What We’re Watching: Last Restaurant Standing

For all you food reality show lovers out there, BBC America is back with Raymond Blanc and his incredibly picky “inspectors” for a second season of Last Restaurant Standing.

Last Restaurant Standing

Nine couples are chosen and handed keys to a vacant restaurant space and given the seed money to start their restaurant. Each couple chooses their own restaurant’s concept, menu and decor — then try to run an actual restaurant, front to back. Raymond Blanc’s inspectors show up and evaluate the entire package of the restaurant, and they sit down with Blanc to determine who gets to carry on, and whose restaurant shuts down. In the end, one couple gets to open a restaurant with world renown chef Raymond Blanc.

That last sentence really shouldn’t be ended with a period. It should have at least eighty exclamation marks.

I’m in love with this show — it is a must see. The show runs on Tuesday nights, typically for one hour. The first show was longer. If you missed out on the first episode, BBC America is replaying it periodically – just check the website for details.

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Top Chef Season 5, Episode 9: It’s good to be the king, okay well not really

First off, let’s get the canoodling discussion out of the way.  Hosea and Leah were all like “oh you’re so cute” and “no you are cute” and all smooch smoochie cuddle cuddle and stuff.  And then they felt bad about it because they both have significant others, but nothing happened except cuddling and some kissing.  Ok, maybe Leah can use that excuse.  Assuming her beau is a guy, since they didn’t screw, she might survive this with her relationship intact.  But Hosea?  Dude you snuggled.  SNUGGLED.  The level of emotional intimacy that implies means that your girlfriend is going to stab you in the heart, like, a whole bunch of times.  You would have been in less trouble if you screwed her because then you could have played the whole “oh it didn’t mean anything it was just sex” thing.  But with cuddling involved, you get all the pain with only half of the pleasure.

…which leads us quite nicely to RESTAURANT WARS!!!

…just waiting for the people I lost with that analogy to catch up to us… ok.

See the problem with Restaurant Wars, is that one person is elevated to Head Chef status, and invariably is the one to get the axe if things go wrong.  I will go out on a limb here, and with the absence of evidence to the contrary (because I am too lazy to look it up) I will state that it has always been the Head Chef that has gone home.  So if you are going to throw a Quickfire, now is the time.

The issue is that in a real kitchen, the employees are working for the Head Chef and they work hard for him/her because if they don’t live up to his/her standards their ass is canned.  In the best restaurants, they are living up to that standard because they believe in that chef’s vision.  But in this case, you have four people who were equals a second ago, and then one of them makes a good soup and then they are in charge.  And if the team fails, they go home.  So they have half the power, all the blame.

The other problem with Restaurant Wars, is the maitre’d position.  Of all the stretches Top Chef makes when testing the contestant’s Chefability, none is so far afield as this one.  Being front of house is a completely different skill-set than being a chef, and I daresay one that you don’t have to have to be a chef.  Thomas Keller, from all accounts is fairly taciturn personally and would do horribly in the greeter role.  But somehow he survives with only his cooking skill and vision to aid him.  There really is no reason at all (beside it being funny television) to have one of the chefs fill this roll.  Might as well have one chef work as a waiter and one as a dishwasher while you’re at it.

That all being said, if you are on this show you have to know that.  You have to know that if you are the winner of the Quickfire, you are going home if anyone on your team messes up.  And this is where Radhika fell down.  I would think that you would want to be cooking in your own restaurant, but that’s just me.  But you need someone that can schmooze a little.  The other team wisely picked Fabio, who did fabulous.  On Radhika’s team there was a lot of “oh gee I don’t know, I don’t want to do it, do you want to do it?”  NO.  You man up and say “Sorry pretty boy, you are out front.  Now mousse up and put on some short-shorts!  I know you brought them!”

But she didn’t.  She said “oh I guess I’ll do it then” and did a crap job of it.  The food was about a tie, so it was her against Fabio and she lost.  Duh.  Her failure was not that she wasn’t a good maitre’d, it was that she didn’t take charge enough to make sure that she used her talent wisely.  Hell even veloci-cosby-raptor  would have been sending out positive vibes or some-such happy horsesh*t.

