June 2008


Cappuccino Gelato

I appear to be caught in a bit of a coffee paradox. I don’t drink coffee… ever. The few times in my life that I have mistakenly drunk a few drops have left me with an impression that most of America is addicted to a beverage that is impossibly bitter at best and patently undrinkable at worst. And yet… I love coffee ice cream. I find that the extreme bitterness of the drink is mellowed with the addition of lots of cream and sugar. Instead of putting a dash of cream in my big pot of coffee, I prefer to put a dash of coffee in my big pot of cream. In the humble opinion of this non-coffee drinker, coffee ice cream allows for the actual flavor of the coffee bean to show through – it is, in fact, how the coffee bean should be enjoyed.

Vitamin D milkCorn StarchInstant Espresso

So when I was flipping through my brand new big yellow Gourmet cookbook, I noticed the recipe for Cappuccino Gelato. While my trusty ice cream maker has been put to use in the service of many of my favorite frozen flavors, it has yet to tackle coffee. The Gourmet recipe was simple – since I was making a gelato, a milk-based Italian version of ice cream, I wouldn’t have to worry about tempering (and perhaps scrambling) any eggs. The recipe used corn starch to thicken the base and provide it with an an almost custard texture.

Gelato Base

The only modifications I made to the recipe were the addition of a teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of almond extract. They helped round out the flavor of the coffee and paired very well with the milkiness of the final product. I only offer one warning – the cappuccino gelato is a tempting confection. It will call for you to scarf it down way past the hour when one should be eating caffeinated anything. So if you’re not used to caffeine, resist the urge in the evening hours or you’ll find yourself bouncing off the walls and unable to sleep well into the night. Not that this happened to anyone I know…

Cooled Gelato Base

Cappuccino Gelato

Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 T. instant espresso powder

2 T. cornstarch

1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 T. sugar

1/8 t. salt

1 t. vanilla (optional)

1 t. almond extract (optional)

Whisk 1/4 cup of milk into espresso powder in a small bowl, whisking until powder is dissolved. Stir 1/4 cup of milk into cornstarch in another small bowl, stirring until cornstarch is dissolved.

Combine sugar, salt and remaining 2 cups of milk in a 3 quart heavy saucepan and bring to just a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir cornstarch mixture again, then whisk into milk mixture and simmer, whisking, for 2 minutes. Whisk in espresso mixture. ( I added the vanilla and almond extract here.)

Transfer mixture to a metal bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally , then cover surface with a round of wax paper and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.

Freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

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Salt Potatoes in Butter

Salt potatoes are one of those regional dishes that I didn’t even realize was regional until I moved away from home. Growing up in Western New York, salt potatoes were the quintessential summer side dish. Served with grilled chicken or steak – and alongside equally buttery sweet corn – salt potatoes were always eaten out at the picnic table with the setting summer sun in the distance. It was only when I moved away from Western New York and would occasionally wax poetic on the sublimeness of summer salt potatoes that I realized something – no one knew what I was talking about.Small Potatoes

Apparently a central New York delicacy (thank you Wikipedia), salt potatoes were created by salt mine workers in Syracuse, NY who would boil their potatoes in the leftover salty brine. Growing up, ours always came in a bag with a pouch of salt attached. While I had no hopes of of finding Hinerwadel’s salt potatoes in a Nashville grocery store, I figured I would find an alternative small potato and just wing it.

Potatoes in salty brine

My online research suggested a cup of table salt dissolved in 3 quarts of water would equal the erstwhile super saturated brine (from Hinerwadel’s) that I was used to. I had found tiny Yukon Gold potatoes in the grocery store (fingerling potatoes could work as well). I added them to the brine, brought to a boil and cooked till fork tender. Drained, the potatoes appear a bit odd; wrinkled and salt-encrusted, they look like sad, rejected potatoes not worthy of your time. But just bite through the tight, salty skin and the extremely tender flesh just melts in your mouth. Drenched in melted butter, they taste like nothing else – no, scratch that – drenched in melted butter, the taste reminds me of the long evenings of a Western New York summer….

