Sunday, May 16, 2010

Poulet Sauté Basquaise / Sauté of Chicken with Bell Peppers

A month or so ago, Scott was heading up to one of his accounts on the Boise Bench and was rear-ended. We were lucky that there was minimal damage to the car and no damage to Scott, but it still made for a stressful day. Scott had some evening obligations, but asked for a dinner from the book. I opted for this chicken and the macaroons from the previous post. I'd planned for a few more things but ran out of time. It's easy to get over ambitious.

I still haven't found the Espelette pepper listed. I need to make it over to the Basque Market in downtown. I figure if anyone's going to have it, they will. The chicken is browned after being coated in a mixture of Espelette (or cayenne and paprika in my case) and flour. It's pan-roasted with garlic, Bayonne ham or proscuitto, chicken broth and red & green bell peppers.

It smelled amazing. The proscuitto added a meaty, salty character to the chicken and peppers. By the time the dish was cooked, the peppers were soft and almost falling apart. I served everything over basmati rice cooked in the leftover chicken broth. Overall, a comforting dish to make up for a stressful day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Les Macarons de Nancy / Almond Macaroons

I may have a new favorite cookie. These are so ridiculously easy and delightful. If you have a food processor, you can make them. Combine 150 g blanched almonds (The recipe calls for whole, but I couldn't find them. We've used slivered ands sliced.) with one cup of sugar, two lightly beaten egg whites and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Pulse in the food processor until a sticky paste is formed. Apologies on the weight for the almonds to those of you who don't have a scale. The recipe calls for 1 cup whole blanched almonds, but I haven't been able to find whole ones and have used the weight instead. The genius? You can choose how rustic you want the macaroons to be. I liked how the slivered ground a little better than the sliced, but I liked that the recipe is flexible.

It's also flexible if you make a mistake. The first time I made them, I looked at the 150 g of almonds and 200 g granulated sugar and combined the numbers to 250 g almonds. I was really confused when it took a few extra egg whites to make the paste come together, but it had said you might need more. The cookies turned out delicious, and I didn't think much of it until I was making them again for a beer tasting party. The pile of almonds was significantly smaller, and two egg whites was more than sufficient. Oops. The second batch was a little less dense than the first, which is to be expected.

Each time I make these little cookies, I'm amazed that they don't have any flour in them. They are pillowy and soft, with a terrific texture. Even looking at them, it's hard to tell they're nothing more than almonds, sugar and egg whites.

The first night, we had them with coffee and vanilla ice creams with caramel sauce drizzled over the top. Mmmm... The second time, they went to a beer tasting party where someone told me more than once that they were the best cookies he's ever eaten. The third time, friends joined us for How I Met Your Mother, potato-leek soup and macaroons with a chocolate sauce. Each batch turned out slightly different. I still have some almond meal left over from the chocolate cake and am looking forward to using it too. I think it would leave me with a cookie more similar to the classic French macaroon. Regardless, I have a new go to dessert when I need one in a pinch. The next step is to see what I can do to make different flavored ones. An attempt at strawberry was a disaster--too much water in the berries--but I think I could manage to make chocolate work out well.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cotes d'Agneau Champvallon / Lamb Chops with Potato and Onion

We're caught up on our posts, so I guess that means it's time to start cooking again. Scott was in the mood for lamb, and this recipe didn't seem like it would take too long after a visit to the gym. There are only three main ingredients: lamb, potatoes and onions.

Procedure is pretty easy. Sprinkle the chops with salt & pepper and sear on each side. Remove them and set them aside. Add the sliced onions to pan an sauté them until they're tender and starting to brown. Mix the onions with thinly sliced baking potatoes, fresh thyme & parsley, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Place the lamb chops between two layers of potato mixture, pour enough chicken broth to almost cover and bake until the potatoes and chops are tender.

The bake time is between 45 and 75 minutes. Not all of the broth absorbed, but I think the remaining potato, onion and broth mixture would make a great soup with a little smoked sausage. I'm looking forward to it for lunch this week.

The end meal was amazing. I think this was one of the best recipes we've had from the book lately. The lamb was tender and didn't taste too much like we chewed on a wet sheep's wool. The potatoes were tender with the subtle flavor of the thyme and garlic. The onions had almost melted into the broth. Mmm...

The wine pairing proved to be a bit challenging. The lamb was rich enough that it needed red wine, but the potatoes and onions called out for white wine. Instead of splitting the difference and pleasing neither side of the dish, we opted to pair dinner with Maui Brewing's Big Swell IPA. The potatoes enhanced the fruitiness of the beer. It wasn't a perfect match, but it was pretty good.

