Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry

As far as quick cooking goes, it is tough to beat stir-frying. Heat your wok or wok-style pan as hot as you can get it, add some peanut oil (or some other oil with a high smoke point) throw in some meat (if you want) and veggies, cook until everything is slightly soft, add your sauce and stir until it thickens and that's it. Usually this takes about 10 minutes from start of cooking to finish, give or take a few minutes depending on what it is exactly that you are stir-frying (meats and soft vegetables go quickly, hard veggies like broccoli take a bit longer).

There are many benefits to stir-fry cooking. Stir frying is an excellent way to work a variety of vegetables into a meal (and to use up any extra veggies you may have hanging around), and more vegetables is never a bad thing. While the word fry conjures thoughts of fat-laden, greasy fare, stir fried food is anything but fatty and greasy. Aside from the fact that the amount of oil used is minimal (usually just a few teaspoons or tablespoons for the entire meal), peanut oil is high in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to lower blood LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) while increasing blood HDL (the "good" cholesterol). Serve over a whole grain rice and help that heart even more. Lastly, stir frying is a fast and easy dinner that can be made even more convenient with some advance preparation.

To keep your stir-frying healthy you definitely want to avoid most of the prefabricated stir-fry sauces available in the grocery store, as they are usually loaded with tons of sodium and other undesirables. Stir-fry sauce is quick and easy to make at home (and has a much cleaner flavor). Most sauces are a combination of soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt with other options like ginger and various spicy elements often playing a role. You can use pretty much whatever meats, vegetables, or combinations of both that you like. Generally, you want to cook the meats first to sear the outside, then add the vegetables (harder vegetables go in before softer vegetables). Sometimes you may want to remove the partly cooked meat from the pan before adding the veggies and then adding it back in before the sauce so as not to overcook the meat. Play around with different combinations and sauce ingredients until you find something that you really love.

If you know you're making this stir-fry during the week, you can chop the vegetables ahead of time (except for the onion), that way when you're ready to cook all you'll have to do is chop the onion and make the sauce. You can go start to finish in under 30 minutes (take that Rachael Ray), just don't forget to start the rice!

Mise en place is essential with stir-fry as the cooking goes extremely fast and you won't have time to chop or make the sauce once you start cooking. Begin by chopping everything into bite size pieces and making the sauce. Heat your pan over high heat and add the peanut oil.

Add the onion and a pinch of salt, fry for about 1 minute then add the chicken.

Once the chicken is no longer pink on the outside (about 2 minutes), add the broccoli. After about 3 minutes, toss in the rest of the veggies.

When all the veggies are slightly softened (they should be tender, but NOT mushy), add the sauce. Stir constantly until the sauce thickens and nicely coats all the vegetables and the chicken. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.

Put some rice in a bowl, top with some of your chicken and veggies and serve.


Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry (adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook)
About 30 minutes - Serves 4

For the sauce:
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 medium heads of broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
  • 2 red peppers, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cups of snow peas
  • 2 cups of baby corn, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 chicken breasts, skin and bones removed, chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • About 3 cups of cooked rice
  1. To make sauce: combine all ingredients except cornstarch in a small bowl
  2. Place the cornstarch in a separate small bowl, and whisk in the mixture from step 1, set the sauce aside until needed (you may need to re-whisk before adding to the pan)
  3. Heat a large wok or wok-pan (or a deep skillet) over high heat for 1 minute
  4. Add the oil, then the onion and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir fry for one minute
  5. Add the chicken, stir-fry until no longer pink, about 2 minutes
  6. Add the broccoli, stir-fry for 3 minutes
  7. Add the rest of the vegetables, stir-fry until everything is tender (but not mushy) about 3 to 4 additional minutes
  8. Whisk the sauce and add it to the pan, stirring constantly until sauce thickens and all the vegetables are shiny, about 2 to 3 minutes
  9. Remove from heat and serve over prepared rice

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oatmeal Bread

When it comes to lunch, I'm a sandwich guy. I eat a sandwich for lunch almost every day, and it's to the point where if I don't eat a sandwich, I feel like I'm missing something. It doesn't matter how delicious the leftovers are from last night's dinner, when it comes to lunch today, I'd rather have a peanut butter and jelly (which is pretty much what I eat every weekday - not that soggy jelly on wonder bread kind of sandwich though, I never did dig that). If there is bread available at any meal, I pretty much always make a sandwich. My perfect eating day begins with an egg sandwich, continues with a fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich on fresh ciabatta, and ends with a burger (which may or may not be a sandwich, but it's close). I've eaten sandwiches from tons of different restaurants, delis, lunch trucks...you get the idea, and there's invariably one thing that sets apart a good sandwich from a great sandwich, no matter what the filling, and that of course is the bread.

