Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Recipe: Braised Chicken Breast Portuguese

Chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken. I love chicken and cook a ton of it. I've named this dish "Braised Chicken Breasts Portuguese" although I don't know if it is a traditional Portuguese recipe. It's simple enough and with the right ingredients so that you'd think it was traditional, but I've never come upon it in my travels nor at dinner in the homes of my Portuguese friends. It's a hearty and flavorful dish that is best laid out on a pile of rice with the extra gravy poured all over everything.

The real story is about the search for tenderness. In the "I-knew-even-less-then-than-I-know-now" days of cooking I used to try and try and try to cook chicken breasts that were tender and moist, usually with limited results. I even tried marinating the breasts in buttermilk because I had heard some chain restaurants do that to make up for the inadequacies of their chefs in the heat vs. timing departments. It didn't work.

Then I hit upon braising. A little dredging in flour, a quick fry in shallow oil to seal the breasts and then a slow and low simmer in your desired sauce. Et voila! You get chicken so moist and tender that you get a little suspicious as to whether there may be something abnormally wrong with it (at least I was).

Of course any method used to cook something can go too far and eventually dry it out or make it tough, but if you stick with the basics of braising you're going to get good results. While this recipe is Portuguese, you'll see the basic technique in there and I urge you to try your own variations with your favorite sauces and styles. In fact I also do a Mexican variation of this recipe using molé roja and it is equally tender and moist.

Only, my wife doesn't like molé which means I don't get to make it often. I'd like to, but I don't. Do you know why? Well it's because I'm a diplomat and a nice guy. I'm also flexible, easy going and generally tired of getting remarried.

For now.

: )

Braised Chicken Breast Portuguese

1-2 lbs boneless chicken breast
1-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1-2 cups of white wine
1 medium onion (chopped fine)
1 tomato (cubed)
Portuguese olive oil
1 clove of garlic (minced)
2-3 bay leaves
1 Tbs paprika
1 Tbs parsley (chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste

If the chicken breasts are attached split apart. Rinse in water and pat dry.

Place some of the Portuguese olive oil in a small high sided pan to a depth of about 1/4". Set on high heat.

When the oil comes up to frying temperature, dredge each chicken breast in flour and coat well. Fry the breasts in the oil until well browned on both sides. Remove and set aside.

In another large high sided pan add 2 Tbs Portuguese olive oil, set on medium-high heat. When oil begins to shimmer add the onion and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the minced garlic, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and paprika and continue stirring.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the tomatoes begin to soften, raise the heat to high and add the wine and bring to a high simmer.

Reduce the heat to low and add the chicken breasts. Cover and maintain a very LOW simmer for 30 minutes turning the chicken once (carefully so as not to remove the crust). The gravy should just about be simmering.

Remove lid, remove chicken breasts and set aside in a covered dish to keep warm.

Increase heat to a full simmer and reduce sauce, stirring frequently until thick. Add the parsley in the last several minutes. Serve dressed with sauce on steamed rice. Garnish with a little more parsley.

Braised Chicken Breast Portuguese, Chop Onions, Boil Water

Monday, September 29, 2008

Recipe: Yankee Apple Pie

Nothing is more American than baseball, hot dogs and apple pie right? Well sort of. The way I understand it, baseball was actually based on an older British game called rounders. Hot dogs also came from a foreign land-Germany. The Germans do more things with weiners and sausage than my sausage-craving-friend Andy could ever hope to try. Finally, apple pie, that most American self-identified food, alas, the Europeans were making it long before they came here and stole all the land from the natives.

Don't let this bum you out though. Things like this happen all over the world and all through history! Take Italy for instance. What kind of food comes to mind when you think of Italy? Pizza and pasta right? Well, pizza found its way to Italy via the flatbreads of the Moorish invaders. Pasta? That's all Chinese, kiddies! What is pasta without sauce right? Well tomatoes were unknown in Italy and Europe until the Europeans found their way to the New World! Central and South American Indians were making sauces from tomatoes thousands of years before an Italian even knew what pasta was! The same can be said for many cultures dishes, many find their origins in other places and cultures.

So lighten your hearts countrymen and countrywomen! Rounders is lame! It had to be turned into something better! Guess who did that? Americans! We made it so popular with our changes that it is widely played throughout the Americas, the Caribbean and Asia! Similarly the hot dog has transcended its Germanic origins due entirely to its popularity in the United States (I do believe we added the bun!). We do more things with hot dogs alone than some Asian cultures do with rice!

Finally, there's apple pie. Sure it had its beginning in Europe, but those old recipes pale in comparison to the kicked up and spiced up version that American colonial women created when they naturalized and immortalized that dish as one of the New World's premier dessert dishes.

