Monday, July 30, 2012

Coq au Vin

This is definitely an impressive thing you should present at a dinner party.  Making it for your family is great, but anything that takes two days to journey onto the table is really for company.  The thing is, it's basically a stew.  A stew that takes an hour to prep, then let it sit for a minimum of 6 hours, then cook for at least two hours in the oven, followed by making the sauce for close to an hour.  But still, a stew.

What sparked me to this idea in general and Alton Brown's recipe in particular was the chance to use two bottles of Papa Smurf's accumulated wine.  For someone who didn't like red wine, he had an awful lot of it.  You actually need three bottles of the same kind, so you can serve one at the table.  After all the simmering and reducing, there isn't any alcohol left in the sauce.  The first 1.5 liters of wine are for flavor and to tenderize the meat.  The Bible has a recipe that uses only 1 cup of wine, fewer ingredients, and takes only a couple of hours.  I'm sure that one is valid, but I decided to use the one that makes a significant quantity of sauce.  And there is a lot of sauce; I put in a few extra pieces of chicken, and there was still more than enough.  The only aspect of the Bible's version that I carried over was using shallots for the stew's mirepoix instead of a regular onion.

I did follow Alton's instructions with raw pearl onions and mushrooms, but you could probably use canned mushrooms and canned or frozen onions.  I decided to follow the recipe this first time.  Quartering the mushrooms felt stupid when I was doing it (especially because it was 6 am), but they look very pretty that way.  Instead of buying salt pork, I used some bacon fat trimmings I had in the freezer.  When I needed a little extra fat for the mushrooms, I opted for olive oil instead of the butter in the recipe.  There's just SO MUCH fat and salt in this recipe!  Had to do something.

You'll notice that Alton's recipe specifies thighs and legs.  It takes dark meat to hold up to a rich wine like a pinot noir.  You could probably do this with turkey breast and achieve the same effect, but turkey dark meat might be too greasy.

I am seriously considering making this next Passover.  A few simple substitutions (schmaltz for pork fat, olive oil for butter, and matzoh cake meal for flour) makes it kosher for Passover, plus it fits into the wine theme of the night.

If you decide to make this, use the link to Alton's recipe for the printer-friendly version.  That way, you can take it with you to the market to make sure you don't forget an ingredient.  Then put it in a plastic sleeve so you can flip it when you need to go on to the second page.  Maybe use a highlighter on it or annotate.  I had no idea a stew could be this complicated.  Haul out the good china, because you're going to earn the right to use it!

24 to 30 pearl onions (I bought a 10oz bag)
4 chicken thigh-and-leg quarters, or individual thighs and legs (8 pieces total)
1/4 to 1/2 C flour
2 Tb water
6 oz salt pork, slab bacon, or lardon, cubed
8 oz button mushrooms, quartered
1 Tb unsalted butter
*2 (750ml) bottles red wine, preferably pinot noir
2 Tb tomato paste
1 medium onion or two shallots, quartered
*2 stalks celery, quartered
*2 medium carrots, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, or *1 Tb dried leaves
*1 bay leaf
2 C chicken stock or broth
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed

1.  Start boiling 2 to 3 cups water in a medium saucepan.  Cut off the root end of each pearl onion and make an X with your knife in its place.  Place the onions in the boiling water for about 1 minute.  Drain, allow to cool slightly, then squeeze the onions from the "handle" end so they pop out from inside their skins.  Discard skins and set aside onions.

2.  Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place the chicken pieces, a few at a time, into a large sealable plastic bag with the flour.  Shake to coat, then place pieces on a metal rack.

3.  Add the 2 Tb water to a large, 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat and add the salt pork.  Cover and cook until the water is gone, then uncover and continue to cook until the pork is golden brown and crispy and has given up its fat, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove pork and set aside in a 2 quart, sealable container.

4.  In the same pan, add the onions.  Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove onions and place them in the container with the pork cubes.  Next, brown the chicken pieces in the pan, working in batches if necessary.  Transfer the chicken to a 7 to 8-quart cast iron Dutch oven (or whatever large, oven-safe pot you have).  Add the mushrooms to the sauté pan, adding butter if the pan is too dry.  Cook until the mushrooms have given up their liquid, about 5 minutes.  Place the mushrooms in the container with the onions and store in the fridge until much, much later.

