Monday, March 30, 2009

Paprika Chicken

All the recipes I've found for this claim it's a standard American recipe--perfect for when you're rummaging around for an idea and don't have much on hand. I guess it didn't make it into our family, because I don't remember having it. It's basically a paprika-heavy chicken fricassee--perfect week-night comfort food. You could probably use any cut of chicken, including bone-in, but breast fillets are very easy to use.

3-4 chicken breasts
1-2 onions, diced
2 bell peppers, ideally red ones, diced
~1 can low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 c. white wine or vermouth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (and red pepper paste, if you have it)
2-3 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 c. sour cream
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. flour or cornstarch
1 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt & pepper
pinch sugar
fresh parsley (optional)

Cut the chicken into 2-3 mini cutlets per breast, but slicing them into 3/4" thick diagonals. Pound with something heavy to flatten to a uniform thickness. Pat them dry and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.

In a deep skillet, heat the oil and butter up until it's very hot. Cook the chicken pieces until they are golden brown on each side, doing 1-2 batches so that they only make a single layer in the pan. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.

Add the onions to the pan and reduce the heat. Add a pinch each of sugar and salt. Cook until they begin to turn golden brown, 10-15 minutes.

Stir in the paprika, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and marjoram, so that it's evenly distributed and starts to sizzle a bit. Add the chicken pieces and the red (or green) peppers, and stir to combine. Add the white wine and enough broth so that the chicken is 80% covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 40-50 minutes.

Uncover the pan and stir in the flour cornstarch mixed with 1/4 c. water. It should thicken almost instantly if you use cornstarch, or in 2-3 minutes of simmering if you use flour. Remove the pan from the heat and wait until it stops bubbling. Stir in the sour cream and parsley and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Serve over starchy goodness.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Moules marinieres

This is a pretty traditional preparation of mussels; steamed in white wine, shallot, and garlic. In this case I added tomatoes, which may or may not qualify this as moules marinieres depending on who you ask. This is pretty much a template recipe with infinite potential variation on flavors. If you like anis, substituting pastis or similar (ouzo, arrack, etc) for the white wine is very tasty.

Your mussels must be clean, de-bearded, and alive. The best way to get beards off is a to do a twisting pull with a pair of pliers (demonstrated at about 4:45 in this video by Lil's favorite, Alton Brown). Definitely at no point should they be placed in water; this will kill them, and dead shellfish become poisonous very quickly. You can briefly rinse them in a colander however. Perfect cleanliness is neither possible nor essential, and being overly fastidious will likely just kill them.

Let them sit out for half an hour or so before prep, so that the live ones close up tight. Sort through for any that are hanging open, and flap them open and shut; if they're alive they'll shut themselves in response. Toss any that don't respond.

For marinieres:
3-4 shallots - peeled and chopped coarsely
5-6 cloves garlic - peeled crushed and chopped coarsely
~1 cup white wine
Lots of butter
Optional extras: tomatoes canned or fresh, lemon juice/zest, herbs, etc

You need a pot with a good lid and lots of space for the mussels to steam. A wok is perfect. Don't overdo it on the liquid, as the mussels release plenty of their own.

Sweat the veggies etc in butter with a bit of salt. Toss all the mussels in, add the white wine, and clamp the lid down. After about 2 minutes, toss them to make sure they're steaming evenly. Steam until they're all open, which shouldn't take more than another 2 minutes, after which time you're in danger of overcooking them.

For service: I like to just plop them on top of a bowl of spaghetti. Be generous with the sauce, and make sure you've got some crusty bread to sop up the extra. Moules frites is a popular standard in France, where you usually get 1kg of mussels and unlimited fries for around 10E, so keep an eye out for that sign if you're ever looking for a damned tasty meal which is affordable by French standards, and can't really be messed up.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Simple Brined Pork Roast

This is a very basic recipe that can be adapted with any flavors that you prefer. It differs from Joe's previous pork recipe in that it's brined and it doesn't have a crusty coating. I also used a cheaper pork sirloin roast (~$ 6-7 for the whole shebang), which turned out every bit as flavorful and tender as a more expensive cut. I adapted this from the America's Test Kitchen recipe to create a version of utter simplicity.

A 3-4 lb pork loin roast

  • 2 qts water
  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 1/4 c. sugar

2-4 Tbsp. fat, ideally including bacon grease

Seasonings--I used:
  • white pepper
  • ground mustard
  • nutmeg
  • salt
Optional gravy:
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 1 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider or 1 tsp sugar
Combine the brine ingredients. Submerge the pork in the brine for 1-4 hrs. Remove and pat dry. I untied the roast for better brine penetration and then re-tied it later, but this is optional. When the roast is dry, rub it all over with the seasonings.

Pre-heat your oven to 325 F. Heat the fat in a cast iron pan that can accomodate the entire roast or a heavy-bottomed roasting pan that can be used on the stovetop. Brown on all sides, even the ends if you can (I hope you have sturdy tongs!). If there is too much crusty stuff in the pan, add a dash of broth to the pan to deglaze it before placing it in the oven (but not so much that you're braising the meat).

