Friday, November 30, 2007

Cleaning Out the Pantry - Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

As I've said before, I am on a mission to purge my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It's so easy to buy this or that, and the next thing you know, it's five years later.
Recently, I was cleaning out my cupboards, and replacing some spices. Lo and behold, I found a stash of garlic that I'd forgotten about, and some of the bulbs were starting to sprout. What is one to do when faced with a huge amount of garlic that must be used, and quickly?
I turned to Ina Garten, and made her Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic. Much to my surprise, Master Chow liked this dish (I thought it might be a bit too fancy for him). I think the loads of garlic won him over.
I didn't have any cream, which the recipe calls for, but I did have some creme fraiche that I needed to use up. Yahoo! Another item that needed to be used, crossed off my list! And I didn't have two whole chickens, but I did have a package each of chicken breasts, thighs, and legs, sitting in my freezer. I felt very efficient and frugal after making this dish. Peeling the garlic wasn't too bad either, after briefly boiling the garlic cloves - the skins slipped right off. If the bulbs are sprouting, just cut out the green shoot before you use the garlic.
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
3 whole heads garlic, about 40 cloves
2 (3 1/2-pound) chickens, cut into eighths, or 6-7 pounds of chicken parts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons Cognac, divided
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I used the remnants of a bottle of rose, and it worked just fine)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons creme fraiche (or heavy cream, but do not use sour cream because it will curdle)
Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them into a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain the garlic and peel. Set aside.
Dry the chicken with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat (you don't want the oil and butter to burn, so keep an eye on it). In batches, saute the chicken in the fat, skin side down first, until nicely browned, about 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Use tongs to turn the chicken, as you don't want to pierce the skin with a fork. If the fat is burning, turn the heat down.
When a batch is done, transfer it to a plate and continue to saute the rest of the chicken.
Remove the last chicken to the plate and add all of the garlic to the pot. Lower the heat and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, turning often, until evenly browned. Add 2 tablespoons of the Cognac and the wine, return to a boil, and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Cover and simmer over the lowest heat for about 40 minutes, until all the chicken is done. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sauce and the flour and then whisk it back into the sauce in the pot (do NOT just add the flour to the pot, or you will end up with a lot of lumps). Raise the heat, add the remaining tablespoon of Cognac and the creme fraiche, and boil for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken and serve hot.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Daring Bakers: Tender Potato Bread

For my second Daring Baker's challenge (and number 13 in the series), Tanna, of My Kitchen in Half Cups, presented us with something savory (for which I thank her from the bottom of my heart): Tender Potato Bread, from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World, by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford.

I grew up baking bread with my mom, but life, school, and career took precedence over bread baking for many, many years. Lately, I have felt a real yearning to start working with dough again, and have been filling up my freezer with all sorts of interesting flours that I've been hoping to experiment with. Someday.

Well, Tanna's challenge gave me the opportunity to take the leap. And the wonderful thing is, many things went wrong, but I was having so much fun creating this marvel that I didn't care! And the bread still turned out great!

Exhausted from Thanksgiving baking (more on that in a future post), not to mention desserts, I opted to bake two simple loaves, one a 9 x 5 inch and the other an 8 x 4 inch. I added about a cup more of flour than the directions called for, but still had a huge gooey mess on my hands that was absolutely impossible to shape. It was like a big pile of goo. I finally resorted to my KitchenAid with its dough hook (allowed for medical reasons).

Now, I'm sure you're wondering what medical reasons I could be talking about. Well, at Thanksgiving dinner, while removing a pecan pie from a tart pan, I cut the forefinger of my right hand so deeply with the edge of the pan that my finger continued to bleed for over two hours. I noticed something was amiss when I saw the blood running down the knife I was using to cut pie slices.

As if that were not enough, on Saturday I slammed the sliding glass door on the other forefinger, and opened up a nice little cut there, too. When I lost my band aids in my gooey potato bread dough and had to fish them out, I decided to pull out the KitchenAid.

At any rate, I can see from other Daring Bakers' pictures that I could have added even more flour. I literally had to pour the dough into the baking pans. No shaping of the loaves, let alone rolls, was possible. So I poured and hoped for the best.

