Friday, June 28, 2013

Buffaloed Chicken Legs with Braised Celery and Roquefort Smashed Potatoes


There are few things more daunting than returning home after a long day of work, starving, and wishing dinner would put itself on the table so you could take a break. I actually know quite a few people who cook for the week over the weekend and then reheat dishes as needed. Convenient, yes, but reheated food seriously lacks the quality of its fresh counterpart. It can also be a challenge for small families of two (or even one) to sometimes create elegant food that is satisfying without becoming resigned to leftovers for the rest of the week.

Carla Snyder's new cookbook One Pan, Two Plates solves that problem. Carla has laid out a plan for creating complete dinners in less than an hour (often times in less than 30 minutes), utilizing only one pan (less dishes!), and feeding the magic number two. Whether you are a couple, or a couple of roommates, it's nice to have an arsenal of recipes geared toward you while still taking lots of thought into creating rounded, composed dishes.

The book is divided into chapters for pastas, grains, and hot sandwiches, meat dinners, egg, turkey, and chicken dinners, and fish dinners, and wraps up with a "find it fast" section which suggests recipes for 30 minutes or less meals, seasonal meals, vegetarian meals, and easily adapted to vegetarian meals.

While Snyder claims in the introduction that the pasta and grain dishes are "both healthful and inexpensive," I can only agree with the inexpensive part. The first recipe is a baked macaroni and cheese that is not lightened up at all. I'm sure it's delicious, and I will happily make it (I love mac and cheese!), but it's a bit misleading to use the word "healthy." Otherwise, I think Snyder follows through on everything else the book represents.

Every recipe features a start to finish time and a hands on time, as well as notes at the end of the recipe that discuss ingredients or cooking techniques, suggestions for add-ons to the meal if you're extra hungry, and finally a recommended wine or beer to compliment the meal. Additionally, none of the recipes are overly complicated or require obscene numbers of ingredients.

There are lots of international recipes, which is great because quick dinners thrown together on weeknights can fall into the boring category pretty fast. There are many Asian countries represented, for example, with dishes like Pad Thai, Spicy Orange Beef Stir-Fry with Lime, Cashews, and Noodles, Miso-Glazed Cod with Wilted Asian Cabbage Slaw, and Lamb Korma among others.

I selected something a bit more American to try, featuring one of my all-time favorite flavor profiles. The Buffaloed Chicken Legs with Braised Celery and Roquefort Smashed Potatoes takes my absolute favorite bar food and turns it into a complete dinner with side dishes.

I thought it was really cool the way the dish cooked together so conveniently in one pan. The potatoes roasted and softened with the help of beef broth, while the celery simultaneously braised next to them. Meanwhile, the chicken was safely perched above and cooked to tender perfection.

When the pan came out of the oven, the chicken and celery were plated while the potatoes got their finishing touch with the help of a potato masher and some sour cream and Roquefort. In the end, this meal was very satisfying. Its ease to prepare made it high on my list for future weeknight meals. Although the book could use more photos, I look forward to trying more recipes from this book and think it would be a great gift for a couple or even a couple of roommates.

Buffaloed Chicken Legs with Braised Celery and Roquefort Smashed Potatoes
Serves 2
(From One Pan, Two Plates)

4 to 6 meaty chicken drumsticks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil (I used a bit less)
1 shallot, chopped
12 oz (340 g) fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
3 celery stalks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cut crosswise into thirds
2/3 cup (165 ml) low-sodium beef or chicken broth
1 or 2 T. Frank's Red Hot Sauce
2 T. sour cream
2 T. crumbled Roquefort cheese, plus more for garnish, if desired

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken legs and brown them on all sides, about 6 minutes total (use a splatter screen if you have one). Transfer the chicken to a plate (it will finish cooking later).

Pour off all but 1 T. of the fat in the pan. Add the shallot and potatoes to the pan and saute for about 2 minutes. Scrape the potatoes to one side of the pan and add the celery to the empty half, spreading it in a single layer. Pour the broth over the vegetables and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring the broth to a simmer, then arrange the chicken legs across the potatoes and celery, still keeping them separate. Spread 1 T. of the hot sauce all over the legs. Transfer to the oven and roast until the chicken is cooked through and the veggies are tender, about 30 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of a leg.

Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the chicken with the remaining 1 T. hot sauce if you like is spicy. Transfer the chicken and celery to two warmed plates. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, mixing in any juices from the pan, then mash in the sour cream and cheese. Season the potatoes with more salt and pepper if they need it, then scoop the mash onto the plates with the chicken and celery. Scatter more Roquefort on top, if you love it. Serve hot.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Bloody Trinity: A Dish Inspired by Dexter and the Color Red


This upcoming Sunday, June 30th, will mark the final season premiere for one of my favorite television shows. The 8th season of Dexter will be its last, and I'm so sad to see this amazing show leave the airwaves.

I was lucky enough to actually work at Dexter during my years in "the industry." The 3rd season (with Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado) was when I spent my time there, and although it wasn't my favorite season to watch (that award goes to season 4, featuring John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer), it was a memorable experience, to say the least.

Posing with Jimmy Smits

It wasn't my favorite show to work on, but of all the projects I've undertaken, it was definitely my favorite of all of them to watch! So for very personal reasons I've decided to create a special meal in honor of this fantastically dark show starring Michael C. Hall as everyone's favorite serial killer :)

Coincidentally, this month's challenge for the Creative Cooking Crew has us showcasing monochromatic plates of food. We were asked to choose a color and feature is prominently. I can't think of a better color than RED to not only face this culinary challenge, but make it unmistakably Dexter.

I also decided to weave in characteristics from my favorite season of the show into the dish. Since season 4 features the Trinity Killer, I decided to include three red components to my dish, each featuring classic red ingredients, and thusly name my dish "The Bloody Trinity." Yeah, I went there. I have a dark side too, and I'm showing it off with this dish!

Checking out some evidence!

A beet and goat cheese risotto is the anchor of the dish, featuring a root vegetable that literally bleeds red when you cut into it. Additionally, rare beef is sliced and presented with the risotto and finished off with a red wine reduction (resembling blood, perhaps?). Add a glass of vino and you're ready for Sunday night!

Hanging out in the bullpen :)

Unfortunately, my beef cooked a bit past rare so it was more pink than red, but it was still juicy and delicious! Also, the plate I selected curved up at the sides, and whatever sauce I poured around the edges just dripped back down the plate, leaving purplish streaks.

Brilliant in theory, but the look of the dish was a bit off from what I intended. The flavor was all there, though! Between the meaty and juicy beef and the somewhat sweet and tangy risotto, it was a great match!

Thanks for 7 great seasons so far, Dexter. I'm looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up! Four days and counting until The End...

Sitting at Laguerta's desk. If you do watch Dexter, you will understand why I picked this picture as the last one in the post ;-)

The Bloody Trinity (Beet and Goat Cheese Risotto with Rare Beef and Red Wine Reduction)
Serves 4

Beet and Goat Cheese Risotto:
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bunch beets (4 medium beets), beet roots peeled and cut into 1/4-to-1/2-inch pieces, greens chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup red wine (I used pinot noir)
1 T. balsamic vinegar
About 5 cups beef broth or stock, heated to a simmer
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Red Wine Reduction:
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup red wine (I used pinot noir)
1/2 cup beef broth or stock
Kosher salt
1 T. unsalted butter

1 pound (or more, if desired) steaks of a lean and tender cut of beef such as filet, strip, sirloin, etc
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, as needed

To make the risotto, head the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the onion and beet roots. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, and then add the wine and balsamic vinegar, stir to combine until the liquid evaporates and then begin adding broth a ladle at a time.

After each addition of broth, stir until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more. Continue adding broth, seasoning occasionally with salt and pepper throughout the cooking process, until the rice is almost al dente. At this point, add the beet greens and the goat cheese and stir until the green have wilted and the cheese has melted into the risotto. Add more broth if the risotto seems dry (it should be free-flowing).

To make the red wine reduction, add the shallot, red wine, and broth to a small saucpan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the mixture to about 1/2 cup liquid and then strain out the shallot. Return the sauce to the pan and season with salt. Whisk in the butter and serve immediately.

To make the beef, season the steaks with salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a skillet over high heat and add the steaks. Sear on both sides until the beef is cooked to your liking (an internal temperature of 125 degrees F would be rare, while 130 degrees F is closer to medium rare). Allow the beef to rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly on the bias.