5.  Pour off any remaining fat and deglaze the pan with about 1 C of the wine.  Pour this into the Dutch oven along with the chicken stock, tomato paste, quartered onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.  (I multi-tasked and added those items while the chicken was browning.)  Add all of the remaining wine.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

6.  Three hours before serving, preheat oven to 325ºF.  Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, until the chicken is tender.  Maintain a very gentle simmer and stir occasionally.  (If your pot doesn't fit in the oven, you can do this on the stove, but you have to stir it every 15 minutes.)

7.  Once the chicken is done, remove it to an oven-safe serving platter and place it in a low oven (175º) to keep warm.  Strain the sauce in a colander to remove anything that isn't wine or broth and discard those bits.  Return the sauce to the pot and place over medium heat.  Reduce by 1/3, anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.  (If you can't get it as thick as you would like, knead together 1 Tb each butter and flour and whisk into sauce.  Cook for another 5 minutes to allow it to thicken.)

8.  Once the sauce has thickened, add the onions, mushrooms, and pork you stashed in the fridge and cook until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Spoon over chicken and serve.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating $@%!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Choosing a Party Theme

All gatherings requiring an invitation have a theme, even if you think they don't.  "Let's have Thanksgiving at my place" is a theme.  "Who has the biggest TV to watch the Olympics?" is a theme.  "I'm bored; let's order a pizza" is a theme.

Once you have decided why you want to invite people into your home and what kind of event you are having, the party planning can proceed from there.  The type of event will determine the food, activities, time of day, day of week, decorations, and guest list.

It's great to say you want to have people over, but what do you intend to do with them when they arrive?  For a party to be considered successful, you need to plan at least that far ahead.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

S'mores Ice Cream

It's taking a lot longer to schedule my annual tea party than usual, and the heavy cream I was going to use for some items in it was going to go bad.  Woe is me, I "had" to make ice cream.

There were s'more-making ingredients left over from 4th of July, so why not?  The major modification I made from a standard base was to decrease the sugar.  The mix-ins have a lot.  I considered using marshmallow creme, but opted to singe some marshmallows instead.  S'mores have a different flavor when you char the sugar, rather than microwaving the marshmallows to soften them.  I was going for the campfire effect.  And you don't need to add vanilla or vanilla sugar because all of the mix-ins contain it, but you're certainly welcome to.

*2 C heavy cream
2 C milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 C sugar
2 Hershey milk chocolate bars, chilled
4 graham crackers, frozen
12 marshmallows

1.  Beat together egg yolks and sugar.  Set aside.

2.  In a saucepan, bring milk and cream to a low boil, stirring often to avoid scorching.  Remove from heat.  Pour about a cup of the hot mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.  Gently re-introduce the egg mixture to the milk and return to heat.  Heat until thickened (do not boil), stirring constantly.

3.  Cover custard with plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill in refrigerator until cool, about 2 hours.  Place in ice cream maker and process according to directions.

4.  About halfway through the churning process, cut up marshmallows into bite-sized pieces.  Place on a parchment-lined cooking sheet or the baking tray from the toaster oven.  Broil until pieces are toasty brown and soft.  Chop candy bars into bite-sized chunks.

5.  Once ice cream has thickened and finished processing, transfer it to a cold mixing bowl.  With a spatula, quickly work in marshmallows and chocolate.  Once incorporated, break up graham crackers and gently fold them into the mix.  Transfer to freezing container and place in freezer.  Freeze 4 hours before serving.

Makes about 6 cups

Difficulty rating :-0

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pumpernickel Bread

I was going to buy one of those cute little loaves of cocktail rye for the barbecue.  Keep in mind that I haven't been buying bread very often.  Bread got expensive while I wasn't buying it.  I decided that I could make about a dozen mini-loaves of pumpernickel out of a package of rye flour for only twice as much as one loaf cost in the market.

This recipe is hidden in the Bible's "Pumpernickel and Whole Wheat Braid" recipe.  I know I've made it before, but I don't remember it being this sweet.  What emerged was more like a squaw bread.  I'm not complaining, but it didn't taste as good with hummus as what I was expecting.  I'm going to guess that I didn't have molasses the last time I made it and substituted brown sugar.  With cream cheese, on the other hand....

