Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to End a Cooking Slump

I've been in a bit of a slump in the kitchen. A few factors got me here, mainly a lapse of creativity and a shortage of time to plan and shop. But I'm turning a new leaf. Aren't seasons wonderful? I'm slamming the door on January but full of anticipation for the longer days in the coming months.

How do you restart your kitchen fire? I hit the books. Earlier I spent some time scrolling thru some favorite cookbooks (The Wagamama Cookbook and Mexican Everyday) and picked several new recipes to try out. The foods I was looking for are all winter foods - slow cooked, often with some chili peppers. Mexican and Asian are great year-round but I love adding more heat to the winter plate. It warms you from within.

Recipes I'm going to try:

From the Wagamama Cookbook:

Chili Beef Ramen
Salmon Ramen
Yaki Soba (stir fried chicken, shrimp and soba noodles)

Courtesy of Bayless:
Slow Cooked Chicken with Tomatillos, Potatoes and Jalapenos
Guajillo Pork and Potatoes
Mexican Pork Tenderloin
Jalisco Braised Lamb

A third resource for finding recipes was a oldie from the NY Times that Kate reminded me about - The Minimalist's 101 Meals. It's a summer list, but I found ten recipes that I'd enjoy eating while Jack Frost is in town. Here they are, Pinched slightly:

1. Taco salad: Toss together Romaine lettuce, chopped tomato, chopped red onion, sliced avocado, a bit of canned corn and a half can black beans, rinsed. Dress with olive oil, fresh lime, salt, pepper and chopped cilantro leaves. Top with thinly sliced freshly sauteed corn tortillas.

2. Not takeout: Stir-fry onions with cut-up broccoli. Add cubed tofu, chicken or shrimp, or sliced beef or pork, along with a tablespoon each minced garlic and ginger. When almost done, add half cup of water, two tablespoons soy sauce and plenty of black pepper. Heat through and serve over fresh Chinese noodles.

3. Southeast Asia steak salad: Pan- or oven-grill skirt or flank steak. Slice and serve on a pile of greens with a sauce of one tablespoon each of nam pla and lime juice, black pepper, a teaspoon each of sugar and garlic, crushed red chili flakes and Thai basil.

4. Salmon (or just about anything else) teriyaki: Sear salmon steaks on both sides for a couple of minutes; remove. To the skillet, add a splash of water, sake, a little sugar and soy sauce; when mixture is thick, return steaks to pan and turn in sauce until done. Serve hot or at room temperature.

5. Cook chopped tomatillos with a little water or stock, cilantro and a little minced fresh chili; serve over grilled, broiled or sautéed chicken breasts, with corn tortillas.

6. Dredge thinly sliced chicken breasts in flour or cornmeal; cook about two minutes a side in hot olive oil. Place on bread with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

7. Thai-style beef: Thinly slice one and a half pounds of flank steak, pork shoulder or boneless chicken; heat canola oil in a skillet, add meat and stir. A minute later, add a tablespoon minced garlic and some red chili flakes. Add 30 thinly sliced basil leaves, a quarter cup of water and a tablespoon or two of soy sauce or nam pla. Serve with lime juice and more chili flakes, over rice or salad.

8. Rub not-too-thick pork or lamb chops with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil about three minutes a side and drizzle with good balsamic vinegar.

9. Heat a quarter-inch of olive oil in a skillet. Dredge flounder or sole fillets in flour and fry until crisp, about two minutes a side. Serve on good bread with tartar sauce.

10. Pan-grill a skirt steak for three or four minutes a side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, slice and serve over romaine or any other green salad, drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

Happy February!

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken Cacciatore Down on Sullivan Street

We had Chicken Cacciatore tonight. It was in regular rotation in my youth, much like The Stranger. Billy Joel's line from the Movin' Out/Anthony's Song really goes, "He works at Mister Cacciatore's down on Sullivan Street, across from the medical center..." The next part has the bit with the Cadillacacacacacac.

Anyway, the flavor of Chicken Cacciatore (pron. Catch-a-tory) is great, but I always hated the look of the blubbery chicken skin and bony stew. I use split breasts for this - the dish demands some bone, but they're kept in check. Remove the skin from the breast before cooking, but leave the meat on the bone to add flavor to the stewing sauce. You can easily remove the meat from the bone before plating. The resulting dish is an easy, healthy weeknight meal. Serve it atop pappardelle pasta. It rounds out the plate nicely.

Chicken Cacciatore
Print recipe only here

Serves 4
4 chicken breasts, on ribs
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup white wine
One 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

Pappardelle - about 8-12 ounces

Remove skin from chicken breasts, rinse well and pat dry. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot (I used a 4-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven) over low-medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and chicken pieces, flesh side down. Brown slightly, then turn over and brown on the other side.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, lower the heat and cover the skillet with the lid slightly ajar.

Cook the chicken in the simmering liquid, turning, basting, and smashing up tomatoes from time to time. Cook until the chicken is very tender, about 45 minutes.

Boil a large pot of water for the pappardelle and cook.

