Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chicken and Cornmeal Dumplings

It's been a long time since I last blogged, father I; went to Disneyland for 4 days, went to a Mika concert, googled and cooked a recipe for kabocha squash and chicken which I will not dare to repeat here, took care of a sick child and...finally cooked a decent meal!

I buy a lot of organic boneless skinless chicken thighs. At Costco now they have it in pre-portioned packages that I freeze and pull out a package in the morning for that evening. It has the perfect amount of chicken for a family of four, sometimes with a little leftover for lunch the next day.

Tonight I cut each thigh into 3 pieces, seasoned with sea salt and pepper and lightly dusted with flour. I browned the pieces in a little olive oil in the dutch oven a few minutes on each side. Then I added a sliced onion, 3 carrots cut in 1 inch pieces, 2 celery stalks a parsnip and a handful of green beans all in 1 inch pieces. I sauteed the vegetables a bit with the chicken then added about 3 -4 cups chicken stock and a few sprigs fresh thyme.

While the veggies were sauteeing I made dumpling batter:

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

scant 1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Blend the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. You can add some fresh, chopped herbs here if you like, such as chives or dill or parsley.

After the stock comes to a boil, Lower heat, check and correct seasoning and then drop dumpling batter by the tablespoon into pot and cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes.

You can make this dish with bone-in chicken as well. Just let it cook a little longer before you add the dumplings.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Julia Child Cooking Club

My friend Fran recently invited me to join a cooking club that was being formed by a friend Jonna, I was asked to invite a friend and I asked Michelle. Two other women were also invited, my friend Heather and a new friend Patricia. The M.O. of the club is to create a menu based on recipes by Julia Child, prepare them in the host kitchen and enjoy them together. Well, we did that last night and it was a pretty fun and filling night.

Jonna hosted at her house not a 1/2 block from the beach. We started in her lush backyard kitchen so Heather could prepare the creme brulee for dessert while we enjoyed appetizers and champagne and got to know one another. We finally moved it inside to start prepping for dinner. The main living/cooking/dining area is on the second floor so we were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset view. My contribution was the cheese course so, no cooking there!! Fran made the main dish of Supreme de Volaille aux Champignons or chicken cutlets with mushroom cream sauce. Patricia prepared Pomme de Terre a l'ail, Garlic mashed potatoes. Both of these recipes are from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 as well as the Creme Brulee. Michelle made Courgette aux Epinards, saute of grated zucchini with chopped spinach, this recipe from Volume 2.

I think everyone used a technique or style of cooking in their dish that they hadn't done before; for example, the potatoes had a roux, the chicken cutlets were just rolled in the hot butter briefly and finished in the oven, with no browning and the creme brulee was completely finished on top of the stove in the pot and not baked in the ramekins. Even the vegetable dish was a little different as the spinach was blanched before cooking and the zucchini was salted and squeezed dry of water.

For the cheese course we had "Haystack Peak" an artisinal cheese from Colorado. It is a pyramid shaped goat cheese, slightly aged, with a bloomy rind. I served it with a jam I made this summer of Local Blenheim Apricots and also a few recently harvested walnuts.

Everything prepared was done well and delicious. Lots of great wine too. My only concern was that there was so much richness in each dish, I could hardly communicate at the end of the night. My stomach was in so much pain. I didn't have to eat as much as I did, but I love food and always eat everything on my plate. Just call me Miss Piggy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chicken: In the Style of The Hunter

Chicken Cacciatore means hunter style, the french version is called Poulet Chasseur. The dish should include mushrooms, meat broth or sauce and tomato (sauce). This is a favorite of my family and here is my fairly easy version. I always use dark meat because this is a braised dish and I like what braising does with dark meat, where breast meat will often dry out. If you do use the breast you may want to pull it out early in the cooking process and add it later to finish.

In a dutch oven or large pot add about 2 Tablespoons olive oil and heat pan on high. When hot add seasoned chicken, I used boneless skinless thighs tonight, but you can use bone in just as easily. Brown the chicken pieces well. Add 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots, 1 stalk chopped celery and 3 cloves chopped garlic and about 8-10 sliced mushrooms. Saute a bit and if you like add about 1/2 cup red wine and reduce. I also added dry porcini mushrooms because I had them and they add good flavor. To use dried mushrooms, place a handful in a glass bowl and pour boiling water to just cover. When reconstituted gingerly remove mushrooms and strain liquid into the cooking pot. Add soaked mushrooms to pot.

Add about a cup of chicken broth and a can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed and a sprig of rosemary and a few grinds of black pepper. See my note on canned tomatoes here. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer covered till meat is very tender. Remove meat from pot and reduce sauce to a thicker consistency if necessary. Check seasoning. Serve with creamy polenta.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Birthday Party Taco Bar

Saturday was my daughter's 10th birthday and we had a dance party with all the boys and girls in the 5th and 6th grade. For dinner we served a Taco Bar and Chicken Enchiladas. I have a few favorite recipes I'd like to share with you.