When it comes to my weekday sandwich, which as I said is usually PB & J, but occasionally could be something like egg salad, leftover chicken, or other leftover meats, I'm looking for a bread that is whole grain and nutritious without being overly dense and dry. I've been eating Stop & Shop's Nature's Promise Whole Wheat Bread pretty consistently for about a year now, and while it's very good bread, I still have that feeling that I could be doing better. One of my goals when I got into bread baking a few months ago was to one day be baking my sandwich bread on a weekly basis. Towards that end I've begun trying out some enriched dough, loaf bread recipes. Enriched means that the dough is made richer and more flavorful by the addition of milk, eggs, butter, fruit, etc. as opposed to just using flour, yeast, and salt and relying on fermentation and enzyme action to coax sugars out of the wheat for flavor. I started last week with the whole wheat bread recipe on the back of the King Arthur Flour bag. It had a very noticeable wheat flavor that's almost completely absent from the bread I'd been eating, which I enjoyed immensely. The bread was a bit on the dense side, but not dry at all and still in the acceptable part of the denseness spectrum (which only exists in my mind). I will be making it again in the future. Today I tried another recipe, Oatmeal Bread.

I got the recipe for this bread on a site called The Fresh Loaf where is was posted by another site user who got it originally from The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. When reading over the recipe I noticed that it called for oatmeal made with steel cut oats rather than rolled oats. No problem there, as steel cut oats are a frequent Saturday morning breakfast at my house. So about 6:30 this morning I got up and made a batch of oatmeal (which takes about 45 minutes), reserved a cup for the bread, mixed the rest with some bananas and maple syrup and gave it to my wife and daughter (none for me because I'm still eating bagels from the batch I made on Thursday).

Mix the dry ingredients (whole wheat flour, dried milk, salt, yeast) in one bowl and the wet ingredients (oatmeal, water, oil, honey) in another.

Combine the wet with the dry (the recipe said to add the dry to the wet, but I had already mixed the dry in the larger bowl, so I did the opposite - I don't think it made a difference) and stir to loosely combine all the ingredients. This makes quite a crumbly mixture that doesn't really resemble dough yet.

Dump the flour mixture onto the counter and knead. The dough begins to come together after a few minutes and after about 10 minutes of kneading, form the dough into a ball.

Place the ball of dough in a bowl, cover it and allow it to rise in a warm spot for about 2 and 1/2 hours.

Test the dough by poking it . If the depression does not spring back quickly, the dough is good to go. Put it on the counter and prepare to fold it by giving it a stretch into a rough rectangle shape. Try not to handle the dough to roughly.

Fold the dough down and then up, from the left to the right and finally from the right to the left. There are some good videos and written instructions showing and describing the stretch and fold method at the Sourdough Home Website.

Form the dough back into a ball, put it back in a bowl, cover and allow it to rise for another hour.

Form the dough into a bread pan loaf. I used the technique described in Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. Basically you stretch the dough into a rectangle and roll it up from one of the narrow ends. Roll the top of the bread in some rolled oats soaked in milk, then place it in an oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan. As you can see, I rolled my loaf a bit small. It should be touching both ends of the pan to ensure a more even rise, but I didn't re-roll it.

Once again cover the dough and allow it to rise one final time until the dough crests about 1 inch above the pan. For me, this took about 2 additional hours.

At least 1/2 hour before baking, you want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the bread in the oven and bake it for 45 to 55 minutes. An amazing aroma will begin to permeate your house almost immediately, which is one of the great joys of making bread at home. The best way to tell when it's done is with a digital, instant-read thermometer. You're looking for 190 degrees in the center of the bread. For me this took 45 minutes. Remove the bread and cool completely on a rack (at least 1 hour) before slicing.