1 Tb sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 package (2 tsp) yeast
about 1-1/4 C flour
1 square (1 oz) unsweetened chocolate
1/3 C molasses
2 Tb butter
3/4 C 100º water
1-1/2 C rye flour or pumpernickel rye flour

1.  Chop chocolate into small pieces.  Combine with water, sugar, butter, molasses, and yeast.  Allow to sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  In a mixer, stir together 1 C of the rye flour and the salt.  Add water mixture and beat into a batter.  Add 1/2 C more flour and beat again until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Beat in 1 C all-purpose flour to make a dough.

3.  Flour a kneading surface and pour dough onto it.  Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Because of the molasses, the dough will stay sticky.  Try not to add more flour than necessary.  Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat all sides.  Set in a warm place and allow to rise until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours.

4.  Punch down dough and let rest for 10 minutes.  If making a panned loaf: grease loaf pan.  Roll out dough into a rectangle, then roll up into a log.  Place in pan, seam-side down.  If making a stand-alone loaf: grease (or silpat) sheet pan, then scatter generously with corn meal.  Shape dough into a round, log, or braid and place on pan.  Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  If desired, brush with an egg wash before baking.

5.  Bake at 350º for 45 minutes, or until dough sounds hollow when tapped.

Makes 1 loaf, or 3 mini-loaves

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cole Slaw

I invited a couple of people over for 4th of July, then realized I should get a barbecue grill.  Once I got the grill, I realized I should have invited more people.  At some point, it became more complicated than just a couple of burgers, fruit salad, and s'mores for dessert.  There had to be pre-meal snacks, so I did bleu cheese mousse and white-bean hummus with celery sticks and pumpernickel bread as the dippers.  Some vegetarians RSVP'd, so I made up more of the kale salad, but with oven-dried tomatoes instead of roasted peppers.  Everyone at work loved the double-chocolate cake, and I had patriotic cupcake liners, so I baked a batch of those.  And of course, what is the 4th of July without cole slaw.

I did get a touch creative.  While I've made the Bible's "deluxe" cole slaw before, and it's good, I wanted to have more fun in the veggie department.  Besides, the mandoline was going to be out to shred the cabbage, so it wouldn't take much more time to slice up other things. (PS: if you use a mandoline for nothing else than to make cole slaw, it has earned its keep.  The slices of tomatoes and onions for the burgers came out beautiful, too.)  The dressing is pretty much the same as the one in the cookbook, except I used fake mayo.  Most of the calories and fat in cole slaw are from the mayo, so this was probably lighter than if I had served a tossed salad with regular dressing.

There are two schools of thought about how to prepare cole slaw.  One says to wait until an hour before serving to toss in the dressing, so everything stays crisp.  Growing up, the cole slaw I had most frequently was KFC's, so I prefer limp, watery, sweet, and finely chopped slaw.  Therefore, I opted to make it the day before.  Besides, it saves you time on the day if all you have to do is re-toss it before serving.

And yes, that is a rather small hamburger patty.  I have to work on my timing with the grill.  Fortunately, I like somewhat overcooked burgers.  Crispy.

1/2 C mayonnaise
2 Tb milk
1 Tb apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp pepper
1 small head of cabbage
1 fennel bulb
1 carrot
1/4 C minced red onion

1.  Whisk together first seven ingredients to make the dressing.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

2.  Cut head of cabbage in quarters, leaving the stem end intact to hold onto.  Cut into thin strips, working your way down each quarter until there's more stem than leaves.  Discard tough stems and put the shreds in a large bowl.

3.  Cut off base of fennel bulb and slice thinly into celery-like slices, stopping when you reach the branches.  Add strips to bowl.  With a vegetable peeler, first peel carrot and discard skin, then continue pulling off strips of carrot, which then go into the bowl.  Add the minced red onion and toss all vegetables together.

4.  Pour dressing over veggies.  Toss to distribute dressing evenly.  Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Toss again before serving to redistribute any dressing which may have pooled at bottom.

Serves 8-10

Difficulty rating π

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Part VIII: Party Time!

They say that it takes about a year to recover from a traumatic, life-altering event and to start socializing again.  I had gotten to that point after my mom died, then Papa Smurf died.  It has been a bit more than a year since that, and I am seriously in the mood to come out of my funk and entertain.  To me, catering any size or type of gathering is a welcome challenge and a labor of love.  Let's face it, making food for others is a way of nourishing souls as well as bodies.  Offering your hospitality is a means of sharing yourself with friends and family.  Plus, it's also a challenge to make menus that no one in this particular group has seen before.  (I confess to reusing successful menus for an event when none of the guests overlap.)