The recipe for guacamole came from a man I once worked for. I was the family's personal chef. He was from Mexico City and there was only one way he like his guacamole prepared and this is it: Mash several avocados. Season with salt and lime juice. Add chopped jalapeno to taste and lots of chopped cilantro. Very simple yet very delicious. All the flavors really shine through.

My carnitas recipe is from Diane Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking cookbook. The recipe is simple and I get raves every time I make it.

Cut up 3 pounds of pork shoulder into 2 inches cubes. Heat some lard or oil in a heavy dutch oven and fry the pieces till brown. Don't crowd pan, do in batches if you need to. Add 1 roughly chopped onion and saute for about 5 minutes with the meat. Add 1 orange cut in 1/8ths, 10 crushed black peppercorns, salt, marjoram 1/4 tsp dried or a few sprigs, thyme 1/4 teaspoon dry or a few springs, 3 bay leaves and 1 cup milk. Simmer covered about 1/2 an hour until meat is very tender. Remove lid and reduce down liquid till just clear oil and meat remain. Remove orange pieces. Serve in corn tortillas with salsa fresca, guacamole and a squeeze of lime.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Tonight I made 15 pounds of beef peperoni with my friend Danny. It was made from a cow that was raised a mile and half down the road from my house by a lovely lady named Doreen whom I buy my eggs from. All her animals are well cared for and fed organically. Doreen gave me my first cheese recipe and I bought my goats from her.

10 pounds of the peperoni we seasoned with paprika and piment d'espelette, a spicy ground red pepper from basque region. It also had fennel, allspice, salt and red wine along with a starter for the fermentation. The last 5 pounds we seasoned with green and black peppercorns, fennel, red wine and piment de espelette. This will probable be more like a french saucisson.

Now the sausages will hang in Danny's distillery to ferment and dry. With the big storm that is expected to come in the humidity and temperature should be just right.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not Kentucky Fried Chicken

Today we were driving home from running errands, sitting in traffic in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Both my kids called out for KFC. No Way, kiddos! Don't even ask. "Oh but we love that popcorn chicken" they chanted. Well, lucky for me I was planning chicken for dinner tonight so I made it fried and it was good. I even made some popcorn chicken.

I used boneless, skinless thighs and breast, which I cut up into smaller pieces, each thigh became 2 or three pieces and the breast was 4 including the tender. I removed the little oyster nuggets from the thighs and these were the "popcorn".

I arranged flour, egg and bread crumbs in three bowls. I seasoned the flour with salt and pepper and to the whole wheat breadcrumbs I added a good amount of raw sesame seeds. Each piece of chicken was dusted with flour, dipped in egg and coated in crumbs. When all pieces were coated I fried them in about 3/8 inch canola oil. Since they were small and boneless they cooked pretty quick, about 2-3 minutes each side.

I served the chicken with steamed green beans and a plate of sliced avocado and tomato seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. The breading was our starch tonight.

There is enough leftover chicken for lunch boxes tomorrow. And my kids do love this much more than KFC.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cajun Shrimp and Sausage

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up in Queens, NY we would often visit Aunt Nancy in The City. Nancy had a great job at the New York Times, was very sophisticated, was a "foodie" even in the 60's and 70's and had cable TV!! Me and my wild siblings would go into her East Side apartment and examine every antique, every magazine and book and piece of art. We'd go into her walk in closet and examine her shoes and try on her fur coats and fancy scarves. Come to think of it we still do all that when we visit Aunt Nancy! Nancy would often make us this great dish, I am sure it came from either Gourmet magazine or the New York Times or a from a cookbook published by NYT. I think she called it Creole Shrimp. Nancy had and I am sure she still has, this gorgeous red enameled cast iron Danish covered pot, that she cooked and served this dish in. I sure wish I had that pot. I have the next best though, a bright red Le Creuset dutch oven that I cooked my rendition of Aunt Nancy's creole shrimp.

A few notes on ingredients. I prefer Wild gulf white Shrimp (prawns) over tiger Prawns. I just don't like the taste of farmed tiger prawns, but love the sweetness of wild Gulf White Shrimp. I never eat prawns or seafood stews or pastas in a restaurant because they will inevitably use farmed tiger prawns. If I do see Wild Gulf White Shrimp on the menu I will usually order them. They seem to be much more available these days here on the West Coast than in the past. East Coast often has great shrimp. And when I say shrimp I mean prawns. I never heard of prawns until I moved to CA. So in this recipe I mean the larger shrimp, or prawns. Not bay shrimp, the tiny ones.

THe sausage I used was Turkey Andouille Sausage from Garrett Farms. It was from my local natural food store. You can use pork sausage also. And any spicy cajun stlye sausage will work. You can also leave the sausage out altogether, like Nancy did.

