Ottolenghi

Food group met again and the theme this time was Ottolenghi, or maybe more loosely Middle Eastern food. I chose mezzes which are appetizers more or less. I do like Ottolenghi (if you don’t know who I am talking about you can look here and clearly you are not a friend of Sharon’s because he’s pretty much all she talks about). Anyway, I settled on swiss chard stuffed peppers. This is not something that appeals to me very much but it’s, you know, Ottolenghi!!! so it was gonna be ok with Sharon no matter what.

I dunno, this was a case of the sum equalling more than its parts. They were delicious. And pretty.

Recipe below

Baby peppers stuffed with chard and mozzarella

Bags of mixed baby peppers, 5-6cm long and in red, yellow and orange, are available from most supermarkets (they’re sometimes labelled “chiquino”). They vary in size, so use more or less of the filling as required. Serves four to six.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large bunch swiss chard, trimmed, stalks and leaves finely sliced
Salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 mild red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
30g pine nuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
50g pecorino romano, finely grated
80g mozzarella block, roughly grated
500g mixed baby peppers (ie, about 20 baby peppers)

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Heat the oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high flame, then fry the chard, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper for 15 minutes, stirring often, until the stalks are soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic, chilli and oregano, fry for another minute, then take off the heat. Leave to cool, then stir in the pine nuts and both cheeses.

Cut out a little V from the stalk of each pepper down almost to the base (reserve the bits of flesh for soup or salad), then scoop out and discard the seeds. Fill the peppers with the chard mix (you’ll need about 20g in each), then lay them cut side up on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper. Roast for 18-20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and caramelized, then leave to cool for 10 minutes and serve warm (if you want to get ahead, they are also good at room temperature).

Thai thighs

After my coconut pineapple cake triumph, or possibly fiasco, I had a lot of leftover coconut milk, pineapple and pineapple juice and in an attempt to make the best use of all of it (without the torture of making another coconut cake) I decided on Thai. Seemed like a good idea. I’m not all that familiar with Thai food but peanuts, pineapple and coconut feels Thai-ish. At least it’s heading more in that direction than, say, Irish.

Unfortunately I only managed to get a picture of the salad, which is just as well since it was the most photogenic item on the menu. But the Thai marinated chicken thighs roasted on sweet potatoes were fabulous and the coconut pineapple rice, the idea of which several people of the royal mounted variety turned their nose up, was absolutely outstanding.

I was anticipating having leftover salad. This was a citrusy, bell pepper, carrot, radish and lettuce Thai salad (I have no idea if Thais actually eat salad) topped with peanuts and dressed with a sweet and sour lime, brown sugar and peanut butter (seriously) dressing that was AMAZING. There were no leftovers unfortunately.

Recipe links below.

Thai chicken thighs link here

I actually followed this pretty closely but I roasted them on cubed sweet potatoes so the sweet potatoes were bathed in the lusciousness of the chicken.

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Thai salad dressing link here

I only used the dressing recipe and was pretty fast and loose with it all. Not really measuring. It was helpful to have my 9 year old grandnephew here beforehand. He julienned the vegetables for me and did quite a good job. He was very interested in my knives.

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Thai rice with pineapple and coconut. You’re on your own here. I didn’t use a recipe, just leftovers.

Breasts and thighs

I’m pretty sure that caught my brother-in-law’s attention. Sounds like a bodice ripper or possibly the subtitle of a pornographic movie. Milkmaids in Milwaukee part three: Breasts and Thighs

A friend was coming over for dinner and she is eating for 2 (it’s her first) and she was looking for some easy cooking tips. I made 2 simple things (and she helped) chicken thighs roasted on potatoes, one of my go-tos. And sautéed chicken breast with white wine, caper and shallot butter glaze. It’s really hard to know which was better or easier. I think the thighs require approximately 15 minutes of active work but then, so do the breasts. It’s a toss up. They are equally fabulous not unlike Milkmaids in Milwaukee part two: Scouring the Bucket.

Recipe/process follows

Thighs. I deboned my thighs but you don’t really have to. You just have to cook them longer. You’re probably wondering how many, well, think about who you’re feeding. I generally plan on 2 thighs per person and 2 potatoes if they are smaller but the timing and process are the same no matter how much you make, the only difference will be the size of the pan you’re using. But will all get eaten. Guaranteed.

