Monday, March 28, 2011

Good Morning, Sunshine

Spring is officially here, and every once in a while the sun actually comes out!  I don't think today is going to be an epic sunny one, but it was encouraging to see a partly clear sky and few rain drops.  Even though I'm typically a no-breakfast person (cappuccino please!) sometimes I get a hankering for some baked goods, and let's face it, in Gig Harbor, there's not much to choose from that's fresh and good...  This morning I made some low-fat citrus blueberry muffins.  They're one of my favorites, and even though they have nothing to do with springtime, the fresh, bright flavors remind me of this time of year anyway.

Lower-Fat Citrus Blueberry Muffins
yield: 12 regular sized muffins

Whisk together in a medium bowl:
2 c all purpose flour (or a combination with white whole-wheat)
1/2 c sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
a pinch of cinnamon

Combine in another bowl:
1 large egg
3 T canola oil, olive oil, or melted butter
1 c fat free yogurt (thinned with milk if needed)
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Set aside:
1 1/2 c blueberries, frozen or fresh

Preheat the oven to 400F and prepare a 12-cup muffin tin (either grease well or line with papers).  Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then fold in the blueberries.  Portion into the muffin cups, and bake for 15 minutes and check for progress.  If you've used fresh berries, the muffins should be done.  Frozen berries will add at least an extra five minutes, but monitor carefully, you don't want to overbake them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Lasting Influence

For dinner tonight, my husband wanted roast chicken.  Even though a whole bird looks grand coming right out of the oven with crackling brown skin and beautiful aromas, I wanted to do something a little different.  Let's face it, chicken is the base line that everyone compares neutral flavors to.  Regardless of what the meat really is, when confronted with a new bland item, the response is often "dunno, tastes like chicken."  Now, this doesn't mean that a perfectly roasted chicken doesn't make for a fantastic meal...

So, in my quest for something new (and more complicated?), I went old-school.  Old school French, and old school CIA.  I mean, really, who makes a chicken galantine on a Sunday afternoon?  And thus the title of this post.  No matter what I do, the CIA Pro-Chef still resides on my bookshelf, and my culinary education, my foundation, will always have an impact on who I am as a cook.

The dish I ended up with is a classic preparation of bird - think the original Turducken.  You take your fowl, and put it breast side down on the cutting board.  You then score down the spine and gently cut and pull the skin away from the entire bird in one piece.  You cut around the ankle and wing to free the skin and voila, you have a chicken wrapper.  Next, carve the breasts off, remove the tenders, and pound the breasts to an even 3/8".  Roughly dice the tenders.  Remove the remaining meat from the legs, back and wings, and dice as well.  Save the carcass for some tasty stock.

In a food processor or meat grinder, bring down the meat into a rough paste.  You'll want to add a binder (breadcrumbs, cream, eggs, cooked rice...) and some flavorings.  I used rice, rosemary, and some sauteed mushrooms with Madeira to give flavor and hold everything together.  The filling is much prettier if you use colorful things like pistachios or dried cherries.  Fold in your garnishes and binder, and get ready to roll.  Make sure you're seasoning with salt at each step.

Lay out your skin, insides side up.  The skin should be trimmed of any excess fat or ickyness.  Place the two breasts so they are close to the most raggedy edge of the skin.  Put a log of filling on top of the breasts, then roll snugly until the filling is encased in breast meat, and the meat is encased in skin.  Now, you'll want to do a running truss to hold the shape, and refrigerate until ready to use.  I roasted mine at 375F in a convection oven for about 40 minutes, until the internal temperature was 165F.  I basted with olive oil throughout, then let it rest for a few, and topped it with some beech mushrooms cooked down with shallots and more Madeira.  You could also poach this item and serve cold. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Chicken Chronicles I: We're Going to be Farmers!

If you read back in this blog about a year, you'll find a post about my super-enthusiastic husband and his garden.  In short, he covered the entire yard with raised beds and succeeded in growing all of the produce we could eat during the summer and fall last year.  With the weather here in the winter, it's difficult to grow stuff year-round, and spring comes a little late, so we've been purchasing produce for the last five months.  Let me tell you, the difference is astounding and I can't wait for our little seedlings to take off.  We have leeks, arugula, and things of that sort started already on the windowsill.

