Friday, April 25, 2008

Circassian Chicken

I've never been the Caucasus, but if I go, I intend to eat non-stop. So far all the recipes I've had from that region are a fantastic melding of East and West that highlight some of my favorite ingredients. Alex once made this dish, and I remember it taking him all day because he didn't use the food processor. I have one here, so I've been having fun with it. This recipe makes a mild-but-rich-and-flavorful chicken dip that's traditionally served as a mezze, but I served it as a side dish with Zingy Lentil and Bulghur Soup with Mint.

These two recipes go well together because you need chicken broth for both. The chicken dish can be made ahead of time (which I recommend) and would be a great potluck offering. The walnuts make it very rich, so a little goes a long way.

First, make a broth using chicken breasts. You can use other parts but these shred nicely. You can season it how you like, but this is how I do it (PS the onion skin makes the broth yellow). This is best done ahead of time because you want the chicken and broth cool when you use them later.

4 large chicken breasts, bone-in
1/2 large onion, studded with cloves and bay leaf
skin of 1/2 onion
1 carrot, in large pieces
2 stalks celery, in large pieces
a bunch of parsley stems
2 slightly smashed garlic cloves
4-5 allspice berries

Cover the chicken and aromatics with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, skimming foam off the top. Strain the broth and reserve. Allow the chicken to cool and then shred it with your fingers into nice bite-size strips.

Next you get to play with the food processor (FP). You will need:

8 oz. walnuts, lightly toasted
2-3 pieces stale white bread
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp sweet paprika
olive oil
~1.5 c. of your chicken broth

Begin by sauteeing the onions in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the cayenne and paprika. Allow this to roast slightly, but do not burn! Set this aside to cool. Process the white bread until it is fine crumbs and then remove it from the FP. Process the walnuts until they are very finely ground. Add the breadcrumbs back in and then the onion mixture, and pulse until well combined. At this point it will be a coarse, reddish meal.

Pour 1 cup of chicken broth in while blending. It will become much lighter until it's honkie-colored. Add the rest of the broth bit by bit until it's like a thick pancake batter. It will thicken as it sits and you want it to be, a slightly thicker pancake batter? You can see the consistency below. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Before serving, heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil (or ideally, walnut oil), and add a few teaspoons of paprika so that it roasts and infuses the oil. It's very easy to burn, so be careful.

Toss the chicken pieces with half of the dip and then pour the rest over it. Drizzle with the paprika-oil mixture and garnish with parsley. Serve with bread or toasted pitas to scoop it. This stuff is like solid-state rocket fuel, so be warned--it will fill you up for a long time! Makes great leftovers.

Here's the soup that I made with the remaining chicken broth. I think this is one of my favorite soups and if I ever had a restaurant it would definitely be on the menu. I could basically eat a cement mixer full of it, and it's so damn easy and quick. Here's the link AGAIN!

Circassian Chicken is basically the Eurasian version of Massaman Curry, so maybe I'll have to make that soon. It's perfect for this cool weather.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter in Lyon

I haven't been keeping very good records of what I've been cooking in France, but this is probably the tastiest dish I actually remembered to photograph. I made this a few weeks back when I was in Lyon; after 3 days of seeing the city and the night life, we were all pretty tired and broke, and it was a grey rainy easter monday where we had been hoping for sunshine. We decided to hit the local croix rousse market, and I made good use of the fresh veggies there. It's pretty simple so this will be short. Basically, fresh veggies + olive oil=spring time yum.

Green onions, both white oniony bits and green crispy bits
Some kind of mushroom - I think what I used was chantarelle but nobody was really sure. Ceps would be good.
Pasta - for something like this (olive oil based sauce with chunks) I like a noodle
Cheese- parmesan is always best, here I think I used some leftover handfuls of emmental

I chopped everything pretty coarse like, except the carrots which are sliced thin and on the bias. I just sweated all the veggies in copius olive oil starting with the carrots and asparagus since they take the longest to cook, and ending with the green bits of the onions since they get mushy and lose flavor if you over cook them by adding them with the rest. I fried up some boneless-skinless chicken breasts separately, diced them, and threw them in with the veggies right before plating.
Tossed in with the pasta and more olive oil, some handfuls of cheese, salt, and pepper. The last part is my favorite trick; crack in a raw egg once plated. This will impart a subtle unctuousness to the pasta once mixed in, as well as help the sauce stick to the noodles. Final garnish was with some chopped sun dried tomatoes from the olive merchant which were in some kind of olive oil preparation.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lamb Kibbeh Hotdish

Kibbeh is a combination of ground lamb and bulghur*, and is eaten throughout the Levant. It can be prepared in countless ways, from raw to deep fried. Here's my version of a baked style, made into a hotdish with potatoes and tomatoes.