In this day and age with the internet, overnight delivery and an ever-shrinking world, I have friends in South Korea who dream about trying fresh baked American apple pie! Really! If they ever visit, this is the recipe I will use to bake them their first apple pie. I'll serve it to them with big scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream as well! Then I'll pour a big glass of champagne for myself and ask them to pronounce things from a Portuguese restaurant menu.

There are a lot of opinions where apple pie is concerned. Some folks say a blend of tart and sweet apples works best, others will mumble about the amount of spices, etc. For the sake of originality and variation I say experiment. Starting out with Macintosh's or Cortlands doesn't hurt and I've upped and downed the various spices as well. Experiment future pie makers! Experiment!

Yankee Apple Pie

5 lbs of Macintosh or Cortland apples (peeled and sliced into wedges)
1-2/3 cup of sugar
6 TBS all-purpose flour
2-4 TBS brown sugar
3-4 tsp of ground cinnamon (use your own judgement here)
1/2 tsp of ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBS of fresh lemon juice
1 large egg (beaten)
Either purchase or prepare enough dough for two pie crusts (tops and bottoms).

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a large pan over low heat, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and sugars.

When the spice and sugar combination is well combined, add the apple wedges and lemon juice (if using) to the spice mixture and toss to coat. Leave in the pan, tossing frequently until the sugars begin to liquify and glaze the apple wedges. BE CAREFUL NOT TO BURN.

Remove pie filling mixture from heat.

Carefully unfold or roll out the pie dough and place in the bottoms of two pie pans.

Fill each pie with pie mixture. Mixture should heap a little to the center of the pie.

Carefully cover each pie with another piece of dough sealing the seams with a little beaten egg. Press pie edges together firmly. Brush the exposed pie dough with beaten egg.

Cut 3 small vent holes in the top of each pie and place them in the oven at 450°F for about 20 minutes. Then lower the heat to 375°F and continue cooking until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool.

Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.

Apple pie chop onions, boil water

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Recipe: Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken)

In my research, I've found that this is a "dining out" recipe which means that most people don't make it at home. The reasons for this are practical as most homes don't have the tandor oven necessary to make the chicken perfectly. From what I understand this recipe originated using not only the leftover meat but also the drippings from tandori roasted chicken. That doesn't mean it's impossible to make at home. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Chicken Makhani is probably the most popular Indian dish in the world. My introduction to it came at one of my favorite lunch haunts: New Mother India in Waltham, Massachusetts. I've had chicken makhani at many other places, but New Mother India's is still the best. It's their sauce of course and the extremely tender chicken doesn't hurt. They were the target I was shooting for when I started trying to replicate the dish. Two years, and a host of recipes, alterations and attempts later, I still don't have it. No one's complaining in my house though because I've come up with one that is very good and easy to prepare at home. It's a home kitchen homerun!

Now I've had Chicken Makhani in restaurants a few different ways. Sometimes it comes with a little sauce, sometimes in comes with a lot. This recipe is in the middle. If you want more sauce, just scale up all the ingredients except the chicken. This recipe also includes what I've been lead to believe is a widely used but rarely admitted to Indian restaurant secret: Good 'ol American Ketchup! Trust me, it has to be true because it makes a big difference in the finished dish!

Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken)

1 inch piece of ginger (diced)
3 garlic cloves (diced)
1/2 cup of almonds (some recipes say blanch them. I did once but don't anymore.)
1/2 cup of plain yogurt (Greek preferred but use what you have)
1/2 tsp of mild chili powder (some Indian types are VERY hot)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp fenugreek
4 cardamom pods
1 lb. diced fresh tomatoes (the redder, the riper, the better)
1-1/4 tsp salt
2 lbs. boneless chicken breast (cut into bite-sized pieces)*
5 TBS clarified butter (yup, this isn't for the faint of heart, it is called "Butter chicken" for a reason!)
1 large onion (thinly sliced)
6 TBS fresh cilantro (finely chopped, Chop a little extra as a garnish).
5 TBS heavy cream
1-3 TBS ketchup (I use Trader Joe's organic)

Blend the ginger, garlic, almonds and yogurt into a liquidy paste. Add a little water if necessary.

Put the ginger, garlic, almond and yogurt paste in a large bowl. Add the chili powder, cloves, cinnamon, garam masala, cardamom, tomatoes, salt and blend everything together well.

Add the chicken to the bowl and mix in well. Be sure all the chicken is well-coated.

Now, some recipes say to marinate this in the fridge from 2 to 24 hours. Me? Nah, right on to the next step and I don't taste a remarkable difference.

Preheat your oven to 350°F (Yup, I learned this from one recipe and it makes a nice difference).

