Classic Bruschetta with Raw Goat Cheese

October 27, 2011

The only reason to make a classic tomato-based bruschetta this time of year is if you find fresh tomatoes. My supermarket had some nice grape tomatoes, so I made this for a very light dinner. Made using basil, fresh grape tomato, garlic, and an unpasteurized, French goat cheese (in lieu of mozzarella).

Simple and delicious; always a favorite. (click on photo for a closer look)

While most Americans know the bruschetta I made tonight, in Italy the varieties are endless. Chris Kimball has many recipes, including; Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan, Black Olive Pesto, Ricotta and Basil, Goat Cheese, Fig, and Prosciutto, Whipped Feta and Roasted Red Peppers, Red Onions, Herbs, and Parmesan, Port-Caramelized Onions, Blue Cheese, and Walnuts, Sauteed Sweet Peppers, etc.

Comments:

  1. Beware of burnt bread! I burn at least 25% of all my batches, because I become distracted. The toast goes from under-done to inedible burned in a matter of seconds.
  2. Traditionally, the bread is roasted then rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil. I find it easier and more flavorful to press the garlic directly into the olive oil and let the flavors infuse while I roast the bread.
  3. We Americans are being short-changed in our cheeses. Cheese companies use pasteurization to save a buck by selling cheeses too young and with too little flavor. The FDA only requires that raw cheese be aged which allows any bad bacteria to naturally die off after 60 days;  pasteurization is unnecessary. I know we all learned in school how pasteurization has made out food supply much safer; but that is true only for milk (which of course isn’t aged). In terms of cheese, heating milk to 161-degrees not only kills most bacteria, but sadly kills off some of the milks natural flavors. Because those flavors get concentrated in cheese, the effect of pasteurization is magnified.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $8.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:30 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

I didn’t follow Chris Kimball’s recipe. The descriptions of how I prepare it tonight are given below:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 clove garlic
1-lb ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
Salt and ground black pepper
1-oz unpasteurized goat cheese or mozzarella, shredded
1 baguette or country bread

  1. Add olive oil to small cup and press garlic cloves directly into oil. Mix and set aside to allow the garlic to infuse oil.
  2. Core your tomatoes and cut into 1/2″ dice and add to medium bowl. Shred enough basil to almost fill a 1/4-cup, Gently stir with tomatoes and add salt and pepper to taste in. Set aside.
  3. Adjust oven rack so to upper-medium position and preheat broiler.
  4. Slice bread crosswise into 3/4″ thick pieces and put on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil until bread is golden brown; about 2 minutes. Flip and broil the second side for another 2 minutes. Keep an eye on your bread the entire time; it goes from under-done to inedible burned in a matter of seconds.
  5. Use a pastry brush to lightly garlic-infused oil onto 1 side of toast. Place toast on large serving platter and use a small spoon to divide the tomatoes among toast slices.
  6. Serve immediately or the bread will become soggy.

French Mashed Potatoes with Cheese and Garlic (Aligot)

October 25, 2011

A few days ago I woke up and felt like making a spectacular dinner.  I splurged and bought 3-pounds of porterhouse and grilled it to make this amazing Italian Bistecca Fiorintina. I paired it with these delicious country-style French potatoes because I knew my mozzarella-loving-son would be in ecstasy.  Traditionally, l’aligot is made by hand in a huge pot (see photo) as the main course for village gatherings in the southern regions of France near the Pyrenees. It is extremely stringy, delicious and fun to eat. A 5-star recipe that didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t as stretchy as the photos because of the relatively modest 4-to-1 ratio of potatoes to cheese; in France it’s more like 2-to-1.

From the French countryside, a delicious variation on plain mashed potatoes.

Two of my son’s favorite foods are mashed potatoes and mozzarella, so I knew this would be a guaranteed 5-stars in his eyes. While not much work, it does make a bit of a mess requiring a food processor and making a sticky mess of a sauce pan.

