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Just look at the list of ingredients:

Bacon.  Butter.  Mushrooms.  Wine.  Brandy.  Chicken.

Coq au vin basically sells itself.  Sure, I could rhapsodize about the melt-in-your-mouth chicken and seared mushrooms bathed in rich, tangy wine sauce.  But I trust you to recognize a good thing.  No hard sell needed.

Coq au vin is a classic for a reason. Ever since Julia Child ignited the craze for French food in the 1960s, Americans have greedily slurped up this heady stew and asked for seconds.  Yes, it is a bit labor-intensive, but the end result is completely worth it.  The next time you need an impressive dish for a dinner party or special occasion, think retro.  No, think classic.  Think coq au vin.

(Adapted from Nigel Slater)

-1 large chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, or 1 small chicken plus two leg quarters (save back and innards if you intend to make your own broth)
-8 strips of thick-cut bacon, sliced into thick matchsticks, or 150 g. pre-cut lardons
-2 med. yellow onions, roughly chopped
-2 med. carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
-2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-3 Tbsp. flour, divided
-4 Tbsp. brandy or Cognac, divided
-leaves from 4-5 sprigs thyme
-3 bay leaves
-3/4 bottle red wine (approx. 2 1/4 c.)
-1 1/2 c. chicken broth, preferably homemade
-1-2 Tbsp. butter, if needed
-1 c. small “boiler” or “pearl” onions or small shallots, peeled
-1/2 lb. mushrooms (I used crimini), cleaned and halved if large
-salt and pepper, to taste
-chopped parsley, for garnish

1.  Rinse the chicken and trim of excess skin and fat.  Dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Now is a good time to make your chicken broth or bring some prepared broth to a bare simmer in a saucepan.

2.  In a large, heavy pot, fry the bacon pieces on medium heat until lightly golden.  Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings behind.

3.  Put the chicken in the pot, skin-side down, and let cook undisturbed until golden.  Flip and brown the other side.  Remove to a plate, leaving the drippings behind.

color = flavor

4.  Lower the heat and add the carrots, celery, and onions, cooking until the onions soften. Stir in the garlic. Then sprinkle the veggies with 2 tablespoons flour and stir, cooking 90 seconds more.

5.  Return the chicken pieces and their juices to the pot.  Add the bacon, then pour over 2 tablespoons of brandy.

6.  Add the wine, bay leaves, thyme, and enough broth to barely cover the chicken.

7.  Bring just to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken to a bowl.

8.  Raise the heat to high and begin reducing the sauce.  Use a spoon to (carefully) skim off the grease that accumulates around the edges of the sauce, discarding all but 2-3 tablespoons.  Put the reserved grease in a metal skillet or medium pot (do not use non-stick) and set aside.

9.  If desired, thicken the reduced sauce with a slurry of 1 tablespoon of flour whisked with 2 tablespoons of water.  Return the chicken pieces to the sauce, first removing the skin (if you like).  Correct the seasoning and keep warm.

10.  Heat skimmed fat in the pot/skillet on high.  If there is not enough fat to cover the bottom, add the butter.  Add the mushrooms and let brown undisturbed for 2 or 3 minutes.  Now add the small onions and sauté 2 min. more.  Season with salt and pepper.

11.  Have matches or a lighter handy.  Pour 2-3 tablespoons of brandy into a cup.  Very carefully, pour the brandy over the mushrooms and onions. Immediately set the mushrooms and onions on fire, averting your head for safety.  Shake the pan until the alcohol burns off and the flames die out. Continue cooking until the onions are just tender, adding a little water if needed.

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Germany is a funny place, food-wise.  It has some of the cheapest groceries in Europe and enthusiastically stocks shelves with gourmet delicacies from neighboring countries.  You can eat very well for very little.  Food shopping as an American in Berlin can be a little bewildering—it’s always an adventure. Need a can of rillettes? A brick of halloumi? Russian solyanka? Marcona almonds? Hungarian kabanos? How about some jicama or salsify? White asparagus? Venison shoulder? No problem.

But what if you just need a humble pound of ground chicken to make Smitten Kitchen’s chicken meatballs?

That’s a tall order. Certain American culinary trends haven’t caught on well here, and ground poultry is one of them.  When I asked the butcher if she had any ground chicken, I got a brusqueThat’s not something we carry.”  (My friend, Robby, tells a funny story about how his simple inquiry about ground lamb prompted an angry diatribe about the unreasonable number of separate grinders required.  But I digress.)