 

~Citizen Chef

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Wild Mushroom & Red Wine Risotto

We’re in the final stretch for the January Magazine of the Month, the February 2009 edition of Food & Wine Magazine. It’s been a fun trip through the mag thus far, as I’ve picked up a few dishes and desserts that I’ll be making again for a while.

Food & Wine February 2009

Although I’ve only started making risotto recently, it’s already won me over. A risotto doesn’t just have to be something served on the side. A bowl of it is perfect for a dinner alongside a glass of wine, it’s served warm, easy to prepare, and can be made with a myriad of variations. One basic recipe can turn into many.

Wild Mushroom-and-Red Wine Risotto F&W Pic

If you’ve been following the MoM thus far, you’ll already know this is exactly where our Wild Mushroom & Red Wine Risotto came from. One Milanese Risotto in the Tasting & Testing section spawned three different variations. We’ve already covered the Fennel-and-Sausage Risotto, a delicious twist that I’ve deemed a keeper recipe. Now for it’s sibling.

Wild Mushroom-and-Red Wine Risotto
Courtesy of Food & Wine February2009

5 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound mixed wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

I was serving this as a side dish so what you’re seeing in my photos is the recipe halved.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Keep warm.

Simmering Chicken Broth

For the stock, I use a pot that is equipped for pouring. Whenever I use a regular saucepan, I spill the liquid all over the stove. The other way to do that would be to use an actual measuring cup to pour it in, but I figured, why dirty up another utensil when I’ve got this?

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Onion for Risotto

Salt. I’ve mentioned this before, and I think it’s worth mentioning again that I’m not big on adding additional salt until I know what I’m dealing with. I didn’t add any salt to the onion for this because every time I make risotto, I think the flavoring ends up just fine. Somehow the added Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter at the end gives me enough for my palette, so I don’t add any. But that’s just a personal thing.

Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Self explanatory with the obligatory picture. I was considering taking the picture out, but it just looks so good.

Adding the Arborio

Add the wine and cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed.

This was pretty cool to watch, because it was fun that the risotto turned purple. As the wine was absorbed and the alcohol cooked off, the color faded substantially.

Adding Wine

Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 20 minutes total. Season with salt and pepper.

Again, I didn’t do the additional salt and pepper. I just let nature take its course.

Soaking Up Broth

Meawhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the mushrooms and shallot, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 10 minutes.

Mushrooms & Shallots in Butter

I couldn’t find any wild mushrooms for this. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. So, I’ll confess, I “Rachel Ray’d” this and grabbed a pre-washed carton of baby bellas from my grocery store. AND I’M PROUD OF IT!

Scrape the mushrooms into the risotto and stir in the cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.

Finished Product in the Pot

Mmm…

Ready for the close up, on the plate:

Wild Mushroom-and-Red Wine Risotto

Mushroom lovers like me should be pleased with this dish. I think I liked this. While I was trying to decide how I felt about it, I kept eating it. Before I knew it, I had polished off what I had on my plate. I loved the addition of the mushrooms, but I really didn’t get the taste of the red wine in there. That is most likely my fault, as I used a generic red cooking wine. Next time I will try something different — Food & Wine recommends an “intense, blackberry-scented red: 2006 Le Terraze Rosso Conero.” If I changed the wine, I’d probably love it but, as is, I only just liked it. Looks like I’m going to have to make it again before I decide just how much.

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes

I’m bombarding you with more Magazine of the Month reviews! Two in one day? It’s like winning the AwK lottery!

Food & Wine February 2009

We’ve been looking at plenty of dinners, but not much in the way of desserts. The February 2009 Food & Wine magazine has a great article on milk chocolate desserts, of which I’ve already shared one delicious offering.

Now for a second dessert: Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes

F&W Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cake

Let me tell you why I love this dessert. Fantastic taste and fun brownie texture aside, it’s actually fast and easy enough to make on a weeknight – not something you normally find with a dessert. While you’re making your dinner on the stove, these little cups can bake in the oven. If you have kids, this is easy enough that they can help you. Also, you can toss the extras into a plastic ziploc bag and save the rest for later.

