Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Proper Sunday Dinner

Came home with a great haul from the farmers market this morning - great beans, corn, peaches, and a whole host of other delicious things. We couldn't wait to dig into the corn and had it with a quick lunch. Dinner, however, was a more meditated affair. Broke out a whole broiler chicken from a previous trip to the farmer's market and set our with my first braising attempt. While I don't yet have a cast iron casserole (it's been on my wish list for some time now), my hand-me-down glass casserole dish held up well. Mashed potatoes and fresh market green beans rounded out the meal (we do love potatoes;)

Braised Chicken

1 large free-range chicken, about 2 kilos (4 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 large head garlic
1 organic lemon, cut in four quarters
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Rub the skin of the chicken with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper on all sides, and place it, breasts-side up, in a clay pot or cast-iron cocotte large enough to accommodate it. Peel the outer layers off the head of garlic to separate the individual cloves -- don't peel the cloves themselves. Arrange the cloves, lemon, and herbs around the chicken.

Put the lid on, slip the pot in the cold (not preheated) oven, and turn the oven on to 150°C (300°F). Bake for three hours, or until cooked through (if you have a meat thermometer, insert it in the inner part of a thigh: the chicken is done when the thermometer registers 82°C / 180°F), basting the chicken with its own juices every 45 minutes or so.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, carve the different serving parts, and transfer to a warm serving dish (pour very hot water from the kettle into it and let stand as you cut the chicken). Transfer the juices, herbs, and cloves to a gravy boat, and serve immediately.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Happy Belated Birthday to me

Nothing like a Friday evening gathering with friends...all the better when it's an event to celebrate your Birthday! Even if it's a few days late. Everyone brought a dish to share, Mr. Pleasant made a fabulous cake for me and I whipped up a few appetizers, the star of the pack being an asparagus, Parmesan tart. Time was short, so I had a perfect use for the puff pastry that's been sitting in my freezer. Buttery but light and the asparagus was just tender crisp enough, seasoned to perfection. Simple and delicious. Adapted
from Martha Stewart via The Perfect Pantry.

Asparagus Parmesan Tart
adapted from The Perfect Pantry

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
2 cups (approx. 5-1/2 oz) Parmesan, shredded
1-1/2 pounds medium asparagus

1 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. On a floured surface, roll pastry into a 16 x 10 inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place the pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife score the dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce the dough inside the markings at half-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the pastry shell from the oven, and sprinkle with cheese. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over the cheese, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chicken a la Julia and a Clafoutis...sort of...

So, today's culinary adventure revolved around a few "new" things for me. What better way to learn than through trial by fire, right? Ha. I've only recently begun to eat fish and organic poultry after over a decade of vegetarianism. I could get into the reasons, but perhaps another time. First up was roasted potatoes with onion - then steamed green beans with shallot in walnut oil, and to up the ante, I cracked open my brand new "Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol. 1" (courtesy of my sister for my Birthday) by none other than a trio of brilliant cooks including Miz Julia Child to figure out what the heck to do with the chicken.

Mr. Pleasant totally got me hooked on these little custard cups -
makes me feel like a reg-U-lar TeeVee cook!

Everything but the chicken went as expected, which I was not entirely sure about - having hardly prepared chicken at all. The first annoyance was the time it took for the thicker-than-your-average cut to thaw, and then how much longer said thick cuts took to cook. I should have just sliced the suckers in half, but alas, I did not till later in the cooking when the exteriors were perfect and the insides were still decidedly uncooked. So, they got a little overcooked, but not to the point where they were inedible. Luckily, my first pan deglazing went quite well and the sauce helped moisten up the slightly overcooked chicken.

So, presentation isn't the best ever, but here's dinner!

Dessert was an adventure - Mr. Pleasant was in charge of removing my first attempt at a Clafoutis from the oven when I was at the grocery store - I came home to see most of the custard had escaped from its tart pan prison on to the cookie sheet around it (thank goodness I added that as an extra precaution!). Though it was a bit thinner than anticipated, not nearly as pretty as Orangette's version of it (which I was aiming for) it still tasted wonderful :)

Without further ado, the recipes of the evening:

Roasted Potatoes
(serves 3-4)

4-5 potatoes (yukon gold are my favorite)

2 Tbs olive oil

1 onion, sliced

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for greasing

Line jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and grease lightly with olive oil. Peel potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Boil until just soft, or about 10 minutes on high heat. Drain and place on jelly roll pan. Add onion and olive oil, stirring to coat. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until beginning to brown. Stir, and return to oven for 5-10 minutes depending on how brown you want the spuds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Optional additions: rosemary, herbs de Provence, or a collection of whatever is fresh in your herb garden.