This bread smelled great when it was baking, looked great when it came out of the oven, and tasted wonderful upon slicing. The flavor of the oats really adds an interesting dynamic that was absent in the straight whole wheat bread I'd made before. The honey does not dominate, but provides a subtle hint of sweetness in the background. I can't wait to make a sandwich.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Smashed Breakfast Potatoes

Like many other teachers, I'm on February break from school this week, so when I woke up this morning to a blanket of snow the first thing I thought of was breakfast instead of possible school cancellations. I came downstairs and put on the TV to see what the weather situation was going to be for the rest of the day, but I never made it to the local news, no big deal there (as Bob Dylan says, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows", or in this case, the snow). I got stuck on channel 185, which is Create on my cable system, and an episode of Lidia's Italy. I caught it in the middle, but just in time to see Lidia throw some onions and bacon into a large saute pan with some oil which eventually turned out to be a potato side dish for the feature recipe of the show, Italian goulash. The goulash looked amazing, but at 7:00 this morning it was the potatoes that stuck with me. Instead of leaving the potatoes in chunks, Lidia smashed them up and then cooked them over high enough heat to get good caramelization on the bottom of the potatoes. Then she stirred them up and repeated the process. The resulting potatoes were nicely brown all over, but somewhat smashed like extremely lumpy mashed potatoes.

A nice hearty breakfast is a wonderful thing on a cold, snowy morning and in my opinion, breakfast is elevated to another level by the presence of some form of potatoes, be they home fries, hash browns or whatever. The fact that potatoes take just a bit longer to prepare, so you can't really make them unless you have some extra time in the morning allows them to retain their special quality. Lidia was all the inspiration I needed this morning, as my mind was now set on potatoes and a slightly more "special" breakfast than usual. I went into the kitchen and heated a bit of oil in a saute pan, chopped half an onion and threw it in the oil with a few drops of liquid smoke. My wife doesn't eat pork, so I often use a few drops of liquid smoke (very few drops because the stuff is potent), some butter, and some salt as a substitute for bacon in most recipes that call for it. It's not the same, but it works pretty well. Anyway, when the onion had softened a bit, I added one russet potato that was peeled, chopped, and sliced into pieces about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. I let this sit untouched for about 4 minutes, then stirred it up a bit. I also added a little bit more oil (about 1 teaspoon) and a pinch of salt.

After about 8 minutes, the potatoes had softened a bit and I smashed them up with a fork. I added another teaspoon of oil, another pinch of salt and continued to cook them for about 8 more minutes (repeating the stirring, oiling, and salting, after 4 more minutes).

When the potatoes were done, I moved them to another burner on low to keep them warm, and got going with the rest of breakfast. My wife requested an omelet (which she pretty much always does when she knows I have time to make breakfast) and I went with my standard Friday morning egg sandwich. I had baked some bagels yesterday morning, which made for an excellent sandwich, if I do say so myself. The potatoes didn't look quite like what Lidia had produced, but they were an excellent compliment to the breakfast. If you like your potatoes and onions at the absolute limits of caramelization, just sort of burned (like I do), then this is a recipe for you. If you like a bit more flavor, some garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, or really any spice that you like will definitely work here.


Smashed Breakfast Potatoes

About 25 minutes - Serves 2
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled, chopped into quarters, and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Salt
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium heat
  2. Add the onion and cook until just softened, about 4 minutes
  3. Add the potato and 1 teaspoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, stir and then let the potatoes sit untouched for 4 minutes
  4. Stir the potatoes, if they look a little dry, add another teaspoon of oil, another pinch of salt, and let them sit untouched for 4 minutes.
  5. Smash the potatoes with a fork.
  6. Continue to cook for about 8 more minutes (make sure you let the potatoes cook in undisturbed 4 minute intervals to get nice caramelization on the bottom) adding additional oil if the potatoes look too dry or the onions seem like they are going to burn.
  7. Add salt to taste, keep warm over low heat until ready to serve