Serve each portion of risotto with several thin slices of beef and a drizzle of red wine reduction.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Roast Beef Sandwiches with Tomato Chutney & Rosemary Goat Cheese


I recently shared my thoughts on the newly released Flour, too cookbook. It offers a great mix of savory and sweet items from the famed Flour Bakery + Cafe locations in Boston. I was thrilled to try the delicious Hot and Sour Soup recipe from the book, and have added it to my arsenal for all future cravings.

The book is filled with so many other fantastic recipes that I simply couldn't resist trying one out for a picnic by the Charles River in Boston with my very best friend!

There were too many options, which means I will be working my way through all of them in time, but for this occasion I decided to adapt the Roast Lamb with Tomato Chutney and Rosemary Goat Cheese to use beef instead. The meat was incredibly aromatic, with garlic and rosemary rubbed all over it.

I can't stress enough the importance of cutting the beef as razor thin as possible. If the slices are even slightly too thick, it becomes difficult to bite into the sandwich and tear them apart.

Sweet and sour flavors from the easy-to-prepare tomato chutney are a perfect compliment to the rare meat, along with lightly herbed softened goat cheese to add a bit of tang.

Freshness from the greens finishes off this picture perfect picnic fare.

I made the Flour Focaccia, which was springy, flavorful, and exactly what is used at Flour, but it left quite a bit of greasy residue in the paper bag I stored it in (it IS focaccia after all), so in the future my want-to-be-thin self might swap it out for a lighter bread option. Just because.

All in all, this was a very popular sandwich, made even more enjoyable by wonderful surroundings and excellent company! I would happily make this again, and definitely look forward to trying more innovative recipes from this book.

Roast Beef (or Lamb) Sandwich with Tomato Chutney and Rosemary Goat Cheese
Makes 4
(Adapted from Flour, too)

1 1/2 to 2 pound beef roast, top or bottom round (or lamb top round or boneless leg of lamb)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Tomato Chutney:
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 (14.5-ounce) can "no salt added" diced tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons dried currants
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Rosemary Goat Cheese:
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 slices Flour Focaccia* or other good quality white or wheat bread
4 cups loosely packed mesclun greens or other mild lettuce

The night before, rub the beef (or lamb) all over the salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap or place in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and let rest overnight in the fridge.

The next day, take the beef out of the fridge. If using leg of lamb, roll the lamb into a bundle and tie together tightly with kitchen twine. Rub the surface with the garlic, rosemary, and olive oil. Let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

About 20 minutes before you are ready to roast, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven.

Place a roasting rack on a baking sheet, and put the roast on the rack. Roast for 50 to 60 minutes for a 1 1/2-pound roast or 65 to 75 minutes for a 2-pound roast, or until the thermometer inserted into the center of the roast registers 130 degrees F. Start checking after 45 minutes. Once it hits 100 degrees F, the cooking goes quickly, so check every 5 minutes or so. When the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees F, remove the roast from the oven and let cool. Let the roast rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Meanwhile, make the tomato chutney: in a medium skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, or until softened a bit. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir for 1 minute until the sugar starts to dissolve. Add the tomatoes, raisins, and currants and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and using the back of a wooden spoon to press down on the tomato pieces to break them up. The chutney should darken and the liquid will eventually evaporate. Let reduce and thicken for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and parsley; remove from the heat and let cool. The chutney can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

To make the rosemary goat cheese: in a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, rosemary, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper and mix with a wooden spoon until well blended. The rosemary cheese can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week; bring to room temperature before using so it spreads easily.

Trim the well-chilled beef of any fat and slice it against the grain as thin as possible (very important because if it's thick at all it will be hard to bite into). Set the slices aside.

Lay the bread slices out on a clean, dry counter and spread four of the slices with the chutney, dividing it evenly. Spread the remaining four slices with the goat cheese, again dividing it evenly. Top each of the chutney-spread slices with an equal amount of the greens. Top each goat cheese-spread slices with 5 to 6-ounces of the sliced beef (you will have leftovers). Close each sandwich, then cut in half and serve.