Set a large, deep, OVEN SAFE pan or dutch oven over medium heat and add the clarified butter until melted. Add the onions and sauté until beginning to brown and soft.

Add the chicken and sauce mixture and fry for a few minutes to get the mixture up to oven temp.

Add the chopped cilantro and heavy cream. Carefully mix in thoroughly.

Place in the oven uncovered and cook for about an hour. Keep an eye on it. You want it to brown a little in a few places on top, but not burn or dry out! If it seems to beginning to brown too much or looks like it is drying up, throw an oven-safe cover, or aluminum foil on it and finish cooking it like that.

When time is up, immediately remove it from the oven. Add the ketchup (shhhhhh!) and stir it in thoroughly. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve garnished with a little chopped cilantro. Add basmati rice and naan as sides and kabam! Indian food heaven!

*Truth be told you can use any skinless cuts of chicken you like. I like boneless breast.

Chicken makhani butter chicken recipe

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Rao's Cookbook

You are looking at the most important Italian Cookbook of the fourteen Italian cookbooks I think are important enough to keep on hand. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Rao's is a New York City institution as far as Italian cuisine is concerned. Reservations are impossible, and a year long waiting list keeps its ten sacred tables full. Some patrons have standing reservations, they own their tables!

If you want to eat at Rao's put your reservation in EARLY. Sure, you can eat at their Las Vegas location, but quite frankly, that's not Rao's. If you want the genuine Rao's experience you can find it in one place: Rao's, 455 East 114th Street, East Harlem, New York 10029. You want to make reservations? Here's the number: (212) 722-6709, be sure to tell them Henry K sent you!

The cookbook is worth the the price for the meatball recipe alone. The marinara recipe is simple and perfect. There's also a recipe in there for a sauce with savoy cabbage that is surprising. There are lots of great recipes and I've tried many. You will as well.

What also makes this a great book is what's behind the recipes. Stories and photos from the restaurant's history and more importantly, a lot of background info on how Rao's prepares the foundations for their recipes. Broths, vinegared peppers, flavored oils, batters and more, with tips on preparing garlic and beans and other things for recipes throughout the book.

If I had one suggestion, I would say that I would have liked to see photographs of every recipe. Apart from that, if you're looking for a great Italian cookbook, or of you're looking for ONE Italian Cookbook, Rao's is my suggestion.

8 months, 2 weeks and 4 days until my reservation...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review: Bufalo Chipotle Hot Sauce

Bufalo Chipotle Hot Sauce, 5.8 oz
I can always remember where I was in my life when I've tried some important foods. Chimichurri was in Oranjestadt, Aruba. Manapua was in Honolulu, Hawaii. Boeuf Wellington was in Providence, Rhode Island. Oh man, the charbroiled hot dogs they sell on the street in Ponta Delgada, Azores are something else! The list goes on and on, but you get the picture and you can probably relate

The first time I ever had Bufalo Chipotle Hot Sauce was in the Cancun Airport in the Yucatan as I was leaving Mexico after another great vacation in Playa del Carmen. I was walking around looking for a cold beer and I walked into a small hot sauce shop. The guy behind the counter asked me if I wanted to try any and I chose a serrano-based hot sauce and the Bufalo Chipotle Hot Sauce I bought a couple of bottles of the Bufalo Chipotle Hot Sauce on the spot and I've never looked back.

When I ran out of my initial purchase, I quickly found a new supplier and I've used the stuff religiously ever since. I guess you could call it my favorite hot sauce. It is thick, rich and the smokey chipotle flavor just makes anything you put on it a taste sensation. It's not one of those set-your-butt-ablaze hot sauces that all the low-browed chest pounders love to brag they use. It has just the right amount of heat to make it a food experience rather than a dare.

I've tried other chipotle flavored hot sauces just for comparison and they just don't match up. The others are always too watery, too vinegary, or too something that just falls short of the Bufalo brand. I'm sticking with this stuff.

Recipe-wise I use it on and in a number of foods. My favorite thing to put it on are my wife's cheese burgers (recipe forthcoming). Now, those burgers are among my favorite foods anyway, but when she shakes some Bufalo Chipotle Hot Sauce on them... BANG! I am into yum yum outer space!

Bufalo's homepage here.

Nutritional information here.

I rate this stuff 4 out of 4 stars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Recipe: Rigatoni Pomodoro

There are a lot of reasons to love New England in Autumn. There are the brilliant colors, the warm days and the brisk nights and the smell of the air. Sunlight even takes on a warmer and more yellow character and the sunsets are works of art. It's my favorite season, my best kisses have always been in Autumn, it's a "thing" I guess.