Last night I made Braised Greens Tacos for dinner and they were awesome. Totally different than any taco I'd ever had, almost certainly healthier. Braised collard greens and onions on a corn tortilla, topped with crumbled goat cheese, and a fresh salsa made from pureed cherry tomatoes and jalapenos - brightly flavored and delicious. I couldn't find chipotles in adobo, so I used a fresh jalapeno pepper that I halved, seeded and tossed in the pan with the tomatoes. I added a little ketchup, cider vinegar, salt, cumin, garlic powder to simulate adobo sauce. I served it all with some lightly buttered quinoa. Give them a try.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Two Quick Ones

I look to other food blogs for inspiration quite a bit. One difficult thing about food blogs is that there is really no way to see what each one is doing at any given time without actually going and reading them (which can be a chore since there are literally thousands of food blogs). So I check the ones that I know I like frequently and every once and a while I try a random link to another one. Then I found the Tastespotting site. This site is great because it allows people to post links to blog recipes that they have tried and loved. The links show up as big photos with a small description of the dish and the blog that posted it underneath. You basically look through the pictures and click on what you like or what looks good to you. It's a great way to find new recipes and quality food blogs. For these reasons, Tastespotting has become one of my daily go-to sites on the web.

Here are 2 recipes I made this week that I found on Tastespotting. First up is a wilted greens and goat cheese sandwich from Dinners for a Year and Beyond. I used collard greens and some whole wheat ciabatta that I had made earlier that day and pressed the sandwiches under a cast iron pan to make panini. Other than that, I made the recipe as written. I served one sandwich with a bowl of pasta e fagioli as dinner and got rave reviews. The goat cheese and greens spread could easily be used on crackers or toasted baguette as an appetizer.

Second is a warm butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini dressing from Orangette. This salad was both extremely easy to make, and very tasty. The salad is loaded with healthy fats, proteins, and vitamins and is a perfect amount for a dinner for 2 or a salad course for 4.

Just roast some butternut squash

Chop the other ingredients, open a can of chickpeas, make the dressing, and toss it all together

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My Favorite Oatmeal Cookies

About a year ago I had never made oatmeal cookies before. I had nothing against them per se, and would always eat them when available (as long as they were homemade), but never really had the urge to make a batch of my own. One night I had a craving for some oatmeal cookies so I went to the Food Network website and searched. I ended up slightly modifying a recipe that was sent in to Emeril called "Twisted Oatmeal Raisin Cookies" which turned out to be a great choice. I've probably made these cookies at least 6 or 7 times since then, and they always turn out excellent.

The original recipe called for 1 cup of raisins, which I replaced with 3/4 cup of currants. The currants give the same taste to the cookies as raisins would, without having big chunks of fruit in the cookie (which I personally never liked about oatmeal raisin cookies). A few other changes I made include substituting 1 cup of whole wheat flour for 1 cup of white flour (sneaking in a little whole grain is never a bad thing), cane sugar instead of white sugar, and making the cookies as rounds instead of long "snakes" as the original recipe suggests. The whole wheat flour does make the cookies a tad bit heavier and drier, but it's hardly a noticeable difference. You could probably cook them a minute or two less to compensate for this.

Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugar, then add the egg and mix well, incorporating all the ingredients. To the butter mixture, add the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and oatmeal.

Mix by hand with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined. The dough will be extremely stiff and is kind of hard to mix, this is okay. Add the hot water, currants, and vanilla and once again stir to combine all the ingredients completely.

Scoop the dough onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. I use a number 30 ice cream scoop (30 scoops per quart) which makes a nice medium-sized cookie (about 2 to 3 inches circumference depending on the cookie type), but you could use a tablespoon or a soup spoon if you don't have a small scoop. Don't use a regular ice cream scoop (unless you want HUGE cookies)!

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the cookies just begin to noticeably brown (exactly 17 minutes in my oven). Cool the cookies on the pan for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Once they are cool you'll have perfectly chewy oatmeal cookies that have just the right amount of sweetness and raisin flavor from the currants. Store in a covered container and you'll have cookies for a few days.


