Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baked Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chard and Quinoa

This is just plain delicious.  After a few weeks of summer salads nearly every night for dinner, I took advantage of the cooler weather to make something a little more hearty, though still fresh tasting.  The chicken breasts stay nice and moist with the fresh herbs imparting delightful flavor and the natural tanginess of the chard is rounded out with a hint of cream.

- 1 boneless chicken breast (get a nice, plump fresh one, not some scrawny, frozen cutlet)
- 4 fresh sage leaves (or more if they're small)
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- 2 tbsp crumble feta
- a drizzled of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a dash of pepper

- 2 c. loosely packed shredded chard
- 1/2 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 c. chicken broth
- 1 tbsp cream
- dash of salt and paprika

- 1/4 c. quinoa (I used red quinoa)
- 1/2 c. water
- dash of salt

- Score the chicken breast on both sides and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
- Place the chicken in small casserole dish.
- Tuck two of the sage leaves under the breast, place two on top, and sprinkle the chopped oregano on top.
- Drizzle with a just a little bit of olive oil.
- Add the crumbled feta to the top of the chicken breast.
- Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes, broiling in the last few if the feta needs help browning.  I baked mine in my toaster oven, (it wasn't quite cool enough to want to heat up my kitchen), so time in a real oven may vary.  Use your good judgement.

- To chiffonade your chard, remove the spines, stack the leaves, roll them up, and chop the roll.
- Sautee the chard in a skillet with the 1/2 tbsp butter, salt, and paprika until thoroughly wilted.
- Add the cream and chicken broth and simmer over low heat.
- Cook until the liquid is reduced, stirring occasionally.  For a slightly finer texture, mash the chard a bit with a wooden spoon as it cooks.  You could certainly puree it in the blender, but I liked it rather 'lumpy'.

- Combine the quinoa, water, and salt in a small pot and bring to a boil.
- Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
- Pour any juices from the chicken casserole dish over the quinoa to serve.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it actually comes together quite simply and relatively quickly with the three components cooking simultaneously.  It's also easily multiplied to serve several people.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Easy, Versatile Buttermilk Cake

Summer tends to be a time for simple desserts.  With all of the glorious fresh fruit available that hardly needs fussing with, the elaborate desserts of winter are easily forgotten.  Besides, who wants to hang around a hot stove or deal with melty doughs?

But, while fresh fruit is delicious on its own, sometimes you want something a little more special.  This basic buttermilk cake goes with everything that summer has to offer.  Fluffy, tender, and softly sweet it is always a crowd-pleaser.  It's quick and easy to throw together and with it's fast cook-time your kitchen will hardly heat up.  What I especially like is that the recipe is great to tinker with.  Add flavor with zests, add fruit to the top, (like the original recipe calls for), or the bottom as an upside-down cake.  Cut it in half and spread some jam in the middle or make a giant strawberry shortcake.  Make a buttermilk or citrus glaze to drizzle over the top.  The possibilities are endless.

- 1 c. flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 egg
- 1/2 c. buttermilk
- 2 tbsp brown sugar or demerara sugar (for more crunch)

- Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest.  Mix with your fingers to release the oils of the zest until the sugar is moist, clumpy, and fragrant.
- Add the softened butter to the sugar and beat until fluffy.
- Add the egg and beat until combined.
- Add the flour in three batches and the buttermilk in two batches, alternating between them, gently mixing until it is just combined.
- Pour the batter into a buttered 8" pan.  A tart pan is the perfect size and created a pretty edge, but if you're adding fruit you'll need something deeper.  A 9" cake pan can be used, but the cake ends up a little thinner than I prefer.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with the brown sugar.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven about 20 minutes.  If fruit has been added, it may take a little longer.

Serve at room temperature with fresh fruit and perhaps some creme fraiche if you're feeling fancy.  Covered tightly with plastic wrap, the cake will last 2-3 days.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Save those beet greens!

