Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Wish You Had a Scratch-n-Sniff Monitor

Really. This smell was in-cred-i-ble while it was cooking. The dish is called, “Lavender-Crusted Free-Range Chicken Breasts with Blueberry Habanero Chutney” but the budget doesn’t extend to free-range birds too often in this kitchen. The rest of it, though, we managed. This is from a cookbook, Northwest Best Places Cookbook, Volume 2: More Recipes from the Best Restaurants and Inns of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia , that I’d almost sent to the thrift store without trying out. It is dated and it had lived over a decade on the shelf without use. But when making up the menu this last week I decided to give a couple of recipes a try. This particular recipe came from "Duck Soup Inn" which still is in operation in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

The chutney is made first – a reduction of rice vinegar, habaneros, onions, sugar, then blueberries added for a few minutes until many of them had popped. Meanwhile, the breasts are soaked in buttermilk for an hour while the herbs are prepped. Parsley and thyme from our garden, lavender, salt, pepper. I gave up halfway through processing fresh thyme (muy tedious) and grabbed some dried, but it was a bundle of garden thyme freshly dried so still pretty flavorful. The chicken is supposed to be coated in breadcrumbs, but I didn’t have any paleo-friendly breadcrumbs so I just skipped this step and went straight to coating in the herb mixture. Pan-fried in butter:


Then goat cheese crumbled on top and the chutney to the side:


This was food that had me thinking about . . . there were over-the-top comments from everyone regarding this being “the best food I’ve ever had” and other reviews in that vein. The lavender was perfectly balanced by the parsley and thyme, the round tartness of the goat cheese balanced by the blueberry with a habanero counterpoint; a truly excellent recipe. I’m so grateful to have tried it and this will have to be a summer dish from here forward, when the herbs and berries are fresh. I’m also very excited to try this when our goats are in milk and we have our own fresh goat cheese!
If you find a copy of this book at a thrift store, for sure snag it just for this recipe!

Not Our Cup of Salmon

So “sweetheart” and I did our salmon dish on Monday, cooking from Staff Meals from Chanterelle . This is a very classic butter sauce with lime – and with all of the butter and cream in this sauce (2 sticks of butter per 4 salmon pieces), you would think this would taste hugely rich and indulgent. but it was very, very lime.


I didn’t reduce the sauce far enough, so it was very liquid, but I think the flavor was where it was supposed to be. We all decided, though, that these flavors were not a way we like to enjoy our salmon.


Still, I’m glad we tried this classic sauce – we all appreciate testing something new.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Scallion, Cherry Tomato, and Pepper Penne

Finally we actually dip into one of my Marcella Hazan books! This quick, fresh pasta was from Marcella Cucina . I used a gluten-free pasta (which Sophia and I aren’t technically allowed to eat, but we do make the exceptions once in awhile) (uhmmm, I’m sure you’ve noticed that), and had found some really gorgeous scallions at a local Korean grocery. Marcella warns that this dish is pointless unless you can find ripe, juicy cherry tomatoes – thankfully there were just those tomatoes at our organic grocery. Jalapeno peppers and garlic are the only other ingredients, really:


The scallions are left large (in two-inch pieces), the cherry tomatoes halved, and the garlic and peppers very thinly sliced. Then a sauté is done, and to the table it goes. I’ll have to remember this dish for other nights when culinary disaster looms – it was quick and very fresh and bright!


Menu UP

And right off the top, a switch needed. The salmon was, naturally, supposed to be cooked on “Sweetheart Sunday”. We got home from the market with a lovely big salmon and the Patriarch opened up the package to wash and fillet it, but fortunately took a sniff first. Definitely a reason why the price was good. He turned around and went back to the store and I grabbed a “Marcella Monday” dish and put the salmon on for tomorrow night.


Araminta’s Solo Triple Berry Cupcakes

When making up the grocery list this week, Araminta pointed out that if we continue cooking consecutively through Cupcakes: Luscious bakeshop favorites from your home kitchen , we will be making berry cupcakes in, say, November. Hmmm. Re-plan; she’s right about that! So I picked up lovely fresh berries, but then got slammed with a tidal wave of errands on Saturday, not particularly negotiable, and Lucinda’s allergies flared horribly. The cupcakes we’d chosen were complicated, too, since they were filled, and used cream cheese frosting, which we’d not done before.

No problem for Araminta! Bravely prepping as I head out the door:


And I arrived home to find a beautiful batch of cupcakes:


The vanilla cupcakes were everything a cupcake should be: moist and flavorful, just perfect. They had a raspberry filling, and the cream cheese frosting was delicious as well. I have to apologize for my blurry shot again, but had to show you a cut-open cupcake:


Congratulations to Araminta on a really professional cupcake! 


Eggplant Stuffed with Sweet White Potato . . . not

I wanted to try this enticing dish for this last Friday, July 20th. There are just going to be those days, though, where I am not functional. Here’s the lymphoma awareness ribbon for “days like that”:

Lymphoma ribbon

The recipe is from La Tartine Gourmande, and hopefully we’ll see it another day.

Chicken with a Confit of Red Peppers and Onions

Originally up for a “Marcella Monday”, although again from Patricia Wells' Trattoria , this was a basic comfort chicken dish. Well, trattoria food in general is homey Italian food, hearty and comforting, and this recipe embodied that, I think. A whole chicken was broken down into eight parts, pan browned, then cooked more slowly with canned plum peeled tomatoes put through the food mill, a twined herb bundle, and caramelized red peppers/onions.

This dish would lend itself to many side dishes to reflect the season. I can see it going way heartier in winter – we simply wanted salads to the side, as it was a warm, busy day. It was a quick dish as far as hands-on time. Once the chicken was browned and the caramelization done, the ingredients did some slow cooking and it was to the table.