Having exhausted all the flat, sunny land in our yard, the next logical step is to find something to do with the shady parts.  And what better than to build a chicken coop!  Our supply of fresh eggs recently ran out (due to raccoons...) and we figured it was our turn.  We went down to the feed store just to find out some information about chicks- when they'd be in, what breeds work well up here, etc, and much to our surprise, we were informed the types we wanted would be in the next day...  So, we went to Home Depot and bought a big plastic tub for them to live in while the coop gets started and finished.  We've been hearing all of these horror stories of eagles snatching, raccoons strangling, and some unnamed blood-sucking vampire weasel draining the life out of local chickens.  With Tomek's penchant for over-engineering things, I hope that won't happen to us.

We're starting out with eight chicks- four each of Black Australorp and Ameraucana.  In this photo, the Ameraucana are about a week old and the Black's a bit younger.  Even at this point, they're developing their own little chicken personalities and odd little chicken habits.  Hopefully they'll all survive, and all be girls.  There's a 10% failure rate in sexing the chickens when they hatch, so there's a good chance that we'll have a rooster in the bunch.  I hope it's not the super fluffy one that looks like a chipmunk.  (S)he's the friendliest... 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Roasted Parsnip and Carrot Salad

I don't know about you, but by this time of winter in the North West, I'm ready for some sunshine and summer produce.  However, we have at least two more months of root vegetables and kale to contend with- it's time for new flavors! 

Recently, in an endless quest to find new things to do with parsnips, I came across this recipe.  The dish is originally by Maria Helm Sinskey, a chef and winery owner in the Napa Valley.  I genuinely like her food; she respects seasonality and takes advantage of what every time of year has to offer.  Granted, that's a lot easier in California than many other places in the country!   I love this salad for the inherent sweetness of the vegetables; and the beautiful synergy between the curry, pine nuts and currants.

Here is the recipe, which can also be found on the Food & Wine website:

3 pounds slender carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 pounds slender parsnips, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons Banyuls vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/4 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large roasting pan, toss the carrots and parsnips with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring a few times, until tender and lightly caramelized in spots.

Remove from the oven. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast for 5 minutes, or until golden.

In a bowl, whisk the vinegar and curry powder; whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Add the roasted vegetables, pine nuts, currants and parsley; season with salt and pepper and toss well. Serve warm.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March cooking classes with Chef Jasmine

The following cooking classes are still available for March:

Fri, March 11th - 6PM: Friday Night Tapas Party
Sun, March 13th - 5PM: Luxe Comfort Food
Sun, March 20th - 5PM: Learn how to make fresh pasta
Fri, March 25th - 6PM: Introduction to French Cuisine

For more information and reservation please visit  Bella Kitchen Online Reservations

Hope we see you there!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Midori no Yaki Yasai Salada

Ok, since I just published this for the world to see, I hope the translation in this cookbook is correct and the title actually means "Grilled Green Salad!"

This recipe intrigued me because it's a cool salad, with a standard vinaigrette, but all the vegetables are cooked- some grilled, some blanched.  It's adapted from Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook.  I'm trying to get a grasp on more aspects of Japanese cuisine- I'm not sure how traditional this salad is, but it seems authentic to the restaurant it's from.  My only changes to this recipe were regarding a few varieties of the vegetables.

Grilled Green Salad
serves 4

Component 1:
8 oz spinach, gai lan, or other green
8 oz mizuna leaves

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, and blanch each green vegetable separately.  Shock immediately to stop the cooking and set the color.  Drain, then squeeze gently to remove the excess water.  Cut into 2" sections.

Component 2:
1 cucumber, peeled if needed and sliced into 1/2" rounds
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/2" wedges
4 oz green beans (or chinese long beans)
8 stalks asparagus, ends trimmed
4 shiitake mushrooms

Heat a grill or cast iron grill pan until moderately hot.  Grill each vegetable variety individually, until lightly charred and tender.  Set aside.

Component 3:
2 T champagne vinegar
2 t shallot
6 T neutral oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 T chopped toasted pistachios

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and shallots.  Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify, then season with salt and pepper.

To serve, arrange all the vegetables on a nice serving plate, dress with the vinaigrette, then top with the toasted pistachios.