Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

DSCN4576The reason why we omnivores like veal is because of how tender it is.  Yes, the little critters are confined to a very small pen which keeps them from moving around a lot, which keeps their flesh meltingly soft by preventing the development of tougher muscles, which many people think is sad (or atrocious, depending upon your ilk).  I have no such scruples: I am gluttonous for foie gras; I revel in veal; I love lobsters boiled live; hell, I’d enjoy an ortolon if I ever got the chance to eat one.  If you consider me inhumane because of my eating habits, I certainly respect your opinion… but I’ll likely not invite you over for dinner when I’m pulling out all the stops.

All this is just preamble, though.  I bring up the tenderness of veal for one reason: to say that it’s even MORE tender when cooked sous vide.  Although not a particularly old technique, sealing foods in air-tight bags and cooking them in a water-bath set to the temperature at which the food should be served  is optimal for several purposes: by cooking the food in this manner, there is no risk of over-cooking, and there is no drying out of the surface layers of proteins by virtue of the much higher heat needed to bring the internal temp to the right degree; something magical with collagens and proteins and cellular stuff happens at a lower heat held for a long time — tissues turn to gelatin, and juices stay locked in place; and meats need only a quick browning on a hot pan at the last minute before service. But sous vide cookery generally requires the purchase of a prohibitively expensive and very space-consuming piece of equipment, since since money and space are two things I don’t have, I thought I’d have to struggle with maintaining the temperature in a saucepan on my stove, which I’ve done successfully once before, but which took lots of time standing by the stove stirring and adjusting the water with flame and ice (figuratively speaking).  Tonight’s technique was MUCH EASIER.  And the results?  Veal so perfectly cooked and tender I could cut it with a sharp glance.  Doused with demi-glaze, served with  potato crisps draped with gorgonzola cream, honey roasted carrots, and a snappy Meyer lemon gremolata, dinner transported me to Nirvana with each and every sweet sweet bite.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

1lb veal tenderloin, trimmed
4 tbs butter
1 tbs dried tarragon leaves
1 small bunch slender carrots
3 tbs EVOO
3 tbs honey
1 large russet potato
3 oz gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup cream
1 Meyer lemon
4 tbs minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt, cracked black pepper, dried oregano, dried rosemary
1 package Classic Demi-Glaze Gold

DSCN4551Instead of a set-up shot, showing all my ingredients, I shall instead show you the star of tonight’s show: my Igloo cooler.  Based upon Serious Eats’ brilliant life hack article, I now know I don’t need to buy a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment to sous vide – all I need is a $20 cooler.  Y’see, not only do these babies keep things cool, they keep things HOT, too.  For anything that can be cooked sous vide in less than 5 hours and in less than 160° water (these are my approximations), a nice, tight sealing cooler will do the trick.

DSCN4554I start by rinsing, then patting dry, my veal tenderloin.  After rubbing it down with salt and pepper, I put a few pats of butter on the meat, along with the tarragon…

DSCN4555… before wrapping it tightly in plastic.

DSCN4556The whole package then gets set inside a large freezer zipper bag, and using a straw, I get as much air out of it as possible.  I zipped the bag up as close to the straw as I could before I started sucking like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then I even slightly zipped across the straw while sliding it out of the bag so that as little air as possible would leach back into the bag before it was sealed completely.  SeriousEats points out that one can also submerge as much of the bag as possible in water before sealing to push out all the air, but every time I’ve tried that I’ve always spilled a little water into the bag – and I didn’t want to get my meat wet.  This worked fine.

DSCN4558I thought I would have to use a kettle to get my water hot enough, but my kitchen faucet delivers water at close to 160° – so I actually had to add a little cold water to get my temp to a little over 142° F. I then filled up my largest, heaviest measuring vessel with hot water, too, so it would submerge – which I used to anchor my bag of meat which still wanted to float.  I shut the cooler, and walked away for 90 minutes.

DSCN4559Meanwhile, I used my mandoline set at the thickest setting to slice my russet potato into substantial chips.

DSCN4560I placed them in a single layer on top of a baking paper lined cookie sheet, and then brushed them with EVOO before sprinkling some salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano on them.

DSCN4561I also trimmed the greens off my carrots, peeled them, and spread them across a ceramic baking dish.

DSCN4562Someone gave me this lovely raw honey, which is very potent and delicious.

DSCN4563The carrots get doused in EVOO, salt, pepper, and honey, and then both they and the potatoes get placed into a 400° oven for about 30 minutes.  At the halfway point, I flip the potatoes and roll over the carrots for even cooking.

DSCN4564Gremolata is one of those condiments that isn’t used as often as it should be.  The traditional mixture of minced parsley and garlic with grated lemon zest adds snap and freshness to tons of preparations, and it goes particularly well with rich meats.

