Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Dishes.

This Christmas was definitely one of the better ones for me personally. While it was major change of scenery (compared to the last few years in Indiana), it was a pleasant surprise in many ways. My dad invited my uncle over for Christmas under the guise of preparing one of his recipes, Poulet en Foillette. Until recently, I knew he was a fabulous cook, but didn't know that in November 1978, he was featured in a dead column called Guys and Galleys in the Los Angeles Times. This section featured home cooks and their personal recipes. I was eager to search for a copy of the article through the archives and was lucky enough on Christmas Day to find and purchase a copy through the LA Times website.
But more pleasing than this, was the opportunity to spend quality time with my uncle, father, brother and my dad's new ladyfriend, and yes, get to prepare and sous chef a wonderful Christmas meal. Uncle Stormy walked me through all of the steps in preparing said Poulet en Foillette, a fancy phrase for Chicken wrapped in phyllo dough. But foodies, trust me, this not simply chicken wrapped in phyllo dough.
Chicken breasts (on the bone, skin on) are poached in a swimming pool of lemon juice, vermouth, various herbs and chicken stock for about an hour. Once cool to the the touch the meat is removed from the bone and sliced into decent hunks of meat. Two sheets of phyllo dough are generously brushed with butter. The phyllo dough is sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs, then a piece of chicken is wrapped with prosciutto and placed near the top of the phyllo dough. Grated mozzarella cheese is sprinkled, along some with gruyere and the phyllo concoction is gently folded and wrapped into a lil' burrito and brushed again with more butter and sprinkled with a wee shake of paprika. Baked in the oven for 15-20 minutes and doused with a gravy made from the leftover poaching liquid, this dish is a masterpiece fit for one's mouth.
My dad's lady friend made a side dish of roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes with pancetta and shallots, a perfect sidekick for the main event. I put together a simple salad and baked some homemade "no knead" bread again, which according to my uncle, was a great mop for the leftover gravy on the plate. I also baked a batch of linzer cookies, which weren't my most favorite cookie, but my best linzer recipe is still packed. Good vino, good conversation, lots of belly laughing, and celebrated were had by all. I hope you and yours enjoyed a most memorable Christmas with your loved ones. I'm looking forward to setting aside time to do this again, it was well worth the work and the weight. Here's to more fabulous dishes in 2010. Cheers. More importantly, it was a great opportunity to spend time with family and to enjoy each other's company, which is rare these days.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oh the weather outside ain't frightful.....

...really, it isn't. I mean, you may not think it's even Christmastime around here, but it is. And it's nearly 77 degrees. Los Angeles, man. What else can I say? And what better way to celebrate the season than to invite friends from The Ripple Effect over for some gaming, some laughing, and of course, some eating.
Tonight, I made a mixed green salad with a dijon balsamic viniagrette for a starter. Simple, yet delicious (it really is all about the dressing, after all). Marinated some minced shallots in a good balsamic vinegar with some salt and pepper. Whisked in a bit of dijon mustard and some finely grated Parmigiana (Grana from TJ's) and added some olive oil. The dress truly is the star in this performance, so I didn't add any further toppings or hoopla.

For the main course, I tried a new recipe - Braised Pork Ribs and Italian Sausage (sweet and hot). Braised with onions, peppers, basil, chili pepper flakes, white wine, whole Italian tomatoes and served over cooked pasta, it seemed to be a crown pleaser. The dish is topped off with crispy pancetta, sliced scallions, and some finely grated Parm. A good choice, say, if you're housebound as a result of a nasty blizzard, or just because in my case, you can't resist the pork.

And for the grand finale, a tribute to all desserts Italian in nature....tiramisu. Quite simply one of the easiest desserts to put together and yet it still has the "wow" factor when dinner guests take that first bite. I substituted Frangelico (hazelnut liquer) for the kahula (some recipes call for rum) and I think it worked out just fine. The only issue I've found with tiramisu recipes is that more often than not, you use more ladyfingers than the recipe calls for and you end up needing more of the espresso/liquer mixture for dipping. I'm glad I bought extra.

