MoM Feb ’09 Food & Wine: Chicken Sofrito

I had made a commitment to myself not to post any of the Magazine of the Month recipes, to encourage people to go out and buy the publications with me. However, Food and Wine is already publishing the latest recipes on their website — yes, everything from their latest magazine! That makes no sense to me, but hey, what do I know? So we’ll throw that rule out for now and when we get to a magazine who keeps their recipes a closely guarded secret (like Cook’s Illustrated — you have to purchase a separate subscription to get the same stuff online as you would in their magazines for some weird reason) then I’ll go back to only posting the pictures.

A couple of the folks at Food & Wine got together to talk about sparkling wines, and what food would be good with them. They came up with a slew of chicken dinners that I couldn’t wait to try. I make a lot of chicken at my house, so I picked one out and dug in.

Chicken Sofrito - Food & Wine Feb. '09

This is Chicken Sofrito, a chicken and rice combination with Spanish flavors. Everything is baked together in a skillet, then broiled at the end for a crisp coat. I don’t normally cook bone-in chicken with skin, but I thought for this time around I’d try something new. After giving it a go, it would be just as good with boneless, skinless breasts, and you could just eliminate the end broil.

Chicken Sofrito
Courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for dusting
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 large thyme sprigs
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 cup short-grain white rice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup roasted almonds

I love anything that involves chicken and rice, and I’ve made a few basic dishes that involve Spanish-esque spices. This was definitely an upscale version that I will make again, and all of the other similar spiced recipes that I’ve made before will have to go in favor of this one.

As you can see in the picture below, I didn’t break up a couple of chicken legs and toss them into a skillet as notated in the ingredients list. I ended up buying separate packages of thighs and drums, and I had so many drumsticks that I just crammed as many as I could into the pan. That worked out well because we had a guest who really liked drumsticks. I think he ate three or four of them — just picked them right up and chowed down. Just so you know, I’m taking that as a compliment.

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with chili powder. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Frying Chicken Sofrito

Just a side note here: I seasoned my chicken lightly on both sides, and I did not season beneath the skin. My reasoning was that I knew they would later be sitting in a spiced bath of broth and tomatoes later, so I didn’t want to overdo it.

Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño and thyme sprigs to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the bell pepper, anise seeds, cayenne and the 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

I had a lot of reservations about adding that jalapeño to the pan. I had never cooked with one before and, though I knew most of the dangerous spice was the seeds and insides, I scraped everything out of the center of the jalapeño prior to dicing it up and using it. This ended up not being hot at all, and next time I’ll definitely tinker around with trying to get a little oomph in there — but not too much. You know I’m a spice wimp.

Sauteeing Onions and Spices

Add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat to high and cook until bubbling. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Arrange the chicken pieces on the rice, skin side up.

Chicken in Tomato and Broth

Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through and the rice is tender and has absorbed the stock.

I wasn’t able to find short grain rice at the store, so I used medium grain and it worked out fine.

Baked Chicken Sofrito, Pre-Broiled

Preheat the broiler. Broil the sofrito 6 inches from the heat for about 2 minutes, until the chicken skin is crisp. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

To be honest, I was pretty nervous about the broiler. I associate that with smoke and horribleness. I don’t know why. Maybe in the past I was guessing incorrectly at how to broil things, because this time it worked out well. I don’t have a separate broiler so, toward the end of the initial baking time, I switched it over to preheat the broiler. When the 25-minute baking timer went off, I took the frying pan and set it on the top rack, six inches from the top of the oven, as prescribed.

Then I set the timer for 2 minutes, but I flipped the light switch on and stayed there and watched it through the glass like a hawk. I don’t think I let it stay there for the entire two minutes, because I was nervous about it for some reason. Still, as you can see from the picture, I got a nicely crisped, brown chicken skin.

Chicken Sofrito, Post-Broil

Discard the thyme sprigs, stir the lemon juice into the rice and scatter the almonds on top. Spoon the rice onto plates, add the chicken and serve.

When I went to discard the thyme sprigs, all of the little thyme leaves had come off into the dish (which is what’s supposed to happen), and left me with these thin little wispy branches. They were a little hard to find, but I did find them. Also, I only used the juice from half of a lemon, and I think it could have used a little more. Next time I’ll play with it a bit. I also did not add the almonds, because I didn’t know if the crunch in the rice was going to throw anyone off. Considering the rice was a mix of red pepper and onion (two things my spouse hates) I didn’t want to toss out a third thing that might totally derail the dish.

And here’s the plating. I really should buy some neutral colored dishes, but these sunflower gold ones are just so fun.

