Archive for February 2013

Up In Flames

February 24, 2013

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It all started innocently, with a can of beautiful foie gras that a friend brought us from France. That, and an invitation to a French-style potluck-type dinner with a group of old friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. For a true first-world problem, I’m trying to clean out the pantry before we move, and I wanted to use up the foie gras. But because it’s not every day that I have foie gras that needs using, I wanted to make something truly special with it. And because I hadn’t seen these friends in a while I wanted to dress up a bit. As any moron knows, dressing up and cooking are non-compatible activities, but still, I forged ahead.

I conjured up a dreamy dish, chicken roulades with a mushroom and Madeira duxelles stuffing and a foie gras and Madeira sauce. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds, and yes, of course, I’m going to give you the recipe. But this is a cautionary tale, and so I must tell it from its optimistic beginning to its ignominious end.

I decided to use chicken thighs, since I don’t really enjoy the breasts, but I wanted them with the bone out and the skin still intact. Sure, I have a boning knife and I know how to use it, but it occurred to me that boning 14 thighs would be a chore and that the butcher might be persuaded to remove the bones for me, and happily this was the case, since I thereby avoided the opportunity to stab myself in the hand and miss the evening altogether.

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I found a nifty trick for the duxelles in my online research, one I’ve now added to my permanent repertoire. After chopping the mushrooms up fine in the food processor, you drop them into a tea towel and squeeze with all your might and main, thus expelling an astonishing amount of liquid, and ending up with dry mushroom crumbles that look a lot like kasha or kibble.

I then proceeded to make the stuffing, stopping only for tastes and a little ecstatic yumming, trimmed off extra chicken fat for rendering, and stuffed the now-boneless thighs before tying them up with twine. It occurred to me that removing the twine after cooking the chicken at the party might be a splattery sort of affair, and that perhaps my dress-up scheme was ill-adapted, but no worries: I assigned the de-twining operation to Shel. Next I made the sauce, which was about the most enticing thing I’ve ever tasted, got dressed up, packed the food into the car, and hopped on the ferry. There were actual whitecaps on the normally placid crossing to Seattle, and perhaps I should have taken that as an omen of rough times to come, but no.

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Once happily installed at the party with a heady cocktail in hand and a happily chattering group around me, I noticed that the before-dinner gougères, prepared by a very accomplished cook, had fallen flat as pancakes, perhaps under the prodigious weight of the three cheeses they contained. Nonetheless, they were pronounced delicious and vanished with a rapidity that belied any fault.

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And then, as the before-dinner oysters were being shucked, this one appeared: no oyster inside at all, but instead, a tiny mussel nestled into the oyster shell. This too, might have been a portent, but the rest of the oysters and their absinthe dipping sauce and the freely-flowing cocktails perhaps clouded the face of my worry meter, and I popped my chicken in the oven, twine and all. Later, after the leek soup and its paired wine, and the pear and gorgonzola salad and its wine, and the mussels with Pineau des Charentes and their wine, I blithely, perhaps a bit too blithely, went into the tiny kitchen to finish and serve my chicken dish.

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The host had made spaetzle to accompany my chicken, and so he and I jockeyed for space around the stove, he frying spaetzle, I stirring my foie gras sauce, over the electric burners. He took the pan off the stove, I removed the chicken from the oven, and Shel started snipping the twine, to save my lovely flowing top from getting grease on it.

I turned back to the stove, reached across the burner-formerly-used-for-spaetzle, to get my foie gras sauce, and my clothes went up in flames. Did I mention a flowing top? Did I even think about the fact that it was rayon? Did I even know the flash point of rayon or that a burner that’s not even red could set rayon on fire?

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Fortunately, I somehow put out the fire before any more damage occurred other that filling the kitchen with the acrid smell of burned cloth instead of the lovely smell of the chicken. Oh, and the fact that I can never wear that now-holey top again. But the chicken was fabulous, and I’ll certainly make it again the next time I get my hands on some foie gras. I hope you’ll make it too, but always remember and never forget, this recipe comes with a dress code.