In the heat of summer, eating a pile of steamy sauteed beat greens isn't always high on my list, especially when there is such an abundance of other fresh produce.  This is even more true if I've been hanging around a hot oven roasting beets.  Instead of forcing them down or, worse, tossing them in the trash save the beet greens for when you'll appreciate them.

Clean and trim the beet greens thoroughly (they're usually quite dirty).  You can trim the stems off or keep them on depending on your preference-- I usually leave a bit on.  Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the greens for 1-2 minutes.  Transfer them to ice water to cool.  Drain the greens thoroughly and let them sit out for a while to dry.  Now they are ready to freeze.  I recommend against freezing them in one giant lump.  Either divide them into portions reasonable for a meal, or do it my way: line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and divide your greens into clumps of one or two leaves.  Freeze them until they are firm then slide them into a freezer bag.  This allows you to take out whatever amount you might need at any time.

Beat greens are tasty sauteed with garlic and olive oil or added to soups and stir fries.  With a little forethought, you'll have a head start on fall and winter dishes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pickled Radishes

This is certainly not my prettiest photo ever, but these little guys sure are tasty!  Pickled radishes are a fun snack or great to toss on top of salads.  They add a wonderful pop of color and are full of flavor.

For one quart jar:
- 3 bunches radishes (I recommend the round varieties, like 'Easter Egg', over French Breakfast radishes)
- 1 c. white wine vinegar
- 2 c. water
- 4 tbsp sea salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 shallot

- Trim the tops off of the radishes.  You can leave a little nub of stem, but they can be a little tough.
- Wash and slice the radishes, quarters or halves depending on size.
- Add them to a jar with the shallot, quartered.
- Combine all other ingredients in a pot and simmer until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
- Add liquid to the jar and refrigerate one week (okay, you can taste them after two days but they really get better after a week).

Yep, that's it!  These keep several weeks in the refrigerator, but just try to keep them around that long.


Monday, June 20, 2011

A Ballad of Salad

First, a moment to brag.  See that lettuce right there?  That delicious, organic, heirloom lettuce?  That is the direct result of my sweat, dirty fingernails, and sunburns.  Yes, I grew that... from seed!  And that's just a small first picking.  As my high horse is getting tired, I'll move on...

Warm weather is here and with it comes a cascade of salads.  I love salad and this time of year it becomes my go-to for lunch or dinner... and sometimes both.  Salads are fun and easy meals: you can quickly throw together all kinds of creative combinations.  Pretty much anything that sounds good together will be good.  I often top my salads with some cheese to give them a bit more heft, but this could be left off for vegans, (perhaps substituted with some legumes?), or meat-lovers could top them with some pieces of grilled meat or a fuller meal.  Chicken or scallops work with just about anything and flank steak, salmon, or shrimp can be great with many flavors, too.

A few salad tips:
- After washing your lettuce, ideally spread it out to air dry.  Even a salad spinner doesn't quite achieve the same result.  Truly dry leaves allow the dressing to cling better and let the taste and texture of the lettuce shine through.  If you're pressed for time towel off as much moisture as you can instead.
- Season your lettuce.  Sprinkling the naked lettuce with a bit of salt and pepper before adding other toppings goes a long way for flavor.  It also helps you use less dressing.
- An oldie but a goodie: tear your lettuce, don't chop it!
- Make sure to top lettuce with contrasting but complimentary flavors: sweet and tangy, spicy and creamy, fresh and earthy, etc.

Don't toss those radish greens!  Eat them in a salad instead.  Since they can be a little on the tough side, (similar in texture to mint leaves), toss them with some tender butterhead.  Top with sliced radishes, aged goat cheese, and a spicy mint vinaigrette, (olive oil, lemon juice, minced mint, chopped capers, red pepper flakes, cayenne, thyme, salt).