DSCN4565A little salt, pepper, lemon juice, and EVOO gets added to the veg, and all is mixed well.

DSCN4566Ahhhh – gorgonzola.  DSCN4569I melt a tbs of butter in a saucepan, add my cream, and then my gorgonzola to make a cheese sauce.  On another eye, I prepare the demi-glaze with only a few ounces of water (I want a nice, rich drizzle of flavor, and not a gravy) and a dash of minced garlic.

DSCN4568My 90 minutes have passed, and I eagerly reach into my Igloo to see how my veal tenderloin looks.  And it looks MARVELOUS.  It is perfectly cooked to a lovely medium rare – but it admittedly looks a little flaccid and unappetizing all greyish like that….

DSCN4570… which is why I’ve got an oiled, cast iron skillet smoking on one burner.  I sear my tenderloin on all sides, propping up the narrow edges (which make my meat want to roll over) by clipping the tongs in the ‘closed’ position and resting them flat against the edge of the pan.  I sear for about 1 minute all the way ’round – so 6 minutes total.  I’m looking for the Malliard reaction, which is a fancy way of saying I want to brown the outside of this tender morsel.

DSCN4571Perfect.

DSCN4575Just the extreme edges are tantalizingly browned, and the insides are exactly medium rare throughout.

DSCN4577The explosion of flavors on my plate just blew me away.  The sweet carrots, crispy potatoes and sharp, creamy gorgonzola sauce, the rich, garlicky demi-glaze offset by the fresh, green gremolata, and the oh-so-silky-and-tender-and-delicious veal medallions.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to prepare veal any other way, and now I can’t wait to try the same technique with strip steaks and filet mignon, and even eggs for perfect Benedicts.  But now – I EAT!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

DSCN4332I have been obsessed with frying things ever since I read SeriousEats.com’s tutorial on Korean Fried Chicken.  The technique they describe worked with chicken wings perfectly, so I wondered if I could do the same thing with other fryables.  It worked very nicely with shrimp – creating something of a tempura-type crackling coating – but how about something really substantial?  I mean, chicken wings are pretty small, and shrimp only get so big, too (to wit, at 4’10” am I perpetually addressed as ‘shrimp’ or ‘shortie’, neither of which makes me particularly happy).  How’s about a meaty pork chop?  My days in the south exposed me to the wonders of a perfectly fried chop, coated with a buttermilk batter and pan fried, served usually with a white gravy and some collards.  I decided to work up my own version of a fried pork chop, using a simple flour/vodka slurry as the breading, some sweet potatoes and mushrooms as the complements, and my favorite soy sauce cream gravy (click here to see a variation on the theme).  The results were fantastic!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

2 thick, center-cut pork chops
3/4 cups corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup gin or vodka
vegetable oil for frying
EVOO
8-10 button mushrooms
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
snipped scallions/chives for garnish

DSCN4305I love pork chops, especially when they look like little T-bone steaks, like these.  This cut includes both a little of the tenderloin as well as the regular rib meat, which provides some textural variety on the plate.

DSCN4307I start by mixing my cornstarch, baking powder, and some spices in a large ziplock bag.

DSCN4308In go my chops, and I shake the bag vigorously to coat them with the cornstarch mixture.

DSCN4310I place the chops uncovered in my fridge on a rack so they can dry out a bit — about 30 minutes.

DSCN4311Meanwhile, I remove the stems from my mushrooms, reserving them to use later.

DSCN4312I get 2 tbs of butter and a glug of EVOO nice and hot in my large fry-pan…

DSCN4314… and I layer my mushrooms in the hot fat, sprinkling them with a little salt and pepper.

DSCN4315I make sure they cook fully on top…

DSCN4317… and on bottom.

DSCN4319While these are simmering, I pull out my chops, on which the cornstarch/baking powder has gummed up a bit – just the way I want it.

DSCN4321In a large bowl, I’ve whisked my flour, water, and gin together to make a very thin batter.

DSCN4323Holding the chops with tongs by clipping it on the T-bone allows for me to dunk all the meaty bits into the slurry to thoroughly coat each piece.

DSCN4323aI add enough vegetable oil to a deep-sided pan to just cover the chops, and I bring this to a medium high temperature – about 350°F.  Of course, I don’t have a thermometer to help me gauge this, so I just drip a little flour batter into the pan periodically until the drop immediately sizzles and starts to brown upon hitting the surface of the oil.  It’s ready for my chops at that point.

DSCN4325I slide both chops carefully into the oil, making sure not to splatter myself like I usually do.  (Thank God for OxyClean, or just about all my clothes would have constellations of oil drips on them.)  Since these chops are thick, I let them fry for about 10 minutes on each side.

DSCN4329While this happens, I add my soy sauce and heavy cream to the mushrooms in the pan, which I bring to simmer on low heat, stirring regularly so the flavors can blend.