Taste the chicken for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as needed. You can add some freshly chopped parsley, too. I didn't, but only because I seem to always have to justify parsley at my dinner table and it didn't seem worth the trouble.

Drain and toss pasta with olive oil, then portion on plates. Separate the chicken breasts from the rib bones if you like, and plate, topping with a generous ladleful of sauce. Serve and enjoy.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

To Die for Hazelnut Biscotti

I've really been enjoying David Lebovitz's recipes lately. If you haven't checked out his blog, you should. Many of his recipes are there. This biscotti is adapted - just slightly - from his Chocolate Biscotti. I received a case of hazelnut flour at Christmastime (thanks, JDR) and have been working the flour - simply ground hazelnuts - into cakes and pastries.

What I really like about this recipe is the absence of butter. Not only are they a lean cookie, they have just the right crispness for a dunking biscotti. We've been enjoying them all week in our morning espresso.

Hazelnut Biscotti
Print recipe only here

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Be sure to use the best quality cocoa powder you can get your hands on. You decide between natural or Dutch process - it doesn't matter. I use Valrhona's Dutched cocoa. I think it's got the richest, most chocolaty flavor and color. The flavor of the cookie depends entirely on the quality of the cocoa here. They will not be the same amazing cookie is you use an inferior cocoa.

No hazelnuts? No hazelnut flour? No problem! Substitute almonds. Use regular flour. Just don't skimp on the cocoa.

2 cups flour (or one cup flour and one cup hazelnut flour)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely-chopped
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350

Toast the hazelnuts for 5-7 minutes. cool. Rub together between your hands to remove skins.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla. If doing it by hand, whisk vigorously for a minute. On the stand mixer, use the paddle and beat for about a minute. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Then add the nuts and chocolate chips and mix gently until incorporated. The dough will be a little wet - this is ok.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Lightly flour a work surface and divide the dough in half. Roll the dough into two logs - to about the length of the baking sheet. The logs should be about 2-3 inches wide. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, spaced evenly apart.

Gently flatten the tops of the logs and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the dough feels firm. Cracks in the dough are normal after the first baking.

Allow the logs to cool completely. Use a serrated bread knife to cut the cookies into 1/3-inch thick slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for another 20-25 minutes, turning the baking sheet or flipping cookies over midway during baking.

Once cool, store the cookies in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with espresso or with ice cream.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Winter Citrus: It's 80 degrees Somewhere

Citrus is one of my favorite things about winter. In addition to having no less than six different citrus fruits rolling about my kitchen (big naval oranges, Ruby Red grapefruit, Meyer lemons, clementine Cuties, and some garden-variety lemons and limes), I have a nice supply of citrusy essential oils (bergamot, neroli, sweet orange). And, yes, Virginia, that is a lemon tree in the background of the photo. And it's flowering!!

Just saying "tropical fruit" takes me away, Calgon-style, in a nanosecond. I may be sitting at my kitchen counter tucking into a Ruby Red grapefruit wearing a merino sweater, cozy corduroy and plush knee-highs, but there's sand between my toes and the sun is on my back, filtered through a canopy of palms.

I do some baking and cooking with citrus - fresh lime goes into guacamole and marinades, fresh lemon goes into salad dressings, aioli, hummus, and sauteed baby broccoli. And everyone under my roof loves lemon cake with a dollop of lemon curd on the side. Everything else goes into lunch bags or consumed in the morning, as a snack or sometimes as dessert. Lately, it's the Ruby Reds that are at their prime. A grocer once advised me on how to select a grapefruit with these words: weight. Pick the ones that are the most density for their size. Some might think he was shrewdly running up my bill. But the heaviest grapefruit is the juiciest one, and nothing beats squeezing the empty half into your bowl and drinking the fresh juice. Nothing.

For those inclined to think about it being 80 degrees and five o'clock somewhere, the fresh-squeezed grapefruit-vodka cocktail is a formidable challenger to the as-yet uncontested supremacy of the gimlet.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Must Have Kitchen Tool for Winter Baking

The last must-have tool I promoted was the lime/lemon squeezer. That has been positively indispensable. I use that thing almost every day. I just love the efficiency and the output.

This tool, a nutmeg grinder, won't get nearly as much use as the citrus squeezer only because nutmeg doesn't go into as many foods as lemon or lime. But it has been a welcome addition to my spice cabinet.

Any cook worth their salt will insist that you use freshly grated nutmeg instead of the bland, pre-ground grocery store alternative. And although you certainly can scrape a nutmeg across a grater manually, doing so is really cumbersome.

It bears mentioning that the grinder I bought has some design flaws - it doesn't store seeds easily. I could store them, but only one seed fits under the prongy-thing at a time. Positioning a new seed requires you to empty any stored seeds first, position a new whole seed and then return the stored seeds while trying to engage the spring loaded top. I'm won't bother to replace it, but I'd recommend getting one that's easier to refill, such as this one.

I've been happily grinding nutmeg atop lattes, into Pinched Potatoes au Gratin, blueberry scones, holiday pies and muffins. When I host my Caribbean-themed party, my grinder will come in handy for rum punch and jerk sauce.