For this section, I'll go into the various aspects of a home party.  Regardless of the situation, some things remain constant for all non-renting-out-a-place-and-a-caterer events.  From ordering in pizza to a six-course extravaganza, the same kinds of considerations must be made.

Just remember to have fun.  It's a party!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wheat Berries with Greens

I gave up waiting for the pot of greens to grow.  When I came home, there were some gorgeous dandelion greens sprouting all over one part of my yard.  As long as I had 45 minutes to kill while some crumb chicken was baking, I was able to use some of it to pull the weeds and cook them up.

Really, the dandelions were all about experimenting with whole wheat berries.  Cooked similar to rice, they can be served hot, or chilled into the base of a grain salad.  As a whole grain, they contain more fiber and protein than something highly processed like white rice.  The earthy, red, chewy texture is well-suited to stuffings or other Thanksgiving-like side dishes.

So I made the dandelion greens according to this recipe, tasted the mixture, and it was good until the bitterness kicked in.  I do not possess much in the way of bitter taste buds, which means they must have been simply awful.  I had been warned that only very young and tender dandelion leaves are palatable, but I thought that was what I was eating.

So instead of calling this "with Dandelion Greens", I'm giving you the option of picking your leafy vegetable.

1 C dry red wheat berries
1 lb leafy greens, such as spinach, collard, mustard, or dandelion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tb olive oil
salt to taste

1.  Bring wheat and 2 C lightly salted water to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the berries are softened and chewy, about 1/2 hour.

2.  In a skillet, sauté garlic in the oil.  Add the greens and salt to taste.  Cook until the greens are wilted but not dry, about 2 minutes.

3.  Drain wheat and add sautéed greens.  Serve hot as a side with a hot meal, or cold as a salad.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, July 9, 2012

Greek Yogurt

Before yogurt was made commercially, and probably still in many parts of the world, everyone made their own at home.  It is probably the most ancient form of cheese.  A young woman who married would take a starter culture from her mother's batch into her new home.  A yogurt culture, like a sourdough bread starter, could last for many generations.

Making your own yogurt at home is an economical idea if you eat a lot of it.  Depending on how thick you like it, half a gallon of milk can make between a quart and three pints of yogurt.  Even more, if you like it more like thick cream.  If you don't eat a lot of yogurt, a single batch is going to cost about as much as buying a quart in the store.

There are yogurt incubating kits that you can buy, but they aren't necessary.  All you need is an environment similar to whatever you use to make bread rise.  An oven with a proofer setting is ideal, but you can do it on the back porch in the sun if it's at least 90º out.  (And that hasn't been a problem in most of the country the past few weeks.)  That's how the ancients did it.

I did have some trouble with excessive amounts of whey separating from the curd.  That happened with both batches as I transferred them to storage containers, and why the first batch ended up as labne.  Of course, the whey is very good for you, just an odd color and tasteless.  If I were to make another batch, I would pour the freshly-inoculated mixture into sterilized half-pint containers, set those in a pan with a half-inch of water, and incubate the whole set-up.  This is what the yogurt-making kits look like.  You end up with single-serving jars that you can then pour off a touch of pooled whey, top with a lid, and place in the fridge.

1/2 gallon 2% milk
1/2 C unflavored 2% Greek yogurt with active live cultures.

1.  Heat milk to 200º, stirring frequently to avoid scorching the bottom.  Don't let it boil.

2.  Remove from heat and allow milk to cool back down to 110º.  You can either leave it out until it is cool, put it in the fridge and check it every 5 minutes, or put the pot on an ice-water bath and stir.

3.  Pour about 1 C of the warm milk into a small bowl and combine it with the starter yogurt.  When the mixture has been whisked smooth, stir it into the main pot.

4.  Either pour the mixture into single-serving jars or cover the pot, then place the mix in a warm area for 4 to 6 hours.  I can set my oven as low as 100º.  The recommended temperature is 110º.  Higher than that, and you might kill the cultures.

5.  When milk has thickened, remove from warm place.  There will be a clear, yellowish layer on top.  That's the whey.  You can pour that off and call the yogurt done.  Or, to make a thicker yogurt, pour mixture into a clean muslin cloth over a bowl and allow as much whey as you want to drain off.  About 1 cup of whey runoff will create a regular thickness of yogurt, 2 cups a thick Greek-style yogurt.  If you drain off a quart or more, you get labne, or yogurt cheese.  Cool the yogurt thoroughly before serving.  It will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator.

