Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Te amo, Je t'aime, I love you

Happy Valentine's Day, friends.

Do you remember a few months ago when I mentioned Falling In Love Chicken? I told you that it was a guaranteed, works every time recipe that has never failed to elicit those sweet words.

Well, I can't promise you that. But I sure can promise that it will be delicious.

Tender, melt-in-your-mouth chicken breasts gently braised in a succulent sauce made with wine, cream cheese, and artichoke hearts. Hearts, I said! Be warned: The recipe is garlic heavy, so if you have the appropriate intentions of getting a little amorous after dinner, be prepared with a breath mint.

I hope all of you are celebrating today with someone who loves you. And if you're not, make them this dinner and that just might change.

Falling In Love Chicken

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can chicken broth
1 cup white wine (chardonnay or pinot grigio work well; not reisling or sweet wine)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme (2 tsp if using fresh)
½ tsp dried sage
1 tsp lemon zest
1 whole juiced lemon
1 pckg cream cheese, softened
1 can artichoke hearts, slightly chopped
1 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1.    1.   Salt and pepper chicken breasts. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet that has a well-fitting lid. When olive is very hot, place chicken in pan. It should sizzle. Leave undisturbed until beautiful and golden brown, at least 3 minutes. Flip chicken. Remove chicken to plate. (Chicken will still be quite raw in the middle; you just want to get that lovely sear.)

2.    2.   Lower heat and add garlic to pan, adding more olive oil if it looks a bit dry. Sautee garlic until faintly golden but not brown. Turn heat up slightly and pour the wine in, whisking to remove brown bits on the pan.
3.      Pour in broth and lower heat to second lowest setting. Add artichokes, thyme, sage, and lemon juice.
4.      Return chicken to pan and put the lid on. Allow to cook on low heat until chicken is tender and cooked through, about twenty minutes.
3. Remove chicken from pan (yes, once again!) and add in cream cheese. Using a whisk, vigorously mix cream cheese into sauce until it is completely combined. All of the lumps should melt in with the sauce. Add lemon zest and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. * Note: Depending on the tartness of your wine, it may taste slightly too acidic. If this is the case, add a half teaspoon or so of sugar until you like it.
      4. Replace chicken in pan and simmer, uncovered, for another ten to twenty minutes. Serve with rice pilaf or mashed potatoes- the sauce is delicious on either!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Poor Man's Coq au Vin

I've always felt a bit inherently French. Everyone has funny high school phases (and frankly, I could write a book on funny high school phases) but my longest and most pervasive was my obsession with all things francophiliac. I took French every semester of highschool, joined the French Club and sang loudly along with Edith Piaf records. As a surprise my mother once decorated my hall bathroom in framed pictures of the Moulin Rouge, French-inspired counter accessories and the most beautiful miniature crystal chandelier. (That's a gem of a mother right there.)

My mild obsession has simmered down somewhat to a strong infatuation, but it's no surprise that so much of my cooking style is French inspired. Wine sauces and cream sauces are the base of what I love, what I crave, what I do, and what better armor is there against the cold weather than a steaming bowl of coq au vin?

I've written before about spendthrift culinary pursuits, and it's a necessary part of my college lifestyle. This tends to get in the way of cooking traditional French food. Complicated techniques requiring lots of equipment, uncommon ingredients. I like this kind of challenge, though, and have adapted a traditional coq au vin to be a little simpler and using MUCH less expensive ingredients by applying the same concepts with related ingredients.

Traditionally, coq au vin is made by searing whole skinless chicken pieces in rendered lardon fat, followed by a deglaze in red wine and a slow braise with pearl onions and other vegetables. Lardons can be pricey, and I don't tend to have them just lying around. I use a spoonful of bacon grease saved in the refrigerator to impart the same flavor as the lardons. Of course, if you have yet to embrace the awesomeness of saving leftover bacon grease to add deliciousness to later dishes, you could always just fry three or four strips of bacon in the bottom of whatever pot or dutch oven you'll be using to sear the chicken, then have the bacon as an appetizer!

