Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fig Orange Mustard Roast Chicken and Winter Vegetables


fig-orange-mustard ROAST CHICKEN // winter herbed vegetables

To her frustration, most years I have no idea what to tell my mother to get me for Christmas.  I'm not an easy person to shop for, nor am I good at faking excitement when gifted things I'm not actually excited about.  But this year I told my mom exactly what I wanted - Mimi Thorisson's A Kitchen in France.  

I don't own any cookbooks, and considering the free access to Mimi's incredible blog, asking for A Kitchen in France was more or less because I wanted the beautiful object, and I also wanted to support Ms. Thorisson (she doesn't need it).  As I expected, the photography is beautiful and many of the recipes pretty inaccessible to Americans without some visits to speciality food shops and butchers.  But, she had a few roasted whole chickens that inspired me to roast one myself.  No, this isn't a recipe from my first-ever cookbook, but does combine flavors that I rightly or wrongly associate with France - herbs, mustards, and jams.  

I mean, combining fig jam, mustard, and orange zest to rub on some meat before roasting is going to be good.  Try it to roast just chicken breasts, turkey, or pork (or even a whole salami for a delicious appetizer), and you'll be pleased.  If you want a crispier, richer skin, rub the chicken with softened butter first, then add the layer of jam-mustard.  If fig jam is hard to come by (check the cheese section of your grocery store before giving up), apricot jam would probably make a fine substitute (but sweeter).  As for the vegetables, any hearty winter variety will work.  I used a mix of fingerling, baby red, and purple potatoes, brussels sprouts, turnips, and carrots, but parsnips, squash, and cauliflower would be just as good as side dish.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seafood Fideos


SEAFOOD FIDEOS // smoky shellfish soup
Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope 2015 brings some new adventures to your life, and to your kitchen.  If you're looking for a bit of culinary experimentation with some potentially unfamiliar ingredients, here's a seafood dish you might try.  Personally, this was my first time procuring and cooking clams and mussels at home, and I found it pretty brainless and delicious.  

If you generally like shellfish and seafood, you're going to love fideos.  I think most versions of the recipe you'll find online mimic Spanish paella - cooking seafood and rice in a flavorful broth until it gets completely absorbed and the shellfish steam open.  Fideos more or less replaces rice with a pasta (called "fideos"), but angel hair works just fine.  You'll see that this recipe is also modified to get more of a soup at the end, but you could easily increase the amount of pasta or decrease the amount of stock for a more traditional outcome.   

While the dish isn't that complicated to make, it really does depend on a few fancy ingredients of good quality.  It took a trip to the fancy grocery store (a.ka. Whole Foods) to make sure I got good bacon, sausage, and seafood.  Of course, saffron doesn't come cheap, either.  While you obviously want the seafood to be as fresh as possible, the smokier your bacon and chorizo are, the better layers of flavor you're going to get when all is said and done.  That smokiness, and the richness of the saffron, are the real backbone of the dish.  So, while I used a traditional mix of clams, mussels, shrimp, and cod, you can choose whatever shellfish and firm white fish you want (or eliminate anything you don't want).  Ideally, you buy the shellfish the day of, and keep it on ice until use, but I don't see why you couldn't make the broth ahead of time and return it to the stove to cook the seafood when you want it served.

Fideos is easy to make in large quantities with the right sized pot, so this is a great recipe for your next nice dinner party or date-night in.  It's pretty healthy, too.  And don't be worried about having leftovers, I found it reheated very nicely to finish the following day.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fresh Cheese and Tartines


homemade FRESH CHEESE // fresh cheese TARTINES

Since the last post, I've been eating soft farmer's cheese every morning with a toasted English muffin and apricot jam.  It has been a real treat to wake up with, and now one of my favorite ingredients, in general.

I didn't realize when I attempted to make cheese for the first time - this firmer, pressed cheese photographed - I'd also be learning how to make spreadable farmer's cheese along the way.  My intent was to learn how to make Indian paneer, the firm cubed cheese you'd find in dishes like saag paneer, but along the way I realized how simple basic cheese-making can be.  If you love cheese, and you have the time to experiment, this basic recipe can really take you in many cheesy directions.  You can follow all the steps below to get a fresh, but firm, pressed cheese that is like an Indian paneer or Mexican queso fresco, or you can stop after step four for a spreadable version (and reduce the salt a bit if you want it to pair well with fruit, honey, or jam).  It's also pretty clear that you could add herbs, black pepper, or a number of other flavors to the curds to spice up the end result.

While fresh cheese-making is simple - just a matter of adding an acid to milk and bringing it to a temperature where the curds and whey separate - there are some rules I learned after my first failed attempt.  Most importantly, don't let your milk heat too fast.  Stir it constantly over medium-high heat until it comes to temperature, otherwise the bottom will scald and the curds and whey won't separate.  While some recipes you might find will tell you to add your acidic element to the milk after it bubbling, for me this didn't work, and bringing all the ingredients to temperature at the same time was both easier and a success.  Finally, if it is anything else than blatantly obvious that the curds and whey have separated in the pot, don't strain it yet.  Only when you clearly see your pot is full of just curds and translucent whey, then you can strain.