Here’s what F&W has to say about these amazing and fun little cakes:

Brownie meets cake in this fun dessert from Emily Luchetti, a cookbook author and the executive pastry chef at San Francisco’s Farallon. She bakes the batter in muffin cups so the edges turn crispy and chewy like a brownie, but the inside becomes soft and fluffy like a cake.

You’ve heard them. Now, let’s bring it on.

Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes
Courtesy of Food & Wine February 2009

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons cake flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

For the milk chocolate, I used chocolate chips. These come in bags of a little more than eleven ounces, which comes out to about two cups, so I used 1 cup of chocolate chips. To figure out the “one-fifth of the milk chocolate,” I just eyeballed it, pouring the top layer of the cup into the pot. There’s really no exact science to this, and you don’t need to get Alton Brown on this recipe with a scale. Eyeballing it is fine. The rest of the chocolate is going to get mixed into the batter and baked, so the cakes have these little chunks of delicious, melted chocolate in them.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour 8 cups in a standard-size muffin pan. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add one-fifth of the milk chocolate and whisk until melted. Let cool slightly.

I kept my oven on to medium-low, so as not to burn the chocolate or butter. Also, I put them all in together at the same time, rather than melting the butter first and the chocolate second. If you go this route, remember to keep the heat low!

By now you should pretty much know what melted butter and chocolate look like, but I snapped the obligatory photo anyway:

Chocolate & Butter

In a small bowl, whisk the cake flour with the all-purpose flour, unsweetened cocoa powder and salt.

Again, you know what the dry ingredients should look like together, but I really want to point out the simplicity of this dessert.

Chocolate Powder

In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar at medium speed until pale and thick, about 5 minutes.

I have two photos for this because I wanted to show the novice bakers what you should have before you stop mixing.

Egg start:
Eggs & Sugar: Before

Egg end:
Eggs & Sugar: After

To beat this, I turned my beater to a little higher than half speed.

As you can see in the photos, the eggs start out very yellow and runny. After a few minutes of beating (five minutes may sound like a long time, but it goes by quickly) you will have a fluffy, very pale yellow mixture. It will also puff up due to the egg whites, so when you’re done mixing, you’ll appear to have a little more than you previously had.

Beat in the vanilla extract.

Basically, you’ll put in the vanilla extract and turn your beater back on for another 30 – 60 seconds. The egg and sugar mixture will turn a little glossy.

Beat in the melted chocolate mixture and the dry ingredients in 3 additions, scraping down the bowl occasionally with a spatula. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate.

I didn’t over-think this part, and I don’t think you should, either. I poured in the melted chocolate and beat it with my mixer, then I added the dry ingredients in two additions. When those were incorporated, I dumped in the rest of my chocolate chips and stirred them up.

Finished Batter with Milk Chocolate Chips

Spoon the cake batter into the prepared muffin cups and bake for about 22 minutes, until the cakes are risen and springy. Let the cakes cool in the muffin pan for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes longer. Serve the cakes warm, with ice cream.

A little note on the “prepared muffin cups”: I sprayed down my generic muffin tin with a little butter flavored Pam. I like Pam, it works great, and every time I use that stuff, my pastries slide right out of their containers without hassle. It’s also faster than trying to butter each container separately. I just spray, spray, spray — and it’s ready.

Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes

Here they are, fresh out of the oven, shaped like little cupcakes. But they are definitely not a little cupcake. Here’s one, split open:

Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes - Halved

The outside is crispy and the inside is moist and riddled with these little melted chocolate morsels. Alone, they really aren’t anything spectacular, but when you serve them with the vanilla ice cream, they are out of this world.

Serve them upside down with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy.

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas

We are coming into the last week of January 2009’s Magazine of the Month, which happens to be the February 2009 edition of Food & Wine. We’ll continue to confuse you with dates later.

Food & Wine February 2009

Next week, we’ll announce the next Magazine of the Month but for now, let’s keep cruising with Food & Wine.

Continuing with the whole chicken motif that I have really been digging, I came across a listing for a breast with two sides. That really interested me, because all too often do I find main course, then I have absolutely no idea what to plate with it.