Chewy Oatmeal Currant Cookies (adapted from Emeril Live)
About 45 minutes - Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies depending on size
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar or white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (use 2 cups all-purpose if you don't want/have wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups oatmeal (not instant oatmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon hot water
  • 3/4 cup currants (or 1 cup raisins if you prefer)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl and cream with a mixer
  3. Add the eggs and mix until well combined
  4. Add the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and the oatmeal, stir with a wooden spoon until well combined
  5. Add the water, currants, and vanilla, stir until well combined
  6. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet (or spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray)
  7. Scoop the cookies onto the sheet, about 1 1/2 inch ball size scoops placed about 3 inches apart
  8. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies just begin to noticeably brown
  9. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then move to a rack to finish cooling

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crispy Roast Chicken with Potatoes

I recently Googled "chicken recipe" and came up with 2,050,000 results (in .12 seconds no less). The sheer volume of different preparations for chicken is nothing short of amazing and really goes to show how versatile an ingredient chicken is. If you're not sure what you want when you go to find a chicken dish, it can be quite overwhelming because practically everything sounds delicious. When I make chicken it's usually something quick, either a stir-fry, chicken piccata, or an amazingly simple and flavorful saute dish with a pan sauce of balsamic vinegar, honey, and fresh chopped basil (which will definitely appear on this blog at some point).

It's easy to become lost in all the possible flavors and ingredients that can go into a dish, but the funny thing about chicken is that it really doesn't need anything else to help it along, it can stand on its own quite well. One of the best ways to cook a chicken is roasting a whole bird in your oven. If you really enjoy chicken, the flavors brought about by roasting are incomparable. Just carve it up and serve it with any type of potato you like, any veggie side you like, and you have a wonderful meal. Aside from being delicious, whole birds are cheaper per pound, which makes organic chicken more affordable (you are buying organic chicken right?). While there are many approaches to roasting a chicken, you can get away with simply seasoning the skin with salt and pepper and putting in the oven at 350 degrees until the thigh registers about 170 degrees. I've had a good roast chicken that was half frozen at the start of cooking (due to an oversight by 4 guys hanging out in a cabin for a few days) and cooked sitting in its own grease on the tiny metal tray from a toaster oven. Seriously, it was amazingly succulent (and completely devoured in about 30 minutes).

Of course, you need to take a little more care if you want to ensure crispy skin and white meat that is not desert-dry. For things like this, I always turn first to Cook's Illustrated. Since I have a subscription to their original magazine, they've been sending me free copies of their new magazine, Cook's Country. I would describe the recipes it features as traditional, regional, home-cooked comfort food. The last issue I received had a roast chicken recipe that promised crispy skin and delicious potatoes in one roasting pan. Sounded good to me.

Like most things from the people at Cook's Illustrated, this roast chicken is a bit more hands on than traditional throw-it-in the-oven-and-forget-about-it-until-it-is-done type recipes, but as usual, the extra steps are well worth it. Start by lining your roasting pan with tin foil then placing the pan on the middle rack of an oven set to 475 degrees. You rinse the chicken and pat it dry, use a skewer or fork to poke small holes all over the skin, then rub it with a mixture of corn starch and salt. As the chicken cooks, the fat comes through the holes and mixes with the corn starch creating a nice, crisp coating on the skin.

Spray your roasting rack with oil and place the chicken on the rack, wing-side down (on its side). Carefully remove the hot roasting pan from the oven and place the rack with the chicken in the pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove the roasting pan from the oven, flip the chicken onto its other wing and roast for 15 minutes. In the meantime, scrub your potatoes, halve them, and coat them with oil and a bit of salt.

After the chicken has roasted for 30 minutes, you take the pan out of the oven again, remove the rack with the chicken and place it on a baking sheet. Gather up the foil with all the drippings and remove it from the roasting pan. Arrange all the potatoes cut side down, and place the rack with the chicken back in the pan over the potatoes. Flip the bird so it is breast side up and put it back in the oven to roast for about 20 more minutes, until a thermometer in the thigh reads 170 degrees. Please don't trust the pop-up timer, get yourself a digital, instant-read thermometer (this way you'll stop wondering when things are done and actually know).

When the chicken is done, pour any juices that have collected in the cavity into the pan with the potatoes, and rest the chicken standing up on either the insert from an angel food cake pan or an empty soda/beer can. The chicken should rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Stir the potatoes up a bit and put them back in the oven to finish cooking. Basically you cook them until they're as brown as you like them. For me this took about 20 minutes (and I cranked the oven up to 525 for the last 5 minutes to really get them brown and crispy). Now all that's left is to carve and serve.

