Friday, October 22, 2010

The Bird is the Word.

Stuffing meat into different kinds of meat is an American tradition.  Take an ordinary lil' chicken breast for example.  You can slice an opening in the side of a nice piece of chicken breast and stuff it with virtually anything and it will be delicious.  Well maybe not anything.  Bubblegum or soap are two things that I would not recommend stuffing into chicken but anything yummy and fatty and savory would work.  

Chicken cordon bleu is one of my favorite all time classic chicken dishes.  So delicious.  Crispy breaded chicken stuffed with salty ham and gooey Swiss cheese.  I decided to do a serious twist on the same idea but instead of ham I used spicy sopressata salami and rich aged Spanish manchego cheese. After tying off the chicken to keep all the yummy stuff inside I seared them off in a little bacon fat (cause that's how I roll) and finished them off in the oven.  In the meantime I made a fennel and apple slaw with fresh dill, Spanish olive oil, rice wine vinegar, and honey.  Tart and sweet with the tasty anise flavor of fennel.  Very delicious.  When the chicken was done I pulled it out of the oven and removed the string.  After letting it rest for a bit I sliced into it and topped it off with a cherry tomato chow chow (a tasty mix cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh corn, and fennel fronds).  This dish had a great balance and was super duper tasty.  It's a great simple dish for a dinner party or date night.  

Sopressata and Manchego Stuffed Organic Chicken Breast with a Fennel and Pink Lady Apple Slaw and Cherry Tomato Chow Chow 

for the chicken:
4 organic boneless chicken breasts
1/2 lb. thinly sliced spicy sopressata
1/2 lb aged manchego cheese (Parmesean would work if you can't find manchego), thinly sliced
kosher slat and fresh cracked black pepper
bacon fat or butter

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees.  Slice a pocket into the sides of the chicken breasts.  Stuff the slit with equal amounts sopressata and manchego.  Make sure none of the filling is falling out.  Tightly tie the breast shut to keep in the goodies.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a saute pan over medium high heat heat up some bacon fat and sear off both sides of the chicken breast.  Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes until the chicken reaches 155F.  Set aside and rest for at least 7-8 minutes before slicing.

for the fennel and apple slaw:
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 pink lady apples (you can use whatever apples you have on hand), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp Spanish olive oil
1/2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp honey
2 tsp chopped dill, chopped
2 tsp chopped fennel fronds, chopped
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Make the slaw while the chicken is cooking.  Using a mandoline slice the fennel and apple as thinly as possible.  Toss with the remaining ingredients.  Season.  Refrigerate until ready to eat.

for the chow chow:
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
2 cloves garlic
1/2 Tbsp fennel fronds
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp pimenton dulce
olive oil

In a saute pan over medium heat saute the garlic in olive oil until soft, add the tomatoes, corn, and pimenton.  Season with salt and pepper.  Saute until the tomatoes just start to burst open (about 3-4 minutes)  Toss with the fennel fronds and set aside.

Place some of the slaw on a plate, top with the sliced chicken breast and a bit of chow chow.  Garnish with a little fennel frond and dill.  Yum.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Barrel Full of Crackers.

If you're from the South, chances are you've been to Cracker Barrel.  Part old-timey candy store, part country cookin' restaurant.  I used to go nuts when my folks would take the family out to some far away, middle of nowhere Cracker Barrel.  They always seemed to be nestled right next to an outlet mall or a seedy truck stop.  The second you walk in the door you're transported to a tchotchke filled wonderland of jars and tubs filled with old school sugary concoctions.  My favorite was the rock candy on a stick with edges so sharp that you were bound to have an open sore or two in your mouth before you were seated for your meal.

For breakfast I would always get the country ham steaks, sausage, bacon, two fried eggs, hash browns, and grits with cream gravy.  A nice light breakfast to start my day.  I don't know how I managed to stay thin all those years.  My mother insisted that I had a tapeworm.  If I do have a worm it must be about 60 feet long by now.  Ick, I just seriously grossed myself out.  Perhaps I'll sleep with a piece of raw beef on my pillow tonight and see if my wormy friend comes crawling out my mouth.  I think I'll name her Slippy.  Anywho, lunchtime at Crackertown (that's what I called it when I was a lil' girl) was my favorite.  I remember walking past a bright red window filled with gory slabs of meat gettin' smoked right before my eyes.  I always knew what I was getting before I even sat down.  "Yes ma'am, I'll have the chicken n' dumplings.  Can I also get a side of hushpuppies and maybe some red beans and rice.  Oh and a side of your famous smoked ham n' biscuits too.  Yeah don't forget the ham."  I don't know how my mother afforded to keep me around.  I ate more than my whole family put together and then when I was finished with my ridiculous amount of food I would continue to eat all of the other unfinished plates on the table.  Hell, I bet I would've roamed the restaurant eating off of other people's plates if I knew I could get away with it. 

