Sunday, February 7, 2016

Coq au Vin

 It was C.’s turn to cook last Wednesday and for inspiration, she pulled out the November/December 2006 edition of Cook’s Illustrated.  

It’s comforting to know that some things never change.

Anyway, A. told us that she has subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated for many years and each year, for Christmas, Mr. A. gives her the bound compilation of recipes from that year.  She, in turn, bundles the individual magazines from that year, ties a bow around them and gifts them to one of her lucky friends.  In 2006, it appears that lucky friend was C.!

In this edition of the magazine, there is a treasure-trove of culinary gems, including a gussied-up version of Green Bean Casserole, Penne alla Vodka (that I will make to see if it stands up to mine!), Chocolate Pots de Creme (that I will also be making!) and Coq au Vin, which literally translated means Cock in Wine.  

C. made us the Coq au Vin.

If you are familiar with Cooks Illustrated,  then you know the stories and preparation that precede the recipe are just as informative (and entertaining!) as the recipe itself.  The goal for the provincial favorite — Coq au Vin — was to reduce the 2 1/2 hours of cooking time and still produce chicken succulent enough to make any country French cook swoon.

Coq au Vin was originally made with roosters no longer suitable for breeding. To make the tough meat tender, it was cooked for hours in wine, mushrooms, carrots, onions and herbs.   Modern haute-cuisinesque recipes that Cooks Illustrated researched shaved some time off the recipe preparation but those versions still seemed a bit fancy for this rustic French chicken stew that has its roots in basic, simple cooking.  So after some trial-and-error, the recipe below was the hands-down favorite and published winner.  It takes half the time to prepare, uses boneless chicken thighs (that tolerate a longer cooking time nicely), is packed with rich and complex flavors and returns the recipe to its humble beginnings.   And to quote Cooks Illustrated “no past-its-prime rooster required.”

Cooks Illustrated’s, Sandra Wu, also notes that “a medium-bodied, fruity red wine such as pinot noir or Rhöne Valley grenache is best for this recipe….avoid bold, heavily oaked red wine varietals like cabernet, and light-boded wines like Beaujolais.”  Use mushrooms with a earthy quality such as cremini, which is merely a more mature version of the common white button mushroom.

Serve immediately over with egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  C. served with mashed potatoes and crusty rolls to help us sop up every last bit of the wine-based and totally delicious sauce.  

Licking the plate was optional with judgment suspended.

Coq au Vin
Cooks Illustrated

1 bottle (750 ml) medium- bodied red wine, divided
2 cups chicken stock
10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley plus 2 tbsp. freshly minced flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 -in. pieces
21/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut in half crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
24 frozen pearl onions (about 1 c.), thawed and patted dry
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small, quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. flour

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all but 1 tablespoon of the red wine (reserving for later use), chicken stock, parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 20 to 25 minutes. Discard herbs and reserve wine-stock mixture.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in a small bowl, and discard remaining fat.

Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken, in a single layer, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add remaining 1 tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking, and repeat with remaining chicken.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Add tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring frequently, until well-combined, about 1 minute.  Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with a spoon to loosen browned bits. Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper, cooked chicken (and any accumulated juices) and cooked bacon. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a large bowl and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until sauce is thick and glossy and measures about 31/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to pot. Top with minced parsley and serve immediately over noodles or mashed potatoes.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Crisp Chicken Schnitzel With Lemony Herb Salad

When I think Schnitzel, I think Wiener Schnitzel which is German for "Viennese schnitzel.”  We all know that dish, a very thin veal cutlet, breaded and fried, drizzled with a sweetened vinaigrette and served with potato salad or parsley potatoes.  

We don’t normally associate Schnitzel with chicken. That is until NYTimes Cooking contributor Melissa Clark offered a recipe for the same and the recipe, thankfully, appeared in A.’s “What to Make for Dinner” newsfeed.

She made it for us on Wednesday night.  

We were so grateful. 

It was absolutely delicious.