F&W Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas

The “potatoes and mashed peas” is not a word mix-up. I didn’t assign an adjective to the wrong noun. As you can see in the photo above, garden peas are given a little texture twist by whirling half of them in the food processor until just coarsely ground — but we’ll get to that.

Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas
Courtesy of Food & Wine February 2009

2 pounds fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons chilled
Four 3/4-pound chicken breast halves on the bone
2 large thyme sprigs, plus 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Two 10-ounce packages of frozen baby peas
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

I was making this for just two people so I cut the ingredients in half. Also, I really wanted to get rid of the extra drumsticks I had from the Chicken Sofrito, so I used those instead of breasts. In hindsight, that was a bad idea. I couldn’t get enough fat to come off of the drumsticks and they took a really long time to cook – a lot longer than I expected. After plating them, we realized they were not cooked all the way and they had to go back into the oven. That was embarrassing.

Preheat the oven to 425°. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the halved potatoes with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes for about 35 minutes or until tender and browned. Set the potatoes aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

I couldn’t find fingerling potatoes at the store, so I just went with these little white creamer potatoes and used them instead. They didn’t take nearly as long to bake, about 25 minutes.

Also, I put mine in a bowl to coat with olive oil, because I can be a little clumsy. I envisioned half of my potatoes rocketing off of the cookie sheet and onto the floor.

Potatoes in Bowl

Then I put them on a sheet with foil and added my salt and pepper.

Potatoes on Cookie Sheet

Meanwhile, in a large ovenproof skillet, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter. Season the chicken breast halves with salt and pepper and add to the skillet, skin side down, along with the thyme sprigs. Cook over moderately low heat until the skin is well browned, about 15 minutes. Turn and cook for 5 minutes longer, basting occasionally with the pan juices.

So here are my drumsticks – I just put as many into the pan as I could fit, like a little jigsaw puzzle.

Drumsticks in Frying Pan 1

Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, until cooked through. Add the chicken to the potatoes and keep warm. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the melted fat from the skillet.

Drumsticks in Frying Pan 2

My frying pan was popped right into the oven to bake, rather than putting these onto another cookie sheet.

I want to point out the whole thing about reserving the three tablespoons of fat from the skillet (it will go into the peas) — but as you can see from the photo, I didn’t have that.

Also, I was really concerned about the drumsticks getting too dry in the oven because I had to bake them for a really long time, so I kept adding a little bit of low-sodium broth to the pan and basted the drumsticks periodically. Truth be told, that was a little more trouble than it was worth and by that point, I was wishing I had gone with the breasts.

Now for the gravy:

Pour off the remaining fat from the skillet and discard the thyme sprigs. Add 1/2 cup of the wine to the skillet and boil over moderately high heat, scraping up the browned bits, until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and boil until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped thyme and 2 tablespoons of chilled butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper.

Either my gravy never really thickened, or I just have an idea that gravy should be thicker than the recipe allowed – I thought it was too much like a jus. To make up the difference, I added about a tablespoon of cornstarch and whisked until it was a little thick. Maybe the original concoction never thickened because I ended up not having much poultry fat; it was mostly stock that I had to keep adding during the baking process.

Not that I’m complaining; the gravy ended up being pretty good. I was happy with the taste, and I’m a gravy fan.

Now for the peas. Alas, the peas. And I was so excited about them, too.

Peas in Processor

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the green peas, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the peas, transfer half to a food processor and coarsely puree. Stir the puree back into the remaining peas. Add the reserved fat from the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of wine and the mint. Season with salt and pepper.

I absolutely loved the texture of the peas. Mixing half mashed with whole — why hadn’t I ever thought of this before? Unfortunately, everything else tasted miserable to me. I did like the attempt at brightening up the meal with some mint and wine, but I just wasn’t a fan. Possibly the problem was that I didn’t have the three tablespoons of chicken fat to add to the peas, but I don’t think it would have saved it from the mint. Neither of us touched our peas and we agreed that it should have just had a little simple butter.

Peas in Pot - Mashed & Whole Mixed Together

On the plus side, I am now a huge fan of the half pureed peas and half whole, which I think is pretty amazing, since peas aren’t exactly my vegetable to eat as a side. If I had made this with a little butter or salt, it would have been dynamite.