Anyway, I was not to be deterred.  I finally tracked down some ground turkey and decided it would have to do.  I needed those meatballs.

Like, yesterday.

And oh, the meatballs.  Delicious!  Just as Deb promised, they’re moist, flavorful, and—yep—vaguely cheesy (despite not containing a lick of cheese).  I think the pancetta and tomato paste give them that delectable hit of umami.  These are good.

Rumor has it they’re also delicious cold, straight from the fridge.  But what was it Reagan said?  “Trust but verify”?  Go on!

Because my grocer sells ground turkey in 3/4 lb. packages, I had to buy two. The following recipe has been scaled up and makes a lot of meatball mix. You can either halve it, or make a make a separate meatloaf for another meal, as I did. Two birds, one stone.

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

-5 slices Italian bread, crumbled into small pieces (I used stale homemade oatmeal white bread)
-1/2 c. milk
-3 oz. pancetta, or uncooked bacon or turkey bacon, diced
-1 sm. onion, finely chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (lean is OK)
-1 egg, lightly beaten (two are pictured in photo)
-4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
-1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped, optional
-good pinch red pepper flake
-3 Tbsp. tomato paste, divided
-1 Tbsp. olive oil
-salt and pepper, to taste

1. Put the bread pieces in a large mixing bowl and drizzle them with the milk. Let sit while you follow the next step. (more…)

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Seasonally, this pumpkin soup is probably better suited to mid-October than mid-March, but no matter.  It’s irresistible any time of year.  Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Get in my belly!

Apologies.  That must have been my Id talking.

What my unconscious is trying to say is, you should make this soup happen.  In your kitchen. ASAP.

That is all.

-1 1/2 lbs. fresh pumpkin (I used muscat pumpkin, but acorn/butternut squash or even sweet potatoes should work, too)
-2 tsp. fresh sage, minced (or 1 tsp. dried)
-1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
-3 shallots, peels on
-olive oil, for drizzling
-1 leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed of sand
-1 Tbsp. butter
-1 carrot, peeled and diced
-1 lg. celery stalk, diced
-1 bay leaf
-1/2 c. white wine
-4 c. chicken/veggie broth
-1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
-1/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste
-pinch of ground ginger
-dash nutmeg
-1/2 c. evaporated milk
-3 Tbsp. heavy cream
-3 Tbsp. sherry (optional)
-salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish with your choice of:
-roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), chopped
-ground paprika
-roasted corn (recipe follows)
-chopped parsley
-heavy cream

1. Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, halve the shallots, and place on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Roast at 350F until fork-tender and golden.

I peeled the shallots, but roasting with the peels on would have been better.

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These crispy fish fillets* are much more than the sum of their parts. After posting several fairly involved recipes, I thought it time for a quick, easy recipe that’s simply delicious.  I was skeptical making this the first time, but one bite confirmed it.  Potato chips, tartar sauce, and white fish?  Like Martha says, “It’s a good thing.”

Still not sure?  Take 15 minutes:

-2 white fish fillets (such as cod, turbot, tilapia, etc.)
-2 Tbsp. prepared tartar sauce (or make your own)
-1 oz. ridged potato chips (e.g., Ruffles…or their German equivalent, Riffels!), crumbled
-2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
-salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease a glass/ceramic baking dish or lay some chopped vegetables on the bottom (e.g., celery, fennel stalks, carrots).

2. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Spread 1 Tbsp. tartar sauce on top of each fillet. Press a few tablespoons of potato chip crumbs on top. (more…)

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Do you love white?

You know: rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, flour, bechamel (mmm, bechamel…)

Well, you don’t need me to tell you.  We’ve all heard we need to eat less white. (Naturally) colorful foods typically have more of the good stuff: vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, flavonoids, and fiber.  Unfortunately, DayGlo-orange Kraft Mac doesn’t count as the right kind of colorful.  Michael Pollan tells us; the federal government tells us—but it’s hard to apply all this good advice.

Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to put more color on our plates. Sometimes this means buying some flourescent produce and rushing home to ask Chef Google what the heck I can do with it.  That’s fun, in a kind of Iron-Chef-challenge way.  But sometimes, it’s just easier to work the good stuff into recipes I already make.

Which explains this chicken shepherd’s pie with spinach and sweet potato mash.  It’s got tons of the good stuff bathed in a little cream to help it go down with a smile.