Issues / Comments:

  1. I substituted Eastern White Potatoes instead of Yukon Gold, which have a similar level of starch and consistency. The main difference was my Aligot was stark white instead of slightly golden.  While it saved only $1.40 it saved for this recipe, they were already in my kitchen. The last thing I wanted was a third type of potato taking up precious shelf space in my tiny kitchen.
  2. The traditional cheese used in l’aligot is Tommes de Laguiole or Tomme d’Auvergne cheese. Chris Kimball recommends a mixture of Mozzarella and Gruyere.  I substituted Jarlsberg ($5/lb) instead of Gruyere ($15/lb).  Overall, Chris Kimball uses about half the amount of cheese called for by the famous French Cookbook Larousse Gastronomique; 8 ounces instead of 500 grams.
  3. Creme Fraiche is also commonly used, but I followed Chris Kimball’s recipe which didn’t call for it. Next time I’ll try including 100-to-200 grams.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $3.50. (because I didn’t use Gruyère)
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 prepare it tonight are given below:

2 pounds Yukon Gold or Eastern White potatoes
Table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves
1 cup whole milk (up to 1-1/2 cups)
4-oz mozzarella cheese
4-oz Gruyère cheese; I substituted Jarlsberg today.
Ground black pepper

  1. Peel your potatoes and cut them into 1/2″-thick slices. Rinsed them well until the water runs clear, then drain potatoes in a colander.
  2. Put potato slices in large saucepan; add enough water to cover them by 1″. Add 1 tablespoon salt to water. Partially cover the saucepan with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Once fully boiling, fully cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes begin to break apart when stabbed with fork. While the potatoes cook, shred your cheeses.
  3. When potatoes are tender, drain in a colander and dry your saucepan.
  4. Put potatoes to food processor; add butter (cut into 1 tablespoon chunks), and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt. Press garlic directly into food processor.  Pulse with ten 1-second until butter is melted and incorporated into potatoes
  5. Add 1 cup of milk and continue to process for 20 seconds, scraping down the sides halfway through, until the potatoes are silky and creamy.
  6. Add potato mixture back to saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cheeses in two parts until fully incorporated.
  7. Cook potatoes and stir vigorously for 5 minutes, until cheese is fully melted and mixture is silky and elastic.
  8. While mine were perfect with 1 cup of milk, Chris Kimball mentions that if the mixture is difficult to stir or is too thick, that you can add up to 1/2 cup of additional milk (2 tablespoons at a time) until it becomes loose and creamy.
  9. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

October 23, 2011

Unfortunately, the number of grilling days left in the Northeast are rapidly dwindling for 2011.  So I splurged and bought 3-pounds of beautifully marbled porterhouse steaks (which were on sale for only $8/lb). Of course there isn’t much of a secret; a beautiful porterhouse steak will turn out fantastic every time. However, the addition of lemon and olive oil transformed this simple BBQ into a grand slam for the entire family. 5-stars.

Grilled Tuscan Steak; deliciously grilled while the weather is still good.

Chris Kimball has two variations, one with garlic and another without. The two recipes are identical except for 1 clove of garlic divided among 3-1/2 pounds of beef. I added the garlic this time; which was very subtle.

Issues:

  1. The recipe says to use a chimney starter full of 2-1/2 pounds of charcoal. But because Chris Kimball usually expresses charcoal amounts in quarts, I started out with only 2-1/2 quarts (only half the required amount). But I caught my mistake early enough to fill the already lit chimney starter. No harm done.
  2. Also, the recipe calls for hardwood charcoal. But because I used regular Kingsford briquettes the weight measurement was complete inaccurate anyway.  Just use a full chimney starter and that’s all you need to remember. And if you don’t have a chimney starter you should definitely buy one.
  3. Chris Kimball also warns that if steaks start to flame up, then you should move them to cooler side of the grill and/or use a spray bottle to extinguish the flames.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $22.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

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

Ingredients:

2 T-bone steaks or porterhouse steaks, about 1-1/2″ thick
1 clove garlic , halved
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges for serving

  1. Light large chimney starter filled with hardwood charcoal. Allow to ignite until covered by fine gray ash; about 25 minutes. Put most of the coals on one side of grill and scatter the remaining coals in single layer on other side. Cover grill and preheat grate for 5 minutes, then scrape the grate clean using a wire brush.
  2. You may need to wait for your coals to cool a little. Wait until you can hold your hand 5″ above the grate for 3 to 4 seconds.
  3. While the coals ignite, pat steaks dry using paper towels. Cut the garlic clove into halves and rub it on both sides of steak. Sprinkle both sides evenly with a total of 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  4. Leaving the steaks uncovered, cook both sides over the hottest part of grill until well-browned; 3 minutes per side.
  5. Then move the steaks to the cooler side of grill and continue cooking, flipping half-way through, to desired doneness. Take the temperature my inserting an instant read thermometer into the side of the steak.
    • Rare: 120-degrees (about 6 minutes)
    • Medium-Rare: 125-degrees (about 8 minutes)
    • Medium: 135-to-140-degrees (about 10 minutes)
    • Medium-Well: 145-degrees (about 11 minutes)
  6. Put cooked steaks on cutting board and let rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
  7. Cut meat off bones and slice crosswise (and on a slight diagonal) into 1/2″ thick slices.
  8. Arrange slices on a serving platter. Drizzle meat with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges.

Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Shallot and Mint Chutney

October 20, 2011

Chris Kimball’s new recipe for easy weeknight chicken thighs is a huge improvement over my past methods. His principle goal being to produce tender and juicy meat, and crisp skin. His solution uses a combination of baking the chicken skin-side down, which will fully cook the meat, then flipping the thighs (skin-side up) and broil until you have perfectly crisp skin.  The recipe is an complete success, but the Roasted Shallot and Mint Chutney was a little plain. A solid 4-stars.

Simple method to broil chicken thighs; sauce lacked punch.

The complete details are in the new November/December 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated; including three accompanying sauces. While his technique makes this an effortless meal, his claims “the whole process took only 30 minutes” is overly optimistic. The time from step 1 to 9 took me one full hour.  I chose to make the Roasted Shallot and Mint Chutney, which was good, but lacked some potency.  Next time I’ll try primary sauce to be used with this recipe; Roasted Garlic Salsa Verde.

Issues:

  1. Chris Kimball’s original recipe does not line the sheet pan with aluminum foil; but baking chicken at 450-degrees will permanently scar your sheet pan.  To avoid this, I used heavy-duty aluminum foil which made clean up much easier. Never fear; the skin still rendered beautifully.
  2. I love my heavy-duty sheet pan, which is made from 13-gauge aluminum (model #5314 only, not the cheaper 18-gauge version).  When I had thinner baking sheets they would definitely warp at 450-degrees. If your sheet pans are thinner you may have to use paper towels mop up some of the excess fat rendered during baking process. Otherwise the warping may cause a messy spill in the oven.
  3. When I started the baking I thought I would have lots of leftover chicken, but the chicken shrank substantially during baking. Be sure to prepare a side dish.
  4. A final warning; the broiling created lots of smoke as the excess fat burned during broiling. This isn’t a problem for the chicken because you’re only broiling until the skin is just crispy. But I won’t prepare this during the dead of winter, because I know I’ll end up opening a few windows.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 5:30 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

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

4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs (8 to 10 thighs)
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
Ground black pepper
Vegetable oil spray

Shallot and Mint Chutney:
3 shallots
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Adjust two oven racks; one to middle and another to the lowest positions. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees; about 20 minutes. Line a heavy-duty, rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil and put on the lower rack during pre-heating.
  2. While the oven preheats, thinly slice the three shallots and put in microwave safe bowl. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and microwave until shallots have softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir the shallots halfway through microwaving. Arrange shallots in the center of 12″ square of aluminum foil, and cover with another 12″ square of aluminum foil. Fold the edges over to make a sealed 7″ square packet.
  3. Trim away all visible fat (and any excess skin) from the thighs, then use a metal skewer to poke the skin side of chicken thighs 10 to 12 times per piece. Lay out on paper towels and pat dry. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly spray the skin-side with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Once the sheet pan and oven are fully preheated to 450 degrees, place thighs skin side down on hot baking sheet, and put on bottom rack. Put the shallot-filled foil packet on middle rack.
  5. Roast thighs for about 25 minutes; rotating the pan and removing foil packet after 10 minutes.
  6. When chicken reaches 160 degrees (not fully cooked), remove from oven and preheat your broiler to high for 4 minutes. Flip the chicken skin-side up.
  7. Broil chicken for 6 minutes on middle rack until the skin becomes crisp and well browned, rotating the pan as necessary to ensure even browning. The internal temperature of the chicken should register 175 degrees. Transfer chicken to serving platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  8. To finish the sauce; stem, seed and chop the jalapeño. Process shallots, mint, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, sugar, and salt in food processor until finely chopped, about 5 seconds. With food processor running, add 3 tablespoons oil in a slow, steady stream until smooth. Scraping down bowl once, then give it a final pulse.
  9. Serve, passing the chutney separately.

from the November/December 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. He wanted an


Jamaican Chicken Skewers with Spicy Orange Dipping Sauce

October 16, 2011

If Disneyworld’s castle is really like the castle at Neuschwanstein, then this recipe deserves the title that Chris Kimball gave it; Jamaican Jerk-Style Chicken. Of course, both versions can be appreciated only for what they are; one a unique evolution that became one of the world’s treasures, the other a modern copy using non-traditional techniques and ingredients. But even as an aficionado of Boston Bay Jerked Chicken (see more here), I can still give this recipe 4-stars, though I removed the word “Jerk” from my title.

Simple and delicious; made in broiler not on the grill.

The sauce was delicious and complemented the chicken perfectly; a very unique and well thought-out combination. Because my two sons don’t like spicy food, I omitted the seeds and ribs. Unfortunately, the result was still too hot for them; my 10-year-old boy ate it but my other 12-year-old didn’t.

Issues:

  1. Chris Kimball says to use 30 skewers, and to cover the exposed wood with aluminum foil. However, my chicken slices didn’t come out nearly as perfect or even as those pictured here. So instead I made 15 fully-filled skewers. Some of my skewers had one long chicken piece, other skewers had two short pieces. And because they were so full, there was no need to use aluminum foil to cover the small amount of exposed wood.
  2. As usual, Chris Kimball had me make twice the amount of sauce as necessary. Below, I’ve cut the sauce recipe in half, which will still yield more than enough sauce.
  3. If you only have whole allspice, put it in a plastic baggy and pound to dust with a meat pounder. They are relatively soft and will easily turn to dust with little effort; unlike peppercorns. It’s not worth getting your spice grinder dirty.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $7.75.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 6:00 PM. Dinner time 6:45 PM. (though I started marinading 24-hours before)

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

Chicken Marinade:
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons molasses
2 scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon grated zest from 1 lime
1 medium garlic clove
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 habanero chile
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Spicy Orange Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons lime juice (1 to 1-1/2 limes)
1-1/2 tablespoons warm water
1/2 scallion, minced
1/4 habanero chile, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground black pepper

  1. Thinly slice your scallions, and peel and press your 1 garlic clove into a medium bowl. Finely mince your thyme leaves and Habanero chile; discarding the ribs the seeds (or include them for more heat). Whisk together all ingredients for the marinade. By preparing the marinade first, you can use the same cutting board for freezing and slicing your chicken.
  2. Arrange your 3 chicken breasts on cutting board and pre-freeze for 30 minutes to make slicing easier.
  3. When the chicken is firm, on the diagonal, slice the chicken lengthwise into 1/4″-thick strips. Slicing on the diagonal will make the slices twice as wide.
  4. Add the marinade and chicken to gallon-sized Zip-lock bag. Toss to coat, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  5. To make the dipping sauce, mix together in a small bowl the orange marmalade, lime juice, 3 tablespoons warm water, minced scallion, Habanero, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of ground black pepper. You can adjust the consistency by adding more another tablespoon of warm water. Adjust the seasoning with additional lime juice, salt, and pepper if desired. You can make the sauce up to 3 days before; but bring it back up to room temperature before serving.
  6. To cook the chicken, adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler’s heating element. Preheat the broiler on high. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup). Spray the broiler pan’s top with non-stick cooking spray.
  7. Weave the chicken pieces onto the wooden skewers, and lay down on the broiler pan. Broil until lightly browned and fully cooked, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately passing the dipping sauce separately.

