Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I need a second opnion

While the weather outside is not necessarily frightful, it's still nice to have a hearty soup or stew to enjoy on a cold dark knight. A friend of mine on G+ posted a harira recipe that got my attention. Tomatoes, lentils, chick peas, Middle Eastern spices . . . this had Kate written all over it, or so I thought.

Let's get into the ingredients before I give you my take on it.

  • 1/4 pound dried chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 1/2 quarts rich chicken stock
  • 1/4 pound dried green lentils
  • 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnishing
Another attractive thing about this recipe is it's pretty inexpensive, unless you need to refresh your entire spice cabinet. I'm running low on nutmeg, which is normal for this time of year because where there are winter holidays there is nog and I must have my freshly ground nutmeg over eggnog laced with good booze.

Anyway, the only changes I made to the recipe was to put in more chickpeas that strictly called for, and I used chicken tenders. I added additional olive oil to make up for the fat that would have been there had I used thighs. Maybe this was my mistake.

Pick over the chickpeas, cover with cold water, and soak overnight at room temperature. Drain chickpeas and rinse well with cold running water. Drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken in batches, and cook until well browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. Add the onions and celery and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes and their juices, stirring well. Stir in the chicken stock, lentils, and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook at a gentle simmer for 1 hour.
Add the rice and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and return the soup to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, add the cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes.
Ladle into warmed soup bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs. 

The recipe was easy to follow, and everything smelled delicious, but when it all came together, I didn't have that little rush of excitement that told me, "Kate, you did well." It was warming, smelling more of the cinnamon than anything else, but I didn't feel like the chicken had absorbed much of the flavor from the spices and the onions were totally lost.

My sweetie, however, had a different opinion. We've both been a little sick, and he found the stew very enjoyable, and also reasonably easy to digest, which is always a plus when you aren't feeling well.

So, I'd like to throw this out to y'all. If you make this, would you please let me know your opinion? Did you get layers of flavor, did you get a beautiful gestalt? That gestalt is what I look for in a soup or stew, and if it's here, I'd like a road map.

Questions? Comments? A recipe for me to try? I'd love to hear from you!

coming up:  a southern favorite I found myself missing. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Make Mine Mild--Variations on a theme of chili

Among my hobbies are role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. I have two groups I meet with pretty regularly, one hosted by Austin the minimalist. Austin frequently makes stew for us, or in the summer, marinates and grills some delicious steaks or chicken.

I thought I'd make chili for this group, but I was asked to make it a little milder for those in our group with more delicate palates (and stomachs). It took some consideration on my part. Anyone can make bland food, but I wanted both flavorful and mild. My final ingredient list ended up like this:
  • 3 pounds of stew meat
  • 4 cans of black beans
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 6 cans of diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 3 tomatillos chopped
  • 2 T vinegar
  • two large white onions chopped (these were the size of small grapefruit)
  • 3 heaping T cumin
  • 2 heaping T chile powder
  • four squares of Lindt dark chocolate with chiles
  • 1 bottle of Guinness
There was so much liquid from the tomatoes that I could only fit one bottle of Guinness in the Dutch oven. I kept the heat pretty low, and it took its sweet time thickening. I stirred it pretty freqently, but I did end up with some of it sticking to the bottom.

Everything was in the pot by around 6:30 p.m. I stayed up until about 1:00, stirring every half hour to forty-five minutes or so. My sweetie, bless his heart, got up at 6 a.m., put the heat back on under it and did some stirring until we turned the heat off around noon.

Transporting it wasn't as difficult as I might have thought. A while back, I bought a large Rubbermaid tub with a locking lid, so there were no disasters on our way north. We also brought some accessories for further doctoring: some smoked gouda with jalapenos, some sharp cheddar, additional chopped onions, a few jalapenos and two kinds of hot sauce. 