Because a little white is alright.

To be honest, I like my revamped version better than the original. The faintly sweet topping plays off the creamy, herb-spiked base really nicely.  And the chicken is considerably lighter than beef or lamb.  I hope you enjoy my update to the classic.  Dig in!

Topping

-1 lg. sweet potato or yam
-3 med. or 5 sm. white potatoes (enough to weigh 1 1/2 lbs. together with the sweet potato)
-1 Tbsp. butter
-1 Tbsp. herbed cream cheese (I used porcini-mushroom flavored) or sour cream
-1/4-1/2 c. milk, as needed
-salt and pepper, to taste

Peel and cube all the potatoes and boil in a medium pot of salted water until tender.  Drain and place in a medium bowl.  Set aside the pot for later use.

Whip together the potatoes, butter, cream cheese (or sour cream), seasoning, and as little milk as needed to form a thick but spreadable consistency.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

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I was in line at the corner market yesterday when some items “conveniently” located at the checkout stand caught my eye.  I’d been toying with a mango salsa idea for pork tenderloin and thought a few changes might be nice.  On a whim, I grabbed a container each of fresh pineapple and pomegranate arils, and luckily, the tinkering seriously paid off.

I love this way of preparing pork tenderloin.  You rub the meat with spices, sear it till it has a nice crust, and finish it off in the oven.  Then you hit it with a salsa of tropical fruit, lime juice, and onion so bright, it practically crackles with flavor.  I must have eaten half my weight in fruit salsa last night, so it’s a good thing it’s ridiculously healthy. Even if you’re skeptical of the fruit + meat combination, give this a shot. You’ll be surprised how well it works.

If you have time, brining the meat ensures optimum juiciness and flavor. If not, no worries; this will still turn out great. It’s perfect for a weeknight meal. Enjoy!

Pork brine

-2 Tbsp. coarse salt
-2 Tbsp. sugar
-1 tsp. garlic powder
-1 tsp. bay powder or 2 bay leaves
-pinch of red pepper flake
-1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Cover the meat with water and stir in all the seasonings until dissolved.  Allow to brine (refrigerated) for up to 8 hrs.  Remove from the brining solution and bring to room temp. 30 min. before cooking.

Tropical salsa

-1 sm. yellow onion, finely diced
-1 1/2 c. fresh pineapple, diced (canned OK in a pinch)
-3/4 c. pomegranate arils (“seeds”)
-2 Tbsp. cilantro (fresh coriander), chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/2 mango, peeled, seeded, and diced
-dash of ground red chilis or cayenne pepper
-juice of 1 1/2 limes
-salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Combine the salsa ingredients and chill for 20 minutes while you prepare the meat.

Tenderloin

-1 pork tenderloin (mine was a little over 1 lb.)
-2 tsp. sweet paprika
-1/2 tsp. garlic powder
-1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
-3/4 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
-1 tsp. cumin
-1/4 tsp. dried oregano
-vegetable oil, for searing

It can’t all be glamorous.

Trim as much visible fat and silverskin (white/shiny muscle membrane) from the meat as you can.  Mix the remaining dry ingredients in a small bowl, then rub all over the tenderloin using your hands.  Heat a few tablespoons oil in a large skillet or roasting pan until almost smoking.  Add the meat to the pan and do not move until the bottom is very brown.  Repeat on all sides.

Remove the meat to an oven-safe glass pan (if not using a roaster) and cover with foil.  Roast @ 425F for 14-20 min., or until done to your liking.  It’s OK if the center is faintly pink.  If the meat feels firm but slightly springy to the touch, it’s done.

Place the meat on a clean cutting board and tent with foil for 5 min. while you assemble the side dishes on plates.  (Black beans and rice are nice accompaniments.)

Once the meat has rested, slice thinly on the diagonal and serve topped with the salsa. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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For reasons I don’t quite understand, fresh washed, bagged baby spinach costs an arm and a leg in Berlin.  I guess it hasn’t caught on in trendy circles yet.  If only the hipsters with painted on jeans and hideous shaved haircuts had an inkling of the green deliciousness they’re missing.

Anyway.

Here’s a simple recipe for a yummy spinach-potato soup.  The shortcut involves using frozen creamed spinach, which is all my discount grocery store (the U.N. refugee-camp-style Netto) had.  Topped off with some homemade croutons or a drizzle of cream, it makes a nice lunch or starter.

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