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Archive for September, 2007

Remembering that raspberries and blueberries are so full of good things for us, I will buy a carton of raspberries at the grocery later today. We will use some on our cereal tomorrow morning, and some tonight in a sauce for chicken breasts. I will also need to pick up some mushrooms.

The recipe I will be using is a variation of a tried and true quick sauce recipe which is so adaptable to the type of meat, availability of ingredients and nearly foolproof.

It relies on the simple technique of sauteing a cut of meat (one suitable for a quick saute, not a 3″ hunk of beef or a giant pork chop), then removing the meat to keep warm elsewhere (in a low oven or on a plate, covered with foil) and using a liquid or liquids to release the stuck-on browned bits in the bottom of the skillet. Any number of liquids can be used – wines, broths, lemon juice, vinegar – and any number of vegetables can be sauted in the fat in the skillet before the liquid is added. Then various enhancers can be added as the sauce reduces and the flavors meld.

Today we will use chicken breasts, boneless, skinless and pounded to an even thickness. I will saute them in approximately 1 tablespoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of butter added. After the chicken is brown on both sides (about 4-5 minutes per side) and removed to a plate, I’ll add about 1/4 cup of chopped onions, more oil if needed, and 1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms and a few minutes later, a small clove of garlic, minced. Just 30 seconds after adding the garlic and stirring it around, I’ll add about 1/2 cup of dry white wine. After scraping up whatever browned bits are still on the bottom of the skillet, I’ll add about 1/2 cup of raspberries and cook that for 10 minutes to break up the berries. Then I’ll add 1/4 c. heavy cream, the chicken, and whatever juices have accumulated on the plate. After the chicken has warmed up, it’s ready to serve.

NOTE: If the chicken breasts are really thick, they can continue to cook in a 350 degree oven after browning them on the stove while the sauce is being made. I usually pound them thin enough so that the initial browning takes care of cooking them sufficiently. Covering them keeps them plenty warm for the fifteen to twenty minutes it takes to make the sauce.

ANOTHER NOTE: No mushrooms? No worries, mate. Don’t use them. No white wine? Use chicken broth or dry sherry instead. No raspberries, use apple slices or pear slices. No bananas, though. Yuck.

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September 24, 2007

Traverse City, Michigan, the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the World, sits at the bottom of Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan. We have vacationed there often, although we always arrive well past the Cherry Festival in July, preferring to go after Labor Day to miss most of the crowds.

That part of Michigan offers fun throughout the whole year. Close to Lake Michigan, and situated on the Bay, water sports are a given. There are beaches, fishing areas, boats to rent, even yachts for dinner cruises. Sleeping Bear Dunes are a remarkable National Park and there is a very scenic drive leading to the top of the dunes.

Grapes find the climate around Grand Traverse Bay very hospitable and so you can tour close to 20 wineries in the area and sample the fruit of the vine. We always come home with new wines to enjoy throughout the year.

Skiing and golfing are also popular sports in the area with several resorts dedicated to those pursuits in and around Traverse City.

The charming towns of Petoskey and Charlevoix are easy drives from Traverse City and make great day trips if one is based in Traverse.

In the area around Traverse City you can drive past miles and miles of orchards, mainly cherries. There are cherry-flavored foods everywhere you find food. That and fudge. What is it with Michigan and fudge? I’m not complaining, mind you. But nowhere else will you ever find as many fudge vendors as in northern Michigan. It’s uncanny.

The last two times we visited Traverse City we dined at the North Peak Brewing Company located downtown at 400 W. Front Street. We had such good food that one time we ate there two nights in a row just to get their delicious Cherry Porter Barbecue Ribs. It is an outstanding dish, just the right amount of sweetness with the depth of flavor that the porter brings. The ribs are served with perfectly cooked french fries and the best Chinese mustard slaw I’ve ever had. You can understand why we keep patronising that place. Oh, yeah… the beers are great, too.

I have been looking for cherry barbecue sauce recipes ever since our last meal at North Peak. Last night I prepared grilled pork chops with cherry barbecue sauce, one of Mario Batali’s recipes, simple and great. You can find it here. Later this week, we are having ribs with the rest of the sauce. I can’t wait. We won’t have perfectly cooked french fries, but I may try to make a Chinese mustardy slaw if I can find a recipe that looks good. Cold beer, too, needless to say.