Definitely a successful evening. Dinner went mostly according to plan, and we didn't have any of the mishaps that have plagued us recently. Another bonus? I have somehow managed to post dinner the night after eating rather than three weeks later. Yay for actually staying on track!

Spring break is officially over tonight. We go back to work and school tomorrow. I'm sure we'll fall behind on cooking soon, but it was nice to take a bit of a break.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Brioche de Gannat / Auvergnat Cheese Brioche

And we're caught up! Scott and I went down to visit friends in Oakland and visit wine country in Napa and Sonoma for our spring break. I finally got us caught up on the drive from Oakland to Boise. I know it's out of the usual scope of the blog, but look for a recap of our Sonoma and Napa adventures soon. We were able to visit Ridge Lytton Springs, Shafer Vineyards, Joseph Phelps, Dominus Estate, and a few others. I love Scott's job... One of the coolest parts about being able to visit Dominus is that they are not open to the public. Look for pictures soon!


I was lucky enough to receive a Professional Series Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer for my birthday last year. I had salivated over them for ages, and I can’t thank my husband & both sets of parents enough for letting me finally have one in the kitchen. It looks so pretty sitting on the counter, and I’ve loved how much easier recipes that require mixing are. The mixer also brought me an unexpected benefit: my husband realized he loves to make bread. The smell of bread rising in the house is so comforting and warm. I’m not sure there’s a better smell to come home to. The bread-making has slowed since his semester of school has started, but he’s still occasionally busting out the dough hook to make us some treats. Scott tends to like the richer breads. One of his favorites is a Portuguese rich bread from Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World. If it has eggs or dairy, chances are he’s earmarked it for a weekend day.

We’ve tried the regular brioche recipe in the book before, and this was a savory version with gruyere. The procedure is the same as with a brioche, and the mixer does most of the work. One of these days, we’ll have to attempt to hand knead, but it’s kind of fun to be able to have “easy” homemade bread. We did have a little miscommunication regarding the gruyere: I told Scott that I had grated all of the cheese and that he’d have to measure out what he needed. He heard it as his grated cheese was in the fridge. Oops. The final product definitely had the tang of gruyere. It was recommended to bake the bread in a loaf pan, but Scott tends to like the more rustic look of a hand-shaped round. The bread was still done in the middle before the outside got too crispy or burned. I bought him a Sil-Pat back in November, and it has made baking bread just a little easier. We don’t have to worry about making sure the house is stocked with parchment paper, and I’ve appreciated that we’ve cut down a bit on waste. I’d like to find him a Sil-Pain one of these days. They’re designed to make sure the crust is crunchy and doesn’t burn, but I haven’t seen any in any of the kitchen shops I’ve visited.

So how was the cheesy bread? It was fantastic. The texture was light and airy. It smelled so good when it was baking that I had a hard time waiting to cut it open. He sprinkled a little Ballard Truffle & Salt Cheddar on the top, which gave an extra layer to the crunchiness on the crust. The middle was fragrant, and there were small pockets where the cheese didn’t melt completely into the dough. We both agreed that we should have had some high quality ham to go with the bread. It would have been amazing with a smear of Dijon mustard and some Black Forest or Serrano ham. We’ll be sure to put in the proper amount of cheese next time, but it’s nice to have measuring mistakes turn out okay in the end.

Sauté de Poulet Aux Quarante Gousses d'Ail / Sauté of Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves

The main star of the night was the Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic. Really, how can you go wrong? We did have to buy garlic for the first time in ages for the recipe. My mom grows garlic in her garden to sell at Market, so we typically have garlic coming out of our ears, but this time of year can be a little lean. We used up the last of Lazy Dog Gardens’ Italian Purple a few weeks before we cooked the recipe. Even though I didn’t have the homegrown stuff, the chicken was delicious. Forty cloves sounds like a large amount for something that serves 4-6, but the cooking time mellows out the flavor. The end product is quite similar to roasted garlic.

We had to change up the procedure a little bit because we had a burner out of commission. The original recipe calls for searing the chicken pieces and then cooking everything on the stovetop. We still seared on the stovetop, but we finished the dish in the oven. We put a lid on the pan, so the juices were kept in. Once the chicken pieces were done, I pulled the chicken and half of the garlic out and set them aside covered in foil. I squeezed the remaining garlic out of its skins (the cloves are separated but not peeled) and mashed them with the pan juices. I thickened the resulting sauce and poured it over the chicken and the rice.

We served dinner with a 2007 Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley, one of my favorite Oregon Chardonnays. The garlic pieces that were set aside can be squeezed out of their skins and smeared on the chicken or mixed with the rice. The mellow, rich flavor of garlic and herbs in the sauce complemented the wine nicely. The Arthur is aged in a combination of mostly neutral and one- and two-year old oak barrels, and it doesn’t go completely through malolactic fermentation. The resulting wine is not the typical buttery oak bomb that can be associated with Chardonnay. Rather, the fruit (apples, pears and tropical fruits like pineapple) has a chance to shine through. The barrels give the wine a richer texture than stainless steel would, and the result is a wine that is very food friendly. Both the wine and the pan sauce had similar textures in the mouth, further enhancing the meal.