Transfer the chicken breasts and potatoes to plates. Spoon the mashed peas alongside and serve with the pan sauce.

Here’s the plated finale (yeah, with my sunny plates again), right before we dug into the drumsticks and put them back into the oven – a big disappointment, especially since I really did like the gravy.

Chicken with Potatoes and Mashed Peas

Overall, this was fantastic. With a little bit of tweaking, this could become a regular dish in my house. I liked the gravy very much, the potatoes were simple and delicious and, if I switched the poultry to be breasts, it would be a winner. The peas will appear on the side of many dishes to come, though mixed only with a bit of salted butter. Forget the mint? I already have.

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 8: Old McFabio Had a Farm, and all the cows were sexah

This is going to be a shorter post, since I’m already one episode behind, and for the first time in a while, nothing really cheezed me off in this episode.  Well relatively speaking anyway…

 

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE:  Cook like a normal person!!!

As much fun as it was to see how many syllables Fabio could jam into the word “aquarium” this challenge was all about using (gasp) canned ingredients!!  Then it was a race  to see them all tripping over themselves to prove that they always use farm-fresh ingredients of the highest quality.  Yeah, none of your restaurants ever get shipments from the huge Sysco food truck.  Ok, gonna have to call shenanigans on that one.  SHENANIGANS!!!  There, I called it.  Anyway,  Stephan won with a sandwich or something.

 

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE:  Down on the farm

I really wish they would have made them kill the animals themselves to see how “farm-fresh” the chefs really want to be, but that’s just me.  And that brings me to the only rant I have on this episode.  Let’s not all gush about “honoring” the ingredients like it’s a moral high ground.  If you really wanted to “honor” the animal YOU WOULDN’T CUT IT UP AND EAT IT!!  The organic movement, or the localvore movement or any of the related uh, movements, do themselves a disservice when they set their sights too high.  I don’t want to hear about my carbon footprint, I want to know if it’s going to taste good.  And in that regard, aiming at our lower appetites is the more effective, not to mention honest, way to go.  If your rationale for eating within a 100 mile radius of your house is that you want to decrease the gas emissions from the cargo trains not to mention the lower acreage required for root vege – I’m sorry, I stopped listening to myself after “house”.  Why do we have to stray beyond the basic formula (fresher food = tastier food)?

So Ariane butched her butchering and got sent home.  On a side rant, yes I think the right person went home, even though Radhika and Leah didn’t “do much”.  If everything got done, then they did enough.  And if we are talking about honoring the ingredient, Ariane failed.

 

~Citizen Chef

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Cheese Stuffed Chicken Cutlets with Mustard Sauce

Are you sick of this month’s MoM yet? To be honest, I almost am… but I’m not quite there yet. So far I’m loving all of the chicken recipes since that’s typically my protein of choice, and the two selections from the Milk Chocolate article have been pretty fabulous.

Food & Wine February 2009

Last night I picked out the Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Cutlet with Mustard Sauce as my dinner of choice.

My initial concern about this was having to slice open a small pocket inside of a 1/4 inch-thick chicken cutlet, because I had never done that before. Quite frankly, I didn’t know if I was going to mangle the cutlets or not. Luckily this turned out to be much simpler than I had expected, and I was able to get into them just fine. Also, I’m not a huge fan of flattening chicken breasts for some reason (mine always look like they went through a war) so I purchased thin, hand-trimmed cutlets from my grocer.

Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Cutlets with Mustard Sauce
Courtesy of Food & Wine, February 2009

Four 6-ounce chicken cutlets, about 1/2 inch thick
4 thin slices of plain havarti cheese
4 teaspoons chopped thyme
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
All-purpose flour, for dredging
Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying

So the first thing I did was get the mustard together, since it has to sit in a pot and simmer down. I threw it into a small saucepan on the back burner and let it sit while I fiddled with cutting the chicken.

In a small saucepan, boil the chicken stock and cream over moderately high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the mustard and boil for 30 seconds, whisking a few times. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

So here’s the mustard sauce. Nothing complicated… I mean, it’s just a sauce. You put some stuff in a pot, stir it up… and then it’s a sauce. No brain busting involved.