  1. Boil your potatoes. I used Yukon gold but any potato of a uniform size will work. Theoretically you shouldn’t really have to do this but I find that the potatoes are much better when they are cooked first, allowed to cool and then slice. You can do this part the day before and you don’t even have to refrigerate them.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350
  3. Generously salt and pepper your thighs, as well as the chicken thighs. Using a shallowish oven proof (not non-stick) pan just big enough to hold everything. You will want the chicken to be sitting up, if possible, above the edge of the pan. Sauté the chicken in a few tablespoons of oil, skin side down until lightly browned 5 mins maybe. And then flip over and sauté the non skin side for a few minutes.
  4. Put the potatoes in the pan in a vague circular pattern or not (I don’t care if they look a mess). Salting and peppering as you go. Put the chicken on top of the potatoes skin side up and put in the oven for 45-60 mins, longer if there are bones in them. Be careful about that pan handle.

You can if you want at this point, remove the thighs and keep warm as you brown the potatoes on the stove. You can also add herbs or spices as you prefer. I usually sprinkle dried sage and thyme on the thighs. You can do that before you sauté or just as you slap ’em into the oven.

Breasts. Bnlss, sknlss breasts. I butterflied them and then pounded them flat. You don’t have to do that but it makes for a more consistent thickness. On every single show I watch about this process they tell you to put them between plastic wrap sheets. I do not do this. A. more plastic. B. you’re pounding plastic into the meat. C. as I said, more plastic. I use the liners from crackers like Triscuits. It’s much stronger and therefor less likely to shed plastic into your meat. And, well, you’re already throwing it away. I wash them out and air dry them for this and all sorts of other reasons.

  1. Butterfly (or not) your breasts and pound them to a uniform thickness. Generously salt and pepper them. You can also season with herbs (see above)
  2. Put a TB or two of olive oil (or really any oil, or even use Pam which is what I used) into a preheated non-stick skillet and put the breasts (we’re talking 2 here) into the pan and sauté on high heat until you can see the edges of the meat are getting pretty cooked. This should take about 5 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side is cooked. Another 5 minutes I think. Remove from pan onto a plate.
  3. Deglaze the pan with white, rosé or preferably flat champagne, let’s say a half cup. Add a TB of Dijon mustard and a TB of capers with their juice. Bring to a simmer and allow to reduce a bit. When it’s a bit reduced add 2 TBS of cold butter and swirl or stir until the butter is mounted (Please note the use of this term, mounted—see Saveur Magazine for an explanation)
  4. Add the chicken breasts back into the pan and allow to coat and simmer covered for 5 minutes. I can tell when things are cooked through, you may want to cut into the thickest part and check. Just leave them simmering covered for a few minutes more

I eat this with pasta, but potatoes or rice or, frankly, paper towel, if I had any in the house, would work. This shit is so fine.

Mandoline magic

One does not really need to use a mandoline (autocorrect does not like this word so far it’s corrected to mandolin and then to Madeline) and I have had a serious mishap with one once but I’ve forgiven it. While just hand slicing is perfectly fine here, somehow those superfine and perfectly even slices just make everything nicer. A uniform cut somehow elevates your food to another level, like being clean shaven or having ironed shirts. OK, fine, these are old fashioned things and while I think of myself as newfangled, the mandoline just works.

The top pix (such a new fangled word, see where I’m headed . . . I don’t either) are butternut squash, butter and sage. The bottom photograph gallery collection is sweet potato and béchamel. Both were amazing. Guess why. Mandoline.

Chocolate pie

I asked one of my co-workers to help me with this blog, I had no freaking idea what the hell I was doing, of course, what else is new? He gave me a lot of help (as far as I know he just pushed a button but the hell? it was a button I didn’t know how to push) So I told him I’d make him a key lime pie. He responded by asking me if it could be chocolate. I am really unfamiliar with people who don’t like key lime pie. I mean, even if it’s not your favorite, it’s still good isn’t it?

OK, whatever. I’m fine with that except that I can make a key lime pie in my sleep and I’ve never made a chocolate pie. I went with a Nigella Lawson recipe that seems (haha) easy-ish. (recipe here) The crust was easy, it’s just ground Oreos and butter. What’s not to like? as what’s-her-name Garten says fatuously when she’s using fattening ingredients. The filling, though, having never made anything like this before, was, you know, an anxiety-provoking hell. It worked out (as it usually does, so much for all the anxiety) until I picked it up after it had cooled to a relative solid. The pie was in a tart pan with a removable bottom. So fun.

