Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
You know that recipe you have somewhere in your files, on your computer, in your various cookbooks, that you keep coming back to and yet somehow never pony up and actually make? I have this enormous tome of a cookbook by Mark "lovably awkward butt of batali and paltrow's sickeningly chummy jokes" Bittman, called The Best Recipes in the World, which includes over 1,000 recipes from--duh--all across the globe. And yet, despite it's 672 pages, I kept opening to the same one, kept reading the same delectable recipe for what Bitty calls "Two-Way Chicken". The two-way title comes from the fact that you can, according to the book, "stop after step 2 and have a Thai-style dish, which is good, or proceed to step 3 and have one of the best Vietnamese-style chicken dishes you've ever tasted." One of the BEST I've EVER tasted?? Well, who could resist trying THAT? Well, me, apparently, since it took months before I tried my hand at it, despite its simplicity, a combination of flavors that make me salivate instantly (soy sauce, ginger, red pepper, fish sauce, sugar, lime and cilantro, oh MY!), and my love (though admittedly I know not much about it) of Vietnamese food.
I finally made it one night at A-Mac's place, which was only fitting since she was the one to give me the oft-neglected cookbook. And it was DE-licious. Everything I had hoped for. Except for one small thing. Which is hard for me to admit, being a food blogger and all, who supposedly knows a bit about what she's doing. After cooking it WAY longer than the recipe dictates. The chicken. Near the bone. At the thickest part. Was not cooked through! I was so embarrassed. But then I realized it wasn't totally my fault. More on this later. Anyway, the sauce was so good--sticky, sweet and sour, with a little bit of heat and a great depth of flavor--that I vowed despite my humiliation, to make it again.
Months later, this past week, I finally got back to it. Seriously, what is wrong with me? How can a recipe that is SO good take me SO long to make and then even longer to try again? Am I some kind of self-hating home cook? Or was the shame of having served my poor friend raw chicken just too much revisit? Either way, I'm glad I got over it. Because this dish is here to stay.
I served this with some jasmine rice, roasted broccoli with a little lime zest, salt and pepper, and a salad of thinly sliced seedless cucumber, avocado, and black sesame seeds, tossed in soy sauce, sesame oil, and a bit of rice vinegar. Easy on the eyes, tastebuds, and Her Majesty the Chef.
Here's the recipe, with my notes:
Two-Way Chicken, Courtesy of Mark Bittman
1 Chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into serving pieces, or 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts, trimmed of excess fat
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
Lime wedges for serving, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1/4 Cup sugar (optional if you want to stop at step 2)
2 tablespoons nam pla (fish sauce, also optional if you don't want to make the vietnamese version/are dumb)
1. Place the chicken in a large bowl with the soy sauce and half the garlic, ginger, and hot pepper flakes. Toss well to coat and either proceed or refrigerate for up to a day.
2. Put the oil in a large deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. After a minute or so, when the oil is hot, remove the chicken from its marinade and add it, skin side down, to the skillet. Brown it well on both sides, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary, about 10 minutes. Then lower the heat and continue to cook, turning as necessary, until the chicken is cooked through , about 15 minutes longer, removing the pieces as they finish cooking. NOTE: Unless you are using boneless chicken breast, your chicken will NOT be cooked through. I honestly don't understand how this is supposed to work, since cooking chicken in a pan like this is a slow process for getting it cooked all the way through, especially without overdoing the outside. So here's my suggestion, and pay attention Mark Bittman, either lower the heat quite a bit and cook for longer, covering the pan for a good chunk of that time to contain the heat, OR use smaller chicken pieces (this definitely helped me the second time around), OR use boneless pieces, which is a little boring, OR after browning the chicken, transfer it to a 350 degree oven until it's cooked through. This should save you the embarrassment of nearly killing off your friends. Thanks a LOT, Bitty. You can make it up to me by taking me to Spain with you.
3. At this point you can serve the chicken with the lime wedges if you like, hot, warm, or at room temperature, garnished with cilantro. Or proceed to the next step. NOTE: Proceed. I'm sure the thai version is good, but why choose "good" over the "best" "you've ever tasted"? Live a little--you deserve more than just "good"!
4. Turn the heat to low and add the sugar and remaining garlic, ginger, and hot pepper flakes to the skillet, along with 2 Tablespoons water. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and the sauce thickens and becomes foamy (you'll know it when you see it), about 5 minutes. Add the nam pla and any juices that have accumulated around the chicken and cook for another minute, then return the chicken to the pan and cook, turning the pieces in the sauce a few times until they are nicely glazed and the chicken is hot. Remove it from the skillet, spoon the sauce over it, garnish with cilantro, (and lime) and serve.