Tomatoes aren't the only salad-friendly fruit.  Here mixed greens are topped with blackberries, pickled radishes, and sheep's milk feta with a balsamic vinaigrette.

A true classic: apples and goat cheese atop butterhead lettuce with a fresh dill vinaigrette.

Almost too pretty to eat: arugula and mixed lettuces topped with thinly slice chioggia beets, minced shallots, and feta cheese with a blackberry balsamic vinaigrette.

And, of course, there will be many more to come.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chicken & Waffles

I kept hearing about chicken and waffles.  My special fella raved about it.  The internet was abuzz over the trend.  It started popping up on more restaurant menus.  But... I wasn't convinced.

All of that breading?  And waffles?  All topped with maple syrup?  It made me rather queazy to think about it, though I was curious.  I must admit, however, that it took watching Mildred Pierce, Kate Winslet, and all of the splendid 30's glamour to convince me to give it a try myself.

And hey, if Mildred could whip up enough to start and empire, surely I could make it for two?

I scoured the internet for some frying know-how, (I'd never given frying much of a try: it seemed a dangerous path to trot down), and for a good buttermilk waffle recipe.  Emeril proved to be a good starting point here.  To make things easier, I used boneless chicken thighs.  And really, it wasn't as difficult as I thought.

For Waffles (about 6)
- 1 c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp melted butter (unsalted)
- 3/4 c. buttermilk

For chicken (easily adjusted for any amount with common sense)
- Buttermilk
- Chicken thighs
- Flour
- Salt, pepper, paprika, thyme
- Vegetable oil

- Place chicken in a bowl/pan/sealable bag and add enough buttermilk to cover it.  Let it soak for a minimum of two hours-- overnight is great if preparing for brunch.
- In a shallow bowl, combine flour with dashes of salt, pepper, paprika, and thyme.
- Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dredge it through the flour.  Set aside.
- Add vegetable oil to a deep cast iron skillet.  You want a solid 1/2-1" depending on your chicken.  Using the flatter boneless pieces allows you to get away with using less oil.
- Heat the oil to a steady 350 degrees.  Thermometers are important here.
- Gently place the chicken in the oil.  It my sputter a bit so step back or have a splatter screen handy.
- Cook until deeply golden on each side, only turning once.  Again, using boneless pieces makes it take a fraction of the time and greatly lessens the anxiety for frying novices.
- Remove and set on paper towels to drain.

- For the waffles whisk together the egg, buttermilk, and melted butter.
- Whisk the rest of the ingredients together in a separate bowl.
- Add the wet to the dry and stir until fully combined.
- Make your waffles according to your waffle maker's instructions.

Despite some rather pale waffles due to our less-than-stellar waffle maker, (what can you expect when you found it abandoned by a previous resident?), this was pretty tasty stuff.  Yes, I can officially call myself a chicken and waffles convert.  I certainly won't be making it all the time but I'm glad I did it.  And yeah, it's good with the maple syrup.

Enjoy!  (and make sure to go for a long walk after this one...)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lost Recipes

Since I'm in bed with a cold with limited coherency, (you have no idea how long it took me to type that), I decided to clean out my photo files.  We'll see if that was a good idea when I'm feeling better.

Here are some dishes from a while back that I just had to admit I'd never take the time to remember and write out.  Farewell, lost recipes.  Perhaps we'll meet again.

This was the first souffle I ever made.  It's from Savory Baking, an awesome book, and involved butternut squash.

These are some savory dill muffins, also from Savory Baking.  I still have my notes and I think I'll revisit this and tweak it to be more to my liking when my dill plants are large enough.

French green lentil seasoned with whole grain mustard and cumin, arugula sauteed with garlic, paprika shrimp.  Or something like that.

This was a 'middle-eastern risotto'.  An array of spices and chick peas influenced the risotto (I think the texture needed a bit of work, though), honey glazed spinach, and seared duck sausage.

Creamy pearl couscous with grilled zucchini and green beans.  Very simple, very satisfying.