Salt Potatoes in Butter

Salt Potatoes

1 bag of small potatoes

1 cup of salt

3 quarts of water

Combine the salt and the water and stir to dissolve. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer until fork tender. Drain and serve with copious amounts of melted butter.

Chopped Spring Vegetables

I have this weird love of all things pickled. The addition of a vinegary bite to crisp vegetables makes them even better in my mind. And while I will buy pickles by the boatload at the store, I’ve never tried my hand at making them at home. I’ll be honest – it’s the fear that I will unleash toxic botulism into innocent cucumbers, which will inevitably lead to the headline “Home Cook killed by Pickles’ that keeps me from trying home pickling.

PepperCarrottsAsparagus

Until, that is, I ran across a recipe for Spring Giardiniera in a Cooking Light cookbook. I’ve been trying in vain to eat healthier and this recipe had vegetables out the ying yang. And not only vegetables, but pickled vegetables. Rather than scare me by requiring me to sterilize every inch of kitchen, the recipe only called for a brief (8 hours) pickling period in a big zip lock bag. So I shook loose my fear of botulism and bad press and gave in to the alluring appeal of pickling.

Garlic ClovesBay leafDill

If you merely read the first sentence of the recipe ‘combine first 8 ingredients in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil’ it all seems pretty straightforward, but it does not begin to convey how the smell of boiling vinegar will permeate every corner of your home nor how the vapors will bring tears to your eyes. This should not dissuade you from trying this recipe; just perhaps save it for a day where the windows in your home can be thrown open and a nice breeze will usher fresh air through your kitchen.

Boiling hot pickling liquid

The rest of the recipe is easy. Put chopped veggies in a ziplock bag, pour in liquid, let sit in a the refrigerator for 8 hours. What comes out is perfectly pickled spring vegetables – a nice healthy snack without even a hint of botulism.

Spring Giardiniera

Spring Giardiniera

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
2 bay leaves
2 cups small cauliflower florets
2 cups (3-inch) diagonally cut asparagus
1 1/2 cups green beans, trimmed (about 8 ounces)
1 cup (1/4-inch) diagonally cut carrot
1 cup red bell pepper strips
6 green onion bottoms, trimmed
4 garlic cloves, halved

Preparation
Combine first 8 ingredients in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes. Arrange cauliflower and remaining ingredients in a large heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Carefully pour vinegar mixture over cauliflower mixture.Seal bag and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Remove vegetables from bag with a slotted spoon. Discard bay leaves.

It’s been a busy, busy week and tomorrow S and I leave for Florida for his youngest brother’s wedding (very exciting!). But before we head out of town, I have to share this recipe for Chocolate Friands. I have confessed many times my dislike of chocolate, but I believe I have stumbled upon the recipe that has changed my mind.

I don’t often make chocolate things but as S was celebrating his 30th birthday last weekend, I knew I needed to bake something to please his palate. Chocolate he requested so chocolate it would be. I recently picked up a copy of Tartine and remembered pausing at the recipe for Chocolate Friands (friand is French for “small mouthful”).

I love to bake cakes but with just the two of us we usually never make it beyond a few slices. The rest of the cake hangs around the counter begging to be eaten. With any luck the remainder finds its way to friends and neighbors.

The friands remind me a bit of brownies–the best brownies I’ve ever made (without question). I worried that the crown of ganache would be overkill, but I was mistaken. The friands weren’t too sweet at all. The tiny treats were perfect for S’s birthday celebration.

These were a delight to make-buttering and flouring the molds and filling them with the thick chocolate batter. Be forewarned–if you use smaller molds, the recipe will produce quite a lot. We were up to our elbows in friands, but they keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. And it’s much easier to share a cute little brownie with the co-workers than a half-eaten cake.

Chocolate Friands
Excerpted from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Batter:
6 oz, bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup, unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp, sugar
3/4 cups, ap flour
2 tbsp, cornstarch
1/4 tsp, salt
4 large eggs

Ganache
4 oz, bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup, heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line up 24 mini-muffin-cup paper liners on a baking sheet, or butter and flour 24 mini-muffin-tin wells, knocking out the excess flour.