Schnitzel, without the Weiner, is simply any meat, pounded thin, coated and fried.  In France, it’s escalope, in Latin America, milanesa, in Italy, parmigiana.  So, you see, the concept is consistent but it’s the sauce that makes the dish distinctive by country.  So, to make Chicken Schnitzel, just dress it with a sauce typically reserved for Weiner Schnitzel!

The trick to making an airy schnitzel is not to let the breadcrumbs stick to the meat but, rather, float on top of the meat.  This is achieved by dipping the cold cutlets in flour (the flour acts like a protective shield!), then eggs, THEN bread crumbs in preparation for frying.  And, when frying, move and shake the pan to encourage lots of air circulation.  Also, don’t overcrowd the meat because overcrowding lowers the oil temperature and that affects the crispiness.  Rule of thumb…fry only a few cutlets at a time.

Crisp Chicken Schnitzel With Lemony Herb Salad
By:  NYTimes Cooking

6 anchovy fillets
1 small garlic clove
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
7 to 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
½ cup flour
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ¼ pounds chicken breast or thigh cutlets, pounded to 1/8-inch thick
Safflower, peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
2 quarts mixed baby greens (A. substituted with shredded Brussels sprouts)
2 cups soft herb leaves, like a combination of mint, tarragon, basil, parsley, cilantro, chervil, chives (try to use at least 3 kinds)
1 scallion, thinly sliced, including greens
Mince anchovies and garlic and mix with a large pinch of salt until you get a rough paste. Put it in bowl and whisk in the lemon zest, juice and another pinch of salt and some pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

Place eggs in one shallow dish, bread crumbs in another, and flour mixed with cayenne and nutmeg in a third. Season chicken cutlets generously with salt and pepper.

Heat 1/8 inch oil in a large skillet. While oil heats, dip cutlets one by one into flour (shake off any excess), then into eggs (ditto) and finally into the bread crumbs, taking care not to handle chicken more than necessary (hold meat by ends).

When oil sizzles when a pinch of bread crumbs is thrown in, add a chicken cutlet (or two if your skillet is large, leave plenty of room around them). Swirl pan so oil cascades over top of cutlet in waves. When bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes, flip and brown the other side, swirling pan (swirling helps create air pockets, giving you lighter schnitzel). Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking platter or baking tray and sprinkle with more salt. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Toss salad greens and herbs with just enough anchovy-lemon dressing to lightly coat them. Divide salad on serving plates and top with schnitzel. Drizzle with more dressing and garnish with scallions.

A. served with risotto.  We had a wonderful salad and homemade peanut butter cookies for dessert.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Crab Cakes

We experienced blizzard conditions in southeast Pennsylvania this weekend…beautiful, but quite inconvenient!

But, when we walked into M.’s house for dinner the other night and were immediately greeted by the crackle of a wonderful fire to warm our chilly bones and the smell of Old Bay, we knew it was going to be a good night.

Old Bay normally sounds the alarm for crab cakes and we were right!  Crab cakes are made with, of course, crab meat and the other usual suspects of bread crumbs, milk, mayonnaise, eggs and, in particular Old Bay Seasoning.  The Blue Crab is native to the Chesapeake Bay and its succulent meat is the ultimate choice in most Baltimore restaurants, where the cakes are served both broiled and fried.  I lived in Baltimore for three years and I learned to really appreciate these little beauties. Although Maryland is renowned for Crab Cakes, the patties are popular in any coastal area where crabbing thrives.  

Crabs are caught in crab traps the crustaceans enter to eat the bait but from which the poor dears can’t escape.  Some are wooden, some are made of wire.  Plain-old nets are also used.  Once the traps or nets are full, the fisher retrieves the cages and escorts the jewels to their final destination.  We are grateful that nature provides such tasty morsels. 

Did you know that the scientific name for the Blue Crab is Callinectes, Greek for Beautiful Swimmer.  And, btw, crabs can only do the's very funny to watch them walk!