For dessert, because the dinner tasted like I had slaved over it, our friend Kurtzie ushered me out of the kitchen and in an uncharacteristically culinary move, prepared us the above: Pear Ginger Sorbet topped with pomegranate seeds, a touch of cinnamon, with bittersweet chocolate and clementine garnish. A Mouse Bouche has recruited another one!
*The joke of course being not that Mark Bittman and I are in a relationship, but that I made his TWO-way chicken TWO times and much like a love affair, my experience involved some shame, a fair amount of blame, strong feelings of love and desire, and the willingness to try again. Also the chicken itself is sweet and sour, like a tumultuous affair. An affair that I am NOT having with Mark Bittman. ahem.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I love beans, in just about all their forms. I love hummus, bean dip, falafel, bean salad, bean soup, beans and rice, beans-kale-and rice, 3-bean chili, red bean ice cream, bean hats--okay, maybe not that last one. Though if you own a millinery and want to try it out, I'll give it a go. However, somehow bean casseroles have entirely slipped my culinary mind. It just never occurred to me to make one. That is, until last week when, while tooling around on the internet I came across this recipe on a lovely website called 101 Cookbooks. I found it intriguing mainly for two reasons: 1) I had an open can of chipotles in adobo and a huge chunk of greek feta idling in my fridge and it seemed like just too much of a coincidence to find a recipe that used both, and 2) the combination of flavors from wildly different corners of the gastronomic world (feta and chipotle--whatty what what?) was exciting in its strangeness. Okay, maybe not strange, but it sounded like it might not work, exactly, and being that danger is my middle name, well, I just couldn't resist.
I typed off a quick missive to the Boyfriend: We're having this for dinner. From that point it was a simple matter of picking up a few cans of beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, and one bunch each of kale and cilantro, and we were good to go.
It was DAMN GOOD. Spicy and smoky from the chipotles (which I am coming around on, after having a personal vendetta against this overused spice), creamy and crunchy from the beans and toasted bread crumbs, salty from the slightly melted feta, with that certain earthy herbiness from the cilantro pesto (thank you immersion blender with food processor attachment!). Simple to make, quite prettier than what you might expect from a bean casserole, and perhaps, despite its down-home demeanor, rather sophisticated in flavor. The two of us nearly finished all 6 portions.
The next night, we had a little impromptu gathering at our place and since I had more of almost all the ingredients, I made another batch. It was a BIG hit. And alongside Chef Josh's chicken wings, that's really saying a lot.
Here is the link to the recipe again so you can make it tonight. Seriously. Tonight. You won't be sorry. (Or you will be sorry. If you don't make it. I'm just saying.)
We used Butter Beans, because that's what we could find. Because I am lazy and can't possibly plan ahead, I did the blasphemous thing of using canned beans. But do what you want. I'm not the boss of you. Goody two shoes.
The Chipotle-tomato sauce would be good on pasta, actually. Or as a base for chili. Or some spicy chicken.
An immersion blender with a food processor attachment makes pesto in seconds :)
The first time I made this I added some spicy chicken sausage browned in a pan and crumbled into the sauce.
The recipe says it serves about 6. This is a blatant lie. Expect to finish close to the entire pan. Do not feel bad. This is normal.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Before every last strand of tinsel is tossed in the trash and every leftover cookie stacked in the freezer, and the record of Dylan Thomas reading A Child's Christmas in Wales back in its sleeve, I'd like to take one more trip back to Christmas past/present.
While we were busy braising red cabbage and throwing out failed buches, another Christmas miracle was taking place a few hundred miles south of us in sunny Tampa, Florida. For the past few years, for a number of reasons, the Boyfriends family has taken to ordering their Christmas dinner from a great little Cuban restaurant near his sister's house. The menu usually consists of Pernil (roasted pork shoulder), chicken, plantains, congri (a variation on black beans and rice), and yucca. And while the food is very authentic and delicious, the Boyfriend had begun to miss the smells and tastes of home-cooked dinner. So, in a fit of adventuresome spirit, he announced to the family that he would be making the pork and chicken this year. They were supportive, if a bit skeptical. "Sure, I've made it before," he lied. He was excited, and nervous, and began doing research, calling his aunt in Miami to get her recipe (which, like many great home cooks was mostly--add a little bit of this, then a little more of that, until it looks about right). He planned out the local butcher where he'd purchase the cut of meat, and we even briefly toyed with doing a test run in our kitchen before he headed out of town.