I have changed and refined this recipe, and it's very similar to Alex's kufta hotdish, the main difference being that this one contains bulgur. Both versions are delicious!

Here's what you'll need:

1 lb. ground lamb
3/4 c. bulghur
1 small onion
1/3 c. chopped parsley + extra for garnish
1 medium russet potato, peeled and sliced very thin (1/8")
1-2 tomatoes, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 pinch cinnamon
pine nuts for garnish (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350. Grease a large, flat-bottomed baking dish or cast iron pan. Place the sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pan and place the pan in the oven while preparing the other ingredients (this will kick-start the cooking).

Soak the bulgur in a bowl of water for a few minutes. Meanwhile, grate the onion or chop it finely in a food processor. Drain the bulgur. Combine the grated onions, parsley, meat, bulgur, and spices in a large bowl.

At this point I recommend that you microwave or fry a small amount of the meat mixture to check the seasoning. It should be very flavorful, since it's the heart of the dish, so adjust if necessary.

Remove the pan with the potatoes from the oven. Spread the meat mixture over it and gently smooth the top (don't pack it down too tight). Arrange the tomatoes attractively on top, then sprinkle with parsley, pine nuts, and a few grinds of pepper. Pour a small amount of water over the dish (~1/4 c.) to provide moisture while cooking. Return to the oven and bake for 1 hour or until the meat and potatoes are cooked through. I broiled mine for a couple of minutes at the end to brown the pine nuts.

Slice into squares or wedges and serve with some kind of zingy yogurt sauce. I'd mix yogurt, garlic, mint, salt, and water. I think this dish is good cold the next day as well.

*Kibbeh is traditionally prepared by pounding cubed meat in a mortar and pestle until it's more like ground meat, and then the remaining ingredients are pounded as well. Being a liberated 'merican woman, I used a food processor. I have no idea how much this affects the final quality, but honestly I don't care when the other option is hours of pounding.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Meat(loaf) 'n' Potatoes

On this snowy and blustery April night (who'da thunk?) I decided it was meat and potatoes time. America's Test Kitchen came through again with a great recipe and technique for meatloaf. Theirs dealt with the problem of when you only have ground beef and not meatloaf mix (which is beef, pork, and veal). I actually had some meatloaf mix, but I used their recipe for its excellent technique and combination of flavors. The result was tender and velvety, with a deliciously zingy glaze. I served it with rosemary potatoes, broccoli, and a nice cold beer.

Seriously, if you found meatloaf like this at a restaurant, you'd drive across town at 5 o'clock in a blizzard to get it again.

Their approach to meatloaf differs in a few ways from what I'm used to. Gone are the days of a dense brick swimming in a half inch of grease. I mean, that's tasty and all (especially if you want to keep your coat good and shiny), but it leaves plenty of room for improvement. The ATK approach, on the other hand, bakes the loaf without a pan on a rack set-up that allows the drippings to come off. At the end you glaze it under the broiler.

I'm still not entirely sure how the rest of the recipe makes it so damn tender. I didn't have to follow their machinations specific to just-beef meatloaf, so I'm sure part of it is using the meat mixture. The recipe calls for a ton of thyme and my own addition was marjoram. I used matzo meal instead of Saltine crumbs, and we were out of celery so I threw in a pinch of celery seed. The glaze was made with the very last jar of Lillian's Own Ketchup, which I still had leftover from a couple of years ago (don't tell the USDA!). I really will have to make more this year--it was sublime.

The only bummer is that there aren't any leftovers :'-(

Meat Loaf
3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese , grated on small holes of box grater (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 medium rib celery , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium clove garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (powdered)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup crushed saltine crackers
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread cheese on plate and place in freezer until ready to use. Prepare baking sheet (see illustration below).

  2. Heat butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until foaming; add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and add tomato juice. Cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits from pan, until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to small bowl and set aside to cool.

  3. Whisk broth and eggs in large bowl until combined. Sprinkle gelatin over liquid and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce, mustard, saltines, parsley, salt, pepper, and onion mixture. Crumble frozen cheese into coarse powder and sprinkle over mixture. Add ground beef; mix gently with hands until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Transfer meat to foil rectangle and shape into 10 by 6-inch oval about 2 inches high. Smooth top and edges of meat loaf with moistened spatula. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf reads 135 to 140 degrees, 55 to 65 minutes. Remove meat loaf from oven and turn on broiler.