Roast the meat for 50-75 minutes, turning occasionally, adding small amounts of broth to the pan if the drippings are in danger of blackening. When a meat thermometer registers 145, remove the roast from the oven and allow the meat temp to rise to 150 before slicing.

To make the gravy, heat up the drippings on the stove top. Add more fat if your meat was too lean, to yield 2-3 Tbsp. drippings. Add the sage and mustard and then whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook while stirring until all the drippings are un-stuck from the pan and the roux is a dark, golden brown. Add the broth and cider and whisk. Cook down until it's the desired thickness, adjusting flavors as need be. You can swirl in 1-2 Tbsp. of butter at the end for extra smoothness and to keep a skin from forming on top (optional).

There was a moment when I could have taken a picture of my delicious plate of meat, sweet potato, and broccoli, but I was too hungry!

Gnoccho cum laude

Alternate title: Gnoccho erat demonstrandum

Gnocchi, as an easy and storable potato delivery vehicle, are a staple in my household. I have never really used/made a recipe for them even though I have made reference to such recipe as would exist, and Lillian has written a recipe for squash gnocchi. Also, it appears there is little agreement on whether (potato) gnocchi properly contain egg, so I decided to simultaneously systematize, record, and perfect my basic spud gnocchi recipe here.

Experimental procedure:
1) Boil a bunch of potatoes until soft. I have generally skinned them after cooking by just peeling off the skins; however, this is a bit messy and scaldy, so I would suggest just peeling them in advance.

2) Mash or run through a ricer. Most recipes you'll find on gnocchi say something along the lines of "optimal texture is achieved if a ricer is used." This strikes me as a load of hooey, as we're just going to mash it all up with flour and knead it into a consistent dough 2 steps from now, and I think you would be hard pressed to distinguish riced from mashed at that point.

3) Here is the part where you decide on eggs. I weighed my potatoes after boiling and peeling and came up with 5.5 pounds, and divided it into two batches of around 2.75 pounds each. One got 2 eggs, and they both got the same amount of flour (more on that later).
Oh shit, Joe's weighing things!

We broke a couple off each batch and boiled them. Our results: inconclusive. We could tell them apart, but neither was obviously preferable to the other. We just combined them, making a batch of 5.5 pounds potatoes, 2 eggs, and 4 cups flour, which, relative to most gnocchi recipes (which generally use around 1 egg per pound potatoes) is an eggless recipe. So, I will suggest you simply save the eggs and skip them entirely.

Eggs on the right

4) There is an optimal amount of flour to use. Too little and when you boil them you will simply find mush in the bottom of your pot, too much and they will get tough. Based on past experiencem, we started with about 1 cup per 2 pounds. This was enough for them to hold together, but they were very fragile, so we ended up upping the amount until we arrived at 4 cups for the 5.5 pounds, which is nearasdammit 3/4c per pound potato. This provides a gnoccho which is firm, easy to fry, yet fluffy and creamy inside.

5) Boil them until they float. I cannot improve upon this step.

My preferred method for preparing gnocchi is frying. Crispy exteriors are win.

Actual recipe:

Any amount of potatoes, specifically a high-starch, low-moisture variety such as russet
3/4c of flour per pound of potato
1 tsp salt per pound of potato

1) Peel, boil, and mash or rice potatoes.
2) Work salt and flour into mashed potatoes, knead into an even dough
3) Working with small quantities, roll out into ropes and cut into little pillow shapes. I don't both with any dimpling/forks etc, they do just fine smooth. I find the smaller the better, so try for around the size of a nickel.

If you know what's good for you, you'll fry them with some meat and veggies.Shown here with spicy hmong sausage, tomatoes, roasted peppers, scallions, and parmesan

Monday, March 2, 2009


I'm posting a recipe for challah that I think turned out pretty well. I changed it a little bit the second time I made it, and I think it's better. I added an extra 1/4 c. honey, and another egg (3 eggs total). And remember - nothing is better than fresh challah, except french toast made from fresh challah.

Challah, from The Art of Jewish Cooking, by Jennie Grossinger

1 cake or package yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
4 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons salad oil
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons poppy seeds

Combine the yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Let stand 5 minutes.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center and drop the eggs, oil, remaining water and the yeast mixture into it. Work into the flour. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. Place in a bowl and brush the top with a little oil. Cover with a towel, set in a warm place and let rise 1 hour. Punch down, cover again and let rise until double in bulk. Divide the dough into three equal parts. Between lightly floured hands roll the dough into three strips of even length. Braid them together and place in a baking pan. Cover with a towel and let rise until double in bulk. Brush with the egg yolk and sprinkle with the poppy seeds.

Bake in a 375 oven 30-50 minutes until browned (the original recipe says 50, but my super efficient oven says 30).
Makes 1 very large challah*. If you wish, divide the dough into six parts and make two large loaves, or make one loaf and many small rolls. You may also bake the bread in a loaf pan.

Note: 1/8 teaspoons saffron can be dissolved in the water if you like additional flavor and color.