A couple of days before showtime, and after just a tad of expectant father-esque fretting, the Boyfriend visited the butcher to buy his 10-12 lb pork shoulder. "We've got a 25 pounder, and that's all we've got left," he was told. The gruff butcher wrapped it up and sent him off without another word on the subject. When he unwrapped the meat it turned out to have a thick layer of fat and all of the pig skin on the shoulder, the traditional Puerto Rican preparation which allows for enough skin to make chicharrones (pork rinds). NOT how his aunt had described it. So, with a $7 supermarket knife he set about to cut the skin off until it resembled the meat he remembered. Once it looked about right, praying he didn't get rid of too much fat, he set about to make the mojo of sour orange juice, garlic, oregano, and other secret spices, to marinate the meat. Around this point I got my 12th or so call of the day to update me on the status of the pig. I bit my tongue silently when he told me of the incisions he'd made in the meat in order to stuff in some of his aunt's secret ingredients. "One of the cuts I made was a little big." "How big?" I asked, trying to sound calm. "About 5 inches long across the top..." "Uh...okay...so maybe you'll just cover that or something so you don't lose too much moisture." "I could tie it up with butcher twine. Or staple it..." He honestly said this, folks. I'm going to say he was joking. A few more frantic phone calls, and the subject was put to rest. The meat was marinating, the carols were being sung (by someone, somewhere, I assume), and there was nothing left to do but wait for the big day.
On Christmas morning, the Boyfriend woke up at 5am to take the roast out of the fridge and bring it to room temp before putting it in the oven. So hardcore. By the time our house woke up, a few hours later, his was already full of the smell of garlic and bacon fat and things were looking good. Around 3pm, I received a slightly blurry picture message on my phone:
A gloriously browned roast, practically swelling with pride as it rested in the pan. I passed it around to my family, proud as the roast of my new favorite chef. A text appeared: "Pork is damned tasty. I'm already slated to do next year's." My eyes welled up. "You realize this is all because of A Mouse Bouche," my oh so modest sister said, "We inspired this!". When I got the busy chef on the phone he was bursting with excitement. "It was incredible! When I served it, I had to go take a moment to collect myself. The meat FELL off the bone, babe. FELL OFF THE BONE." The Boyfriend's sister said she would try making the black beans next year, and his Sister-in-Law ventured that she could probably manage the yucca. Home cooking had returned to Christmas.
The Boyfriend already can't wait to make it again, with some minor adjustments (maybe no huge gash across the top of the meat?) and I will happily turn the kitchen over to him, sit back, watch and learn. I mentioned your comment to him, Boo, and he surprised me by agreeing with you. I guess A Mouse Bouche can take some tiny bit of responsibility for the birth of a new love affair with cooking. I'm so proud, you have no idea.
Below, some pics from the lunch we had the Sunday after Christmas, using leftovers. I played sous-chef, making an slapdash mojo-esque sauce (cilantro, red onion, garlic, oil, vinegar, lime juice, and salt) for the pork and the Boyfriend's perfectly golden-fried yucca.
It's an amazing feeling to create something with your own two hands that can feed and warm the people you love. But what's almost as satisfying is watching someone discover this for the first time.
And it sure was damned tasty.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Happy New Year! I am just now finally getting around to sorting through the many Christmas photographs taken during our 3 days of cooking and eating. On boxing day, as you know, I flew down to Florida to be with the Boyfriend's family and continue the eating fest, so its been a busy holiday week. Much material generated for future entries, and far more calories ingested in the process. By now I am wondering if everyone is so holidayed-out that this post has missed its chance. They say a picture is worth a thousand jelly donuts (or something), so I'm going to let these do most of the talking.
While we missed you for the first day and a half of major cooking, I'd say it was actually a rather smooth Christmas preparation. This year the motto was, "its only dinner" which of course is a flat out fallacy if you know our family, nothing is ever JUST a meal, but served to remind us that if the citrus-glazed carrots didn't get made, locusts would probably not fall from the sky. Sure, there was the chocolate sponge cake buche that was tossed in the trash around 1am when we realized the cream of tartar really was an essential component, and there was the port glazed onions with 5 (FIVE!) bay leaves in the glaze which oddly resulted in a fishy and altogether unpleasant taste that bit the dust in favor of a simpler balsamic glaze. But all in all, everything came together smoothly, even with one crucial pair of hands stuck on a snowy runway in Chicago. A Christmas miracle.