Another reason I love Autumn in New England is the native harvest. Sweet corn, squash, acorns, potatoes and a host of other great things. Then there are the tomatoes. My dad keeps a sizable garden and grows a wide variety of vegetables, come Autumn, I get lots and lots of tomatoes and trust me, I have a use for every single one. Below, you'll find my newest Italian recipe that not only uses tomatoes, but show cases them wonderfully. Use extra-red, very ripe tomatoes and this humble pasta dish will transcend its humble ingredients. I've had it twice in the last few days and my wife and kids aren't complaining one bit!

Rigatoni Pomodoro

1 lb. fresh rigatoni
2-3 Tbs Olive oil
1/2 onion (chopped)
4-5 fresh extra-red, very ripe tomatoes (cut into pieces about 1/4"-1/2" square)
1 clove garlic (chopped)
4 Tbs tomato paste
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp sea salt
Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
Chopped basil for garnish

Divide the chopped tomatoes into 4 equal parts.

Set water to boil for pasta.

Set a sauce pan over medium heat, add the olive oil. When it begins to shimmer, add the onions and sauté until translucent.

Add the first part of the tomatoes, basil, black pepper and allow to cook and reduce.

When first portion of tomatoes cook down and are reduced and beginning to thicken, add second part. Stir occasionally. Adjust heat as needed.

When second part of tomatoes cook down and are reduced and beginning to thicken, add third part of tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and salt. Lower heat and allow to reduce slowly, stirring occasionally.

You are looking for a very thick and rich sauce.

By now pasta water should be boiling cook the rigatoni just short of your desired doneness.

Drain the rigatoni and add it and the last part of the chopped tomatoes to the thickened pomodoro sauce. Toss well until the pasta is well coated. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes and serve sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano. Garnish with a little chopped basil.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recipe: Thai Pumpkin Curry

My wife, like many people, used to hate curry. She hated all Indian foods actually. To someone like me and the billions of other curry lovers out there, that is simply hard to believe. The range of curries are too wide with too many regional influences and nuances for anyone to say "I hate curry".

I think the real reason someone may not like curry is because they've had one that they didn't like and judge all the others based on that decision. I think that probably goes with entire cuisines. How can anyone dislike an entire cuisine? How can you reject all Indian, Thai or Japanese food based on small samplings? That's like not liking a hot dog and because of it ignoring all other American dishes! Keep daring yourself to try things.

The dish below was the transitional one for my wife. With it, she went from curry hater, to Thai curry lover. Shortly afterward she became an Indian curry lover as well, and then an Indian and Thai food lover.

It's been inspiring to watch and sure makes dining out and cooking at home a great deal more interesting!

Thai Pumpkin Curry

2 cans of coconut milk
1.5 to 2 lbs. of London Broil or similar beef cubed (or pork or chicken)
3 TBS yellow curry paste
2 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS palm sugar (or similar sugar)
4 TBS tamarind juice
6 green cardamom pods
1 stick of cinnamon
3 cups of sugar pumpkin (cubed)
1.5 cups of potato (cubed)
3/4 cup carrots (cubed)
1 onion (frenched)
1/2 cup of roasted peanuts
Juice of half a lime
Chopped cilantro and Thai basil

Place a large pan over high heat. Pour in all the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the meat and lower to a simmer. For beef, simmer for 30-40 minutes. For chicken or pork simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the curry paste and stir until it dissolves into the coconut milk and meat mixture. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the fish sauce, sugar, tamarind juice, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots and onions. Continue simmering for 15 to 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the roasted peanuts to the curry and mix well. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the lime juice and chopped cilantro/basil. Reserve some as a garnish.

Serve hot in bowls accompanied with sticky or jasmine rice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Recipe: Native American-Style Baked Squash

Squash, Beans and Corn were staples for the Native Americans. They were so important that a philosophy of gardening related to them developed. Called "The Three Sisters", squash, corn and beans were always planted together in mound gardens (usually with fish heads and entrails as fertilizer).

Corn was planted first and a short time later beans were planted close to the developing corn stalks. On the outer edges of the mounds squash was planted. As the plants developed the beans were allowed to grow up the corn stalks. This kept the beans off the ground and away from most hungry pests, and also kept the corn well supported. Amazingly, the beans also added nitrogen to the soil which kept the following year's corn healthy and full. Finally, the squash kept weeds down and slowed moisture evaporation from the soil with its large low leaves. It also further discouraged pests with it prickly vines.

The common idea of America before the arrival of Europeans was of a wildly wooded place populated by a primitive race that lived as hunter-gatherers. The truth is wildly different. Early adventurers as far back as the Vikings and the Conquistadors left written records of large cultivated fields that contained a host of domesticated plants. American native people were hybridizing beans, corn and other plants into many varieties long before the first non-natives ever set foot on the North or South American continents.