I hope you are able to take the time and spend it with loved ones, whether family or not. As the song says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year".....I know, I know, cliche. But it worked!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crafty Cookin'

Recently, I've had a strong desire to make pickles, don't ask me where this sudden urge arose from, but it's loud and it's proud and I have a feeling it isn't going anywhere. Whenever I have a sudden urge to do anything, I usually research and research, oh and did I mention research the heck out of it before I commit myself to it? It's true, call it the neurotic slightly-Jewish-by-heritage side, but it's how I roll. I picked up a copy of this gem called Jam It Pickle It Cure It at the library and have been devouring it late at night in my bed. The book's title alone was a worth a trip to my local library branch. This book isn't really all about pickling, though a chapter is dedicated to this craft, but it covers all "crafty" endeavors when it comes to homemade pantry items. The book has "recipes" or "instructions" for making your own butter, bacon, cheese, marshmallows, crackers and more. If you are into food and crafts, this book might bring you to your knees. The bonus is that this book is clean, laid out professionally and has an innate ability to draw you into its world. I've written a few recipes down and made a list of ingredients to get for some food projects. I will definitely keep you informed of the "results".

Sunday, December 6, 2009

To Knead or Not to Knead....

...that is the question. LA Weekly's food blog, Squid Ink, featured a conversation piece with Jim Lahey, author who advocates a "no knead" approach to baking artisanal breads. The article offered his basic "No Knead" bread recipe, which I tried over the weekend. I was hesitant, I must admit. I mean, how many times, have you read a bread recipe and it instructed you to knead the bread for at least 10 minutes. I'm a fan of crusty, holey bread, that's the "crumb" I dig most and whenever I bake bread, I'm constantly trying to recreate it. I may have found my Picasso, my masterpiece in the recipe. The recipe calls for bread flour, but I used all purpose here. With the addition of some salt, cool water and yeast, I Incorporated these ingredients and covered with plastic wrap. For a minimum of 12 hours and Lahey encourages you to postpone step #2 for 18 hours, I left the dough alone to ferment slowly at room temperature.
This morning I awoke and continued with step #2, very gently removing the dough from the bowl, handling it at a minimum and allowing to rise yet again, covered, free form, in a flour-dusted cloth. About half an hour before it finished its second rise, I put my enameled cast iron Dutch oven in a 475 degree oven to heat up. Post the second rise, I transferred the dough carefully into the hot (and I mean STEAMING) Dutch oven and covered it. Baked it for 30 minutes, removed the top so it could develop a beautiful golden crust, for another 15 minutes and transferred to a cooling rack to cool, before slicing off a hunk and swirling honey on top.
The magic lies, yes, in not kneading, but also creating a natural steam environment, by baking it in a dutch oven or casserole. This basic recipe could lead to a cornucopia of additions, such as herbs, cheese, jalapenos, spices and what not. The possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chocolate, Wine and NapaStyle

It's been a long time coming, but my time finally arrived last night, when a few girlfriends and I attended a Chocolate and Wine Tasting at NapaStyle in Costa Mesa. Michael Chiarello, celebrated chef, farmer and wine connoisseur, stopped in for a chit chat, tastings and photo ops. He's the real deal, what you see on television is what you get in real life, and I appreciate it. Upon this gorgeous long wooden table were samples of some treats too - truffles, chocolate covered pecorino, tapenade, and more. Last night's gathering featured three wines from his vineyard, the Eileen Cabernet Sauvignon, Bambino Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Roux Syrah. Michael named the Eileen Cab after his wife and calls it a "wine with hips", and the man does not lie. Bold, beautiful notes of cherries, blackberries perfume the complex yet very easy to drink Cab. Chiarello's vineyards are all organic and he mentioned that they are going bio dynamic as well. What surprises me is how much I enjoyed both Cabernet's, even though it's not a red wine, I typically enjoy. He talked alot about terroir and sustainability. Not just sustainability in terms of the vineyards, but sustainability as it relates to the vineyard's employees and workers, making sure they are able to visit and spend quality time with their families. His restaurant in Yountville, California, Bottega, is making a name for itself as well. Here, Michael, runs his professional kitchen and celebrates the bounty of Napa Valley with his simple yet elegant Italian cuisine. I'm hoping to make it up there soon for some more wine, good eats and great company. Salute, as Michael would say.