And speaking of miracles, look what I got! What a coincidence that I posted a wish list on the internet for billions of people to read, and it just so happened that I got exactly these items for Christmas! ;) (and, in a move no one saw coming, the Boyfriend got me an immersion blender!)
Braiser on right, french oven on left. Gorgeous blue to match my kitchen.
Our Christmas Eve dinner, amidst the cooking frenzy. It's always a feat to get everyone to sit down together next to the twinkling tree for one quiet hour while the beaters and mixing bowls idle in the sink. Lobsters are an elegant and festive tradition with an alternate agenda--the market steams them for us so dinner is ready to go.
Every year I try to convince mom to brine the turkey after all the reading I've done on the gospel of moist bird. And every year we get sidetracked and then realize we don't have a bucket and end up doing the usual. This year I came home to mom saying, "I read this great article about salting the turkey which is supposed to be even better than brining!" Basically, it's a dry brine, or as our aunt pointed out, what you're doing is essentially koshering the meat. The nice thing is that you don't need to buy a bucket or find room for that in the already packed fridge. The morning of Christmas eve we made a combination of herbs and kosher salt, washed the bird and spread it all over, then wrapped with plastic and refrigerated while we waited for the transformation.
I had high hopes despite the fact that mom kept saying, elbow deep in the neck cavity, "I don't like the looks of this bird." The way she said it I half expected the turkey to pull out a deck of cards and try to hustle me for $5. But look how lovely it turned out!
No doubt the salting helped with the perfect all around browing you see, as well as the moist and flavorful meat and skin. To go with the turkey was of course, the gravy which as usual was tended to like the newest grandchild with all three siblings--Mom, Uncle, and Aunt, crowded around the stove cooing at the stockpot. Our cousin Sam disturbing threatened to pour himself a glass, it was so good.
But first--the appetizers:
I know how you feel about pate, but this was truly incredible. Chicken liver pate made by our mother, with mustard and cornichons on the side. My mouth is watering just writing this. I think we all left with our cholesterol elevated by a few points, but oh was it worth it. There was also Barefoot Contessa caviar dip for which our mother sent our aunt on a christmas day search through the city for dill. Delicious with chips. Rounding out the elegant trio was mushroom crostini, made by yours truly which was nice if not earth shattering. What did in fact, rock the very soil beneath us was the tray of lumpia, made by our cousin, which you missed at last year's celebration.
But back to the main event:
Turkey and Ham, of course.
Ina's sweet potatoes, adapted by our mother, the queen of the Yam. Topped with apples. So good.
The fated port glazed onions, almost saved by the last minute balsamic glaze.
Tasty tasty potato and fennel gratin made by yours truly. Could have used a little salt. Or maybe it was that we were short on gruyere. What's with me and gratins?
Okay, let me explain. What you see here is a spinach ring. Something, I gathered, was very popular in the 50s. What happened was, originally our menu looked like this: sweet potato puree, mashed potatoes with fennel, and spinach gratin. Also known as: orange creamy mushy thing, white creamy mushy thing, and green creamy cheesy mushy thing. Perfect for people with dentures, but for the rest of us, a little more textural variety was called for. We found the potato gratin which fit the bill, but that left us with two gratins on the menu which even I can't handle, despite my passion for all things covered in cheese. So what to do with all the frozen spinach? A souffle? There are a surprizingly limited number of recipes for frozen spinach that don't include cheese and cream as main ingredients. This is where the spinach ring came in. light, (despite the 9 NINE egg yolks after doubling the recipe), cheese-free, and texturally like a firmer mousse. Made in the bundt pan, it resembled the ubiquitous jello mold at so many family gatherings, but somehow, it worked.
Also on the buffet were citrus glazed carrots (they made it to the table), and a slightly tweaked version of my favorite red cabbage. And of course, of course. the stuffing. sigh.
And for dessert? Just a light sampling of:
Black bottom creamy pecan tart, key lime cheesecake (made by our aunt), the perfect ganache, suggested by mom, not to be confused with the Hindu elephant god despite Mom constantly referring to it as "the Ganesh," made Christmas morning on a last minute whim in a--gasp--toaster oven! by me. Linzer tortes and Dad's most favorite ever ginger cookies by our Aunt, and mexican wedding cakes made by me.
Oh, we've only just begun. What followed was days of Latin food, the biggest porterhouse steaks you've ever seen for New Year's Eve, and chili and cornbread for New Years Day.
2008: a tasty year. Can't wait to see what's on the menu for 09.