  4. While meat loaf cooks, combine ingredients for glaze in small saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring, until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Spread half of glaze evenly over cooked meat loaf with rubber spatula; place under broiler and cook until glaze bubbles and begins to brown at edges, about 5 minutes. Remove meat loaf from oven and spread evenly with remaining glaze; place back under broiler and cook until glaze is again bubbling and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes more. Let meat loaf cool about 20 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Stirf-fry and Potstickers from America's Test Chicken

Last night we were watching TV, bouncing from channel to channel, when we decided to watch America's Test Kitchen. The topic was "Not your Average Stir-fry" and we started drooling, it looked so damn good. They made a Thai-inspired beef stir-fry and some Chinese-style pork and cabbage potstickers. I like the show because it focuses on ingredients that nearly anyone can find, ordinary kitchen equipment, and has a thorough and scientific approach. Also, it's way less shrill than Alton Brown's Good Eats.

Today we were out and about with some friends and decided to go crazy and make the meal. It came out so well and I basically followed the recipes exactly. You have to register wit the ATK website to see the recipes, but they don't send you annoying stuff, so I recommend doing so. I won't re-post the recipes, but here are some photos to entice you to check them out. As usual, I was so eager to eat that my photos are lame, but you'll get the idea. Their stir-fry techniques in particular are really good.

Our tasty spread.

Blurry but tasty stir-fry.

These potstickers are amazing! I froze a bunch for later too :)

These two recipes compliment each other well: the salty/gingery potstickers and the hot/sweet stir-fry. If you have Thai basil you can use that in the stir-fry instead of cilantro for better effect. I got the awesome crystal tableware while helping clean out the apartments of Dan's elderly aunt. Livin' in style!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Roasting Chicken

I'm fairly certain that roast chicken is the food I've had the most kitchen meltdowns over. It's so simple, so basic, and so beautiful to have that whole, browned and glistening bird on the table--and yet, I can never seem to get one to the table without shedding tears of frustration and throwing a spatula across the kitchen. I always wind up with a combination of raw and over-cooked parts, usually long past dinner time. The skin will look perfect when the bird is hardly done, or the whole thing will seem perfectly cooked (even using the thermometer!) until I carve it and rivulets of chicken blood go coursing across the board.

I've known for years that the way to avoid that problem is to cut up the damn bird, but I couldn't help striving for the iconic whole roast bird. In the end, though, if I wanted some roast chicken without turning into a mental patient, I had to give up and find a new way. Here's the approach I arrived at, which turns out amazing chicken every time. It takes a little planning ahead, but the results are worth it.

First, get a cut-up chicken (or cut it up yourself). I like to get big valu packs and make planned-overs. I save the wings for making chicken soup, since they're not really worth roasting.

Next, you're going to brine the chicken for 2-3 hours. Place the chicken in a large tupperware. Add seasonings of your choice, but here's a nice combo that I use:
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. cracked allspice berries
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme (or ideally sprigs of fresh)
  • 2-3 smashed garlic cloves
To make your 2 quarts of brine, boil 2 cups of water and dissolve in it:
  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 3 heaping Tbsp. brown sugar
Add 6 cups cold water to make 2 quarts. Pour this over the chicken, seal the container, and place it in the fridge. Shake the container around every once in a while and brine for no more than 4-5 hrs (2-3 should suffice). I think you could do this overnight if you reduce the salt.

Preheat your oven to 425. If you have a pan that can be heated up (I use an enameled, cast iron pan), place that in the oven, lightly greased. This is ideal, because when you put the chicken in the pan it will sear immediately.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it once (I do this by filling the same container with fresh water and swishing the chicken around). Next, pat the chicken as dry as possible--this will take lots of paper towels.

Once your fowl is dry, sprinkle the pieces with salt and ground pepper, and coat them with some vegetable oil.

Place the pieces skin-down in your roasting pan, trying not to overcrowd them. If you pre-heated the pan they should sizzle nicely. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes. Then turn the pieces over and return them to the oven. If they're browning nicely, turn the heat down to 375, or keep it at 425 if they're still pale. Bake for 25 more minutes (or so).

Use your judgment here--I overcrowded my pieces, so I had to bake it longer and mess around with the broiler. Using a convection oven would reduce the cooking time nicely, too.

The chicken was so yummy, I forgot to take a picture of it when it was still sizzling in the pan, so hopefully this close-up of the stragglers gives an idea. The skin should be crispy and carmelized golden brown, the meat incredibly tender and flavorful. Brining works wonders and seems to make it impossible to overcook.

I served the chicken with Alex's ultra-simple garlicky lentil + rice soup and a green salad. The salad was romaine, pickled beets, and carrot smithereens with a dressing of cider vinegar, olive oil, whole-grain prepared mustard, honey, S & P. Zingy!

So, I know that brining seems like a hassle, but you've gotta do it! You definitely won't be disappointed.