While I’m expounding on the culinary delights of Traverse City, I must mention another place that we always visit, usually around lunch time, just a block down the street from North Peak. Folgarelli’s is an Italian deli/gourmet market, with much more that just Italian food on the shelves. They roast their own coffee beans, sell wines, olives in barrels, bakery breads, and gourmet, exotic food staples of every stripe. Naturally, the place smells terrific. If that weren’t enough, they have a huge deli menu with so many wonderful sandwich offerings that it boggles the mind to select one to eat. We usually buy just one sandwich (they are BIG), get some olives, a bottle of wine, and head somewhere for a picnic lunch. Great! One of the best specialty groceries I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the BBQ sauce recipe, if that’s of interest to you. (Thanks, Molto Mario!)

Cherry Barbecue Sauce

– Makes about 3 cups –
Ingredients
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup frozen sweet cherries
Procedure:
1. In a medium saucepan, cook the onion over medium-high heat, until it softens, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, orange juice, ketchup, sugar, and cherries and cook 5 minutes more, stirring frequently.
2. Transfer the mixture to a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and blend until smooth. Transfer to a plastic container and keep cold in a refrigerator or ice-filled cooler until ready to use or for up to one week.

(Note from Morgana: I cooked the sauce a lot longer than Mario suggested. After I added the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, I brought the sauce to a boil and then turned the heat to low and cooked it for about 2 hours. Then I pureed it with a stick blender. The sauce was dark, and thick and just how I like it.)

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September 19, 2007

I am guilty of being a lazy cook this past week. By the end of the day, if I haven’t started something for dinner early, I am not in the mood to spend a lot of time fussing with new recipes. I have been tired because my dogs haven’t been cooperative during the night. One was sick and needed to go outside (’nuff said) every 15 minutes and the puppy has been ready to go out at 4:00 in the morning the past 3 days. Maybe that’s it.

Last night, I had some chicken breasts marinating in lemon juice and pepper and a little bit of olive oil. That was simple enough. I also had some medium-sized new potatoes that I rolled in kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil. I stripped the leaves of a small sprig of rosemary and mixed that with the potatoes. I preset the oven to roast the potatoes for 45 minutes at 400 degrees while I was gone for an hour or so in the early evening. When I returned, I cooked some green beans and grilled the chicken. It was quick enough but rather bad planning because I have some other chicken pieces that I must prepare tonight.

I guess chicken 2 nights in a row isn’t the worst thing that could happen. My sister Ellen could eat chicken every day in any way – boiled, roasted, fried, any way. I’m not the biggest chicken fan but it’s hard to pass up the great deals on whole chickens other special sales like “buy one, get one free.”

The recipe for tonight is one I found last weekend in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Edition. Each Saturday, the WSJ features a chef who provides a meal’s worth of recipes suitable for the relatively adventurous home cook. Sometimes the recipes require more adventurousness or $$$ than I have. Other times the list of ingredients can be daunting. Occasionally, they are straightforward and appealing and I usually save those to try when I get around to it. (I have a file of hundreds of recipes to “get around to.”)

This recipe combines chicken with tomatoes, garlic, and white wine with just a few other things. How could I not save it? Tomatoes and garlic always appeal to me. This one also has some vinegar for a little tang. The chef, David Waltuck, owner of Chanterelle in Tribeca, NYC, recommends as sides Fried Zucchini “Coins”, which I will also make tonight, and Sauteed Penne with Cauliflower and Chickpeas, which I will not.

The article in the paper suggested watching a video of the preparation of the chicken in the WSJ Online video offerings. It was not the most professional food video in the world. In fact, it was apparent that the chicken was barely cooked, certainly not to the degree required for safe eating, and more evidently, not browned enough to even be attractive. Chalk it up to inexperience on the WSJ’s behalf; it isn’t the Food Network, after all, and I wouldn’t expect the Food Network to give me a full and reliable report on the stock market. That being said, I still was interested in fixing the recipe and tonight’s the night.