Steamed Green Beans with Shallot and Walnut Oil

1-2 lbs green beans, ends trimmed and cut in half (if desired)

1 shallot, chopped

1 Tbs walnut oil

salt and pepper to taste

Steam green beans until bright green and tender-crisp. Remove and set aside. In frying or medium sized sauce pan, heat walnut oil on medium -high heat and add shallot. Saute for a moment (so the shallots sizzle slightly in the oil), turn off heat and add green beans, tossing to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Can be served warm, but more flavorful when served at room temperature.

Sauted Chicken Breasts

Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", Bertholle, Beck, Child

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil
1 C flour

for Deglazing

1 Tbs shallot, chopped
2/3 C broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbs parsley, chopped

Heat oil and melt butter in frying pan. Coat chicken breasts with flour and place in pan at medium to medium-high heat. Cook 3 minutes per side, longer if necessary. Remove chicken from pan. Add shallot to butter and oil remaining in pan. Saute for a moment, then add broth and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce until thickened. Serve sauce over chicken, garnished with parsley.

Nectarine Clafoutis

adapted from Orangette

1 large nectarine, pitted and cut into wedges

3 large eggs

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup whole milk

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

A pinch of salt
½ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

Powdered sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly butter a 9-inch pie dish*. Arrange the plum wedges, skin side down, in a decorative pattern on the bottom of the dish. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the milk, vanilla, and salt, and whisk to combine. Sprinkle the flour over the batter, and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter gently over the plums, trying to disturb them as little as possible (some will float and move around no matter how gentle you are). Bake the clafoutis until puffed and nicely golden around the edges, about 45-50 minutes. Remove the clafoutis from the oven, and allow it to cool for a half hour or so, during which time you’ll see it deflate and settle a bit. Serve it warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.
Yield: 6-8 servings

* Ms. Orangette used a tart pan - as did I, but clearly, using a tart pan from which the bottom pops out was ill-advised. Ha!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lesson Learned

In spite of the torrential rain, I had lovely evening with Mr. Pleasant and Ms. A. Morgan last night. While Mr. Pleasant's linguine with clam sauce was a winner, Ms. Morgan and my attempt at beer, sun dried tomato and olive quick bread...well, by the end of the evening it was affectionately known as "the doorstop in the trash". What's a culinary adventure without some failure, right?

But, for the success of the night, the recipe follows. Note that it comes from the American Heart Association Cook Book, so don't feel too guilty eating it. Unfortunately, this got gobbled up before any pictures could be taken.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce
from Am. Heart Assn. Cookbook

1/2 c. dry white wine
1 8-oz. bottle clam juice
8 oz. linguine
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
2 6.5 oz. cans minced clams, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine wine and clam juice. Boil, uncovered, until mixture is reduced to 1 1/4 cups. Cook linguine according to package directions, omitting salt. Drain and set aside. Pour olive oil into a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in hot clam juice mixture and stir until thickened. Add drained clams and parsley. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, or until clams are thoroughly heated. Divide pasta into four equal portions. Spoon sauce over pasta, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cupcake Classic

What better way to start a blog than with a classic? Though I've been wowed by many flavors of cakes, the simple combination of vanilla and chocolate will always be a favorite. Here's my version of this classic, relying on Martha for the vanilla cupcake recipe and doctoring your basic chocolate frosting.

Vanilla Cupcakes

1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, unsalted, room temp
1 C sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C milk

Line muffin pan with baking cups. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Scrape down sides of bowl and add vanilla. Alternate adding flour and milk to butter mixture. Pour into cups, bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Makes 1 dozen. Allow to cool.

Hint of Mocha Frosting

3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 C cocoa powder
4 Tbs butter
2 Tbs of milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp instant espresso

Cream butter sugar and cocoa. Add milk, vanilla and espresso mix well. Add more milk or powdered sugar if consistency is to dry or wet respectively.