Secondly: JUST USE REGULAR ONIONS. Pearl onions have never once crossed my mind while grocery shopping. Literally never. Roughly chop a medium onion as a substitute. It will taste just as good. And finally, while whole chickens are not terribly expensive, I don't care to butcher one myself and so I buy a pack of chicken thighs instead. They are incredibly affordable and dark meat offers so much flavor and tenderness that just doesn't come with breast meat.

There is the old adage that you should never cook with wine that you wouldn't drink on its own. This is particularly true in this recipe- because you only need about 3/4 of a cup of wine, and you'll want to drink the rest with dinner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Simple and brilliant remedies

I am not overly fond of Bloody Marys. I'm a savory foods person- I'll take a second helping of braised beef over a slice of pie for dessert- but when it comes to my libations, I personally do not feel inclined to sip a tall glass of spiked cold Campbell's Tomato Soup. That being said, they're popular amongst some of my friends, so I whipped up a batch once using Spicy V8 juice. And then found myself with a large amount of Spicy V8 juice leftover, with no intention of using it myself- recall the cold tomato soup aversion. What to do, what to do?

The remedy was simple. The remedy was brilliant. The remedy was... chicken tacos.

How, oh how, have I never told you about my chicken tacos? I just had to go back through my entire blog to verify my neglectfulness. This is one of my go-tos, my staples, my crowd-pleasers. Not to mention one of my very, very, very favorite things to cook and eat.

Traditionally in Mexico, chicken tacos are made so very delicious by use of a twice-cooked method. Sear and braise in a sauce; remove chicken, shred, and return to sauce to cook a while longer and really absorb all of the deliciousness.
So let's imagine you've seared your chicken breasts, sauteed some onions and garlic. You're ready to get your braise on. This would be the time you would add water or chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Instead, add a good two cups of Spicy V8 and enough water to cover. You'll still want to add some more seasonings- cumin, chili powder, and the juice of half a lime- but let me tell you, the flavor is fantastic. Rich, tomatoey, fresh. And a bonus: I always make lime-cilantro rice for tacos or any other Latin meal, but on a whim I made the rice with half V8, half water. LIFECHANGING. I now know how to make rice like what is served at Mexican restaurants. Will I ever feel normal again?
So you see: black beans, rice, lots of lime wedges, fresh salsa, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, anything you want on your tacos. I use jack cheese, because I like it best, and LOTS of limes, because I'm a citrus fanatic. And I'm not crazy about corn tortillas so I used flour, but feel free to use whichever you prefer.

Bonus of this meal: For next-day consumption you can toss everything into a saute pan with a little more V8 to heat, then serve mixed-up in a bowl with tortillas on the side. Sure beats microwaving everything separately.
So buy some Spicy V8 juice. Make some tacos, make some rice. Probably be damn good in chili, too. And if you have any left over, invite some friends over for some Bloody Marys. I doubt they will protest.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Eat well, be well

It's a satisfying thing to make a living off of something you're passionate about. Nothing compares to the rush of selling a painting, the knowledge that someone assigns value to something I made. I'm sure my roommate feels a similar rush when she receives her cut from the shows she plays with her band, Smooth Creepin'. (Shameless plug. If you're in the Columbia area, check 'em out.) But not everyone pays top dollar for creativity. And then comes the not-so-romantic part about being a starvingartist- the starving part.

So we've gotten creative with our food. Of course there are the days when dinner is a half sleeve of Ritz crackers with peanut butter, but I simply can't abide by it on the regular. In France, it is common for a cheap meal at a truck stop to be served with house-made pate. Maybe I'm a snob, but I don't understand why food quality isn't just as high as a priority as, say, paying the electricity bill. Both are essential to support a modern lifestyle. And personally, I'd go without air conditioner in a South Carolina July before eating Ramen every night for a month.

So I present to you: Jalapeno Sloppy Joes. Inexpensive, delicious, and delightfully nostalgic.
There were your basic components: ground beef, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, onion, garlic, worcestershire. But the kicker (in more ways than one- these pack a punch) was sauteing a diced hot pepper (not sure what kind? got it at the farmer's market) and lining a buttered, toasted whole-wheat bun with pickled jalapenos. Soooo good. And less than thirty minutes to prepare from start to finish.
So you're at home, hanging out with your neighbor and her adorable chihuahua Lilly. You've recently considering selling plasma at the blood clinic, but remember that you're dreadfully afraid of needles. You're thinking about the meals you loved when your mom made them. You've got six pounds of hamburger meat in the freezer. Naturally, you should make Sloppy Joes. (At least that's how these came about in my humble kitchen.)