Thanks, Mrs. Wells, another winner!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Argentinean Picadillo

You’d think I’d be getting better about how long it takes a whole chicken to thaw in my refrigerator, wouldn’t you? Sigh. Another switch this week. So here for “Wild Card Wednesday” (on Monday) we are trying another dish from Cooking Know-How: Be a Better Cook with Hundreds of Easy Techniques, Step-by-Step Photos, and Ideas for Over 500 Great Meals . This is such a fun book. There is a recipe with careful, involved instructions, then a table or chart with many variations to try off that recipe. So, for example, this picadillo recipe had eight flavor variations, such as Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Cuban, etc. I chose Argentinean because we had several ingredients already, and the only time I’d tried Argentinean food it was tasty.


The comment of the Patriarch was “It’s like a upscale burrito”. I’m not sure about the “upscale” part . . . it’s just different. I really love the idea of working through these Picadillo recipes and having a whole slew of flavor profiles for ground meat. This would make a superb lunch staple, particularly for my working children who head out early in the morning! The addition of hard-boiled eggs amps up the protein, and the raisins and green olives add nutrients as well. Finished on a wrap:


We Seem to be Missing a Sunday

Worked out OK . . . I was just too sick to cook, and Sophia had some meat thawed, and my sweetheart worked an extra half-shift. Sweetheart Sunday will return next week!


Chocolate Cupcakes

The one we’d all been waiting for! Chocolate cupcakes with three different recommended buttercream frostings to choose from. This was the third recipe in line for our cookthrough of Cupcakes: Luscious bakeshop favorites from your home kitchen , and the girls chose to make the buttercream coffee-flavored.

By now, we’ve gotten the buttercream technique nailed, and again the results were super silky and really fabulous. Clara discovered the bit that made the difference: even though we have a very nice hand mixer with a good balloon whisk attachment (and we tried it with both the balloon and the regular whisk attachments), this really needs to be done in the stand mixer.

The paragraph that described the cupcakes in the recipe book said, “ . . . their soft, moist texture [is] from a simple hand-mixing method”. Well, we used the simple hand mixing method, but these puppies were dry and much more like a brownie than a cupcake. The batter didn’t even halfway fill the 12 cupcake cups. Kind of a disappointment, although they all disappeared quickly as usual!
Once again we have Araminta’s distinctive style:


I tried decorating a couple this week, grating a bit of bitter chocolate on top:


And Lucinda hit hers with a tsunami of girliness as usual:


Marjoram Ricotta Zucchini Tart

My kitchen is kitted out from thrift stores. I’ve been incredibly blessed to find everything from an electric grain grinder, a Bosch blender/mixer, two All-Clad pans, Corning Ware, down to much of my cookbook collection. I love to research reviews on Amazon (as y’all know), but then I watch my local thrifts. Well, I’d had a tart tin in the Amazon cart for awhile. Reviews had me being all picky about the brand, though . . . “this is the one you want, from France” advised one reviewer. I’m sure you know where this story is going! A couple of days before I made this last menu I found a pristine tart tin in the very brand recommended by Amazon reviewers. Naturally a tart went onto this menu!

A problem with tarts around here, of course, is making the tart shell without gluten. I still had La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life home from the library, and I noted that not only does she have several different gluten-free shell recipes, but had an interesting zucchini tart recipe as well. Sadly, the book went back to the library so I can’t report which crust I used! It involved millet flour, amaranth flour, and brown rice flour, so while it was gluten free, it was not Paleo and I’d like to refine it. What the recipe was was outrageously delicious.

Gluten free crust came out very well for being gluten free! After it was pre-baked, a ricotta/herb mixture was spread across the bottom of the tart:


Then sliced zucchini and Gruyère were alternated. This was supposed to have yellow and green zucchini alternating, which would have made it more gorgeous for sure, but my shoppers couldn’t find any yellow zucchini this week. And I’d already grated the last of our Gruyère, so I just put it in that way rather than the slices the recipe called for:


Baked in the oven, and oh yum. Pretty sweet dish with the ricotta and zucchini, and it reheated so well that next time I will definitely need to double this for more leftovers!


Good way to break in my new French tart tin.


Indonesian-Style Chicken with Spicy Sunbutter Sauce

Of the food allergens around here, the two that cause the ER trips are bean flours and peanut butter, so we don’t use either in cooking. For recipes calling for peanut butter, we substitute either cashew butter or sunbutter. In the past, to make “satay” style sauces, sunbutter has proven to be our favorite substitute, so I used it in this dish from James Peterson’s Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking .

This was a straightforward marinate-then-brown chicken dish with a satay style sauce. Would I repeat it? Well . . . not unchanged. We’ve made a chicken skewer with satay recipe from Make it Paleo for awhile now. The sauce is simpler, as is the marinade, and I don’t think any flavor is sacrificed in the process. However, the chicken on skewers tends to dry out some. I think a nice balance would be to use the process of scoring and marinating the thighs from Kitchen Simple, with a skillet brown and oven finish, but using the marinade and sauce recipes from Make It Paleo.

Browning marinated thighs:


And super fuzzy dinner pic (sorry – my camera just randomly has “bad focus” days where it won’t hold a focus):


I don't want to sound lukewarm about either of these cookbooks, though. James Peterson is a wonderful cookbook writer (check out his definitive book on sauces) and I will check this one out from the library again, for sure. Make It Paleo is the backbone of our diet, and we've cooked so many great dinners out of this one. When someone I know is trying to eliminate all grains from their diet, this is the first cookbook I recommend.