Mahogany Chicken Thighs, Part 2

September 16, 2014

The second try definitely worked out better. While my plan had been to use low-sodium soy sauce, on my way home from the supermarket I realized that I had forgotten to buy it. So I reduced the soy sauce (and therefore the saltiness) by 1/3 cup. The flavors were much more robust when not masked by the extreme saltiness of my first attempt.  Also, I broiled the chicken for just 2 minutes (in Step 8) until the chicken was lightly browned. Even though the chicken was far from the broiler element, it is still amazing how fast this 195-degree chicken will crisp up. This attempt earns a solid 4-stars; flavorful and balanced, easy to make.

Better than the first time

Better than the first time

BTW – Chris Kimball recommends serving this with steamed rice, but because my son had a friend over who loves potatoes, I served it with mashed potatoes. The kids gave the recipe as high as 4-1/2 stars.

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball reminds us to trim all visible fat and skin from the underside of the chicken. Tonight I am going to use a combination of thighs and drumsticks, so I’m not sure how I will trim the drumsticks,

Cost: $5
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I cooked it today are given below:

1-1/2 cups water
2/3 cup soy sauce (or 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce)
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
4-lbs bone-in chicken thighs
2″ ginger piece
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cornstarch

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 300-degrees. Trim away any skin and excess fat from the bottom of the thighs.
  2. In an oven-safe 12″ skillet, whisk together 1 cup water, 3/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sherry, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons molasses, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Arrange chicken with the skin side down in skillet and soy sauce mixture.  Peel ginger, cut in half and smash. Peel the garlic cloves and smash.
    Nestle the ginger and garlic between the chicken pieces.
  3. Put over medium burner and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, then put the skillet into the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Flip chicken skin-side up and continue to bake for another 20 to 30 minutes until the chicken reaches 195-degrees. Remove chicken to serving platter.
  5. Pour cooking liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a fat separator. Allow to settle for 5 minutes. Turn over to broil.
  6. In a separate small bowl, whisk corn starch together with 1/2 cup water.
  7. Pour 1 cup of the de-fatted juices into the skillet and bring up to a simmer over medium burner. Whisk in water/corn starch and simmer for 1 minute, until thickened. Pour sauce into serving bowl and set aside.
  8. Put chicken back into skillet and broil for 3 to 4 minutes until well browned. Return chicken to serving platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving; passing the sauce separately.

Mahogany Chicken Thighs, Part 1.

September 13, 2014

Actually, I made this recipe before my summer vacation, and I forgot to rate it at that time. My only comments were that it was too salty, and that I accidentally let mine broil for too long. It was a little too dark, but still flavorful. I will make it again tonight, and will post Part 2 tomorrow. The changes I will make are to buy low-sodium soy sauce and will be extra vigilant during the broiling process.

Final results were a little salty and overly dark

Final results were a little salty and overly dark

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball reminds us to trim all visible fat and skin from the underside of the chicken. Tonight I am going to use a combination of thighs and drumsticks, so I’m not sure how I will trim the drumsticks,
  2. He also recommends serving with steamed rice, but I might make potatoes.

Cost: $5
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:30 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I cooked it today are given below:

1-1/2 cups water
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
4-lbs bone-in chicken thighs
2″ ginger piece
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cornstarch

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 300-degrees.
  2. In an oven-safe 12″ skillet, whisk together 1 cup water, 1 cup water, 1 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sherry, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons molasses, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Arrange chicken with the skin side down in skillet and soy sauce mixture.  Peel ginger, cut in half and smash. Peel the garlic cloves and smash.
    Nestle the ginger and garlic between the chicken pieces.
  3. Put over medium burner and bring up to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, then put skillet in pre=heated oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Flip chicken skin-side up and contine to bake for another 20 to 30 minutes until the chicken reaches 195-degrees. Remove chicken to serving platter.
  5. Pour cooking liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a fat separator. Allow to settle for 5 minutes. Turn over to broil.
  6. In a separate small bowl, whisk corn starch together with 1/2 cup water.
  7. Pour 1 cup of the de-fatted juices into the skillet and bring up to a simmer over medium burner. Whisk in water/corn starch and simmer for 1 minute, until thickened. Pour sauce into serving bowl and set aside.
  8. Put chicken back into skillet and broil for 4 minutes until well browned. Return chicken to serving platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving; passing the sauce separately.