I invited my parents over for dinner, made some some Brussels sprouts as a second side, and served the whole thing on one dish, family style. The chicken was incredibly good, and perfectly cooked, with moist, flavorful white meat (this is the true test, because the dark meat is pretty much always moist and delicious). The skin was not as crisp as I had hoped, but I think this was largely due to my manhandling it rather awkwardly as I flipped it around. It tasted good though. The potatoes were great as well. Not adding them until the middle of cooking and after the chicken grease was discarded ensured that they were neither mushy nor greasy, but slightly crisp and tender. My 1 year old daughter thought the chicken was just about the best thing she's ever eaten, and continuously chose more chicken over bread even (which is a small miracle, believe me).

As my dad would say, this chicken did not die in vain.

Crispy Roast Chicken and Potatoes (adapted from Cook's Country)
About an hour and a half - Serves 4
  • 1 whole roaster chicken (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds), rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 pounds small potatoes, scrubbed and halved (I used Yukon Gold)
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  1. Line roasting pan with foil
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle, place roasting pan on rack, and heat oven to 475 degrees
  3. Combine cornstarch and salt in a small bowl
  4. Using a skewer or the tines of a fork, poke small holes all over the chicken skin
  5. Rub the cornstarch mixture evenly over the entire skin
  6. Place the chicken wing-side up on the roasting rack, remove the roasting pan from the oven, place the rack with the chicken in the pan and roast for 15 minutes
  7. Carefully remove the pan and turn the chicken onto its other side (try using oven mitts, or wadded up towels to gently handle the chicken and turn it) and roast for 15 more minutes
  8. While the chicken roasts, toss the potatoes with the vegetable oil and a few pinches of salt
  9. Remove the roasting pan from the oven after 30 minutes, take the rack with the chicken out of the pan and place it on a cookie sheet nearby
  10. Gather the tin foil by the corners and lift it out of the pan with all the grease and throw it away
  11. Arrange the potatoes, cut-side down, in the pan
  12. Flip the chicken breast-side up and put it back in the roasting pan over the potatoes
  13. Place the roasting pan back into the oven and roast for about 20 more minutes, until a thermometer in the deepest part of the thigh registers 170 degrees
  14. Remove the chicken, pour any juices in the cavity over the potatoes, and rest the chicken upright on an angel-food cake pan insert or an empty soda can for about 15 minutes
  15. Toss the potatoes with the chicken juices (you may have to scrape a bit off the bottom of the pan if they are sticking and you may want to add some salt to taste if you like salty potatoes) and roast for an additional 20 minutes or longer until they are as crisp and brown as you like them
  16. Carve the chicken and serve with the potatoes

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

If pressed I would have to say that rice is my starch of choice (why I'd ever be "pressed" about that I'm not really sure). When faced with a choice between pasta, potato, corn, or rice, I will almost invariably choose the rice dish. I even love eating the plain white rice that comes with an order of Chinese take out - nothing else really tastes quite like it. The many varieties of rice make it an extremely versatile ingredient. It can be a side dish or the dish itself. Savory or sweet, rice can pretty much do it all. And then there is risotto.

Risotto to me is the ultimate expression of what rice can be. Rich and luscious without being too heavy, it is an extremely satisfying meal. A simple risotto makes a great side dish for virtually any meat or fish, and a more dressed up risotto makes an amazing meal on its own. The best thing about risotto though is that it can be made, and made excellently, at home. Once the basic technique is mastered, you can turn out better-than-restaurant quality risotto with no problem whatsoever. Risotto is both delicious and impressive, and should be a part of any home cook's repertoire.

There are tons of different risotto recipes out there, but practically all of them are variations on the same theme: saute the aromatics in oil or butter, add the rice to coat, then slowly ladle in a small amount of stock and stir until it is absorbed, repeating until the rice is cooked and attains its full creaminess. A few things are essential here, first the rice should be a medium-grain rice, preferably Arborio, which is easy to find in most grocery stores. Arborio rice has a higher starch content than regular long-grain white rice, which is what gives the risotto its creaminess. Second, the stock must be added slowly, about 1/2 cup at a time and stirred until it is absorbed. This is what allows the creaminess of the starches to develop. Great risotto is not hard to make, but you must have all your ingredients ready to go before you start (good mise en place is always a good idea when cooking!), and you also have to be ready to stand at the stove for about 30 minutes. The effort is definitely worth it.