Back to the Chicken n' Dumplings.  Although I didn't quite replicate the recipe from Cracker Haven my version comes pretty damn close if not better.  I'm pretty sure mine uses better ingredients.  The first batch I made came out a little more soupy than I like but it was tasty none the less.  I think I didn't stir enough as I was dropping in the dumplings to make that thick creamy gravy.  I also added a few vegetables to brighten it up a bit.  Here in Seattle, it's hard to get an authentic taste of the South so once in a while I'll give myself a rock candy tooth ache and make some chicken n' dumplings to feel right at home. 

Southern Chicken N' Dumplings

3 quarts water
1 3-4 pound chicken cut into pieces
1 teaspoons salt
1 small onion sliced
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and quartered
1 bay leaf
4-6 whole parsley leaves
fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt tt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

for the dumplings
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons of salt
2 tsp old bay
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt, onion, 2 celery stalks, garlic, bay leaf, and parsley to the pot. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the chicken, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. Skim the foam off the top while it's cooking.  The liquid will reduce by about one third.
2. When the chicken has cooked, remove it from the pot and set it aside. Strain the stock and set aside. Throw away the aromatics.
3. Pour 6 cups of the stock back into a pot  Add fresh cracked black pepper, one teaspoon of salt, and the lemon juice, then reheat the stock over medium heat while you prepare the dumplings.
4. For dumplings, combine the flour, baking powder, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well until smooth, then let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface to about a 1/2 inch thickness.
5. Cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares and drop each square into the simmering stock. The dumplings will first swell and then slowly shrink as they partially dissolve to thicken the stock into a white gravy. Add one sliced celery stick and carrots.  Simmer for 30 minutes or until thick. Stir often.
6. While the dumplings are cooking tear the chicken meat from the bones and discard the skin. Shred the chicken meat into large bite-size pieces and drop them into the pot. Simmer the chicken and dumplings for another 5-10 minutes.
7. When the gravy has reached the desired consistency, ladle into bowls and serve hot.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pork N' Beans.

When I was a kid I used to love the pork and beans that came in a can.  A congealed mess of mushy beans and unnaturally pink "pork" chunks.  I was a pretty disgusting child.  I'd eat anything.  I loved the mystery food that came from cans.  I'm sure I already have my entire lifetime supply of sodium.  It's terrible but I still have cravings for the over salted, processed food of my childhood but I manage to fight it most of the time.  I tend to have no willpower whatsoever when I'm sick.  I always break down and eat a can of squishy, sugary, junk.  It's nostalgic and comforting for me and even though it tastes like a salty bowl of chemicals.  I need it.  Like a relapsing crackhead I feed my addiction for terrible food with the knowledge that I'll feel like hell afterwards and knowingly risk my credibility as a chef.  Perhaps I need an intervention.  Then again, most chefs are foul, junk eating hooligans with no shame.  It's a fact, I will eat Taco Bell that has fallen on the ground.  I would never serve a customer food off the floor but I have no problems putting it in my mouth.  That being said, of course I'd rather eat a beautiful artisanally made taco served on a clean plate.  I'm usually a pretty dainty girl but once in a while the darkness wins and you will catch me eating a floor taco.  At least I have the guts to admit it. 

The devil on my right shoulder doesn't appear that often.  Usually the organic, sustainable, local cooking angel on my left side prevails.  I can still have those comforting dishes without needing a can opener.   I love to take the classics and make them special.  A deliciously modern update on pork n' beans is my Pork con Mojo with Spicy Smoked Pinto Beans.  Pork tenderloin is marinated in mojo (lime, sour orange, garlic, cumin, oregano) and slow roasted in a low oven until fork meltingly tender.  Add a little chicken stock, capers, and peppercorns to the pan juices to make a delicious tangy sauce.  For the beans I soaked dried pinto beans overnight.  Drained the water and cold smoked them for a few minutes with hickory chips on the stove.  Then the beans are re-covered with fresh water, a split habanero chili, onion, and garlic.  As the beans start to become soft add a little cumin, thyme, cinnamon stick, and piménton and cook until the liquid has reduced and the beans are fully cooked.  Don't forget to season along the way.  The spicy beans are the perfect compliment to the tart garlicky pork.  I also made a Baby Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette and Oregon Blue Cheese.  Very simple.  Render some bacon, remove bacon but the leave the fat.  Saute shallots, garlic, capers in bacon fat.  Whisk in sherry wine vinegar.  Pour vinaigrette over the spinach and top with bacon and blue cheese crumbles.  Much more delicious than a can of Spaghetti-Os or a floor taco.