5.  To make the next batch, set aside half a cup of the yogurt, then start the process over again.

Yield depends on moisture content

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Italian Parsley Salad

That bunch of parsley I bought when I made the kale salad was going to go bad if I didn't do something.  I could have done a mixed-herb thing, but the dandelions still aren't big enough to eat.  (Really?  I must be doing something wrong.)

I used Alton Brown's recipe as a starting point, then went off on my own tangent so I wouldn't have to buy anything.  The oranges are off my tree.  Since 95% of what that tree puts out is giant lemons, I keep forgetting that it's a grafted citrus with five species on it.  The lime and grapefruit never bear fruit, but the Valencia and Navel occasionally produce something.  I had three Valencias ready to pick and used two of them for the salad.

This is a simple salad that can be tossed together with ingredients on hand.  No parsley?  Use fresh spinach or baby greens.  If you don't have an orange lying around, feel free to substitute apple, pear, or almost any fruit.  The lemon juice in the dressing will keep the fruit from turning colors for a day or two.  I was having this with the swai, and parsley is a natural breath freshener.  If you're having any kind of stinky foods in your meal, putting parsley in one of the sides is a subtle way to reduce the breath factor.

*1 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2 Valencia oranges
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp honey
1 Tb olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Remove parsley leaves from main stems.  It's ok if the thinner stems are intact.  Peel oranges and either tear into sections or cut into bite-sized pieces.  Toss together in a bowl.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients.  Pour over salad and toss to coat.  Serve chilled.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pan-fried Swai with Nopales Relish

I thought it would be interesting to cook with cactus leaves.  Surprisingly, Sprouts doesn't carry them, and Marina Farms is closed for renovation.  My local Pavilions did have them.  I'm that annoying person who buys the odd produce that no one ever gets and makes the checkers look up the number.  At least there was no line behind me, and we had a chat about how to prepare the paddles.

Nopales are a common veggie in Mexico and some parts of the southern U.S.  The 99¢ Store carries tortillas with nopales flavoring.  It's a fresh, crunchy taste much like a green bell pepper, but without triggering my allergy.  That was important because I planned to use chili powder on the fish.

The swai was on sale in frozen pouches.  If you use true portions of 4 to 6 ounces per person, it came out to under a dollar per serving.  The quality of the fish was far above what I was expecting, considering my experiences with frozen rockfish and salmon.  It's all about the packaging, and not trying to store them in the freezer indefinitely.

I couldn't find the limes.  Are they out of season?  So, I bought one of those little plastic limes full of juice.  The taste and aroma were just what I wanted, even though the cost was a bit more than an equal number of actual limes.

Aside from the ten minutes it took to remove the spines from the nopales, this was very easy and quick. I had to pull a couple of needles out of my thumb, but they didn't hurt any more than getting pricked by a sewing needle and did not bleed.  Just a warning.

Nopales relish
2 large nopales paddles (about 1/2 lb)
*1/2 C diced red onion
1 Tb lime juice
1/4 tsp salt

Before & After
1.  Remove spines and black "eyes" from paddles with a vegetable peeler.  It's easier if you hold it at the base with a kitchen towel and work your way up to the other end.  You do not have to skin the paddle, just remove the black bumps and any prickers.

2.  Cut off dried base of paddle and cut into 1/2" dice.  Place in a saucepan with salt and water to cover and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and let sit for 2 minutes to blanch.  Drain and rinse.

3.  In a bowl, toss together nopales, onion, and lime juice.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pan-Fried Swai
2 swai fillets (about 1 lb)
2 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
lime wedges for garnish

1.  Add olive oil to large skillet and preheat on medium.

2.  Cut each fillet in half to make portions.  Dust one side with salt, garlic powder, and chili powder.

3.  Add fish to skillet, seasoned-side down.  Cook for 2 minutes, flip, and cook other side for 2 minutes.  Check for doneness, and continue to cook as needed.  I pulled the portions when they were just barely done, and they were very soft and almost buttery.  Try not to overcook unless you like that crunchy toughness on the edges that is reminiscent of grilled fish.

4.  Serve hot, either on or beside nopales relish, and with lime wedges on the side.

Difficulty rating  π