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto is a recipe I adapted from Jamie Oliver's Prawn and Pea Risotto with Basil and Mint as a final course for my Christmas Eve dinner the past two years (an extremely filling final course). The first year I cooked the whole thing from start to finish between courses, which was a little slow, so this past year I looked into precooking as an alternative. With a little research I uncovered a technique which I have incorporated into this recipe that allows for partial precooking. If you choose this option and make the risotto ahead of time, you can finish the dish later that day or the next day in about 10 minutes and nobody will be the wiser because it comes out just as good as if you cooked it all in one go. This particular recipe is loaded with shrimp and scallops and has been a huge hit every time I have made it. If you want the fish to take more of a back seat to the rice, cut the amounts of shrimp and scallops in half.

Prep all the ingredients then heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring the stock to a simmer in another pot. When the oil is warm, saute the onions, celery, and garlic until just soft, about 6 minutes.

Add the rice, season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir the rice around for 1 minute. Add the wine and keep stirring until it is all absorbed, about 3 minutes.

One of the things you need to know when making risotto is when to add more liquid to the pot. A good rule of thumb is to drag the spoon down the middle of the pot making a divide in the rice and see how long it takes the rice to fill it in. If the rice flows immediately into the space left in the wake of the spoon, it needs more stirring. If you can see the metal bottom of the pan (see the picture below) then its ready for more liquid. Once the wine is absorbed, add about 1/2 cup of hot stock and stir until it is absorbed, again about 3 minutes. As you continue to add stock and stir, you will notice the rice grains beginning to swell, and see the creaminess developing.

After about 20 minutes of adding stock and stirring, taste the rice. It should be soft but have a slight bite, but it should not be hard or feel gritty between your teeth. If this is the case, continue adding stock and stirring for a few more minutes. It usually takes me about 25 to 30 minutes to cook the risotto the way I like it once I begin adding liquid. When the rice is done, stir in the shrimp, scallops, and peas. Simmer for 1 minute (2 if you like your shrimp and scallops a little more well done).

At this point remove the risotto from the heat and gently stir in the butter, basil, and lemon juice. Immediately cover the pot and let it sit for 3 minutes. Jamie Oliver says this stop gives the risotto a chance to achieve its maximum creaminess, and I'm inclined to agree with him. As soon as the time is up, place the risotto into bowls and serve immediately.


Shrimp & Scallop Risotto
About 30 minutes prep and 40 minutes to cook - Makes 4 dinner-size portions

  • 6 cups of stock (fish, chicken, or veggie)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (between a mince and a dice)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  • 14 ounces Arborio rice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 lb peeled, uncooked shrimp cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 lb sea scallops cut into quarters
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  1. Heat stock (reserve 1 1/2 cup for finishing risotto if you're precooking)
  2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat
  3. Add onion, garlic, celery and saute until just soft, about 6 minutes
  4. Add the rice, season with salt and pepper (about 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper or to taste), raise heat to medium-high, and stir for 1 minute
  5. Add the wine and keep stirring until it is all absorbed, about 3 minutes
  6. Add about 1/2 cup of hot stock and a bit of salt (1/4 tsp), lower the heat back to medium, and stir until liquid is absorbed...continue for about 20 to 25 minutes until the rice is soft with just the slightest bite to it
  7. Stir in the shrimp, scallops, and peas and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes
  8. Remove from heat, gently stir in the butter, basil, and lemon juice
  9. Place lid on pan and allow it to sit for 3 minutes
  10. Give one final stir, place into bowls and serve immediately
If you're precooking the risotto, stop cooking during step 6 when the rice is not quite done, remove the risotto from the pan, spread it in a thin layer on a cold cookie sheet, cover and refrigerate. When ready to continue cooking, place a cup of stock in a pan and bring to a simmer, add the risotto and stir until the liquid is absorbed (3 to 5 minutes). If the rice is still not quite done, add the rest of the stock and finish cooking. Continue on to step 7.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Superbowl

It began with a delicious pregame meal. Some fresh ground organic beef, perfectly grilled, on homemade burger buns, and some surprisingly crispy oven-baked fries. A truly perfect beginning to what would turn out to be a perfect evening (though not so perfect for some).