So get a grinder, or get one for the gourmet in your life.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

5 Entree Salads for the New Year

This caught my eye today: After Holiday Gluttony, a Perfect Time for Entree Salads from the New York Times Recipes for Health column. I don't get a ton of recipes from this source - Martha's food never gets me excited - but I do like the idea she presents here. Naturally, the recipe that follows her great idea of a title is something I don't want to eat as a main course or otherwise, Curried Rice and Quinoa Salad.

It's very possible to eat light but still be totally satisfied with a entree salad just top a salad with grilled fish, chicken or steak, even a good canned tuna in a pinch. If you've grilled your protein, you want to let it rest for a minimum of five minutes after grilling/cooking, to lock in the juices - so it's not like you're going to wilt your greens. In my world, an entree salad is only really an entree is you've got some form of protein. Without protein, a big salad too closely resembles a refreshing glass of water.

1. Asian Grilled Salmon Salad (substitute steak, chicken or pork for the salmon)
2. Salad Nicoise
3. Skirt or Flank Steak Salad
4. Mixed Greens with Warm Goat Cheese and Roasted Beets
5. Chicken Salad on Greens. When I make this, I toss my greens with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and pinches of salt, sugar and pepper. Mound the greens on a plate and top with chicken salad.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Heathly Winter Baking: Rosemary Raisin Bread

Decidedly Provencal Rosemary Raisin Bread, underway in the Pinch kitchen as I write, is one of my favorite things to bake in the winter months. Some years I gift loaves along with a jar of good apricot jam. A slice of this bread, toasted and slathered with apricot jam really hits the spot at tea time.

I'm not sure how far this year's loaves will travel. They freeze quite well, and slice easily when frozen. Hoarding is a natural consequence of this discovery. If you want some and don't feel like making it yourself, just show up on my doorstep at tea time (4pm Central).

One caveat - only use extra virgin olive oil here. Nothing else will cut it.

Rosemary Raisin Bread
Print recipe only here

Makes 2 loaves plus a smaller one

1 ½ cup plus 2 T warm water
1 ½ T yeast
>¼ cup plus 1 T sugar (divided)
1 ¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
3-5 sprigs rosemary (divided)
3 # flour (10 1/2 cups)
1 T salt
¼ cup sugar
6 eggs
3 yolks
8-12 ounces yellow raisins

Combine yeast, water and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small mixing bowl or measuring cup.

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil and 1 ½ sprigs rosemary until fragrant and crispy.

Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.

Sift together flour, salt and remaining ¼ cup sugar.

Whisk together eggs and egg yolks in a mixing bowl (preferably the bowl from a stand mixer), then strain olive oil into eggs and whisk well to combine.

Add the proofed yeast to the eggs and oil and mix well.

Add the flour mixture, yellow raisins and 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary to the mixing bowl and mix using dough hook. When it comes together, turn out onto floured work surface and knead until smooth.

Place in an oiled bowl (use the same olive oil), turning it to coat the top of the dough. Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled.

Punch down, knead, and portion into two loaves, each weighing about 2.5 pounds. You will have a small amount leftover - this recipe yields 2 full size loaves and one much smaller one. I usually bake the extra one as a small round loaf on a flat baking sheet.

Kneed each dough ball into a smooth, oblong shape and place in a regular loaf pan (mine measure 9x5x3 on the outside) sprayed with baking release and cover with plastic. Allow to rise again until nicely rounded above the rim of the loaf pan. Don't skimp on this rise. If you do the loaves will rise too quickly in the oven and burst at the sides - bread's version of stretch-marks.

Brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash, score and bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 20-30 minutes. Loaves are done when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool.

To serve, slice with a serrated knife and serve, toasted or not, with apricot jam. The bread freezes well - just wrap tightly with plastic wrap.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eating well when there's no time to cook

I enjoy planning a good meal, shopping and spending time in the kitchen. But sometimes time doesn't allow for that. I had one such evening last night. It wasn't that I didn't have time, but I've been down with a head cold and just not really up to the task of making dinner. But, with a nice piece of salmon on hand, some fresh green beans, mixed greens and a dusting of jerk spice, we had a really easy meal that only required me to get vertical for about twenty minutes. It's not terribly inventive, but eating this way beats eating out (for those watching their waistlines, arteries or wallets).

Another idea is the one shown above, concocted with frozen shrimp, leftover pilaf rice and some sauteed onions and peppers. I tossed it all up in a skillet in the galley of a sailboat last week and finished it with a spot of Caribbean hot sauce. Again, I wasn't without time - I just didn't want to spend much of it in the galley. Marina Cay Shrimp and Rice was really good, though I was obviously distracted, both by the hot sauce and the view. Just look at that water!

To pull together your own fast food, start with a protein that doesn't require marinating time or take too long to cook. Flank steak is a nice meat option, especially when you slice it prior to grilling or searing (flank cooks nicely on a hot cast iron skillet). Then add a salad and a side. Green beans sauteed with lots of garlic are super tasty.

Happy 2010!

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