For today's entry I have chosen one of my favorite Autumn foods. Squash was also a favorite of many of the New England tribes. To this day one can still find the odd squash patch growing in the woods, a remnant of former native farming.

Oh, and for the record: Corn, beans and squash? Native American gifts to world cuisine. Well, those and potatoes, peanuts, pineapples, etc., etc., etc.

This one is an easy-to-prepare delight.

Native American-Style Baked Squash

1 Acorn, Butternut or similar squash
2 TBS sweet butter
8 tsp maple syrup or maple sugar

Heat the oven to 425°F

Split the squash down the middle and scrape out the seeds and stringy membrane.

Place the squash cut side up in a dutch overn.

Put one tablespoon of butter and four teaspoons of maple syrup or sugar in each half.

Cover the pan and place in the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven, allow to cool enough so you can scrape the flesh from the skins into a bowl.

Mash well or whip. Serve hot as a side or on blue corn cakes (a future recipe).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Recipe: Channa Masala

I'm presently in the beginning stages of putting together the 2009 edition of my cookbook. I've been sorting out my Indian recipes for the new Indian section and I'm looking forward to seeing them in "Chop Onions, Boil Water".

This is a recipe I've put together from several others with a decent bit of tinkering in between to get it right where I like it. It is one of my wife's favorites and watching her eat it is almost as much as a treat as eating it myself. I finally managed to get it to where I like it tonight. So, this one is right off the stove and into the book and blog on the same night!

Channa Masala or Aloo Cholay and naan bread are sort of like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of India. A lunch and snack standard. A popular and fortifying food that can be purchased from street vendors or prepared in the home. As with many Indian dishes there are lots of ingredients, it's all worth it. This stuff is even better on the second and third day. If you think you may not like chickpeas, you're wrong. Just ask my wife.

Channa Masala

2-3 TBS peanut oil
1 stick of cinnamon
6 whole cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions (chopped)
2 TBS ginger (chopped)
4 green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp amchoor powder
4 medium tomatoes (chopped)
2 tsp palm or brown sugar
1/2 tsp hot Indian chile powder
2 cans (30 ozs.) chickpeas
2 TBS butter
3-4 TBS yogurt
1/2 tsp garam masala
Juice of one lime
Chopped cilantro

Put the oil in a heated pan place on medium heat, when the oil begins to shimmer add the cinnamon, and cloves. Heat until the cinnamon begins to unravel. Then remove the cinnamon and cloves. Immediately add the cumin seeds. When the seeds stop crackling immediately add the onions and saute until translucent.

Add the ginger, cardamom and bay leaves and stir. Add the garlic, curry powder and amchoor powder until mix is well blended. Do not burn the mix. Lower the heat or add a little water if necessary.

Add the tomatoes, palm sugar and Indian chile powder and mix in well. Allow the tomatoes to break down and liquify.

Add the chickpeas (and some water if necessary)

Continue to cook until reduced and thick and rich.

Add chopped cilantro and blend well.

Finish with butter, yogurt, garam masala and lime juice. Salt to taste.

Serve with naan or pooris.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Product Review: Tortilla Oven/Warmer

We eat a lot of both flour and corn tortillas in my home. Burritos, soft tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas play a big part in my Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking. In case you’re not aware of it, tortillas, especially corn ones, need to be warmed before you can roll or bend them. Traditionally, the heating is done on a comal. A Comal is kind of like a flat cast iron griddle. You set it over low to medium eat, and allow it to heat up. Once hot, you toss the tortilla on it for a few moments, flip it to heat the other side and then you’re good to bend it or roll it for its intended use.

I like using a Comal because I like the ritual of it. It’s something that has been done for thousands of years in the Americas. From simple stone or clay Comal over open fires right on down to my cast iron one on my gas stove. I like the link, the vibe and the history.

Then there are the work nights when I want fish tacos or chicken enchiladas, but I just don’t really have the time to heat the tortillas one at a time on the comal. What does a fish taco junkie do on those nights? Well, I use a tortilla oven/warmer. I don’t know how long they’ve been around, but their relatively new to me and handy as all hell when I want homemade Mexican food and time is in short supply.

They’re a breeze to use. You just count out the number of tortillas you think you’ll need, separate them a little, slide them into the tortilla oven/warmer and then pop them into the microwave for a few seconds. Out come perfectly warm and pliable tortillas! The added bonus is that those tortillas, if left in the warmer will stay that way for a long time! In the spirit of Food TV’s Alton Brown’s recommendation that no kitchen item should be a “unitasker”, I also use my tortilla oven/warmer to keep my freshly baked flat breads warm. Naan, roti and a host of my homemade flat breads find their way into my tortilla oven/warmer where they stay perfectly hot and soft until used.