Crab Cakes
Cooks Illustrated

1 pound lump crabmeat (preferably jumbo lump), picked over to remove cartilage and shell fragments
4 medium scallions , green part only, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves or cilantro, dill, or basil, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs, or up to 1/4 cup (see note)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 large egg
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cups vegetable oil

The amount of bread crumbs you add will depend on the crabmeat’s juiciness. Start with the smallest amount, adjust the seasonings, then add the egg. If the cakes won’t bind at this point, then add more bread crumbs, one tablespoon at a time.

Gently mix crabmeat, scallions, herb, Old Bay, bread crumbs, and mayonnaise in medium bowl, being careful not to break up crab lumps. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Carefully fold in egg with rubber spatula until mixture just clings together.

Divide crab mixture into four portions and shape each into a fat, round cake, about 3 inches across and 1 1/2-inches high. Arrange on baking sheet lined with waxed paper; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. (Can refrigerate up to 24 hours.)

Put flour on a plate and lightly dredge crab cakes. Heat oil in large, preferably a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Gently lay chilled crab cakes in skillet and pan-fry until outsides are crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve hot, with sauces!

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (minced)
1 small clove garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon lime juice from 1 lime
Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes. (The sauce can be refrigerated for several days.)

It was an eventful evening.  Ella, the Labrador, stole the remnants of the cheese tray and a husband unexpectedly joined us for dinner… we each happily offered a quarter-section of our crab cake.  We listened to selections from Hamiltion, a play about the life of Alexander Hamilton…it amazes me how brilliant composers are.  And, we had homemade rice pudding for dessert.

Blue crab photo and crab facts from

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bacon-Corn Chowder with Shrimp

When I think chowder, I think of clam chowder or maybe potato chowder.  Both are incredibly satisfying and perfect to warm our innards on a chilly winter day.  Chowder is typically made with seafood or vegetables and has a smooth and velvety consistency, compliments of cream or milk typically added.  It's not a dish usually associated with light fare, so when I saw this Cooking Light version in my Facebook feed, I vowed to make it.  

Maybe I didn’t vow, but I’m always looking for Dinner Night suggestions and this recipe did not disappoint. And soup was just what the doctor ordered (literally) following two weeks of sinus-infection fun, but enough about that.

First of all, bacon makes everything better and sautéing the celery, onion and garlic right in the bacon fat is a genius maneuver.  And true to any chowder, half & half adds creaminess but more wonderful creaminess comes from removing two cups of the soup, blending it until smooth, and returning the blended potage to the pot. This technique is new to me (maybe I’ve been under a rock!) and all the cream in the world could not replicate the effectiveness of this step.  Cooks Illustrated also uses this method in its Red Lentil Soup recipe, which is also absolutely delicious.

The whole kernels of corn provide a pleasant and crispy pop and the shrimp adds a bit of fancy-pants as well as chewiness.  I used frozen shrimp, already deveined and peeled….what could be easier!  

This recipe is surprisingly simple to make, especially considering the flavor punch it packs.  I would do a few things differently the next time, like adding more broth and spicing it up with some red pepper flakes.  I garnished with chopped bacon and cilantro and a thinly-sliced baguette, toasted and slathered with olive oil.  I served crispy bread on the side.  

There wasn’t a drop or kernel left in the pot!  Thank goodness we had a delicious salad of greens and grapefruit sections to devour.

The recipe gurus at Cooking Light routinely take calorie and fat laden recipes and lighten them up….I think they did a great job with this one, as demonstrated by the nutritional statistics!

Bacon-Corn Chowder with Shrimp
Cooking Light
4 servings (serving size: about 1 2/3 cups)

6 slices center-cut bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (that I forgot at the store but my garden is still producing!)
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
3/4 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1/3 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bacon to pan; saute 4 minutes or until the bacon begins to brown. Remove 2 slices bacon. Drain on paper towels. Add onion and next 3 ingredients (through minced garlic) to pan, and saute for 2 minutes. Add corn, and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth; bring to a boil, and cook for 4 minutes.