In a dutch oven, Melt 2-3 tablespoons butter with a little olive oil. Add 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 diced celery stalk and 1 chopped red bell pepper. Sweat over low heat till softtened. Add 1 to 3 tsp cajun spice depending on how hot you want it. See my recipe for blackened spice here. Season with salt.
Chop the andouille sausage (I used a package of 4) into 3/4 inch pieces and add to pot. Saute a bit and then add 1 can peeled tomatoes that you crushed with your hands or chopped. (I used a 16 ounce can - if you have a 28 ounce maybe only add 3/4's of the can. If you like it more saucy, go ahead and add the whole thing.)
Cover and simmer on low till sauce has reduced and thickened. Add your clean and peeled shrimp and simmer till cooked through, stirring occasionally. Check your seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Serve over buttered white rice.

Livy and Henry with Livy's friend Ashi at dinner. 2 Thumbs up from all!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dragon Blood Soup

I received a load of heirloom tomatoes from my friend Elizabeth the other day. Red and yellow, big and small. I've been eating them on my english muffin in the morning with yarlsburg cheese. MY kids had a sleepover at her house last night with her kids and this morning they picked all the ripe tomatoes on her plants. Then they took the tomatoes to our little mountain store, Casalegno's and sold them to the proprietress, Gina, and each kid made a little mad money. I hit up Casalegno's this afternoon and bought a bunch of the tomatoes to supplement the big pot of tomato soup I made today. We call it Dragon's Blood Soup because that is what they call it at Excaliber in Vegas!

I started with about 10-12 tomatoes of varying sizes (about 5 pounds) and about 1/2 pint assorted cherry tomatoes. Rinse, core and cut tomatoes in half. Keep Cherries whole. Place on a rimmed sheet pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 375 degree oven about 45 minutes to concentrate the flavors. While the tomatoes are roasting, Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a soup pot, add 1 chopped onion and 3-4 cloves chopped garlic. Saute until soft. When tomatoes are done roasting, add to pot. Add 3-4 cups water or stock. Bring to a boil and simmer about 25 minutes covered. Towards end add a few leaves of basil. Puree. If you like it a little creamier you can 1/2 cup cream at the end. It also adds extra fat. You can also choose to serve it with a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt and let your eaters decide if they want the extra creaminess (fat).

I served the soup with croutons I made from days-old rosemary focaccia bread cut in small cubes and fried in olive oil.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Friday Fish

Last week we hit a rough spot with my seven year old Henry and my mind (and life) was pre-occupied with him. I wasn't in the blogging mood. This week he had a good week, we spent a lot of time at the skate park after school and following up on ideas from friends to help Henry. Also trying to make healthy meals that Henry will eat.
Henry helped me shop for last nights dinner and picked out a lot of the menu. We settled on fresh wild Alaskan King Salmon and asparagus. Henry also picked out a lovely cheese from Bellwether farms, carmody, which was like a good cheddar, we munched on the cheese before dinner with some nuts and raisins. It's good to see Henry eating cheese and picking out interesting cheeses, he hasn't always been a big cheese eater and it's a good source of protein that masquerades as a snack.

We also were gifted some just picked beets from my friend Devon. Devon went on a field trip with her son Kai's class to an organic farm to glean a beet field for a food bank. If you don't know what gleaning is here is the definition; Glean: to collect the remaining grain, etc. from a reaped field. I only recently found this out through my children's 4H leader as they will be participating in gleaning a field for a food bank as well. Devon got to keep a paper bag full of beets and shared them with me.
I also discovered a delicious marinated Feta from Yarra Valley Farms. Both of these went into dinner as well.

Here's how I prepared everything quite simply:

I removed the feather bones from the salmon (using needle nose pliers) and placed the filet on a foil covered sheet pan. I seasoned it with sea salt and cracked pepper, and few knobs of butter and some fresh chopped dill (that I had bought earlier in the week for chicken noodle soup - I will share that recipe soon as I make Chicken noodle soup almost weekly in the winter).
I roast the salmon in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes checking after 10 minutes. I insert a knife in thickest part of the fillet. When done the fish should still be slightly translucent and still bright pink.

The asparagus I snapped off the bottoms, soaked briefly in cold water and placed in a shallow pan or on a sheet pan. Toss with s&p and olive oil to coat. Put in the oven at the same time as the fish. Roasting the asparagus this way really concentrates the flavor.

I cleaned the beets,rinsed and separated the tops. The beets I roasted in a small ceramic roasting pan salted and covered with foil and placed in the hot oven as well. The beets will cook for about an hour and I will use them in a salad another day.

Th beet tops were rinsed and roughly chopped. I added about a tablespoon olive oil to a pot with a sliced garlic clove and a big pinch of crushed red pepper. Place over medium heat and when the oil is starting to sizzle add the greens. stir about, lower the heat and cover till tender and bright about 5 minutes. The beet greens cook almost as fast as spinach. Sprinkle with the marinated Feta if you like.