I’ve had my tortilla oven/warmer for over a year now and I highly recommend it to anyone who serves tortillas and other flat breads. My rating: 5 stars!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Recipe: Sweet Potato Pie

Much like the Brady Bunch influenced my lodging decisions in Hawaii, a host of 1970’s African American-based television sitcoms influenced my first venture into piedom (pausing for your laughter). I cannot count the times I heard the characters of various shows praise the promise of a sweet potato pie! Strange huh?

Mostly, it was out of odd curiosity. I remember thinking “ugh, how good can a pie made from potatoes be?” So, a number of years later that curiosity and wonder got the best of me and I decided to see for myself. I am here to tell you their praise was justified because sweet potato pie is (clap) DY-NA-MITE! Its flavor hovers somewhere in the area of pumpkin and squash pies, but in my opinion it offers subtle complex nuances and just a better overall taste.

I’m not the only one who thinks this either. The first pies I ever made were sweet potato pies, a few of these made their way to my parents home, and since then it has become a Thanksgiving tradition. My mom insists that I bring them, and it seems no one else objects either, especially my wife who insists I make a few for home as well. There’s nothing like a cool slice o’ sweet tater pie and some fresh whipped cream to top off a holiday meal.

Interestingly enough, during my various trips to Hawaii, I was introduced to a purple sweet potato. In the future I’d like to try making a pie from it. The idea of a purple dessert intrigues me (stay tuned). Anyway, there’s no secret to baking this masterpiece, if I had to add anything I’d offer that you should mash and whip the potatoes to a silky smoothness and also, after cooking, let the pies cure in the fridge overnight.

Sweet Potato Pie

1-1/4 lbs Sweet Potatoes (approx. 2)
1/2 stick unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1.5 Tbs dark rum
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and roast them on a shallow baking pan in the middle of the oven until VERY tender. Allow to cool.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.

Remove the flesh from the sweet potatoes and thoroughly mash them until smooth.

Melt the butter in a small pan and slowly stir in the sugar.

When the sugar melts stir in vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum, salt and flour.

When thoroughly mixed add butter/spice combination, milk and eggs to mashed sweet potatoes. Mix well. Pour the mix into the pie shell.

Move pie into the oven and bake until the filling rises and just sets. Remove from oven and allow pie to cool before serving topped with whip cream.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Praise of Native American Cuisine

In late August I attended the Mashuntucket Pequot green corn festival. Called "Schemitzun," it is the largest gathering of Native American tribes on the East Coast. There are drumming and dance competitions as well as a rodeo and craft dealers. They also set up a small area as a traditional woodland indian village. In that village they offer a variety of cultural and craft demonstrations.

In the village, the area I found the most interesting was the cooking fire. I spent a good deal of time there talking to a young Pequot guy who was giving demonstrations of Native cooking. He was steaming clams, roasting duck and talking about how the local tribes cooked in the old days and in contemporary times. As we parted ways he directed me to a Wampanoag tribe food vendor and I was very impressed with the food I tried there. I learned quite a bit that day, but more importantly, a new food passion was ignited within me.

I am part Native American and while I love cooking all kinds of foods and I'm quite adept at cooking a good range of international cuisines including Italian, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Mexican, Thai and Indian (Asian not American), it had never dawned on me to explore Native American food beyond some of the dishes my grandmother used to prepare (johnnycakes, rabbit stew, squirrel, etc.).

That has since changed, and I am presently immersed in learning about not only how good Native American cuisine is and how to prepare it, but also the profound impact it has had on the world's cuisine. The examples are dramatic and numerous. Consider that before the Native Americans introduced their foods to European settlers, there were no tomatoes in Italy, no potatoes in Ireland. no pineapples in Hawaii and most profoundly no corn. That is just a small sampling.

The foods that Native Americans introduced to the world and their impact are much too broad a subject to broach in one entry in my humble little blog. If you're interested in learning more and getting some great recipes, I'd like to suggest two wonderful books on the subject:

Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking by Martin Jacobs and Beverly Cox, is an extremely well-done book, beautifully designed with great background into, excellent photography and many great recipes. It is among my top five favorite cookbooks and that is saying something because I own MANY!

The Art of Native American Cooking by Yeffe Kimball and Jean Anderson is a paperback book with related illustrations, but no photographs. It makes up for that with some great in-depth writing and a plethora of great recipes. Some of the recipes are traditional and some have contemporary slants/ingredients.