Mustard Sauce

After I started to simmer the sauce and before I added the mustard, I started cutting up my cutlets. It seemed to be the smartest time saver. Every minute counted, because I was hungry.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Using a small knife, cut a 4-by-3-inch pocket in the side of each chicken cutlet. Insert a havarti slice and spread 1 teaspoon of thyme in each pocket; press gently to close.

So here’s the job I did on putting a little pocket on the side of each cutlet. Not bad. This turned out to be a job of making it work, not making it look pretty, since the cheese is going to melt inside anyway. I located pieces that fit relatively well together inside and stuck them in.

Cutlets - Stuffing with Cheese

Now, I didn’t use fresh thyme and maybe I should have. Instead, I put about 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves into each breast. Even that tasted like it was too much. My suggestion would be to use fresh thyme or use about 1/8 teaspoon dried inside each one.

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs. Beat in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Put the flour in another shallow bowl.

Egg Wash with Parmesan

So you can already gather where this is headed: egg wash + flour = breaded and fried chicken breasts.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. Dredge 2 cutlets in flour, shaking off the excess, then coat with the beaten egg. Fry over moderately high heat until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Coat and fry the remaining cutlets.

Frying Cheese Stuffed Cutlets

They almost look radioactive, don’t they, especially when they’re in one of my signature blurry photos. Maybe the dizzying yellow color wouldn’t allow my camera to focus. Or maybe I had just been drinking too much coffee and couldn’t get my hands steady. Who knows?

Bake the chicken for about 12 minutes, until just cooked through.

Baked Chicken Cutlets

Here they are coming out of the oven. Nothing monumental here, except for a little juice and cheese that came out of the chicken during cooking. I had cut a little hole in the bottom of one of my cutlets from uneven slicing, so that’s what the deal was there.

Reheat the mustard sauce and pour onto plates. Set the cutlets on the sauce and serve.

Cheese Stuffed Chicken Cutlets with Mustard Sauce

Would you check out that FANCY PLATING? I missed the part that said to set the cutlets ON the sauce and poured it right on top. Whatever. Sauce + chicken = it all tastes the same going down.

This was really simple to make. When we dug into it, I found that it was decent, nothing spectacular. That could be because of the dried thyme, I don’t know. Our web admin was really distracted by the egg and didn’t care for it (I don’t do a lot of egg washes on our meals so he honed in on this right away). The egg didn’t distract me. The thyme, on the other hand, did. I even have fresh thyme in my fridge, so I’m not sure why I didn’t take it out and use it up. Brain fart, perhaps.

Overall, I thought it was pretty good, nothing spectacular. While I’m not sorry that I made this, it probably isn’t something that I will make again. On the F&W website, it is currently getting five stars. Something to note is that the two people who left actual reviews said they used a different kind of cheese. Maybe if I had used something other than havarti I would have felt more strongly about the dish, but in the end it was just “good”. If anyone else tries this out with better results, let me know!

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Updated Chicken Chow Mein

I’m still working away at the latest Magazine of the Month, February 2009 Food & Wine.

Food & Wine February 2009

By now, you know how much I love stir fry. On a weeknight, when you have to get something delicious and nutritious out quickly, it’s a great option. This month’s MoM had an interesting take on chow mein that I decided to test out. I’ve never made it before, I’ve only eaten it from restaurants. The Food & Wine version has the addition of orange juice, so of course you know I had to go for it.

Here’s F&W’s unblurry photo:

chicken-chow-mein-fw-feb09

Updated Chicken Chow Mein
Courtesy of Food & Wine February 2009

5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound fresh plain chicken sausages, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
4 ounces snow peas, cut in half
2 fresh, hot long red chiles, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 pound fresh or dried Chinese egg noodles, cooked
1 cup chicken stock mixed with 3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
Salt
1/2 cup slivered basil leaves

In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the chicken sausage and stir-fry over high heat, breaking it up, until just cooked through, 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Updated Chicken Chow Mein - Sausage

For some reason, my grocery store was all out of regular chicken sausage, and all I could find was pork. Don’t get me wrong, I like pork. The pork was okay. But because pork has a sleeker, slimier texture than poultry sausage, there was something about it that I didn’t like with the similar soft, sleek texture of the egg noodles. The common textures just threw me — it needed something different texturally to make it more interesting. The next time I make this, I will be sure to find chicken. If the texture of pork doesn’t throw you off, then you’ll probably not care.