Homemade Joes will put Manwich to shame, and if your spicy tastebuds have matured since loving them as a kid, you really can't go wrong with the jalapenos.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hi. Are you still there? I hope so.

When I left you with a handful of vagueries and a promise to return in May (and I have! though just barely, I know), I mentioned that I was in sort of a transitional place. I am happy to say that state has blossomed and branched out in ways I had not anticipated, but anticipation would have just ruined so many delightful surprises. That being said, I’m in my new apartment in my recycled home, being very busy, and cooking up a storm. And I am back to blogging, because I care about you so very much, and I feel generally lousy without you in my life.

I’m sorry for the delay. If there is one thing I do not like it is delayed gratification. Yes, yes, I understand the merits of waiting, the whole absence/hearts shebang, but I am admittedly and steadfastly impatient and I want it now, now, now. This is an unpopular attitude amongst more elite food circles, and I do my best to feel properly abashed.

But there come those times when your disdain for one thing must be stifled in order to pave the way for something else you like very much; in this case, pickles. Pickled green beans, or dillybeans as I have always heard them called, and while I was mixing brine and sterilizing Mason jars, I figured I might as well go ahead and pickle the slightly sad looking carrots lying in the crisper.

Here they are, in their garlic and dilled glory. Two of the jars of beans have crushed red pepper added for a kick; the other two are plain, and I'm curious to see which turns out best. And it is certainly lucky that I am not a cat, because I feel certain that my curiosity will be increasing by tenfold before the requisite two weeks pass and I can finally taste the little vixens. Really, though, aren't they beautiful? TWO WEEKS. Sheesh.

So here I am, once again, dangling the carrot (forgive the pun; I was helpless to it) and keeping you in suspense. If there's one thing I've learned recently, though, is that a little suspense is a good thing. Just think about how good that carrot's going to taste.


This is a classic dill pickling brine that has just enough sugar to make it interesting, but not sweet at all like, say, a bread and butter pickle. Two things I found made my life easier: after making your brine, pour it into a pitcher to chill. Space-efficient in your refrigerator and it's much easier to pour the brine instead of ladling it. Also, I used the pint sized Mason jars themselves as measuring cups for all the liquids.This recipe will make enough for 2.5 lbs of green beans, or 2 lbs beans and 5 carrots. 5 jars altogether, whichever way.

2.5 lbs green beans, ends trimmed
1/2 pint apple cider vinegar
1/2 pint white vinegar
1 pint water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt 
5 large sprigs fresh dill
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)

Place two cloves of garlic, a sprig of dill, and red pepper if using in five sterilized pint-sized Mason jars. Stack beans tightly up and down in jars; set aside. Bring all other ingredients to boil and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Pour into pitcher; allow to completely cool. (If your brine is at all warm, your pickles will be wilted, sad little things with no crunch.) After cooling, pour brine over beans, completely covering, and seal tightly with a lid and ring. Best of all, because beans are not highly acidic, processing is not necessary. Just store them in your pantry for at least two weeks before digging in.

If you're using carrots, it takes about five per jar. Just peel them and slice them into thin sticks, something like a healthy, happily orange french fry. And by the way, either of these pickles is a delicious and fun alternative to celery in a bloody mary.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lone wandering, but not lost

To me, every house I have lived in, though close geographically, has seemed so much like a different world. My life begins, after a while, to resemble a series of postcards sent by different women from the same location. In the life of a migrant, time periods are measured by fleeting things such as houses, haircuts, and heartbreaks. And of course, the meals cooked and consumed, gratefully, throughout it all.

I find myself currently in a transient state, where things are shifting from dream to reality very quickly, and though the end is in sight, the journey is daunting. I have wanted to blog- have thought about it, and started to, many times- but I'm afraid I have been unsuccessful. I owe you the best- you who choose to read- and I don't want to short shift you, so I must announce my hiatus. I will return- in May.

