want it saucy with enough liquid to coat all your pasta, but not soupy. Best way to do it is to add your pasta to the sauce, stir to coat and then judge if you want to put the pasta water in. I like to undercook my pasta just the tiniest bit, add it to the sauce with some pasta water and let it finish cooking in the sauce, so that some of the deliciousness cooks into the pasta. If you've added too much liquid, this method will allow the pasta to soak some of that up as it finishes cooking. You shouldn't need to add salt because of the olives, capers and salty pasta water, but taste your sauce at this point to make sure.

I served this dish with slices of crusty bread, slathered in garlic oil, topped with asiago and toasted in the oven for a few minutes.

Elaine made a surprising, refreshing and absolutely delicious dessert that I hope she'll tell you all about really soon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Salmon Cakes (Burgers?)

Choose whichever name sounds more appetizing to you. Cakes make me think of crab cakes, which are always awesome. Burgers make me think of... burgers, which are almost always awesome. But I didn't have any rolls to put them on, so I think we can't call them burgers in this case (you can though, if you want! Get some rolls, but get good ones, ok? Also make some yummy seasoned mayo to put on them, and some good crunchy lettuce maybe?)

This is another pantry recipe, using a can of salmon I bought in the tuna aisle out of curiosity, and I will say to begin with that when I first opened the can I was VERY AFRAID. It's as though they chop whole fish into chunks and throw them into the cans to get cooked, and... I'm going to level with you: there's skin and bones in there. But it was all I had to make dinner with, and Jenean was over and F was on the way home, and we just had to go ahead with it. And they turned out great! I removed the skin because it seemed irredeemably gross, but the bones, due to the in-can cooking process, are completely edible (they basically pulverize at the slightest pressure), so except for removing what appeared to be the spine [shudder], I left in all the other bones, which broke up and disappeared when we mixed things up, and according to an article I read... somewhere, bones from canned fish are an excellent, absorb-able source of calcium! Better than calcium pills!

Salmon Cakes/Burgers
Serves 3-4

1 14.75 oz can salmon, drained, large bones and skin removed
8 scallions (all the white and half of the green), finely minced
1 egg
2 slices of bread, ground fine in the food processor
salt and pepper
hot sauce (optional)
rolls (optional, if you want to call them burgers*)

In a medium bowl combine salmon, chopped scallions (ok to sub in onion), egg, and about two thirds of the fresh breadcrumbs (some finely chopped parsley might be good in there too if you had it**). Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Mix, breaking up the fish as you go, until it's thoroughly combined. Use a knife or your fingers to divide the mix evenly into 3 or 4 sections (size depending on how hungry you are I guess) and form into cakes/burgers (patties??). Coat heavily on each side with the remaining fresh breadcrumbs, and allow to sit briefly (10-30 minutes) to let the crumbs adhere. Fry in olive oil over medium high heat until deep brown on both sides.

We had them with new-to-me barley risotto, not-very-carefully following this recipe from smitten kitchen (and leaving out the greens and beans, though that does sound yummy), and a version of raw kale salad like my friend Sylvie told me about (finely chopped raw kale, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, the tiniest bit of lemon juice, dried cranberries, and in this case, instead of toasted pine nuts, I tossed in some leftover garlicky toasted breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese - you let all that sit together for a while, and the kale begins to wilt just a little, but it's still crunchy, and it's so good).

*What am I, the name police? Call them whatever you want, serve em however you want. Have fun.

**I feel like adding cilantro, and seasoning it up with soy sauce or fish sauce, and sriracha, would make a yummy asian-influenced variation. Maybe some minced green chiles, too, and chopped garlic? ginger? Use panko bread crumbs instead of fresh? If you try it this way, let us know!