There are a couple band aids in here. Luckily, I found them!
I was not disappointed. This bread is delicious - moist, with a lovely crumb that takes well to liberal buttering. The crust is chewy and crispy. The whole wheat flour and potato give the bread a depth of flavor usually lacking in white loaves. In fact, I'm thinking of having another piece as I write this, but have decided to wait and try a soy bacon - lettuce -and tomato sandwich for lunch. I can just imagine the mayonnaise sinking into the nooks and crannies of this tasty loaf!
Some notes: I used russet potatoes, and King Arthur brand unbleached all purpose, and whole wheat flours.

Happy Baking! And check out the wonderful creations of the other Daring Bakers!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

There's Something Going On in the Kitchen

"What's going on in the kitchen? We want in!"

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, from a rather tired Madam Chow. We will be joining a dear friend for a celebration with thirty other people whom we've never met, and we are sure looking forward to it. Of course, that meant I had to bake two different pecan pies, and a coconut cake with lilikoi (passionfruit curd). I will definitely let all of you know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Yes, you. I'm talking to you, Chopped Liver!

I saw Ina Garten make this on her show, Barefoot Contessa, a while back, and it was one of those recipes that intrigued me and just sort of percolated in the recesses of my brain. I watched a rerun of the same show, and this time I decided to make it. Master Chow usually likes meats with strong flavors, like lamb and venison, so I thought, "why not?" Well, this was a hit. He loves it, and when I take the lid of the container, the dogs go crazy. I took a little taste, and even I thought it was good! It tastes a lot like liverwurst.

Some thoughts: First, use organic chicken livers, which I get at my local Whole Foods. The liver is the filter of the blood, and every hormone or drug given to an animal ends up there, so you want to get as clean and pure a source as possible.

Second, if you keep kosher, have some chicken fat (schmaltz) on hand before you start. The original recipe calls for a cup of it, but I ended up using about 5 Tablespoons of clarified butter.

Third, cleaning the liver can be rather time consuming and messy.

Fourth, do not overcook the livers - they should be a pale pink inside.

Finally, this spatters a lot when you're frying the livers, so cover up and move anything out of the way that you don't want to get covered in grease.

Chopped Liver

2 pounds chicken livers
5 Tbsp. clarified butter
2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)
1/3 cup Madeira wine
4 extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled, and chunked
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tspp. cayenne pepper

Drain the livers and saute them in 2 batches in 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat, turning once, for about 5 minutes, or until just barely pink inside. Don't overcook the livers or they will be dry. Transfer them to a large bowl.

In the same pan, saute the onions in 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until browned. Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan, scraping the sides, for about 15 seconds. Pour into the bowl with the livers.

Add the eggs, parsley, thyme, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Toss quickly to combine. Transfer half the mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 6 to 8 times, until coarsely chopped. Repeat with the remaining mixture. Season, to taste, and chill. Serve on crackers or matzo.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pine Nut Orzo

I am on a mission: to use up food items in my pantry and freezer. Like most people, I will buy this or that to use for a specific dish, then I forget all about it. Or I shop for produce, and loose a cucumber in the back of the refrigerator.

Not one to waste food, I discovered said English cucumber tucked away in a corner of the "chill chest," to coin a phrase from Alton Brown. I also had some feta cheese to use up, as well as a bag of orzo that had been sitting around for a while. Oh, yes, and that red onion. And a lemon or two. What to do?

Well, I turned to Rachael Ray after seeing her whip up a Pine Nut Orzo salad on her show, 30 Minute Meals. Master Chow and I thought it was nice on its own when we had it at lunch, but it really shone when we paired it later that evening with a rib eye steak (for him) and some scallops and shrimp (for me). Since I have half a pound of orzo left in the cupboard, I'll be making this again!
Pine Nut and Orzo Salad
Adapted from a recipe by Rachael Ray
4 to 6 servings
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a good one, you'll be able to taste it)
salt and pepper to taste
Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil for the pasta salad. When the water boils, salt it and cook the pasta to al dente. If your pasta bag doesn't tell you how long that might be, start checking after 4 minutes. My orzo was al dente after 5 minutes.
If you want to take some of the bite out of the diced onion, let it sit in the bottom of the salad bowl in the juice of the lemons while you cook the pasta and prep the rest of the ingredients.

Drain orzo and add to the onions and lemon juice, along with the pine nuts, parsley, feta crumbles, about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Top with the olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Detour . . .