The Americas have a rich native heritage and while the food and cooking contributions of its Native people are now universal, they have gone largely unrecognized. If you love to cook and eat as much as I do, it is time for you to explore this great cuisine. Trust me, you will not be disappointed! Either of these books are a great introduction to the subject.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Recipe: Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie

One of the great things about getting older is noticing how much better things were when I was younger. Are you in your forties or fifties? Think about it. Isn’t it great? It’s even more fun to rant about it. Here, I’ll show

Rap and Hip Hop? Come on, it sucks! It really does! As a matter of fact 90% of popular music sucks! I see these buffoons in music videos posturing and pretending to be something they’re not and I just love it because it sucks! Most of it is barely music. Black, white, yellow or red the new music mostly sucks. That is saying something because I grew up during DISCO!

When was the last time you saw a great movie? When was the last time you saw an original concept, original script, that was well written, excellently acted and filmed beautifully? I can’t remember because all the new movies SUCK! They are making movies based on television shows and other movies from when we were kids. Do you know why? Because it was better then! They just can’t get it right though, can they!

How about television? There are good shows right? I know there are several I like. That still sucks though. Do you want to know why? I’ll tell you anyway. Because there were ALWAYS several shows I liked, even way back when there were ONLY THREE CHANNELS! Now we have over a hundred or more and still there are only several good shows!!!! There should be sixty good shows but there aren’t because today’s television SUCKS! Television was
so good back in the day that Hollywood keeps making bad movies based on the good old programs!

Cars suck today! Okay maybe they’re better for the environment and safer, that’s good, but why do they all look the same? Remember when you could look at a car and know its make and its year of manufacture? Not today, they are all so bland! The ubiquitous conformance of the gray flannel suit of the 1950’s has manifested itself in the auto industry! It’s boring and it sucks!

One of the few things that have gotten better is food. Today we have access to a wider variety of ingredients and produce. Foods like Thai, Japanese and Lebanese that would have been considered exotic when we were kids are commonplace today. We even have channels on television that are dedicated to food and its preparation (though it’s a pity that many of the programs still SUCK!). So while it is a pleasure to know how much better we had it back then, it’s still good to know we can count on some improvement!

What’s all this got to do with the recipe to the right? Well the basis for the recipe comes from a cookbook inspired by the television program “Northern Exposure”. A great program! How do I know? Easy, because I can weigh it against all the ones that suck today!

Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie

5 cups cooked chicken/turkey cubed
1-1/2 cups of sliced carrots
1-1/2 cups of sliced celery
1 10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
4 cups homemade chicken/turkey stock or canned broth
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup reserved vegetable broth (see below)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 flat sheets ready-made or homemade pie dough

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Add celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Strain through sieve reserving 3/4 cup of resulting vegetable broth and allow it to cool a little in the freezer. Rinse vegetables under cold water.

Put celery, carrots, chicken and peas into a large bowl. Toss together to mix thoroughly.

Distribute evenly between 2-3 pie dough lined pie plates. DO NOT pack

Combine chicken stock, milk, celery salt, pepper and nutmeg in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a low simmer.

In a small bowl, mix flour and reserved vegetable stock and whisk into a smooth paste. Stir paste into the saucepan. While continuing to stir, raise heat and bring back to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes or more, until mixture is thick and smooth. Test and season to taste. Pour sauce in equal amounts over the chicken-vegetable mixture.

Cover each pie with dough. Seal edges well. Put four knife slits in each pie to allow venting. Brush the top of each pie with egg white. Cook in the oven until golden brown. Remove, allow to set, and then serve with any surplus gravy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why didn't I think of that?: Portuguese Sweetbread Rolls & the Perfect Burger

I live in a small city called Fall River on the Southcoast of Massachusetts. I mention this because we have a unique local cuisine based on the cultures that settled the area over the years. We have dashes of French, Irish, Native American and also, especially for the purposes of this entry: Portuguese.

Recently I've been reading online reviews of various burger joints in New York City. One came up several times with glowing reviews because of their unique and delicious burgers. It's a place called Zaitzeff in the financial district. What made the Zaitzeff burgers so good? One writer had a succinct answer: The bun. He described the bun as "flat, like an English muffin with a pale yellow color" he went on to describe it a "sweet and delicious which enhanced the burger's flavor." I didn't need to be hit on the head with a log to know what he was talking about, but then he continued "which the restaurant orders from a Portuguese bakery in Fall River, MA.

Bolos Levedos (bhoulzsh levezsh) or "Portuguese Pancakes" as we grew up calling them in Fall River. I've had them all my life in numerous ways, but you know what? Never ever did I think or recall anyone else who had the presence of mind to toast them on a grill and serve up a burger on them! Since reading the reviews of Zaitzeff's burgers that has changed.