*You can make Flour Focaccia by following the recipe for these Flour Bakery Burger Buns and shaping the dough about 10 inches long, 8 inches wide and about 2 inches tall, and baking for 35 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees F. Then cool for about 30 minutes and slice up for sandwiches.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Every Grain of Rice: Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuanese Sauce


The farmer hoes his rice plants in the noonday sun
His sweat dripping on to the earth
Who among us knows that every grain of rice in our bowl
Is filled with the bitterness of his labor
   - Li Shen

I bet you'll never think about rice the same way again. This Chinese poem is printed on the first page of Fuchsia Dunlop's third book, Every Grain of Rice. I think it does the perfect job setting readers in the mind set of humble appreciation and respect for Chinese culture, and the hard, thankless labor that yields many of our food products we overlook.

The Introduction and Basics chapters follow and are brimming with important information, including discussions on how typical Chinese families eat their meals, and how to utilize the recipes in the book to yield similar styles of meals. Serving quantities are different from Western recipes.

Dunlop suggests serving one dish per person, along with plenty of rice or noodles, in order to create a filling meal with enough variety to satisfy. As a result there are no real "serving sizes" attached to recipes throughout the book, except for the noodles and dumplings, which in many cases can be served on their own without the need for additional plates.

I found reading this book fascinating. I learned so much about Chinese cooking and culture that I didn't know. For example, while Americans often grow up on greasy, slimy Chinese food in takeout containers, real Chinese food is quite the opposite and is usually very vegetable heavy with less of an emphasis on meat. For this reason, there are many more vegetable recipes in the book than meat-heavy ones. The result is faster, cheaper, and healthier recipes than what other books might be selling.

Chapters in the book read as follows: cold dishes; tofu; meat; chicken & eggs; fish & seafood; beans & peas; leafy greens; garlic & chives; eggplant, peppers & squashes; root vegetables; mushrooms; soups; rice; noodles; dumplings; stocks, preserves & other essentials; and finally one of the best glossaries I've ever seen in any book. Seriously, it's worth its weight in gold for any fan of Chinese cooking.

Why? It includes 20 pages discussing all key Asian ingredients with names written in both Chinese and English letters (with phonetic spellings in English too for the Chinese terms), descriptions, and *gasp* photos of nearly everything so you know what you're looking for in the Asian market! Trust me, this is gold! I can't tell you how many times I've gone to my local Asian market, asked questions to staff and was still unable to figure out completely what I was buying.

Case in point: the Sichuan chili flakes I recently purchased. The package was written entirely in Chinese and the employees at the Asian market are Thai, I believe, and couldn't translate it, but Fuchsia's glossary had the Chinese name written in English letters (La Jiao Mian), which was also written on the package and thus I knew that I had found what I was looking for. Yay!!

This book is heavy, containing nearly 150 main recipes and lots of photos, you will definitely get your money's worth here. I also love that the pages are matte instead of glossy. It definitely gives the book a classic (and expensive) look in my opinion. There are too many standout recipes in this book to mention. Many are so simple, they require only a handful of ingredients and a short commitment in the kitchen.

Chinese cooking does not need to be daunting. This is the real deal and it's completely approachable. Once your pantry is stocked with basic Asian ingredients, picking up a little produce and meat where necessary is all you must do to create lovely, authentic meals on the fly.

I decided to take Fuchsia's advice and create a nice spread for my family, instead of just selecting one dish to test. In the end, they were so simple and appetizing, I would have been hard-pressed to narrow down to a single recipe anyway! The dishes I selected consisted of 3 cold dishes I could prep in advance--Smacked Cucumber in Garlicky Sauce, Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuanese Sauce, and Spinach in Ginger Sauce (although I replaced Swiss chard for the spinach)--and a few hot dishes including Beef with Cumin, Peas with Dried Shrimp, and Stir-Fried Oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms with Garlic, and of course a generous serving of Plain Brown Rice for everyone.

Mise en place for the Beef with Cumin

Although it may seem overwhelming to make so many unique items for a single meal (especially ones you've never tried before), it was honestly really easy to stay organized. I used post-its to bookmark the pages in the book with the recipes. I also wrote down lists of ingredients with some simple instructions for each recipe so I could quickly look over what I needed without flipping through the book as I was preparing my mise en place.