I’ll share the recipe now and let you know how it was later.

BISTRO-STYLE CHICKEN WITH TOMATO AND TARRAGON
from Wall Street Journal, Sep. 15, 2007
Recipe provided by David Waltuck, owner and executive chef of Chanterelle restaurant

Yield: 4 servings
Active prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

3 T. olive oil
2 chicken breasts and 2 leg/thighs, oin the bone and with skin (or a 3 1/2-pound chcken, cut up)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, lightly crushed with your hands, juice reserved
1/4 c. tarragon or white wine vinegar
3 T. unsalted butter
2 t. roughly chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy, nonreactive skillet over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke, add only enough chicken pieces to fit into the skillet without touching and cook until well browned on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter and set aside while you saute the remaining pieces in batches, if necessary.
2. When all the chicken has been removed from the skillet, add the garlic to the drippings and saute over medium heat until fragrant but not browned, about 15 seconds.
3. Add the wine and chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, scraping up the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any accumulated juices and boil the liquid until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes to the skillet along with about half the juice in the can, the vinegar, and the butter. Return to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through (it should register 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer) and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes; turn the chicken pieces once or twice during the cooking time and break up the tomatoes with a spoon. The sauce should hold together but still be chunky. (If the breasts are very thick and are not cooked through after 30 minutes, remove the legs from the skillet, cover with a lid and continue to simmer until done.)
5. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the fresh tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken in the skillet or transfer to a polatter, topping it with the sauce.

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Sounds good, doesn’t it? I hope it is.
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UPDATE:
September 20, 2007

The chicken was good. It sure was messy, however. Splattered grease everywhere, even though I used a splatter-shield. The flavor was delicious. I made brown rice and the sauce was great with the rice. I did make the fried zucchini which was delicious, more splattered grease. \

The zucchini was a simple “dip zucchini in beaten egg then dredge in fine crumbs and saute in hot oil.” You know the drill. It only took about 3 minutes on a side for the zucchini to be done.

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Here’s another quick chicken recipe, one that can be prepared ahead of time and broiled right before eating. Once again, I recommend pounding the boneless breasts to an even thickness to promote even cooking.

This recipe is also a low-calorie preparation and the taste belies the lack of lots of fat and calories.

BROILED CHICKEN BREASTS

Serves 2

2 Boneless chicken breast halves
2 t. light mayonnaise
1 T. dijon mustard
1/2 t. dried tarragon
1/2 t. dried thyme
dash cayenne or red pepper flakes.

1. Pound the chicken carefully until even.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients and spread over the chicken. Refrigerate, covered until ready to cook.
3. Broil 5-6″ from heat, 8-10 minutes.

By the way, use this same mixture without the thyme as a dressing for steamed or sauteed asparagus spears.

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Cubanos

cuban_sandwich2.jpgAbout 30 years ago, I went to a picnic where the hostess served hot ham sandwiches that were delicious. They were prepared ahead of time, wrapped individually in foil, and warmed in the oven. I asked for the recipe and she graciously told me that she made a mixture of butter and yellow mustard, spread it on both sides of a bun, then put ham and mozzarella cheese on it. So simple, and yet warming the whole thing until toasty elevated the ham ‘n’ cheese sammie to a whole new level.

This became something that we prepared throughout the years and it was always enjoyed. Sometimes we put pickles on the sandwich. Little did we realize that we were close to making a Cubano.

A year or two ago, I was watching a food show on TV and noticed that they were discussing a hot ham sandwich called a Cubano, or Cuban sandwich popular in Miami. The origin of the sandwich is unclear but it is readily available wherever there is a sizeable Cuban population. Even the restaurant chain “Beef O’Brady’s” has it on their menu, with lettuce, tomato, pickle and mayonnaise.

The “classic” Cubano would be served on Cuban bread, similar to French or Italian bread but more rectangular in shape. The bread slices would be spread with mustard and layered with thin dill pickles slices, ham, pork, and Swiss cheese. The pork, which is omitted in some recipes, should be marinated in a citrus and garlic marinade before roasting. The assembled sandwich should then be grilled and pressed like paninis, but could just as easily be cooked on a griddle and pressed with a heavy pot or skillet.