This was just a particularly giant artichoke, (seriously, the biggest I've ever seen), that looked nifty as it steamed.

And that's all she wrote.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rhubarb Tarts with Aprium Glaze

I didn't grow up eating rhubarb but I have just fallen in love with it over the past few years: this bright, tart vegetable- yes, vegetable- that we seduce into a dessert through sheer willpower (and lots of sugar) to fulfill or winter-long craving for fruity tartness.  These tarts showcase the rhubarb and puff pastry equally, a combination that can do no wrong.

The tarts also feature an aprium glaze.  Aprium?  Yes, these are a hybrid between apricots and plums (a 3:1 ratio, to be specific).  I was very excited when I saw these at the grocery store and immediately imagined a concoction with fresh fruit and pastry cream.  However, I found their texture to be a little lacking so I decided instead to use them for glazes and sauces.  They added just the right amount of floral sweetness to these rhubarb tarts.  If no apriums are to be found, an apricot would be just fine.

- 1 aprium
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp water
- 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 2 c.  sliced rhubarb
- 1 approximately 10x16 sheet of puff pastry, thawed if store bought.

- Begin by slicing up the aprium and mashing it through a sieve into a bowl.  No need to peel it first: the sieve will take care of that.
- To the fruit puree and juices add the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 c. water, and 1/4 c. brown sugar.  Whisk until combined.
- Slice the rhubarb at and angle to create longer slices.  Add the rhubarb to the bowl and toss to coat with the liquid.  Let marinate for 30 minutes.
- Prepare your puff pastry by cutting it into the desired shape and size, (I made four, but eight would be cute and perhaps ideal for individual servings).
- With a sharp knife, cut lines to mark the edges: this will help the puff pastry rise at the border.  Don't cut completely through the dough, just about half way.
- Arrange the rhubarb, without the juices, in the center of each piece of dough.  Make it look pretty!
- Bake the tarts at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the the crust is golden.
- While the tarts bake, transfer the remaining juices into a small pot and add 2 tbsp. water and 2 tbsp sugar.
- Simmer the mixture on low heat, whisking occasionally, for about 5 minutes until it has thickened and is a bit syrupy.
- When the tarts come out of the over brush them all over ,(crust included), with the aprium glaze.  Let the tarts cool for at least additional minutes before serving.

Serve the tarts warm or at room temperature.  They are delicious on their own, but are also nice with a bi of vanilla bean ice cream.  Like most puff pastry desserts, they are best eaten the first day.  However, with a brief stop in the oven to crisp them up again, they are are still tasty the next day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pork Loin with Sweet Onions and Fava Beans

Is that plate smiling?  Maybe it's because it knows it's delicious.

This is a very easy and relatively quick dish, though it does require a bit of forethought to prepare the beans and let things marinate.  It's easily multiplied to feed any number of people and much of it can be made in advance.  For the meat I used a pork loin strip but a boneless pork chop would work nicely, too.  I chose to keep the fava beans simple, barely cooking them and serving them chilled in a light dressing.  They'd also be wonderful sauteed with a bit of butter.

Fava beans are a spring treat that can be hard to find sometimes.  With canned and frozen beans of all kinds so readily available, it may not seem worth the effort to seek out and prepare fresh beans.  I encourage everyone to give it a try, however.  They really are a different experience, both in preparation and flavor.  Personally, I enjoy the novelty of sitting in front of a pile of bean pods and popping the tasty bits out of their shells.

For the fava beans:
- Shell the beans from their pods.  When buying, keep in mind that there are only about 5 beans per pod so you will need quite a lot.
- Bring a pot of water to boil.
- Blanch the beans for 2-3 minutes, then drain the water and cool the beans.
- When they are cool enough to handle, remove the waxy 'jacket' by gently peeling it away.
- Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and chill for one hour.