Chicken Sofrito Plated

Overall, I loved the dish and will make it again. The rice was flavorful as long as you keep tasting it at the end to check on your lemon addition and whether or not the rice needs more salt. For some reason, mine did. I was shocked at how much rice it served. Even though it only called for 1 cup of rice, I swear I enough to last me for weeks. The chicken was perfect and may give me a reason to start buying bone-in chicken with skin. It’s not as healthy, but in this incarnation it was damn good.

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MoM Feb ’09: Food & Wine Magazine

So I really wanted to get the Magazine of the Month back on track however, by the end of December, I had a really hard time finding a good magazine to feature. Contributing to this was the fact that I had been all shopped out after the holiday, so the thought of getting out to the bookstore to sift through magazines didn’t thrill me. My local grocery store didn’t have much of a selection to offer… either that or it was just that nothing really moved me.

Then, the February 2009 Food & Wine arrived in the mail. The heavens opened, the choir of angels sang…

Food & Wine February 2009

…or maybe I was just hungry. Either way, we’re now half way through January and we haven’t started a new Magazine of the Month, so I’m not going to bother trying to cram something in for the rest of January. Instead, we’re getting the jump on February.

This month’s Food & Wine is featuring sparkling red wines (Lambrusco… yum), a section of delicious milk chocolate desserts, some tempting Indian dishes, and some simple chicken dishes. I’ve already made three things out of the magazine, including a really rich and delicious chocolate pots de creme. So go out and pick up a copy of Food & Wine, and let’s begin!

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 7: Sugar-Free =/= Healthy, Crappy =/= Creative

Top 10 Reasons Why There is no Post for the Last 2 Episodes:

10.  Due to a complex mathematical formula inherent in the programming for this web page, the numbers 5 and 6 can only be used once per calendar year.

9.  I was out of the country following a messy break-up with Padma (it’s over girl, be thankful for what we had and move on!)

8.  I told Miss Macchiato to do those posts, but she was busy posting about cooking of all things.

7.  Retail Christmas. 

6.  See #10.

5.  See #10.

4.  Brett Favre.

3.  I had to renew my Anthony Bourdain Snarky Writing Style License, which expired in November.

2.  Citizen Chef Jr. and I were hard at work investigating the Creature of Kapu Cave.

..and the #1 reason there was no post for the last two episodes of  Top Chef

1.  I did post them, they are right over there… (ninja smoke bomb) POOF!  (run away)
 

So let’s get to this episode, and I will endevor to bring three times the venom, which shouldn’t be tough…..

 
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE

OMG it’s a French Pastry Chef!!  And they have to do a dessert that is healthy, which means sugar-free since those are exactly the same thing.  Before I get off onto that rant, let me say that any chef that goes on Top Chef and doesn’t expect that they will have to make a dessert, is like someone going on Survivor without knowing how to make fire with two shoelaces and a grape.  It’s not just stupid, it’s ignorant.

 
Ok, so here is my entry into the healthy sugar-free dessert challenge:

Triple-Fried Chocolate Nut Crusted Health Bar

  • 32 oz rendered duck fat
  • 32 oz macadamia nut oil
  • 32 oz lard
  • dark chocolate
  • 1 can wasabi-flavored peanuts
  • 1 lb smoked bacon
  • 1 lb butter (unsalted)
  • equal parts flour and cocoa powder
  • 1 pint buttermilk
  • 8 oz blue cheese

Combine the flour, cocoa powder and the buttermilk to form a batter, mix in the blue cheese.  Form the butter into a bar shape and coat with the batter.  Fry once in the lard.  Let cool and then wrap with the bacon, batter again and fry a second time in the macadamia nut oil.  Let cool once more and then pour over the melted dark chocolate and roll in the wasabi-peanuts.  Batter one more time and fry in the duck fat.  Serves 1.

Ok I’m obviously being facetious, nobody would ever do anything as crazy as that.  But my point is making something healthy, and making something sugar-free is not the same damn thing.  See what happens when I don’t post in a while?  I get venom-backup.

 

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE

Cook something good!!  I actually appreciate, and I’m sure the chefs do too, the chance to just cook good food without the arbitrary restraints.  It’s pretty obvious that the new judge taking over for Gail, Toby Young, is actually supposed to be a replacement for Bourdain (let me see your Snarky License there bub) but so far, he doesn’t seem to be mean for mean’s sake.