I hope, very sincerely, to see you then.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Don't serve it with a sandwich

For years, I hated any and all cold savory foods. Ice cream and certain pies could be cold if they wanted to be, but if it in any way involved salt, cheese, or especially meat, it must be hot or I wanted no part of it. And I do still feel that hot food should be hot, as in very hot,tongue-scorching hot, not lukewarm. A cousin of mine and I once had a joke that I would be a tiny eighty year old woman shouting "PIPING HOT OR NOT AT ALL!!" at the alarmed waiter taking my order of a bowl of soup in a restaurant.

Things have changed, in that way that they do, and my palate has expanded, in that way that it (thankfully) does. Now, I not only no longer scorn cold food with the fire of a thousand suns, I embrace it and crave it all the time. Chicken salad, tuna salad, deviled eggs, potato salad, and what general consensus presents as the most hated cold food of all: pasta salad.

Pasta salad, like regular hot pasta, is an excellent pantry-clearer and leftover user-upper, and if done right is darn tasty, too. I have two basic kinds of pasta salad I make: a vinegary version loaded with large, chunky vegetables and kidney beans, and a creamier version with tiny chopped vegetables and cheese. Both are delicious. Both are pretty to look at. And both absolutely, positively rely on the homemade dressing for their scrumptiousness.

The one I'd like to share today is the creamy tiny-veggie and cheese variety. It's so simple that it almost makes me a little ill, and so delicious that you will eat it until you are a little ill, too.

I'm sure you know how to boil pasta to al dente, so I won't waste your time or mine explaining it, but I must stress that you do not want to overcook your noodles or it will result in a silly mushy mess that will not be appetizing. Tri-color rotini are my preference- the creamy dressing clings to the ridges and they look so pretty! But feel free to use penne, rigatoni, or even plain old elbow mac. Once you've got your noodles going, go ahead and prep your cheese and veggies.
I had some picky eaters on my hands the night I was making this pasta salad, so as you can see here I only used green bell pepper and carrot. Very nearly mince the pepper; I personally love big chunks of pepper, but for some reason, the tiny pieces are just better in this. Shred the carrot the same size as the cheese. This picture hopefully shows the proportions that are so helpful in this sort of slapdashery: about twice as much cheese as veggies. The cheese pictured here is extra sharp cheddar. Colby Jack is perfectly acceptable too. But save your artisanal cheeses for a place they can really shine, not get masked by a dressing.

Assembly is mind-numbingly easy: mix drained cooled pasta with veggies, cheese, and enough creamy dreamy dressing to completely coat and moisten. The serving of pasta salad, however, is a bit trickier and often botched. First of all, don't serve it with a sandwich. This is an American fallacy that confuses me to no end- why serve a starch side-dish with something involving bread? Serve it with a simple salad, or with fried chicken, or- as I cannot seem to stop doing lately- topped with a scoop of chunk albacore tuna. And there you have it. Lunch, or a light dinner. Provided, of course, that you have no objection to cold savory foods.

Creamy Italian Vinaigrette

This dressing is my standard dressing for this version of pasta salad, but it is equally delicious as a green salad dressing, and marvelous tossed with boiled red potatoes and chives for a tangy potato salad. Excellent for crudites platters or as a tasty spread for a ripe tomato sandwich.

These measurements will make enough dressing for about a half a box of pasta. Double or divide to fit your needs. And as always, the seasonings are all about you, baby.

1 cup mayonnaise (Duke's is the best, I wouldn't steer you wrong)
3 tbsp red wine or apple cider vinegar (I used apple cider because I had it and I like it)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp salad or good olive oil
1 tsp sugar

Blend all ingredients in a blender, food processor, or simply with a whisk in a metal bowl. You will want to blend it for several minutes in order to create the necessary emulsion between the lipids and acids (ie, mayo, oil, and vinegar). Taste for seasonings; salt is the most common thing that needs to be added, and can vary a great deal based on what kind of mayonnaise you use.

Option: Lemon juice can be substituted for the vinegar if you like, and makes an excellent sauce for a chilled asparagus salad.