My blog focuses on food. And puppies, once in a while.
Nevertheless, every so often something just jumps out at me that I feel I have to share. The news is so full of negative stories, doom and gloom, that combined with the stress of our daily lives, it can all get so overwhelming at times. So, I value positive stories, especially at this time of year. The one I'm linking to here is such a story - a tale of a small town in Iraq, and people working together. It is myth-shattering and uplifting.
If you have a moment, take the time to read it. I hope you will find it as inspirational as I did.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Comforts of Cooking

Recently, Ivonne, of Cream Puffs in Venice, had a thoughtful post on the comforts of baking. I have to agree - my life has been so hectic the last few months, I've barely had a chance to catch my breath. The weather has cooled a bit, and the leaves are finally changing colors. And I find myself wanting to spend my free time cooking and taking care of my family as much as possible.

So, a few days ago, I passed several happy hours in the kitchen, baking up a batch of cornbread and Tomato and Goat Cheese Muffins from Beth Hensperger's, Muffins. Master Chow loved the cornbread, and I thought the muffins, which included garbanzo flour (!), were wonderful. A tossed green salad, some sauteed broccoli rabe, and a bowl of soup made a wonderful meal. As I write this, I have a batch of Hensperger's Cranberry-Orange Bread baking in the oven (more on that in a future post). And I have a faithful companion on my lap:

Life doesn't get much better than this.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Book Review: Williams-Sonoma "Muffins," by Beth Hensperger

Like many out there in the culinary blogosphere, I have an overburdened bookshelf, creaking under the weight of all the cookbooks I fully intend to use, but rarely get around to doing so. One of my reasons for starting this blog was to pull some of these tomes down and take them for a test drive.

The winner this month? The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Muffins (Williams Sonoma Collection), by the wonderful and prolific author, Beth Hensperger. It's a little book, but the recipes are clear, easy to follow, and obviously thoroughly tested because they work. There's a picture for every recipe, which makes it even more fun to read the book. I always wonder why publishing houses skimp on food photography, when a little more effort in that direction would help the book fly off the shelves!

The book is divided into six categories: Classics, Fruit Muffins, Vegetable Muffins, Savory Muffins, Coffee Cakes, and Quick Loaf Breads. I made the Spiced Apple Coffee Cake you see at the top of this post, as well as the Blackberry Muffins (for which I substituted blueberries and orange zest, and they turned out fantastically well).

I didn't have cream cheese on hand for the coffee cake, so I substituted Neufchatel with no problems. When I put the batter together, it appeared to be a mass of apples, and I wondered where the "cake" part would come in. I shouldn't have worried! Here is the golden goodness:

The cake was intensely flavorful, and so moist that I could eat it frozen (and I did), and it still had a soft texture. It froze very well, retaining all its flavor and a pudding-like texture. Dang, I just made myself hungry again. To freeze, I recommend wrapping in plastic wrap, then foil, then placing in a freezer storage bag. The original recipe includes a vanilla glaze, which I eliminated because the finished product was sweet enough.
I also tried the luscious blackberry muffin recipe, but substituted blueberries, and orange zest for the lemon zest. Master Chow loved these. They didn't hold up quite as well in the freezer, but I suspect that may because I didn't wrap them in foil, a mistake that I won't repeat.

The recipe called for a whopping 2 cups of blueberries, but there was enough batter to hold them together well. The orange was a wonderful complement to the berries, and each muffin was topped with a walnut crumb mixture. Delicious! Tonight, I'm going to try either the Polenta Muffins with Fresh Herbs, or the Tomato and Goat Cheese Muffins. Hhhm. Decisions, decisions!

One final note: if your spices are old, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to some new ones. It will make a world of difference in your baking!

Spiced Apple Coffee Cake
Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Muffins (Williams Sonoma Collection)

Makes one 9-inch cake

1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tart cooking apples, such as Granny Smith, about 1 lb., peeled and cored
2 Tbsp. strained fresh orange, lemon, or apple juice (I used orange)
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz. Neufchatel cheese, room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan, or a 9-inch round spring form pan. This is a very wet batter, and if you slack off on this step, a lot of your cake will end up sticking to the bottom of the pan!

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl, toss the apples with the juice. In a third bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon. Add to the apples, toss to coat, and set aside.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium, cream the butter, Neufchatel cheese, granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients in two or three increments, beating well until just smooth. Don't over beat the batter. Using a spatula, gently mix in the apples, just until they are incorporated. You want things to be mixed, but not over mixed, or you will have a tough cake.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60-70 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Cool on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes, then carefully remove the cake from the pan.