To make the batter, place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until very hot. Pour the butter over the chocolate and whisk or stir until smooth. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix well. Add teh flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in 3 batches, whisking well after each addition. Add 2 of the eggs and whisk until combined, and then add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk just until incorporated. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

Transfer the batter to a liquid measuring cup for pouring, and fill the cups three-fourths full. Bake until the cakes just start to crack on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, adn then unmold them if you have baked them in the muffin tins and let cool completely. If you have baked them in the paper cups, just let them cool in the cups.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute or two. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Make sure the friands are cool before dipping them into the ganache. Holding each friand by its sides, dip the top into the ganache and then shake gently to let the excess run off the side. Return the friand to the rack and let the ganache set up in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Don’t put the friands in the refrigerator to set up if your kitchen is hot because condensation will form on the tops when you take them out, ruining the smooth look of the ganache. The only way to avoid the condensation is to place them in an airtight container before putting them in the refrigerator adn then to leave them in the refriderator and then leave them in the container when you remove them from the referigerator until they come to room temperature, or to serve them right away.

Serve the friands within a day of making, or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

New Potatos and Pepper

Over a year ago C and I heard that one of our friends, Noushin, won the District of Columbia chicken cooking contest. This meant she had been chosen to represent the District of Columbia in the National Chicken Cooking Contest. As luck would have it, the Championship Cook Off was to be held in Birmingham, AL, just a few hours from our home in Nashville. While I was unable to attend due to a prior commitment, C and some of his college buddies made the trip down to Birmingham to cheer their friend on. He came back with stories about making small talk with the first lady of Alabama, roving mascot chickens, and the fact that the contestants had to wear sashes straight out of Miss America – even the male contestants. And he brought the sad news that even though it smelled delicious, Noushin’s Warm Roasted Potato and Chicken Salad did not bring home the top prize. Over a year has passed and C still raves about how good the dish smelled and (nudge, nudge) how much he would have liked to taste it. One Sunday evening I was staring at chicken breasts and some new potatoes and I mentally cataloged the contents of my refrigerator and realized that for once, I had all the ingredients actually in my kitchen and could make the dish without even planning.

ParsleyLemonGreen Onion

And as I began cooking, I realized I had to hand it to Noushin. She had put together a recipe that was unique, yet easy to make with readily available ingredients – roasted potatoes, poached chicken, frozen peas, some other veggies, and dressing. But the smell truly was incredible – the aroma of roasting potatoes was mixing with the lemony chicken broth and the kitchen smelled wonderful.

Chicken poaching in lemon

My luck was holding since for once everything ended up finishing around the same time – the peas were cooked, the chicken poached and chopped, and the potatoes were out of the oven. Once I combined the lemony/mustard dressing with the warm chicken, potatoes and veggies, the meal was ready to be served. The meal itself was delicious – substantial and comforting but also light. The lemon/mustard dressing provided a great contrast to the roasted potatoes and complimented the chicken. It went great with a crisp glass of white wine. Basically, it was just plain yummy. Noushin may have been robbed by not winning the Chicken Cook-off, but at least I can make her recipe whenever I need an easy, comforting meal.

Warm Potato and Chicken Salad

Warm Roasted Potato and Chicken Salad

Recipe by Noushin Jahanian
Washington, DC Representative to the 47th National Chicken Cooking Contest

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 lemon
1 cup frozen green peas
5 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, divided
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Dressing: recipe follows
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

In large bowl, toss together potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Place potatoes, skin side down, in single layer on baking sheet. Place in 400 F. oven and bake 30 minutes, or until potatoes are fully cooked. Place potatoes under broiler for additional 2 minutes to brown. In medium saucepan, place chicken. Cover with water, add lemon and cook over medium high heat about 12 minutes, or until done. Remove chicken from water, cool slightly and chop into bite-size pieces. Cook peas according to package directions and rinse with cold water to cool. In large bowl, toss together chopped chicken, roasted potatoes, peas, 4 tablespoons of the parsley, green onions and Dressing. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Dressing: In small bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard; juice of 1/2 lemon;
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest; 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar; 1/2 tablespoon olive oil; 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper; 1/4 teaspoon salt; and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

So just over a year ago I got married. It was a lovely day and all, but this post is not about the wedding, it’s about the favors. Shortly after we got engaged, my then finance, C, brought me home a present that combined my love up tea with our upcoming nuptials. He brought home a tin of Harney and Sons Wedding Tea.