Garlic harvest is typically at the end of June or beginning of July. I can’t wait to give Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves another try with Idaho-grown fresh garlic.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pilaz de Riz Traditionel au Fenouil / Traditional Rice Pilaf with Fennel

I’ve avoided fennel in the past. The mention of a licorice-flavor was enough to turn me off without even giving it a chance. Black licorice ranks right up there with artificial banana as one of my least favorite flavors. I’m happy to report that this project opened me up to the idea of using fennel in the future. We even added it to our favorite olive oil, red pepper flake and garlic pasta. It’s always nice to have new vegetables to use in the kitchen.

The pilaf starts with sautéing fennel with onions until they caramelize. The rice is toasted, and fennel seeds and saffron are added. Cook the mixture in chicken broth until the rice is cooked through and fluffy.

We sometimes struggle with getting rice to cook all the way through at our house. I suspect it has something to do with atmospheric pressure, though it might also be attributed to our stove’s difficulty in functioning at low level temperatures. Rice will go ages without cooking through, sometimes to the tune of an hour and a half. The rice and liquid mixture will be hot, and there will be steam, but the rice doesn’t absorb the liquid. It’s probably the stove itself, as I can transfer to our rice cooker and be okay. I need to get better at remembering to transfer the contents to the cooker instead of cursing the rice when it’s not ready, but I never seem to remember until I’m muttering obscenities. Oh well. The end product was a little crunchy, but I’d be happy to try it again. It tasted great for lunch the next day with some of the chicken’s sauce spooned over the top. The only minor quibble is with the fennel seeds. The crunch is a little too much like the sound of squishing a bug, with a little pop in your mouth. I might eliminate them if we were to try it again.

The subtle flavor of the saffron and fennel complimented the Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay we paired with dinner, and the pilaf was a great match with the Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves. I really enjoyed the combination of the three. Overall, the flavor of the pilaf was delicious, and I’ll be sure to use the rice cooker next time so that it gets done in the suggested time frame. And we’ll excitedly use the fennel Mom’s planting in the garden this year.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gâteau au Chocolat Lyonnaise / Light Chocolate Cake

We had a busy cooking night last Sunday--four recipes in one evening! Scott made a cheese brioche. We had chicken with forty garlic cloves and fennel rice pilaf for dinner, followed by a light chocolate cake for dessert. Why is dessert first in the posting? Well, because Scott made the bread and has to give his observations himself, and because of this:

Yep, I managed to turn on the wrong burner on the stove and melted part of the cutting board the bread was sitting on when I melted the chocolate for the cake. The resulting mess meant that we had to adjust the cooking method for the chicken. I don't often make mistakes that stupid, but Scott was kind about it. After a lot elbow grease and a few minutes on high a few days later to burn off the bits I couldn't get off, th burner is back to normal. The best part was that I told myself to move the cutting board maybe 3 minutes before I turned on the burner.

Back to the cake: This definitely is not your typical chocolate cake. It does not have any flour to it. Rather, the whipped egg whites and chocolate are held together by potato starch--something I've never cooked with--and given heft with ground almonds. I believe there is at least one other recipe in the book that requires potato starch. As for the almonds, I opted for the easy way out and purchased Bob's Red Mill's almond meal. I've heard that you have to be careful when blending nuts to avoid making butter and thought I'd make life easier for myself. Both the potato starch and almond meal are sitting in the freezer awaiting their next recipe.

Much like the soufflé, egg whites are folded with a chocolate mixture and baked, this time in a spring form pan. This is definitely not a soufflé though. Willan suggests that the cake is best when slightly underdone and gives a caveat that it is easy to go too far. I confess that I did not watch closely enough and over-baked. The resulting cake is cooled and served with a crème Chantilly.

The resulting cake was very crumbly. The almond meal gave it an interesting texture and flavor. Perhaps it would have been better if it had still been creamy in the center, but it seemed like it went from goopy in the middle to dry. I may attempt it again on a night with fewer distractions. The cake is supposed to firm up if it is left for a day or so, and it can keep in an airtight container for 3 days. We had leftovers the next night when our friend, Leil, came over for a little wine and The Hangover. The almond flavor was a bit more pronounced, and the crème Chantilly helped with the dryness. The description of the cake in the introductory paragraph says it can be thought of as resembling a chocolate mousse with a crisp crust. If that is the case, I think I may attempt it again.