Did you know that the FDA has lowered the recommended temperature to which pork should be cooked?  Formerly 164 degrees, the official recommendation is now 145.  No need to worry about a bit of pink in the middle!  In fact, I prefer it that way.

For the pork and onions:
- Combine 2 tsp. white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, and about 1 tbsp roughly chopped sage.
- Lay the pork on a piece of plastic wrap, spoon the mixture over, turning once, and wrap the meat tightly.  Let it marinate on the counter for 30 minutes or in the fridge for at least an hour.
- Heat a skillet to medium high and place the pork in the pan.  Cook on each side about 2 minutes, depending on thickness.
- Thickly slice a sweet onion.  For a fresher taste, place the slices in the skillet whole and turn once to sear each side.  For more caramelized onions, break the slices into rings and toss them often as they cook.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Find It Now: Fiddlehead Ferns

How can you not smile when you see fiddlehead ferns?  They look like something straight out of Dr. Seuss and add a dash of whimsy to any dish.  Personally, I like to pretend they are delicious little caterpillars crawling through my pasta.

Fiddleheads are similar in taste and texture to asparagus, though a bit grassier.  Keep your eyes open for them, as they are only available in spring.  When shopping for fiddleheads, get the freshest you can find.  Avoid those that look squished or browned.  They should be bright green and pretty tightly curled.

With such a special item, I like to keep the preparation simple.  Sauteed with mushrooms and onions and served over pearl couscous, this meal lets the fiddleheads be the star.

Ingredients (for one generous serving, easily multiplied for more):
- 1 dozen fiddleheads
- 1 c. sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1/2 c. chopped yellow onion
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/4 c. white wine
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 c. pearl couscous
- 3/4 c. water
- salt and pepper to taste

- Bring a small pot of water to boil.
- Wash and trim the ends off of the fiddleheads.
- Blanch the fiddleheads in the boiling water for about 2 minutes.  Drain and cool.
- Combine the lemon zest, couscous, water, and a dash of salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook until the water is absorbed, about five minutes, then remove from the heat.
- Add the butter to a skillet with the mushroom to brown over medium heat.
- After five minutes, add the onion and dash of salt and pepper.
- When the onions are translucent and tender, add the wine and lemon juice.
- After the immediate sizzle of the liquids calms, add the blanched fiddleheads.  Toss to coat and taste for seasoning.
-  Plate the couscous and pour the vegetables and all juices over it.  Optionally top with a bit of finely grated pecorino.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Staving Off the Hungries: Radish and Butter Sandwich

Sometimes when I'm on a cooking spree-- perhaps making ribs, potato salad, and rhubarb tarts-- I get a little too caught up in the task at hand and I forget to eat.  With all of those food smells wafting around the kitchen and the occasional taste to check for seasoning, it feels like I've had a meal when, in fact, I'm running on empty.  Then I might find myself starting to lean against the counter a bit.  Perhaps stirring a little more slowly?  Suddenly the pot feels heavier, the knife feels duller, and the cat is much more likely to get stepped on.  Yes, I've come down with a case of The Hungries.

The Hungries can be the downfall of many a cook.  Other symptoms include snappishness towards kitchen helpers, (cats included), careless measuring, forgetting to set timers, and loud crashes followed by louder cursing.

The only solution to The Hungries is a quick, light snack.  Yes, putting together another dish sounds like a terrible idea at the time, but making the small effort to create a quality snack instead of reaching for a bag of salty mc'crispins will pay off when you aren't filled up on junk food and you can enjoy the fruits of your day-long labor later on.

A delightful spring snack, radish and butter sandwiches can make an excellent cure for The Hungries.  For this open-faced version I topped a slice of good bread with a smear of butter, some arugula fresh from the balcony, sliced French breakfast radishes, and a sprinkle of sea salt.  The whole thing took maybe four minutes to put together.  Making myself take a pause and sit down to mindfully eat this snack was certainly worth the slight delay in my prep work.