It's the hamburger roll of the house now. In fact we go Zaitzeff's one better by not only using the sweet bolos levedos, but also their larger brothers the sweetbread rolls. We don't limit the meats to just burgers either. Panko battered mahi-mahi sings an opera on these types of rolls as does homemade chicken salad. Thank you Zaitzeff!

It's strange how you can become overly familiar with the common things in your life, never giving them a second thought or seeing them outside their normal uses. Along comes someone who doesn't see them everyday and the next thing you know that thing changes.

Thanks Zaitzeff! I haven't had your burgers, but damn, you're onto something with your rolls!

Why didn't I think of that?

Anyone that doesn't live near Zaitzeff or Fall River can find recipes online to make your own bolos levedos or you can Google "Portuguese Bakery Fall River MA" and possibly get them sent out.

Until then, you're kind of missing something great.

Photo courtesy of Paobolosecia

Product Review: Haley's Corker

Wine has always been my alcohol of choice. Even as a teenager when all my friends were drinking cheap beer I preferred cheap wine. As I got older my tastes naturally changed and I grew from drinking cheap wine to drinking INEXPENSIVE wine. Yeah, there's a lot to read into there, but there's a world of difference, trust me!

In my house we drink wine with every meal except breakfast and over the years many wine-related products have found their way into my kitchen drawer (many of those have found their way back out again). Stemless glasses, a host of uncorking devices, tasting logs and all the gift giving flotsam and jetsam that well-meaning friends will impart upon you at gift giving time. Some are good, most... well, less so.

One of the better of them is the Haley's Corker a simple and ingenious wine capper. I came across the Haley's Corker while at a wine tasting at Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, RI. (Be sure to check out Sakonnet if you're ever in the Southern New England area). I'd been to more than my share of tastings there and this last time I noticed a pourer on the bottle. A short inquiry and a glowing review led me to purchase a few of these and bring them home and try them out.

It's been several months now and I can offer that they are a permanent addition in my kitchen drawer. Not only are they a convenient and easy way to recap an open bottle of wine, they also help aerate the wine and also filter out any bits of cork that may be in there. Of course there are more product benefits and if you're really interested the manufacturer lists them quite nicely on their website.

I give this little gem 3.5 out of 4 stars. It is neat, clean, easy-to-use and delivers as promised. Maybe a tiny bit pricey and that cost them 1/2 a star, but their great stuff.

If you need to recap wine, or you need to pour neatly while enhancing the wine and filtering out cork, Haley's Corker is for you. Restaurants and hotels, pay attention, this product is perfect for you as well.

Recipe: Garlic Smashed Potatoes

Well for my first post I figured I'd post a recipe. Something useful and perhaps universal. Mashed potatoes work!

There are all kinds of mashed potatoes folks and they all have their place in specific aspects of my dining choices. I have my favorite instant mashed potatoes, my favorite Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, my favorite on-top-of-shepherds-pie mashed potatoes and yes, even my favorite frozen dinner mashed potatoes.
(Right now there are other guys out there thinking “You know what? Me too!”).

Well, the recipe below represents my favorite barbecued food mashed potatoes. This recipe was not that easy to come across or tweak to get it to where I like it. Fortunately, I just kept plugging away and now I’ve got my perfect taters for a barbecue feast.

You’re going to notice that they’re not the lowest calorie recipe you’re going to come across, but they are going to be some of the best tasting. Besides, when you’re busy sucking the last bits of barbecue sauce off a rib, are you really thinking about fat and cholesterol anyway?

Garlic Smashed Potatoes

1 head of garlic
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 Tbs olive oil
2-1/2 pounds red-skinned potatoes
(unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces)
3/4 cup whipping cream
4 Tbs sour cream

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Cut the top 1/4 inch off head of garlic to expose tops of cloves. Place on top of a sheet of foil. Spoon oil over, sprinkle with salt and pepper and wrap tightly in the foil. Bake until garlic cloves are tender, about 45 minutes.
Squeeze garlic cloves from skins into a small bowl, add butter and mash together thoroughly.

Cook potatoes in heavy large pot of boiling salted water until tender (about 18 minutes).

Drain potatoes, return to pot. Stir over low heat to allow excess water to evaporate. Add whipping cream, sour cream, and roasted garlic butter and mash together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I often add a 1/4 cup of chopped chives or chopped fresh parsley.

You want to make some “champ”? Slice some collared greens into strips, boil them until tender and fold them into the garlic mashed potatoes instead of the chives and parsley. Put ‘em in a bowl and sit out on your front porch with your dog, eat ‘em up and play your banjo!