2. Place 2 cups of corn mixture in a blender. Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape), and secure lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in the blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Return pureed corn mixture to pan. Stir in shrimp; cook 2 minutes or until shrimp are done. Stir in half-and-half, pepper, and salt. Crumble reserved bacon, cilantro over soup.  Add a toasted baguette slice and serve!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuscan Roast Pork Tenderloin with Garlic and Rosemary

So, I borrowed a page out of M.’s book — who made the most amazing polenta the last time we had dinner at her house — and turned to Cook’s Illustrated for my Christmas Day roast recipe, Tuscan-Style Roast Pork Tenderloin with Garlic and Rosemary.

I originally saw the “preview” of the recipe on-line and since I don’t know how to link my subscription with on-line access, I couldn’t open the recipe.  Having ants-in-my-pants thinking my January-February issue of Cook’s Illustrated would not arrive in time for Christmas, I bought an additional copy of the Magazine while Christmas food shopping at Giant.  I arrived home only to find my subscription copy in the mail.  

Perhaps patience is not my most discernible virtue.  

I should have had confidence that the wonderful folks at Cook’s Illustrated would not let their subscribers down, especially at Christmas, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  I wanted that recipe!!

The crazy cooks at Cook’s Illustrated found a way to make outside of the pork roast brown and somewhat crispy without overcooking the inside meat….searing the roast in a pan after baking!   So simple and clever. BUT, there are many steps to this little rolled piece of culinary magic and you might be templed to say, “oh, the hell with it, I’m just serving the roast right out of the oven.”  DON’T!  It is so worth the work.  My daughters assisted with this preparation due to my Christmas congestion, which is turning into a yearly event.

Please read the recipe all the way through before beginning, especially if timing is key for your dinner party.  There is prep time, rest time, roast time, more rest time, more prep time, searing time and several other oh-so-worth-it steps mixed in between.

BTW, this issue of Cook’s Illustrated also has a recipe named Best Roast Chicken…they never had C.’s roast chicken she made when she last hosted.  That’s the best roast chicken ever!

As you probably have figured out, I’m a bit behind in my posts.

Instead of one large roast, I used two pork tenderloins, pounded thin, slathered with the herb paste and rolled using the same technique as called for in the CI recipe.  Rolling the meat allows the yummy paste to distribute the flavors more evenly.  The lemon zest adds a bright note to the paste and compliments the vinaigrette you’ll make (explaining Arista, which is pork served with juices)….nothing is wasted in this recipe!

Tuscan Roast Pork Tenderloin with Garlic and Rosemary (Arista)
Adapted (a little) from Cook’s Illustrated

1 lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 oz pancetta, cut into 1/2” pieces
White wine (you’ll only need a splash or two)
1 package (2 pieces) of pork tenderloin

Grate the zest of one lemon and set aside. Cut the lemon in half and set aside.  Combine zest, oil, garlic and pepper flakes in a non-stick skillet.  Cook over low-medium heat, stirring frequently until garlic is sizzling and fragrant, a few minutes.  Add rosemary and cook another 30 seconds.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl,  set the oil aside and allow the rosemary-garlic mixture to cool in the strainer. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

Whirl the pancetta in a food processor (I used my mini-food processor) until a paste forms (it’s more like a soft ball) about 25 seconds.  Add the rosemary-garlic mixture and a splash or two of white wine and process until incorporated, about 20 seconds. 

Pound each tenderloins thin (about 1/2”) and as evenly as possible (a semi-rectangle will form).  Spread half the mixture on each tenderloin, leaving about 1/4” on each side.  Roll each tenderloin like a yule log and fasten with butcher’s twine.  Set both prepared tenderloins on a greased wire rack placed in a roasting pan and refrigerate for at least one hour.  

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Position the roasting pan on the middle rack and cook the tenderloins for 1 1/2- 2 hours (until the meat registers 135 degrees).  Remove from the oven, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes.

Heat 1 teaspoon of the reserved oil and add the lemon halves.  Cook until cut sides are browned, about 2-3 minutes.  Let cool.  Meanwhile, pat the roast dry and heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in a pan over a high heat and brown roast on top and sides.  Transfer to a carving board, remove twine and slice.  Now, juice the cooled lemons through a mesh strainer.  Wisk with the rest of the reserved oil and serve with the sliced pork….perfect paired together!