Chicken Roulades with Duxelles Stuffing and Foie Gras Sauce

 8 servings

8 chicken thighs, bone removed, skin left on
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms
2 T duck fat, or use butter
2 large shallots, finely diced, divided use
1 tsp thyme, divided use
3/4 cup Madeira, divided use
1 cup dry white wine
2 T butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz foie gras, mi-cuit
salt and pepper

First make the stuffing. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and whiz the mushroom caps in the food processor until you have fine crumbs. Place an old tea towel over a small bowl, dump the mushrooms into the towel, and twist tightly, squeezing, until no more juice drips out.

Melt the duck fat in a nonstick pan and sauté 1 shallot until translucent. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 tsp thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. Add 1/4 cup of Madeira and sauté for a couple of minutes until it is all absorbed by the mushrooms. Taste for salt and pepper. Set stuffing aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 450°. When stuffing is cool, open each thigh and put a spoonful of stuffing inside each piece and roll it closed, tying with twine into neat roulades. Place the chicken in an oiled roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and the remaining thyme. Pour the white wine into the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.

While the chicken is baking prepare the foie gras sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the remaining shallot. Sweat the shallot gently over low heat until translucent. Add the remaining Madeira and simmer to reduce by 1/3. Add the cream and continue to simmer, reducing again by about 1/2, until you have a lightly thickened sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble the foie gras into the sauce. Let it sit for a few minutes to melt the foie gras, then whizz it all with an immersion blender until you have a silky smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over the chicken (after removing the twine).

You may want bread to mop up the sauce, or then again, you can just lick the plate. And be sure to save the juices in the roasting pan, which will make the base for a killer soup the next day.

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The Cookie Contract

February 21, 2013

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We’re going to be moving soon, and we have a horde of contractors working to get the new house ready for us. Since hordes are invariably described as hungry, I had the happy idea right from the start of keeping the guys supplied with cookies.

I took a pretty plate over the construction zone that will be my new little kitchen, as well as a glass pastry bell to keep out the various particles of dust, debris, and paint that are always flying around there, and I keep it filled with fresh cookies. I started with brownies, then chocolate chip with pecans, and then peanut butter. Our main contractor Paul especially liked the peanut butter (Alice Medrich’s recipe) and that gave me the idea of asking the guys for requests.

At first they were shy and just happily ate whatever I produced, and so I made crispy oatmeal, ginger molasses, and blondies. Then a new guy, Andrew the tile setter, appeared, and asked me to make chocolate peanut butter chip, something I’d never made before, but surprise, the recipe is right on the peanut butter chip package. Both he and Mike the sheet rock guy loved those.

And then today the painters, having eaten their way through a couple dozen ginger molasses cookies in a day and a half, had a request. Bruce wanted oatmeal raisin, and he was very precise about them. “A little under-baked,” he said “still soft in the middle, and made with Snoqualmie Falls oats.” Whoa! A cookie gourmet painter, alright!

So I searched the web for a cookie that sounded like what he wanted, and I found these, which 953 reviewers swear are the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the whole wide world, especially if you add a little cinnamon. Bruce didn’t mention cinnamon, but I dared to add a little anyway. After all, the bedroom’s getting painted a sort of cinnamony color and the cookies ought to fit right in.

Winter Pear Galette

February 17, 2013

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I was perusing the March issue of Food and Wine when I saw a most enticing free-form tart, glistening and juicy. But then I noticed that it was made with plums. Huh? Plums in March? Not to mention that it’s still February.

But even so the recipe attracted me. A buttery crust made in the food processor that promised to be easy to roll out, a French-style almond frangipane layer, all topped with jewel-like bits of fruit, Jacques Pepin as the author, how could it miss? But February plums, at least around here, come from South America, and I can only imagine their carbon footprint, not to mention the evident lack of just-picked freshness. However, piles of pears are heaped in the store, now is their season, and I hadn’t baked anything with them for ages. Thus was the pear galette you see here born.