I absolutely adored the delicate rose and vanilla flavor of the tea and drank it up in no time at all. As our wedding approached, we were faced with the dilemma of favors. Nothing seemed quite right, until I remembered the wonderful wedding tea. I ordered a ton of tea bags in bulk, and with the help of my mother and best woman, we made little bags of tea for each guest. The tea was hit – even though I did hear some rumblings about the lack of a nosh!

As an added benefit – since I had ordered so much tea to make the wedding favors – I had wedding tea bags out my ears, or so I thought… For today I brewed my last cup of wedding tea. Sure, I can always order more, but it won’t be my wedding favor wedding tea… I suppose I’ll just have to find a special first anniversary tea and make that my signature tea for the next year!

Kidney Beans

How did my mother do it? She managed to prepare a well-balanced dinner for my father, four siblings, and me every night of the week. She had all necessary ingredients on hand, everything arrived on the table at the same time, and she only went to the grocery store once a week. She made it appear effortless. Meanwhile, I go to four different grocery stores and the farmers’ market forty-eight times a week and I still never seem to have all the ingredients I need.

Cooking Uptown Spice Rub

Enter Susan Spicer. I couldn’t resist adding her cookbook, Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans, to my already overcrowded library of cookbooks. I anticipated an endless array of weekend-only dishes requiring hours of prep and even longer cooking times. Rather, what I found was a book laden with approachable recipes within the reach of any home cook.

Corn, peppers, and onions

We began with this particular recipe for no other reason than it was featured in The Splendid Table’s Weeknight Kitchen newsletter. I wasn’t sure what to expect from such humble ingredients and only a half hour of cooking time.

Thirty minutes and one can of kidney beans later, we were basking before the glow of a meal fit for a four star restaurant. The dish was hearty, healthy, and very fresh — a perfect dinner for hot Southern evenings. It is rare to have repeats around our house, but Ms. Spicer’s “Cajun-style” chicken is certain to become a regular. Its ease and flavor make me feel as accomplished in the kitchen as my mother.

Corn, onions, and peppers

A note on the spice rub: the recipe calls for a combination of cayenne and black pepper. I happened to have on hand a blackened seasoning blend from a fantastic store here in Charlotte called Cooking Uptown. The store is a true treasure for any cook. It easily rivals big chain stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. If you’re a resident or just passing through, be sure to check out Cooking Uptown.

Before I sign off, I would be remiss if I failed to say that S and I agreed that the next time we make this (soon, no doubt), we will add a fresh chopped jalapeno at the end for a little extra heat. You can never go wrong with a bit more spice. Enjoy!

Cajun-Style Chicken with Maque Choux

“Cajun-Style” Chicken Breast with Chili Bean Maque Choux

Excerpted from Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: About 30 minutes

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
1 tablesppon olive or other vegetable oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons veg. oil for sauteing
2 tablespoons Creole or whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each black and cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallion

Maque Choux
2 ears sweet white or yellow corn, shucked and silk removed, or 1-1/2 cups frozen corn kernals, thawed
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomato, or canned tomato (with juices)
1 14 ounce can red beans, kidney beans, or chili beans (for a bit more heat), drained and liquid reserved
Salt
Hot Sauce

For the Chicken:
Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry. Combine the olive oil, mustard, salt, and spices and smear it on the chicken.
Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or up to several hours, until you’re ready to cook.
Grill the chicken (you can also saute or broil)

For the Maque Choux:
Cut the corn kernals from the cob, being careful not to cut too close to the cob (where the kernals become dry and starchy).
Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet to foaming. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the tomato, beans, and 1/4 cup of water or reserved bean liquid and season to taste with salt and a little hot sauce. Stir and cook until heated through, then swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Keep the vegetables warm while cooking the chicken.

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