The cheese you get with this recipe is super versatile, just very mild, a little tangy, and a little salty.  In this case, it worked for both sweet and savory tartines, and was particularly good, texture-wise, with grilled French bread.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday Brussels Sprout Salad


shaved BRUSSELS SPROUT HOLIDAY salad 
pomegranate // walnut // farmer's cheese // maple-mustard vinaigrette
Two weeks ago , Garrett and I celebrated our nine-year anniversary in the same fashion as the last six years, by going to Le Bouchon, my favorite French Bistro.  I absolutely love the atmosphere of the place, as it generally feels more French than most joints in France.  Meaning you're rubbing up against strangers and may at any moment cause the waiters to drop their trays on the parties packed between tables waiting for their own.  Generally we order the same staples every time: onion soup and cassoulet along with whatever rotating appetizers and salads look good.  We opted for the automne salad this time, and it was good enough to try and replicate at home.

The menu described it as "shaved brussels sprouts, fromage blanc, pomegranate, lemon-honey vinaigrette," but there were definitely some mystery ingredients in this hearty starter.  Positively identifying both mint and walnuts, I also had a hunch the dressing included mustard...but I guess I'll never know.  What I do know is that my homemade version is not exact, but still delicious.  For one, I was out of honey and found maple syrup not only a tasty, but festive substitution for the holidays.  Second, I had never encountered the type of "fromage blanc" nestled underneath the salad in any grocery, so went with the most mild and creamy cheese I could find, Lifeway Old Fashioned Probiotic Farmer Cheese.  I am now completely obsessed with this farmer's cheese and love how it pairs so nicely with sweet honeys and jams (I spread it on my English Muffins with fig-orange jam every morning).  It adds such a nice balance to this salad, as the mild richness counters the sweetness of the dressing and tang of the pomegranate.

In both its looks and taste, this salad would be wonderful for a holiday meal.  Since I recommend dressing the salad ahead of time and letting the flavors mingle for hours, it would be easy to prepare and serve to guests.  Dressed (and it should be well-dressed), it is even delicious and crisp after an overnight in the fridge.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Short Rib Boeuf Bourguignon Chili


 short rib BOEUF BOURGUIGNON chili // un ragoût TEX-MEXICAIN

Last weekend, I took part in my first ever chili cook-off.  My first cooking competition ever, really.  Garrett's the big chili maker between the two of us, but I quickly commandeered the process as soon as my wheels started turning in the direction of frenchifying the thing.  This didn't start as a boeuf bourguignon fusion project, and, in fact, I've never tried to make boeuf bourguignon, so I had no frame of reference for the dish besides a general understanding that it was beef braised in alcohol.  It was only after the fact that I realized by adding Tex-Mex ingredients to red wine braised beef we had concocted something Tex-Mexicaine.

So before I tell you more, let's start with a few honest confessions.  First, the chili took second place.  Tied for second place.  As an excuse, the winning chili was a really well done, but traditional recipe and I think when the masses speak, they speak for tradition.   Second, if you've never braised you ought to know it takes hours, so this is by no means your everyday chili.  But if you take it to your next chili cook-off and get good results, please, let me know.  Third, and again, if you've never braised before, prepare for the fat.  You can really remove quite a bit of the fat at the end of the cooking process, but you're going to be dealing with a lot of it.  And it's going to be delicious, as a result.

Back to the flavor, because despite those confessions I think this recipe is awesome and worth the effort.  The base flavor is smoky, and it would be worth it to go to a good butcher to get thick cut smoked bacon (in other words, avoid the packaged bacon at the grocery store).  In the next layer the red wine comes through, so make sure to use a French pinot noir (this does not need to be an expensive bottle, but does need to be French).  Finally, right in at the top you get the Mexican ingredients - the poblano, jalapeño, and spices.  Of course, the end result is rich with all that smoky winey-ness, so top it with freshly chopped onions and some cheese, but no need for sour cream.  

If you have the time, patience, and wherewithal, give it a try and tell me what you think.



Monday, October 27, 2014

Acorn Squash with Mexican Braised Chicken & Orzo Salad



roasted ACORN SQUASH // MEXICAN braised chicken & ORZO salad

I had a really poignant post in the works about the commercialization of fall and pumpkin spice lattes, etc., but I just deleted it all.  I mean, it was good stuff about objectification that occurs in market-oriented capitalism, the state of "basic" white women, the substitution of things for nuanced emotions, and all that, but figured you probably just wanted the quick stuff about the food.  It's been way over a year that I've been blogging recipes, and still haven't figured out what the hell to write in these little blurbs. 

There's no real inspiration here besides, just, fall.  I had an acorn squash around, because you see them in the store and you just have to buy one.  You're not going to not put that in your cart.  So I had one, I baked it, and I filled it with something hearty.  It was tasty.  It looks pretty, too.  Enjoy.