It is a great sandwich, one to add to the list of divinely inspired sandwiches, along with Reubens and BLT’s.

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Remembering…

It’s September 13, 2007, and the hot, hot, hot weather of the past month has finally broken. Yesterday and today have brought us cool nights and the same beautiful blue sky we enjoyed, for a few short hours, on September 11, 2001. Each of us remembers that day in our own way. It’s like when President Kennedy was assassinated. We who were alive then remember exactly where we were and what we were doing.

We were in New York, just west of Rochester actually, heading back to Ohio after a short trip to the Adirondacks. We stopped to buy gasoline and my husband went into a MacDonalds’ to buy coffee and when he returned he said that there had been some crazy old man in the restroom talking about planes flying into buildings. We had been simply driving and enjoying the morning, no radio. When we pulled over to a gas station across the street, the man at the next pump started talking to us about the planes and the World Trade Center. When my husband appeared unaware of this, he told us to turn on the radio. We did and, like millions of Americans, were horrified to learn the few details that were available at that time.

We heard about the Pentagon, and it seemed like the end was indeed near. Rumors were flying fast and furious as newscasters tried to relay info to the public, sometimes without regard to substantiating it. We were told about a plane flying near Cleveland that wasn’t responding and was of grave concern to air traffic controllers. This was as we were nearing Cleveland, one eye on the highway and one on the skies. The six hour trip home seemed interminable. We turned on the television as soon as we were in the door and watched the video of the buildings collapsing, and the burning Pentagon.

Unbelievable, but really, all too believable. We should have not allowed the false sense of security to persist throughout the three recent decades of Islamic terror. We were given much warning of what was to come – the Munich massacre, the numerous highjackings, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut and Reagan’s cut and run from Lebanon, the various hostage situations, including the humiliating Iranian embassy takeover with the year-long embarrassment of Carter’s inaction and the eventual pathetic rescue attempt. Then came the 1990’s and the Mogadishu “Black Hawk down” followed by Clinton’s cut and run from Somalia. Then the 1993 WTC bombing, the various embassy bombings and finally the sneak attack on the USS Cole harbored in the Yemeni port of Aden.

There is enough blame to go around to all administrations, Congress, the media, and mainly to the terrorists themselves. At least the 19 directly responsible did not stand trial, but instead met Allah face to face, only to find no virgins, just the fires of eternal damnation.

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Are you looking for a quick chicken dish? One that’s full of flavor? Here’s a go-to recipe that requires fresh rosemary and garlic, two flavors that complement each other so well.

Rosemary is an easy herb to grow. It thrives in hot summer with very little attention other than occasional watering and some pruning if you want to keep it compact. I have had it winter over in mild winters, but it usually dies and needs replacing each spring. I have not had luck growing it in the kitchen window for some reason. It gets mealybugs. Yuck. I may try to keep it going in the garage window this year.

This is one of those recipes that benefits from the cook pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness to prevent one thin end from becoming too dry before the thicker end is finished cooking. You can pound them as thin as you want, just make sure that they don’t fall part.

CHICKEN WITH GARLIC AND ROSEMARY(For variation, see * below)

4 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless, pounded to even thickness
1/4 c. flour
salt and pepper
1-2 T. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 c. chicken broth
2 T. red wine vinegar

1. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken and shake off the excess flour.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Saute the breasts in the hot oil, about 4 minutes/side until done. Transfer to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm. Add the garlic and rosemary. Cook 1 minute, stirring.
3. Add the broth and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer to reduce the liquid to 1/2 c.
4. Return the chicken to the pan and cook over low heat just to reheat the chicken.
5. Serve with the pan sauce.

*Variation:

In addition to the above ingredients:
1 fennel bulb, sliced lengthwise, core removed
1 small onion, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
half of a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes (or whole ones broken up), with half of the juice

After browning the chicken, remove to plate and cover. Add fennel and onion to the hot oil. Saute, stirring, until tender. Add garlic and resemary. Cook 1 minute. Add broth, tomatoes and red wine vinegar. Bring to boil to reduce the sauce by half. Lower heat and return chicken to pan and simmer for a few minutes.

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