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the wok. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderately high heat until golden, 1 1/2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the snow peas and chiles for 1 minute.

Snow Peas - Updated Chicken Chow Mein

Now, for some reason I couldn’t find fresh red chiles, and I wasn’t in the mood to try dried, so I found a fresh chile paste that my grocer keeps in a refrigerated section of the produce department. The paste also contained the innards of the chile, including the seeds, which is the hottest part of the chile, so I had to be careful when I made the addition. The spicy taste of the chile ended up being there, though I didn’t get the pretty red slices of color in my dish. But whatever, at least it tasted good.

Add the orange juice and stir over moderately high heat for 30 seconds.

Snow Peas with OJ - Updated Chicken Chow Mein

Add the sausage, noodles and stock mixture, season with salt and stir-fry until the sauce is thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the basil and serve.

I couldn’t find Chinese egg noodles, so I substituted with pasta egg noodles.

I actually quite liked this, as did our incredibly picky web admin. Next time I’ll add more snow peas — I really liked the crunch of the sweet snow peas with the orange juice. I wouldn’t say it was a refined dish, but it was definitely fun. For those of you looking for a quick fix on a weeknight after work, this is a good one.

F&W pairs this dish with: A fruity sparkling wine. Italian Prosecco’s lemon-lime flavor is great with Asian dishes. Try Zardetto’s NV Brut Conegliano Prosecco ($16) and NV Santa Margherita’s Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($20).

And now for my token blurry picture:
MM's Updated Chicken Chow Mein

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Fennel & Sausage Risotto

I have been cruising through the latest Magazine of the Month so fast that it’s entirely possible I will finish most of the recipes in it by the end of the month. I know I said I needed a month and a half, but that may not be the case since I’ve been a cooking fiend this week.

So far, we’ve discussed two recipes from Food & Wine February 2009 and I’ve got three more in the hopper, ready to go. It’s such a great magazine that so far I’ve wanted to make just about everything that’s in there.

Food & Wine February 2009

Citizen Chef shot me an email the other day, asking if there was anything else left in the magazine for him to make and feature. There is, definitely… but he’d better act fast!

As you know, I’ve been on a risotto kick. It’s something I normally serve in small portions on the side, because most of the risottos I’ve made thus far are meatless.

That has changed.

F&W Photo - Fennel & Sausage Risotto
Photo courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

The latest F&W has a clip from their Test Kitchen called “Perfecting Risotto.” A basic “Milanese” risotto is listed with three really amazing looking variations. I hauled out the first variation, a Fennel and Sausage Risotto and went to town, serving it up as a main course.

Fennel & Sausage Risotto
Courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine, February 2009

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, meat crumbled
1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored and thinly sliced
5 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

For this recipe, I put in more meat than it called for because I halved the recipe but I couldn’t buy a half pound of sweet, Italian sausage from the store and I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I just threw most of it in there.

Initial concerns were about the sweetness of the risotto. I generally like my dishes savory, and I didn’t know what the fennel and sweet sausage were going to do in the whole mix. As it turns out, my fears were unfounded, as the dish ended up not being sweet at all — in fact, next time I will probably not salt the onions.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the sausage and cook over high heat, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes longer. Cover and keep warm.

Fennel & Sausage

I was concerned about slicing up the fennel because I didn’t know how a huge hunk of cooked fennel was going to taste in my mouth. Would it be like a huge, gummy hunk of sweet licorice? I just wasn’t sure. Turns out it was not sweet at all, and it was so soft from cooking in with the sausage that biting into it was actually quite nice. The larger slices can be cut in half, but I didn’t find the fennel off putting at all. It was actually quite mild and gave a nice something extra to the risotto.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer; keep warm. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Onion - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

Add the rice and cook, for 1 minute stirring constantly to thoroughly coat it with the fat. Crumble the saffron into the wine and add it to the rice. Cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.