With full stomachs we were ready to go. No parties here, it was all business.

Four hours later it was all over. Storybook style. The G-Men are champions once again!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Creamy Garlic Soup

I have a few friends (and family members) that I can really discuss food with. I'm talking about the kind of people who don't just like eating, but really love getting down to the finer points of food. Quality ingredients, cooking techniques, new recipes, old recipes, favorite places and things to eat or cook...these are frequent topics of conversation. The best thing about these kinds of people is that you can really trust their recommendations. Food is an extremely an subjective thing. Everybody has their own ideas of what is good and what is not. How do you know who to trust? Should I trust somebody's recommendation of a new pizza place if their favorite pie is made by Domino's? I don't think so. Every meal is an event for me, and few things make me more upset than eating a meal that I don't enjoy, or falls short of expectations. Having had extensive discourse with certain friends about food, I know that I can take recommendations from them and never be let down (or at least know pretty much what to expect).

I don't want to sound like a snob, but my time and money are valuable to me, and I hate wasting the former on a so-so recipe or the latter on a so-so restaurant. I pretty much apply this same line of thinking to all subjective matters, be it music, movies, books, or food. You cannot develop these kinds of relationships with people without frequent conversation and a real passion for the topic from both parties. I talk about food a lot, with friends who are lovers of food, and I have learned to trust their opinions, suggestions, and judgments. So recently when one of my co-workers gave me a recipe for garlic soup, I had no doubt that it would be worth my time. Thanks Blando (and all my other food-loving friends and family members as well)!

Start by blanching a cup and half of peeled garlic cloves (which turned out to be about 2 1/2 bulbs of garlic for me). All you have to do is just drop them in boiling water for 2 minutes to soften them, then remove them. Chop your leeks, peel and chop the potato, and measure out your stock.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until wilted, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the stock and potato, bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the garlic and potato are softened. Remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender. If you don't have an immersion blender then you can puree the soup a bit at a time in a blender or food processor (and then go out and get an immersion blender so you have one for next time, it's worth it). Stir in the cream and add salt and pepper to taste. The amount of salt you add will depend greatly on your stock. I made stock which had very little salt, so I added about a teaspoon. Most stock you buy at the store, be it in liquid or bouillon form, already has A LOT of salt in it, even if it's low sodium, so you might not need to add any salt at all. Let your taste be your guide, but remember, once you put it in, you can't take it out so salt and taste a little at a time. Add the lemon juice and give everything one last blend (or stir).

This soup would make a great first or second course with almost any winter meal, or accompanying a grilled cheese sandwich. I took the recipe's suggestion and added a piece of ciabatta toast topped with an egg. The recipe suggests a poached egg, but I'm not the best egg poacher, so I went with a modified sunny side-up egg. It is modified because I cover the pan when I'm frying the egg so that the top white solidifies, since I love runny yolk, but can't stand runny white. You'll probably want to have some more bread for dipping (and wiping the bowl) once you eat that first piece.

Creamy Garlic Soup alla Blando (modified by Darron)

About 1 hour and 15 minutes - Makes 4 medium sized bowls of soup

  • 1 1/2 cups of garlic cloves, peeled and blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (light green and white parts only)
  • 1 small potato, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • toasted slices of Italian bread (optional)
  • poached eggs (optional)
  1. Heat oil in pot over medium heat
  2. Saute leeks for 5 minutes until wilted but not browned, stirring occasionally
  3. Add garlic and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  4. Stir in the stock and potato, raise heat and bring to a boil
  5. Cover pot, lower heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until garlic and potato are soft
  6. Remove pot from heat and puree with immersion blender, blender, or food processor
  7. Stir in cream, add salt and pepper to taste, stir in lemon juice
  8. Serve in bowls topped with toasted slice of bread and a poached egg

Superbowl Update: I decided not to go to crazy with food, since I need to be able to focus all my attention on the Giants. I'm making burgers before the game, and trying my hand at some homemade buns. I'll serve that with some oven-baked fries and green beans. For dessert, I baked some chocolate chip cookies which I then turned into either coffee or vanilla ice cream sandwiches. They are in the freezer as I write this, and it's taking quite a bit of willpower on my part to leave them there.