I picked it up and the now cooled-and-set-pie-sitting-on-the-removable-bottom leapt out of the tart ring and into the air in front of me. Fortunately my quick thinking and possibly the fact that I had not been drinking saved it from total disaster. I was able to catch it and shimmy it back into the tart ring. Less fortunately the top of the thing was a damn mess. My nimble mind immediately envisaged a concealing topping of cream cheese and whipped cream. And as if that weren’t enough I decided to decorate with cocoa powder. Somehow whatever the hell I did looks vaguely shamanistic if not downright Nazi-ish.

I took it over to Javier and his family before noon and they were eating it by the time I was pulling out of his driveway (he texted me a pic as I was backing out). I don’t think they were bothered by the less than stellar decoration situation.

This required a great deal of stirring and whisking and even more hand wringing.
The recipe says something like “stir constantly for 75 years give or take a decade” I am very not good with loose time and/or ingredient measurements.
Really, what’s not to like?
So beautiful. It dawned on me now as I write this that I have no idea how this tastes.
Really. A life long graphic designer and this is as good as I could do??

Chicken and potatoes

In a semi-approximation of the French way of making potatoes, which is to bathe the roasted potatoes in the chicken fat as it drips off the roasting chicken in a rotisserie, I put my potatoes under my chicken on the grill.

I started with a vat of herbs from my garden and then marinated the chicken overnight in that pesto, or whatever you want to call it. Parboiled the potatoes and pregrilled the chicken and married the two. But after an hour on the grill everything was cooked and I had the potatoes swimming in grease. It’s hard, when you’re entertaining, to gracefully pour scalding hot grease off of whatever it is you’re about to serve and pretend it’s exactly the way you planned it, all a part of the process. Bien sûr.

I took the chicken out of the grill pan, off of the potatoes and then the potatoes out of the pan, poured off most of the grease and then put the potatoes back into the pan and onto the grill for a little extra browning. Seemed like a natural part of the process. I don’t think my guests even noticed what was going on. Although that may have more to do with the 13 empty wine bottles than my skills of deception. The food was exquisite, I seem to recall.

Lovage, chervil, sage, mint, dill, oregano, garlic.

This perfect piece of meat

I slivered about 50 garlic cloves and slid each of them into pockets I’d cut all over this pork shoulder. Then it marinated in herbs all day and finally slo-roasted/grilled for 5 hours at 200 degrees. It was exquisite.

That reminds me, I should get that dripping pan out of there before the raccoons try and get into it.

Cherry cheesecake pie

It’s a good thing I had the damn apron. Pitting cherries, a thankless job, is super messy. Once again, dessert made from stuff I felt I needed to get rid of. I had a pie crust, a purchased one, I am ashamed to admit, ashamed might be an overstatement but, you know, I’m not proud of it. I had a bag of cherries too big for one person to eat alone and a half of a bar of cream cheese. I thought, cherry cheesecake pie! It turns out there is such a thing. Who knew?

Also, not so proud of the lattice work. But still, it was edible.



Chicharrones de pollo

Chicharrones are a very popular traditional Mexican snack. It’s not one I like particularly. Deep fried pig skin. Gracías no. Chicken skin is another matter.

I made a sort of enchilada casserole last Sunday that involved chicken thighs among other things. And because it was such a dismal day weather-wise I took the time to make some condiment additions to the dish, pepitas (Mexican pumpkin seeds) that I oven-browned in the pan of chicken fat after I’d roasted the thighs. And when that was done I took the skin off of the thighs, spread that out on the same pan and roasted it until it was crunchilicious. I also whipped up a cilantro (sorry Ann) salsa.

The casserole (because I was too lazy to roll them up individually after all that condiment making) was layered corn tortillas, cheese, black beans, sour cream and house-made salsa verde. What’s not to like? And if you’re worried Ann, there was no cilantro in the damn thing. 





An unlikely Easter dinner

I cannot for the life of me explain what drew me to this recipe. I mean, I like cabbage well enough but not enough to risk making cabbage gratin. (recipe there) It’s a recipe and concept that seems like it could go wrong in 50 ways of gag-me. And yet, I did. 

It was super easy, not nearly to my usual level of fussiness. The cabbage, cut in wedges, was roasted first with a bit of olive oil and then sauced with cream, leeks and garlic. Topped it with Gruyere cheese and baked again. 

I had cabbage and bread for Easter dinner in self isolation, I said, my voice cracking just a bit, neglecting to mention the homemade butter, cream and Gruyere. It was fabulous.