I found the saffron in the spices section of my local grocery store, and they also kept some in the international foods section. Ground and small thread-like saffron was available, and the threads were only available to me in American saffron, so that’s what I went with.

Saffron, Wine, Rice, Stock - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions.

Cooking Rice - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 20 minutes total. Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese, butter and parsley.

Cheese & Butter - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

Stir the sausage and fennel into the risotto and serve.

Fennel & Sausage Risotto - Final

As I said earlier, what you see above has more meat in it than it called for but overall I was thrilled with this dish. It was comforting and savory, and the bite of the sliced fennel was a really nice touch – with a mild taste and adding a pleasing texture. The sweet sausage was another concern to me, but mixed in with all of the other components, it didn’t taste sweet to me at all. If I had added a regular Italian sausage, it would have overwhelmed the dish. I would highly recommend this.

As always, here’s my blurry photo finale:

Fennel & Sausage Risotto - Final

MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème

This weekend I had company, so I wanted to offer up a dessert after the Chicken Sofrito.

Food & Wine February 2009

I went with another offering of our magazine of the month, which isn’t really for this month it’s for next month but as I said yesterday no publication in January really appeased me so we’re going with February Food and Wine since it looks really amazing and I think I may need more than a month to get through everything in there that I want to try anyway. Capiche?

/deep breath

At any rate, there’s a section in the Feb. Food & Wine for milk chocolate desserts. The very first one on the list was for a pots de crème. Truth be told, I had never made one before. I like pudding, and pots de crème looked similar. I really didn’t know the difference, so I went to work.

Pots de Creme - Food & Wine Feb '09

So what’s a pots de crème?

According to Dorie Greenspan:

Chocolate pudding and chocolate pots de crème are often thought of as culinary siblings when they’re really more like cousins from opposite sides of the family. The big difference between them is how they’re cooked: the pudding is stirred on top of the stove and gets its thickening from cornstarch, while the pots de crème are baked and depend entirely on eggs and heat to set them. And, although the cremes seem lighter than pudding, they are actually considerably richer. What both desserts deliver is comfort, even if pudding is homey and pots de crème elegant enough to serve at a dress up dinner.

– Dorie Greenspan, Baking from My Home to Yours

The funny thing about the F&W recipe I worked with does not bake the pots de crème. The custard is heated on top of a stove, but not baked. After the yolks are added, the mixture is poured into a blender and pureed until incredibly smooth.

Milk-Chocolate Pots de Crème
Courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

10 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
Crème fraîche and chocolate shavings, for garnish

The instructions are fairly straightforward:

In a large heatproof bowl, combine the milk and bittersweet chocolates.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, heavy cream and sugar to a boil, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually whisk in half of the hot cream. Whisk the egg-and-cream mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the custard coats the back of the spoon, about 4 minutes. Pour the custard over the chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes, then stir until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until very smooth, about 1 minute. Pour the mixture into eight 4-ounce ramekins and refrigerate until chilled, 2 hours.

Let the pots de crème stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Garnish with crème fraîche and chocolate shavings; serve.

I really didn’t get “action shots” of this in progress, because the transitions are all really fast and, let’s be honest, you know what chicken egg yolks look like when they’re whisked together. If they aren’t, then you’re probably a moron who could stand to read a book. With pictures. I mean, come on. Seriously.

I didn’t give this two hours to chill, but it still set somewhat nicely. The end result was an ultra-rich, very thick and incredibly creamy dessert that I will make again. The difference I thought between this and a generic American pudding is that this was much more dense, and the amount of chocolate in this almost sent me into sugar shock. I did fill up my 4-ounce ramekins all the way, and did not dollop with anything on top. This was, undoubtedly, my problem with this dessert, as I gave my palette nothing to soften the ultra-rich, incredibly focused chocolate taste. Next time I will not fill the ramekins up all the way and I will add a dollop of something on top.

Overall, I was very surprised – in a good way. This dessert took very little time to prepare and the results were quite refined. I would definitely recommend this.

Here’s a shot of my (blurry) pots de crème, after I snuck a little spoonful. 🙂

Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème