Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chicken Scaloppine W/ White Wine Sauce

Chicken or Veal Scaloppine w/ a White Wine Sauce is what I would consider one of my staple recipes.  However since learning that my wife has celiac making it has become problematic. After searching for some time I was finally able to find a grocer who carried rice flour as a fungible commodity.  Said grocer also had a wide variety of rice pasta, though this I had previously acquired at other establishments.

The basic recipe is extremely simple and is essentially the same whether you are cooking chicken or veal (though for veal I shorten cooking times).  The first step is to get the water on to boil.  I've found that making this the first step is of particular import when cooking with an electric oven.  Back in the day when I had a gas stove to work with, heating up water still took time, but not nearly as much... man I miss that stove.  Next you have to get your chicken / veal into scaloppine form.  A scaloppine is actually a thin cut of meat.  For some reason, probably based on the Olive Garden menu, people have formed the notion that chicken or veal scaloppine refers to a particular recipe.  This is actually not the case, it only refers to the size and thickness of the cut of meat.  If you are working with veal you want to find veal that's already prepared as scaloppine.  If working with chicken you can either do the same or just buy (take out of the freezer) some chicken breasts (skinless & boneless).  Take these and pound the heck out of them until you're working with a 1/3 - 1/4 " thick piece.

Once you've pounded the chicken thin enough, slice it up into little scaloppine.  The actual size of the scaloppine doesn't matter as much as the thickness.  I like mine slightly larger than a silver dollar but heck, you can just cook up the whole breast thin if you want.

Dredge the scaloppine in flour (rice flour in this instance due to the gluten free requirement) salt and pepper.  Heat over high heat a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons EVOO.  Once that's slightly brown and smelling fantastic throw some chicken in there (as all the cook books say, don't crowd the pan).  Normally I pre-heat the oven to something in the 200 range, because I normally have to cook at least two batches in the frying pan (now would be a good time to mention that you want to cook the chicken in a frying pan).  About a minute per side is what I do for chicken, a shorter time frame is used for veal.

With cooked chicken removed from the pan and sitting in the heated oven I dump some dry white wine (pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc) into the pan to deglaze it... scraping up all the "brown bits" as every cooking show will mention.  I add to that diced mushrooms and drained capers and let that simmer for 5 minutes (I threw in some thyme as well though I don't always do that).  To this I add salt, pepper, chopped fresh Italian parsley, and the chicken.

And that's it.  Stir that all together and throw it on some angle hair pasta with a lemon wedge and a glass of the same wine used for deglazing and you have yourself a meal fit for a hungry person.

Sorry, no pic this time.  I was too hungry to artistically present the dish.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meat Sauce v1.0

Being of at least 50% Italian decent (100% on my fathers side, ?% on my mothers side) I grew up treated to my Nonna's meat sauce on holidays.  Often imitated but never recreated, to my memory, this was the best meat sauce ever paired with pasta (though my memory of the sauce is fuzzy at best at this point in my life).  Years ago I was given my mothers meat sauce recipe which I believe was adapted from my Nonna's recipe.  Over the subsequent years I've abstracted from that recipe my own meat sauce style.

These days I don't follow a recipe when I make this type of sauce.  That being the case, I inevitably end up making each batch differently.  My basic preparation tact is throwing together good ingredients until the sauce looks and tastes right.  There are a few rules I tend to stick to but I typically ad lib the rest.  This being the case I'm calling this post v1.0.  I'll be posting subsequent sauce adventures as well, not that I ever plan on re-using any of the recipes, but it should make for decent reading and who knows, maybe I'll learn something by going back and reading over them (and I'm sure I can definitely pick up something via any user comments / suggestions).

In making the sauce I realized I didn't have any ground beef sitting about so the meat in the sauce ended up being bacon and sausage (not exactly healthy, but tasty... everybody loves bacon).  This batch started with a caramelized onion (ie, I started by caramelizing an onion).  To that I added four large celery stalks, one large green pepper, and 3 decent sized carrots, all diced.  I call this drop 1.

Drop 2 consisted of diced portabello mushrooms and more EVOO, of greatest import.

With drop 3 we reintroduce the meat.  Looking above I think I forgot to mention that I cooked the meat separately from the rest of the sauce.  Thus I will mention it now.  I cooked both the sausage and bacon in cast iron as I am want to do.  I did not completely cook them through though since they would cook more in the sauce and I did not want them to be a mess.  Everything that goes into the sauce, including the meat, gets a rough chop, and only a rough chop.  This ends up making the result pretty rustic in texture.  A few crushed garlic cloves go into D3 as well.

Drop 4 is all the liquid and spice content.  I went with fresh tomatoes, which is not always the case.  8 roma tomatoes diced to be exact ( seeds and juice included ).  To that I added a little over half a 7oz can of chicken broth, some more EVOO, some bacon grease, and 4oz tomato paste.

As far as spices go, here's a list, it's extensive and ordered by quantity.

  • Basil
  • Salt
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Fennel seed
  • sage
  • pepper
  • 2 bay leaves 
I simmered this down for two hours.  About 30 minutes deep I realized it was too thick and threw in 15oz tomato sauce to add some more liquid content.  One thing to note concerning liquid is that I NEVER add water to my sauce.  My mothers recipe called for water, but as far as I can discern, watter serves no purpose other than watering down the sauce.  Better to add a liquid which brings with it some flavor component.  

30 minutes before the end of cooking, add one good glass of red wine (good red wine, something you're going to drink with the meal, none of this cooking wine nonsense).  This is also an ideal time to start thinking about getting your water on to boil.  

The pasta in and of itself requires some technique.  I cook it slightly below al-dente.  After that I throw the sauce in with it and cook it all together.  This seems to help the pasta soak in the sauce.  I dump some parmigiano reggiano on top of that as well just to add a salt component to the table.

Plating comes paired with green onion and parsley. 

the finished product

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hashbrowns - One and Done

I've seen a variety of recipes for hashbrowns, though there's not a lot of room for variation in the basic recipe as far as I can tell.  You're dealing with potatoes obviously, not much more. Regardless of the recipe however I have yet to be successful in the making of hashbrowns.

Once, I made potato crusted salmon which basically meant I coated the salmon with hashbrowns.  On that particular occasion, said browns turned out as expected.  Since then, whether making straight hashbrowns or making the same salmon recipe again, the hashbrowns have not turned out right.

The general technique I follow is based on recipes I've read online.  I grate a russet potato in a cheese grater.  After that I try to dry the result with towels since there's a lot of liquid in the potato which will cause it to basically steam or boil instead of fry if I don't get rid of it.  Finally I throw it into a pan with some oil and butter to fry it up.

It seems the primary problems arise in the drying process.  Typically this process is a mess.  Pressing paper towels into the grated potatoes in order to soak the liquid out takes at least 5 minutes and I have to deal with the potatoes getting stuck to the towels and visa versa.   Further, if the potatoes are grated too long before cooking, oxidation takes place making the potatoes red and just a mess after cooked.  Even when dried, I just don't get the fluff out of them post cooking that I would expect.

Open to any input on this front

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fried Chicken Sans Flour

It's not often that I get around to frying chicken... or really frying much of anything for that matter.  I thought about it and I can't come up with a particularly good reason why it's a rarity.  Perhaps it's, because the process is something of a mess... or perhaps it's, because I don't always have enough oil laying around.

Whatever the reason is, said reason did not hinder me from setting out to fry up some chicken legs a couple days ago.

I'm a big advocate of dark meat.  Not only does it have more natural flavor, it's a lot easier to cook, because you don't need to worry as much about it drying out.  You can cook the heck out of a chicken leg (or thigh) and it's still going to be juicy, where as, with a breast, you have a window of approximately 45 seconds between underdone and sawdust.  There's also the advantage of cost.  Since Americans demographically are not as fond of dark meat as they are of white meat, you can get a huge sack of chicken legs for half the price you would pay for a handful of breasts.

Your standard fried chicken recipe involves you dredging the chicken in some sort of flour and spice mixture (or shaking it up in a paper bag).  My wife however has recently learned that she is gluten sensitive so for her sake I decided to try a non-flour approach.  Another change I made from my standard frying technique is using shortening instead of peanut oil.  I've never done this before but a lot of websites claimed that it added a punch of flavor ... and I had shortening sitting around from when I made cookies or something a while back so I figured, what the heck.

I did shake up the chicken legs with some salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary to give it a little punch of flavor.  May have used a little too much salt, but the wife enjoys her sodium so it was fine by her.  After a good shake I heated my shortening to 325 degrees in preparation for frying.  I only used somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch of shortening in my trusty cast-iron pan.  I've seen some recipes calling for legitimate deep frying, actually dunking the whole think in a vat of peanut oil.  Where's the love?  If the literature is to be believed, proper fried chicken is done in shallow oil by turning the chicken every few minutes.

Timing for me worked out to about 20 minutes total.  I would turn in 5 minute increments, treating the chicken as though it had 4 sides, and then doing a quick minute or so on each side at the end just to give it a final crisp.  Unfortunately I ended up sitting by the pan the whole time carefully monitoring the temperature.  It fluctuated a lot as I turned the chicken and such and I had to keep finking with it to keep it right around 325.

Surprisingly (to me at least) it turned out great.  You'll find a picture of the finished product below (served with some wild rice) but that doesn't do it justice.  The dark meat allowed  for some pretty heavy cooking without drying out at all, and a little squeeze of lemon over the top at the end added some nice flavor.  I definitely noticed the absence of flour in the crust but it didn't really take anything away from the dish.  The skin provided enough flavor and texture to stand on it's own.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Stew with a Kick

On a hot 90 day, there's nothing better than a bowl of piping hot beef stew. Wait, what?!

I surprised even myself when those words came out of my mouth on a hot June day. Others might turn around a 2lb beef round roast into something that meets the typical summer fare; but for those of us that can't get enough crock pot action in the summer, this is the perfect recipe to sit and sweat like a dirty migrant farmer . With margarita in hand, I browned the entire hunk of beef in my classically seasoned cast iron pan (by classic, I mean my girlfriend won't eat anything that's been cooked in it). It was a good idea at the time; if anything, to seal in the seasoning (sea salt and cracked pepper). After a quick sear on all sides, I cut it down to stew-sized pieces and threw it in the CP with a package of beef stock and assorted vegetables. I went with some carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, lima beans and of course, potatoes. Next time I'd like to switch out the celery with some mild peppers. Tomato wouldn't be bad; even a tomatillo, if I kept with the theme. Don't add more water -- the vegetables are going to sweat worse than you in about 8 hours. If you need liquid, add tequila, it tastes much better.

Next up, a little spice.

I added some finely chopped jalapenos in a pan with some hot olive oil to open up that pep. After a minute, I dumped a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into the pan for some quick heat (less than 15 seconds). After throwing that mixture into the CP, I simmered on low for about 7 hours, stirring occasionally -- shots of tequila more frequent. Right before turning it off, I whisked up a quick roux (half cup fat of choice, half cup flour, and a dash of paprika) and stirred it into the stew. I blended up another margarita, cranked up the AC, and sat down to a killer meal.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Starting Simple - Cast Iron Pan Fried Ribeye

I'm going to wade into this endeavour with a dish that I'm fairly comfortable with, which should allow me to focus on giving the reader the flavor (heh, flavor, food page... we're off to a good start here) of the site content.

This is a dish which I believe I saw on Food Network at some point ... let me see if I can find it ... no, can't find it.  Anyway, the idea here is that you're pan frying this steak over very-high heat very quickly.  There's a couple things going on here.  First you're getting a real nice seer on the outside, and while the myth that this seals in the juices has been widely debunked at this juncture, it still adds a flavor that no amount of salt can replicate.  Second the meat just doesn't have time to dry out.

Boneless ribeye is the cut that I'm working with here.  I go about an inch and a half thick on it which typically works out well.  Thinner and you run the risk of just burning the whole thing to a crisp which isn't even particularly good as dog food.

My pan of choice is cast iron and this pan I've been using for a good 6 years now.  It was handed down to me by my Mom and I have no idea how long she used it.  Needless to say it's well seasoned.  It's definitely seen its fare share of bacon during it's tenure with me so the whole thing is pretty well imbued with fatty (note, with an f, not a ph) flavor.

Interestingly I can't cook this meal without setting off the smoke detector.  I suspect the reason for this is the proximity of the smoke detector to the kitchen, and the fact that I fill the apartment with smoke...  So, that stands as a warning I suppose.  Open a window.  The smoke comes from the fact that you cook this in a 500 degree oven.  The pan should be in the oven when you pre-heat.  I'm not sure if this does anything other than save time, but it was in the recipe when I read it and I always do it.  Once the oven's heated the pan goes on the burner at high heat.  This is when the meat gets added.

Seasoning for the meat is simply.  A little oil (I like EVOO, the recipe suggested Canola, use whatever you want), LOTS of salt, and LOTS of pepper.  That's it.  There's an odd habit among people who are just starting to cook steaks, myself included in my youth, to load the steak with a ton of seasoning beforehand.  McCormick makes a fortune off this inclination but it's totally unnecessary.  Especially if you're working with a good cut like a ribeye, anything beyond salt and pepper just takes away from the meat.

But I digress...

Throw the meat on the pan for 30 seconds a side.  Once the second side finishes the pan goes in the oven (still 500 degrees).  Now, if something is going to go wrong with this recipe here's where it's going to happen. I do two minutes a side in my oven, but that's my oven and the doneness to which I enjoy my meat.  The first time you try to make this you're probably going to end up with overdone or underdone steak.  To get it right I had to make it about 3 times in my current oven, taking notes on thickness, time, and doneness each round.  When I move I'll probably need to do that again.

And that's it.  After that second side's done, take the pan out of the oven, move the steak to a plate, cover it with tin foil, and let it rest for 5-7 minutes so the juice doesn't just go squirting everywhere when you cut into it.  I typically serve it with asparagus or Brussels sprouts on the side (the wife has a real affinity for Brussels sprouts for some reason) but I'm not opposed to mixing it up with some potatoes or a salad.