Mise en place (or put in place) is a French term for prepping all the ingredients you need before starting cooking. This was vital in staying on track with all these different dishes. I used small colored bowls to house sauces, sliced scallions, spices, and more, and used service trays from the local restaurant supply store to keep my measured and chopped ingredients in order.

Mise en place for the Stir-Fried Oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms with Garlic

With this thoughtful prep work, creating this meal was actually a breeze! The cold dishes were ready to go before I started the hot dishes, and each of those cooked quickly and were on the table with time to spare.

My family loved all of the dishes overall! The most popular was the Cold Chicken with Spicy Sichuanese Sauce. It was easy to put together by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken and shredding the meat. The sauce was spicy and flavorful, and a great dressing for this cold chicken dish.

Along with the equally delicious Smacked Cucumber dish, these were to the two spicy offerings on the day's menu. They played well together. The cucumber had a light freshness, and yet a nice spicy bite. It was a beautiful and unorthodox preparation.

My personal favorite, actually, was probably the Peas with Dried Shrimp. Its Sichuanese name literally translates to "golden hooks cooked with green balls," which was probably why I picked this dish in the first place, haha! The dish had such a lovely delicate flavor from ginger and scallions that were sauteed and then poached in water before cooking the peas and shrimp in the now-flavored broth. A final glisten of sesame oil finished this beautiful and bright green dish with a gently thickened sauce. I used fresh peas, which were still available, but even with frozen peas this dish would have been a star.

The Oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms was another simple but lovely dish, with an impactful meaty flavor from a generous dose of chicken broth. The Swiss Chard dish were overall our least favorite, and was a bit bland. Even though I salted the water for the chard (although it didn't even state to in the recipe), it could have perhaps used more salt overall. No biggie, though. The rest of the menu made up for it.

The main attraction of the meal was the Beef with Cumin, which I actually doubled. I figured even if there were ample leftovers, it would be nice for lunch the next day. The cumin definitely gave this dish a not-so-typical Asian flair, with beautiful diamond-cut bell peppers and nearly paper-thin, tender strips of beef. It definitely kicks a typical beef stir-fry to the curb.

I am incredibly impressed by Every Grain of Rice. I think anyone interested in authentic Chinese cooking should invest in a copy. It's far less daunting than you'd think to put together a gorgeous meal full of colorful, and often healthful, ingredients for your hungry family. This book will get you started on the right foot.

Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuanese Sauce
(From Every Grain of Rice)

About 3/4 lb (300-350 g) cold, cooked chicken, without bones
3 spring onions
1/4 tsp salt (I omitted this because my chicken was roasted with salt and spices already, as opposed to poached)
1 T. sesame seeds (optional)

For the sauce:
2 T. light soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Chinkiang vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 T. chicken stock
3 to 4 T. homemade chili oil with 1/2 T. of its sediment (or more, if you wish)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground, roasted Sichuan pepper, to taste
1 tsp. sesame oil

Cut or tear the chicken as evenly as possible into bite-sized strips or slivers and place them in a deep bowl. Cut the spring onions at a steep angle into thin slices. Mix them and the salt with the chicken. If using sesame seeds, toast them gently in a dry wok or frying pan for a few minutes, until they are fragrant and starting to turn golden, then tip them out into a small dish.

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

When you are ready to eat, pour the sauce over the chicken, and mix well with chopsticks or salad servers. Arrange on a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

Chili Oil
(Adapted from Every Grain of Rice)

1 cup plus 1 T. (250 ml) cooking oil
2 oz (50 g) Sichuanese or Korean ground chilies
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
Small piece of ginger, unpeeled, crushed

Heat the oil over a high flame to about 400 degrees F, then leave for 10 minutes to cool to around 275 degrees F.

Place the ground chilies, sesame seeds and ginger in a heatproof bowl. Have a little cool oil on hand, just in case. When the oil has cooled to the right temperature, pour a little onto the chilies; it should fizz gently but energetically and release a rich, roasty aroma. Pour over the rest of the oil and stir. If you think the oil is too hot and the chilies are likely to burn, simply add a little cool oil to release the excess heat. Do, though, make sure that the oil is hot enough; without the fizzing, it won't generate the rich, roasty fragrance you need.

When the oil has cooled completely, decant it and the chili sediment into a jar and store in a dark, cool place. Leave it to settle for at least a day before using. The chili oil will keep indefinitely.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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