The spring-board for this part of the rant was Gene’s plea to save his ass “I was just too creative man!  I mean I’m out there on a limb WOO  HOO look at me being creative pairing daikon with tomato and basil when they don’t go together at all!!  I’m a maverick, that’s for darn tootin!!”  Colicchio summed it up best:  “Well if you tried it before and thought it worked, then it wasn’t really a risk, was it?”  Return of the snapskies!!

I love Creative.  I really really do.  I like complicated things better than simple things, always have.  I appreciate smart people taking risks, and more than that, I just like goofy crap for goofiness’ sake.  But it has to work.  And to limit the discussion to food, that mean it has to taste good.

Our efforts, our creative attempts, our scientific approach is to allow for delicious, to highlight and elevate delicious. Without delicious there is no point.

Great food doesn’t have to be creative.  Alot of our enjoyment of food is about simplicity, letting the ingredients speak for themselves.  And a lot of it is about home and comfort.  And until moms across the country start serving their children Transparency Of Manchego Cheese that’s going to be pretty simple fare.  Thomas Keller’s favorite recipe has three ingredients:  chicken, salt, and thyme.  What I have a problem with, is people citing “creativity” when they just plain f*cked up.  If the dish works, it’s creative.  If it doesn’t, then it just sucks.

So as I predicted, to nobody since I never posted on that episode, but if I had you would have been impressed by my preternatural gazing into the future, last episodes “gift for the holidays” of not sending anyone home, got yanked out of their collective stockings as they sent two people home this week.  I’m a little sorry to see Gene go, not quite as sorry to see Melissa go, and petrified as usual that Veloci-Cosby-Raptor still pads through the verdant jungle, her terrifying “HOOTIE” call echoing across the dewey undergrowth.

~Citizen Chef

Chocolate Cream Tart

The last time I shared a Dorie Greenspan recipe, it was for Peanut Butter cookies, and I said I would not be sharing another recipe from her book, Baking: From My Home To Yours.

Baking, From My Home To Yours

This isn’t a retraction, because I meant every word. It doesn’t mean I can’t share the pictures.

Chocolate Cream Tart

Typically, I don’t make a lot of desserts. Making them promotes eating them, and eating them makes me fat. However, this weekend I was cooking for a different family than my own, and I found myself in the mood for an actual dessert. After flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s book (and actually forcing myself to avoid the cookie section — it’s so hard to do) I came upon the tarts.

I love tarts, their thick, flaky crusts, their sweet, creamy puddings, their deliciously delectable toppings — you get the picture. Since I needed a chocolate fix, I settled on the Chocolate Cream Tart with Chocolate Shortbread Crust. Since I have now made two successful batches of shortbread, I thought that an attempt at a shortbread crust was now fitting.

The crust itself was amazingly simple. All ingredients are put into a food processor and pulsed until combined. The instructions indicated that everything would end up in pea-sized lumps, stuck together by very cold butter. Somehow mine was powdery and not lumpy. To get the “stickiness” in action, I used a wooden spoon to compact everything down, then it was turned out into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Chocolate Cream Tart Crust

It is then supposed to be frozen or baked with a weight, so the dough doesn’t rise. I did refrigerate it for about 45 minutes; I did not freeze the crust. So when I stuck it into the oven to bake for 25 minutes, I checked on it about half way through the bake time and gently flattened it out with my spoon, then put a large, glass Pyrex measuring cup on top to keep it from rising again.

Baked Chocolate Cream Tart Crust

The crust was then set into the refrigerator to cool while I made the chocolate custard.

Again, for such a delicious and rich dessert, this was very simple. I don’t know why I always associate complete desserts with difficulty — maybe because when I typically try to make a dessert, I like to choose something that has a lot of steps to it. This doesn’t.

Custard 1

The ingredients go into a pot and get whisked. As it cooks, it will begin to thicken. This only took me a few minutes. I’m not one for constant manual whisking (I’m a slacker) but this didn’t annoy me one bit. It was pretty quick, to be honest, and turns into a sweet, thick custard that you’ll want to keep sticking your fingers into.

Custard 2

In the above photo, you can see how it becomes lighter in color and thicker. Melted chocolate is added, then the custard is poured into the shortbread shell.

Custard 3

This is refrigerated until cooled, and a delicious whipped topping is smothered over the top, consisting of heavy whipping cream, sifted powdered sugar and vanilla. The entire package is amazing and an incredible chocolate overload. Any chocolate lover would be happy with this. I would recommend small slices, as it is intense. The whipped cream is also a must on this, as you’re already dealing with chocolate on chocolate and need a little light, special something to go on top.

Slice of Chocolate Cream Tart