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Cutlets

October 13, 2011

Of all of Chris Kimball’s thousands of recipes, this is my older son’s absolute favorite. He’s generally crazy for Parmesan cheese, and this recipe uses a ton of fresh Parmesan. Although the portion size (1/2 breast per person) might seem small, these cutlets are rather rich due to the heavy cheese content. I’d suggest serving this chicken with a simple salad. To make 8 cutlets, double the ingredients and cook the chicken in 4 batches, transferring the cooked cutlets to a warm oven and wiping out the skillet after each batch

My son's favorite meal

Issues:

  1. It is important to pound very thin, to a uniform 1/4″, or the chicken will not fully cook.
  2. I underlined the teaspoon because once I used two tablespoons per batch, which of course was three times too much.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $8.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 6:00 PM. Dinner time 6:45 PM.

The original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepare it tonight are given below:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 ounces each)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 oz grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/8 cup),
6 to 7 oz shredded Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons fresh chives
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 lemon

  1. Freeze chicken breasts for 15 minutes until firm but not fully frozen. Trim away tenderloins. Slice breasts in half horizontally, placing one hand flat on top of the breast to secure it, hold a chef’s knife parallel to the cutting board, and slice through the middle of the breast horizontally.
  2. Grate 1/2 ounce of Parmesan is on the smallest holes of a box grater.
  3. Shred the remaining 6 ounces on the largest holes of the box grater.
  4. Set wire rack on rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Set oven rack to middle position, and pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.
  5. Place chicken between in zip lock bag and pound to even 1/4-inch thickness. Use paper towels to pat the cutlets dry, then sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  6. Whisk 1/4 cup flour and the 1/2 oz grated Parmesan cheese together in a pie plate.
  7. Whisk 2 egg whites and minced chives together in a medium bowl until slightly foamy.
  8. In second pie plate, combine 2 cups shredded Parmesan with 1 tablespoon flour.
  9. Prepare one cutlet at a time. Coat cutlet in flour mixture, and shake off any excess. Use tongs to dredge both sides of chicken through egg mixture; allowing any excess run off. Finally, place chicken in shredded Parmesan mixture, sprinkle on top, then press gently so that cheese adheres. Move to wire rack, a prepare the remaining cutlets.
  10. In 12″ non-stick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons (not tablespoons) oil over medium-high heat for 3 minutes.
  11. Carefully place 2 cutlets at a time in skillet, ensuring that they don’t touch. Cook for 4 minutes until cheese is pale golden brown.
  12. Flip chicken and continue to cook the second side for 3 to 4 minutes more until cheese is pale golden brown and meat isn’t pink in center.
  13. Transfer chicken to clean wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil to keep warm while preparing the remaining cutlets.  Use paper towels to wipe out skillet between batches. Reduce heat slightly to medium, add 2 more teaspoons oil and cook the remaining chicken.
  14. Slice a lemon into wedges and serve immediately.

Hollywood Florida and Everglades

October 12, 2011

I was working during half my Florida trip, but at least the family was able to enjoy the beautiful hotel and beach. We had a wonderful room on the 32nd floor directly facing the ocean.


Disneyworld

October 11, 2011

The boys had a great time at Disneyworld. The quick pace; 3 theme parks in 3 days; didn’t slow them down a bit.


Sea World and Universal Studios

October 10, 2011

It’s been more than 10 days since I’ve had a home cooked meal, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the kitchen.  Here are a few pictures from my half-work, half-mini-vacation to Florida.

Issues:

  1. Sea World has en extremely family-unfriendly policy of refusing to allow you to bring lunch into the park, nor do they have lockers outside the park so that I could store them until lunch time. They inspected my backpack and made me throw away six perfectly delicious sandwiches. Such a blatant money-grab is a real bummer. They aren’t content with the $300/day in entrance fees, they have to squeeze the last $50 out in fast food.

 


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