If you’ve never made a galette, this is a great place to start. Their rustic beauty is endlessly charming, and if you like your crust crusty and browned, the free-form fold-over style used here ensures that. Just be sure to use pears that are juicy and fragrant, as the frangipane layer is there expressly to soak up juice.

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Winter Pear Galette*

Pâte Brisée
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 plus 1-2 T cold water

Filling
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
3 T ground almonds
3 T flour
2 lbs pears, cored and cut into small chunks
3 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup apricot jam

First make the pastry. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of the food processor, then add the butter. Whirl very briefly to combine, leaving visible pieces of butter. Add the water and whirl very briefly again, just until the dough forms big crumbs, but before it comes together into a ball. Turn the dough out onto  a Silpat, or a lightly-floured surface and press into an flattened oval. Gently roll out to an oval about the size of the Silpat, or about 9×13″ if rolling on a board. If you’ve done it on a Silpat you’re home free, because you’ll bake it right on there, just set the Silpat on a baking sheet.  Otherwise carefully transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment, so that the sticky juices don’t glue your galette to the sheet. Set the dough in a cool place while you prepare the filling – I just put mine outside, because after all, it’s February.

Preheat oven to 400°. In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar with the ground almond meal and the flour. When the dough has chilled a bit, sprinkle the almond mixture over the dough to within 2″ of the edges of the dough. Arrange the pear chunks over the almond mixture. Sprinkle most of the 1/3 cup sugar over the fruit, reserving a tablespoon or so. Place the butter bits evenly over the sugared fruit. Now fold the edges of the dough up over the fruit, pleating it as necessary, then sprinkle the reserved sugar over the edge of the crust. Place the galette in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and crust is deep brown.

Warm the apricot jam and brush the edge of the crust with jam, then drop some additional jam decoratively over the hot fruit. Et voilà.

*adapted from this Jacques Pepin recipe

Not Chamorritos

February 13, 2013

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I’ve become enamoured of pork shanks, thanks to our local Mexican restaurant.  Their chamorritos are delectable, tidy little ankle bones of small pigs, lined up neatly on the plate, swimming in a warm, slightly sweet sauce.

The pork shanks I brought home with me bore no resemblance to their elegant Mexican cousins.  These were brutish, relatively huge, pork that had been finished on hazelnuts in Oregon and had evidently thrived on them.

Nonetheless, I made a delicious dish with them, using a lot of a very dry Amontillado that I didn’t enjoy drinking, and lots of sweet, smoky pimenton.

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It looked like hell on wheels, there’s no denying it. You can’t serve this in a restaurant. You can’t serve this to company unless they’re good friends who love food and are not put off by homely dishes. But you can make it anytime you need a slightly exotic but very comforting dish. You low-carbers can eat the delicious fat that rings the shank, and believe me when I say that pork fat that was raised on hazelnuts is exceptionally delicious.

Pork Shanks with Amontillado and Pimenton 

3 lbs pork shanks, cut for osso buco
3 T olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp pimenton dulce
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups Amontillado sherry
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325°. Rub the pork shanks with salt. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot. Brown the shanks well on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add diced vegetables to the pan, and sauté for a few minutes, until the vegetables just begin to get golden.

Add the pimenton, bay leaves, and black pepper and sauté for a minute or two until the spices are fragrant.  Add sherry and chicken broth. Return the pork shanks to pan, all in one layer. The liquid should be at least halfway up the sides of the shanks, if not add a little more sherry or broth.

Cover the pot tightly and place in oven.  Let cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, turning the meat once during that period. Remove pot from oven and carefully pull the meat and skin off the bones, shredding it coarsely into the sauce. Taste for salt and pepper.

This is very nice served with a sauté of green beans, red peppers, and shallots.