 


Tortuguero, Costa Rica

September 6, 2014

Anyone who knows me has heard my stories of this amazing place. I spend 5 months working as a research assistant for Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly Caribbean Conversation Corporation), a biological field station that researches sea turtle nesting behavior. My job was to walk the beaches during the night in search of turtles building their nests. Once the turtles start to lay their eggs, they become almost impossible to frighten. I would count the eggs, measure their carapaces, and tag the turtle. This Field Station has been here for 50 years; one of the first such research stations. Because my background has always been in computers, seeing life’s wonders up close has always been one of my most magical memories.

Isolated shores of the Costa Rica's northern Caribbean

Isolated shores of the Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean

So after an absence of 17 years, I returned to the shores of Tortuguero; this time as a simple tourist. The little town has grown up quite a bit, and is now completely centered around catering to tourists. While seeing river life is interesting, tourists come for the opportunity to see sea turtles nest. Access to the beach in the nighttime is regulated (a good thing for the turtles), but I was lucky enough (more accurately I planned to come at the right time) to see the entire nesting process, watch her lay here 100-or-so eggs, tightly and carefully pack the sand around the eggs, and finally disguise her nest. The process is amazing.

One of the things that has protected Tortuguero from mass tourism is its remoteness. There are no roads, and everything has to come in by two-to-three hour riverboat. Of course, the riverboat ride through the jungle was amazing. But this type of “adventure” is not for everyone.

The above pictures are of the Biological Field station. I lived here for 5 months.  If anyone plans ever plans to go during turtle season (February to October), try to bring a care package for the research assistants. I brought a care package of 5 pounds of M&M’s and some peanut butter. They are mostly young 20-ish year olds, here for 3 to 6 months, and greatly appreciative of a taste of home.

And finally, a word or two about the meaning of the word Tortuguero. When I was here 17 years ago, I translated it to “Place of the turtles”. But I also know that the name can translate to “Turtle Hunter” (adding -er suffix would make it like “turtler”). Fortunately for the turtles, eco-tourism has made it more profitable for the locals to foster the culture as the “Place of the turtles” and, while it still exists, “Turtle Hunting” has been greatly reduced. A rare instance where tourism has helped preserve what makes this place so special; to remove a tragic, historical definition from the modern dictionary.


Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica

September 1, 2014

While It may not sound like much, I have spent 1% of my life in Costa Rica. This small Central American country is one of the most important places in my life, and I have not been back for 7 years. It is a place I never get tired of, and always find it wonderful to return. Even after 6 or 7 trips, I am still finding new and amazing places to visit. This trip I went to the jungle around the northern volcano of Rincon de la Vieja; northeast of the city of Liberia. Getting there meant a short but bone-jarring drive in an SUV (that was supposed to have 4WD, but didn’t).

Blue River gets its distinctive color from minerals

Blue River gets its distinctive color from minerals in the water

The area is filled with volcanic hot springs, and abundant wildlife. Thanks to its elevation it is mercifully mild, even though it is so geographically close to infernally hot Liberia. I saw monkeys and a flock of more than 20 toucans.

The area is filled with lots of activities. I rode horses to a nearby waterfall and went zip-lining 120 feet up in the canopy. While I am not generally afraid of heights, the craziness of the idea of zip lining definitely hit me full force. But after gaining a little bit of experience I felt like an expert after the 10th run.

I chose Rincon de la Vieja in part because I wanted to avoid the well beaten tourist path in Costa Rica, but it is also worth mentioning the Arenal volcano, which had been spewing lava daily for decades, has all but stopped. Also, I chose this more remote location because what was once a long trek through the cloud forest to get to the entrance to Monteverde, has now become built most of the way to the park. Rincon de la Vieja feels 10 times more remote.

 


Sauteed Corn with Black Beans and Red Bell Pepper

August 28, 2014

The current issue has a lot of latin-themed recipes, so I served this as a side-dish. The flavors was very well balanced and enjoyable. I followed the instructions that stressed not moving the corn, but didn’t hear any clear popping after 5 minutes. It’s possible that my skillet might not have been hot enough.  Overall, I was please with the outcome, but it was a little more of a mess than I would normally want for a salad. 3-1/2 stars.

Refreshing corn and bean salad

Refreshing corn and bean salad

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.75.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 red onion
1/2 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño chile
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
15-oz can black beans
3 ears corn
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)

  1. Cut the corn kernels for cobs and set aside. You should have 3 cups.
  2. Cut bell pepper into 1/4″ pieces. Finely chop your red onion. Remove the step and seeds from your jalapeno, then mince. Rinse your black beans.
  3. Put a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium burner, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and allow to pre-heat for 2 minutes. Saute the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno for 4 to 6 minutes, until the onion has softened.
  4. Add mined garlic, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook for 1 more minute.
  5. Add rinsed bean and warm for 1 minute and empty skillet into a large serving bowl. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel.
  6. Turn up the burner to medium-high and preheat 1 more tablespoon vegetable oil until it begins to shimmer. Add corn kernels and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for about 3 minutes without stirring until the corn begins to pop. Stir and until the corn becomes spotty brown; for about 3 minutes longer. Empty into serving bowl.
  7. Add cilantro and 2 tablespoons lime juice, stir until combined and season with salt and remaining lime juice to taste.

Grilled Fish Tacos with Pineapple/Pepper Salsa

August 9, 2014

I wanted to make these Grilled Fish Tacos as soon as I saw the new, Latin-themed issue (September/October 2014) of Cook’s Illustrated. While Chris Kimball’s Mexican recipes are usually quite tame, he nevertheless promised fresh and bold flavors. Because fish tacos are usually much more subtle than other types of tacos, I had high hopes that his Yankee-palate could still yield ideal fish tacos. Grilling the fish definitely added flavor, and I was surprised at how well the 1″ fish slices held together on the grill. Not using flaky-fish is very important to this recipe. The fish is served with a pineapple/pepper salsa.

Delicious by lacking heat

Delicious by lacking heat

The tacos are very good. The marinade imparted good flavor to the otherwise subtle fish flavor, but without over powering the fish. Ultimately, however, I think that these tacos are not worth the effort or expense. $41 makes this the most expensive recipe I’ve every made (this was previous most expensive). The recipe was also a little fussy; using two types of chile powder (neither of which I could find). While I liked the Pineapple/Pepper salsa, I also felt that a little more raw heat would have made the tacos more successful. While I wanted to love them, I can only give them a luke-warm 3-1/2 starts.

Comments:

  1. The recipe requires you to avoid common super-market fish, as they are too flaky and will fall apart as you cook them on the grill. Chris Kimball recommends using swordfish, mahi-mahi, tuna, or halibut fillets.  My supermarket only had the requisite 1″-thick fish as swordfish; at $15/lb.
  2. The recipe calls for ancho chile powder and chipotle chile powder. Unfortunately, I didn’t find either variety in my supermarket, nor where the whole, dried peppers in stock. I would have gladly made my own. In the end I used half regular chile powder, which contains ingredients other than just dried chiles.  Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test on Chili Powders here.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $41.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

Marinade Ingredients:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 garlic cloves
Salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)

Tacos and Salsa Ingredients:
4 tablespoons lime juice (2 limes)
2 pounds skinless swordfish steaks
1 pineapple
1 jalapeño chile
18 corn tortillas (6-inch)
1 red bell pepper
Lime wedges
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, plus extra for serving
1/2 head iceberg lettuce
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and sliced thin

  1. Peel and mince 2 garlic cloves. Squeeze juice from 1 lime into a small cup.
  2. Place an 8″ skillet over medium burner and pre-heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the 3 tablespoons chili powder (ideally 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder and 1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder); cooking and stirring for 2 to 3 minutes until bubbling. Add 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 2 minced garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking for 30 seconds.
  3. Mash 2 tablespoons tomato paste into mixture in the skillet and cook for 2 seconds, then mix in 1/2 cup orange juice and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Allow to reduce slightly while constantly stirring for 2 minutes. Empty mixture into a medium bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  4. When cooled, cut fish lengthwise into 1″-wide strips and add to bowl with chile mixture. Use a rubber spatula the carefully coat fish. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
  5. Prepare your charcoal grill by opening all bottom and top vents completely. Fill and ignite a chimney starter mounding with briquettes (7-quarts). After 20 minutes or so when the top coals become partially covered with white ash, empty lit coats evenly over entire grill. Set grill grate in place, cover and allow to pre-heat for 5 minutes.
  6. While the charcoal ignites, prepare the salsa ingredients. Peel the pineapple and cut lengthwise into quarters. Cut away the core and the cut each quarter in half lengthwise (resulting in 8 pieces the full length of the pineapple).  Remove the stem and seeds from your bell pepper, cut into 1/4″-wide strips then cut cross-wise into 1/4″ pieces.
  7. Also prepare a plate with lime wedges, extra cilantro, thinly sliced iceberg lettuce,
  8. Clean the pre-heated grill grate by brushing with well-oiled paper towels. Repeat the process 5 to 10 times until the grate becomes glossy and black.
  9. Put the fish on half of the grill. Brush both side of the pineapple with a total of 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Put pineapple and whole jalapeno on the other half the grill.
  10. Cover grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the first side begins to brown. Use a thin spatula to carefully flip fish, pineapple and jalapeno.  Re-cover and continue cooking for 3 to 5 more minutes until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 140-degrees. Put fish on a large plate, flake it breaking into pieces, then tent with foil. Put pineapple on cutting board.
  11. Briefly clean the grill grate, and warm the tortillas in batches for 30 to 45 seconds per side, until they are speckled with brown spots. Wrap tortillas in a dish towel or aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  12. Finely chop pineapple and jalapeno, and add to bowl you your peppers and cilantro. Stir in 4 tablespoons lime juice and adjust salt according to your taste.
  13. To assemble tacos, top the tortillas with fish, salsa, lettuce and avocado, serving with wedges of lime extra chopped cilantro.
Shown here before the toppongs

Shown here before the toppongs


Fried Rice with Peas and Bean Sprouts

July 29, 2014

While the fried rice is relatively straight-foward side dish to almost any Asian-inspired meal, such as these potstickers, it is not sufficiently balanced to eat without some kind of sauce. Fortunately, I had a scallion dipping sauce which added some flavor. The recipe comes together in about 10 to 12 minutes  Just 3 stars, lacking enough flavor to stand on its own two feet.

Basic fried rice, but a little bland

Basic fried rice, but a little bland

Comments:

  1. While the recipe calls for 4-ounces of Chinese sausages (lop cheong), I used 8-ounces of smoked ham.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low/Medium.
Start time 6:30 PM. Last Batch at 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup frozen peas (preferably baby peas), thawed
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
6 cups cooked white rice (cold), large clumps broken up with fingers
1 cup bean sprouts (about 2 1/2 ounces)
5 medium scallions, sliced thin (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces Chinese sausages (lop cheong) or 8 ounces smoked ham

  1. Make sure you have 6-cups of cold, white rice. This is best if you cook the night before.
  2. Set frozen peas out to thaw for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce and soy sauce and set aside. If you are using Chinese sausage, cut them in half lengthwise, and then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. If using ham, cut into 1/2″ cubes. Also peel and mince your garlic. Thinly slice you scallions.
  3. Pre-heat 1-1/2 teaspoons oil in a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium burner.  Add eggs to skillet and cook for 20 seconds without stirring, then scramble for 2 more minute, ensuring that the eggs are in small pieces. The eggs should be just cooked through, but not browned. Empty egg into a small bowl.
  4. Put empty skillet over high-burner and pre-heat 2-1/2 tablespoons oil for 2 minutes. Add peas and saute for 30 seconds (add sausage or ham with peas but increase to 1 minute), add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add rice and oyster sauce mixture, and cook for 3 minutes until heated through, breaking apart any clumps.
  5. Add eggs, bean sprouts and scallions to skillet and cook for 1 minute until just heated. Serve immediately.

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