I was very pleased at the reception. Second and third helpings were had in several instances, and one compliment was slightly incomprehensible because the giver had his mouth full. I'll take it. The heat built underneath at a very low rate, not so much that it would put anyone off. I call it success.

Questions, comments? Let's hear them!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Variations on a theme--Peppercorn Quick Bread

Not that I don't love the Irish soda bread I've made in past years, but I wanted something a little different for Thanksgiving with my family this year. After a lot of searching, I found a great recipe that lent itself to a few different variations.

From when I was born until I was about fourteen, I spent at least two Sundays a month at my Nana's house. To this day, I can navigate directly there from I-95/Rte 128, though if you asked me to write directions down, I'd probably have to go to Google Maps. Anyway, Nana was a great cook. Sunday dinners were often turkey, but occasionally she made roast beef (which I have yet to be able to duplicate, darnit). Either way, there was mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.

Now Nana had a heavy hand with the black pepper, so when I found the recipe, I knew I had struck gold. Check out the ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • .75 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • .5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp black peppercorns, cracks (I crunched them a bit with a mortar and pestle. I really need to get one of these of my own and give the one I'm using back to my friend Vivian)
  • 1.5 tsp fresh rosemary
  • .75 cup peccorino romano cheese, grated or shredded
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of milk
  • .25 cup extra-virgin olive oil
I liked that it used olive oil instead of butter, as well as employing whole wheat flour, which gave it a nice chewy, but not off-putting texture. Don't ask me to eat whole-wheat pasta, for example, but I digress.

The instructions are simple:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pan
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, pepper, rosemary and cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and olive oil. Pour your wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine until it is evenly moist.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for five minutes, then move to a rack to complete cooling.
My sweetie and my youngest cousin (she's in her teens) thought the pepper was a little heavy-handed. My aunt and uncle loved the pepperyness.

I made three of these. One per the above recipe. Another with rosemary, fresh sage (left over from the chicken marsala of a few weeks ago) and some dried thyme (no parsley, only my uncle and I got the joke), which is what got served at dinner. The third, I made with dried marjoram, just for something different. Everyone was eager to take the leftovers home, so I had to promise my sweetie I'd make another one. 

I did make a yeast bread a while back, that will be coming up in a future post. Additional plans include shrimp & grits and a chicken tikka marsala. I'm also due to make chili for one of my gaming groups. I hope three pounds feeds the lot of us.

Happy holidays whatever you're celebrating!

Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This was too easy

Before I get into the quickbread post, I wanted to post about our pre-Thanksgiving dinner. We spend a lot of Thanksgiving driving to Massachusetts to visit my uncle, aunt and some cousins. I thought it would be a nice treat to have a bird for just the two of us the night before.

I lucked out in finding a special on duck breast--it was about $10, which is less than  half of what I usually see duck going for in a fine restaurant. I pounced. 

For my next trick, trying to find a duck recipe that did not involve cooked fruit. While my sweetie makes exceptions for cranberry sauce, and the occasional mince or apple pie, he generally doesn't like cooked fruit. He also tends not to eat meat with fruit (or cheese with fruit, but I'm working on that).

I found this week's recipe at the Food Network. I couldn't believe how easy it was. Plus, Emeril's Essence is a cinch to make and if you make it yourself, you can control the amount of salt in it. Bonus.

First, your spice mix, and I'll be most of you have these items already:
Combine all ingredients, store in an airtight container.

Now for your duck. Gotta love the ingredient list:

3 duck breasts (I thought breasts came in sets of two. That's what I purchased. Maybe Emeril has mutant ducks)

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Essence, as above.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the entire duck breast with Essence. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the duck breast, skin side down. Sear for 6 minutes. Flip the duck breast over and place the pan in the oven. Roast the breasts for 8 to 10 minutes for medium rare. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the duck breasts to rest 2 to 3 minutes before slicing. 

This tasted fantabulously succulent. My hat is off to Emeril for making a gourmet out of anyone who can read with this one. Tender, juicy, rich. This is food porn at its finest.