DSCN4325aWhen the chops are a nice golden brown on the bottom, it’s time to flip them carefully to the other side. Another 10 minutes or so will do it.

DSCN4326I’ve been baking my sweet potatoes all along, by the way.  After an hour on 350°, I can easily squeeze them with my oven-mitted fingers, so I pull them out…

DSCN4328… remove their bright orange insides to a bowl, where I mash them with my remaining butter.

DSCN4331These savory pork chops have a cracking, super-crunchy, egg-shell thin coating are super-tender and juicy.  The simple sweet mash is offset by a rich, dark, silky and fragrant soy cream gravy, and each button of mushroom bursts with flavor on the tongue.  Not only is this a very easy recipe, but it presents itself elegantly on the plate, and can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.  Now, what else can I fry?

Steak Tips, Savory Mushroom Sauce, Cheddar Mashed, Arugula Salad

After many helpings of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, it was high time for Lolita to feed her inner barbarian by diving into a steaming hot plate of RED MEAT.  Steak, baby — that’s what I wanted.  The husbandman suggested “beef tips and gravy over rice,” reminiscing as he was about similar meals made in his childhood redneck home, but if you read my blog often enough you know I’m not really a rice fan.  Risotto?  Sure!  Sticky rice?  Certainly!  Chicken and rice?  OK!  But rice rice, ala Uncle Ben’s or Minute or some such derivation I just don’t ever feel a hankering for.  Perhaps it’s because my childhood Puerto Rican home saw rice and beans on every lunch and dinner plate throughout my *entire* youth, and I just got plumb sick of it.  In particular, “rice and gravy” just sounds bland, boring, and blech to me – even more so now that some big-time soup comany has been advertising what a “great meal” spilling a hot can of their Vegetable Beef soup over rice can be for the “working mother”.  The commercial, which is supposed to draw me in and make me crave this fare, frankly turns me off – for various food-snob reasons I best keep to myself.  So I compromised and suggested beef tips in gravy over mashed potatoes.  Since no food would be made or consumed in our household if I didn’t make it, he was rather compelled to agree – if he wanted to eat, that is.  And eat we did: perfectly tender morsels of medium-rare sirloin bathed in rich beef gravy studded with button mushrooms and cippolini onions, served over steaming cheddar-enriched mashed potatoes, accompanied by a fresh and nutty arugula salad.

Steak Tips, Savory Mushroom Sauce, Cheddar Mashed, Arugula Salad

3/4lb sirloin tips
10oz button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
5-6 cippolini onions
1 quart beef broth
1 lb yellow potatoes
2 tbs butter
1 heaping tablespoon flour
3 cups turkey/chicken stock
4oz sour cream
4oz cheddar cheese
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
arugula
1 lemon
1 medium tomato
parmigiano reggiano cheese, for shaving

The potatoes will take a while to boil down, as will the gravy which will be reduced almost entirely from my quart of beef stock, so I start by washing and roughly cutting my potatoes and peeling and smashing my garlic.

The garlic gets minced, the onions peeled, and the mushrooms scrubbed.  I also cut the largest mushrooms in half, but keep the smaller ones whole.  I love whole mushrooms.

First, I bring my chicken stock (leftover from Thanksgiving) to a boil – adding enough water to raise the volume enough to cover my spuds, which I throw in and cook until they can be easily pierced with a fork — about 20 minutes.

In a large non-stick frying pan, I soften my garlic in some EVOO for a moment before adding the onions and mushrooms…

… along with about 1/2 of the beef stock.  I set this over high heat and stir often, until reduced by half, before I add the rest of the stock and do the same.  I’m trying to concentrate the flavors by removing as much water from the stock as possible, and the longer steaming time required to reduce this by halves will help the mushrooms absorb all that flavor until they’re completely cooked through.  The onions will soften nicely as well.  This takes about 20 minutes total.

Now that the glorious flavors are rich and deep, I want to thicken my sauce.  First thing I do, though, is remove most of the garlic by fishing it out with a strainer.  Why?  Because, I admit I think I added too much garlic, since the redolence of it wafting through my kitchen was so strong, so I removed the solids in the hopes this would add balance.  It did.  Anyway, to thicken, I needed something akin to a roux; this is how I do it when I’ve already got a hot liquid on the stovetop.  In a very small bowl, I add my flour and 1 tablespoon of butter…

… and using a deep spoon (I keep those plastic Japanese soup spoons in the kitchen for this reason), I fish out some of my boiling hot gravy and add it to the bowl with the flour and butter.

The heat from the gravy melts the butter, and using a fork I mix the contents of the bowl into a smooth slurry…

… before adding it to the rest of the gravy in the pan and mixing well.  This stays bubbling over high heat, which will thicken the sauce.

There was an unfortunate vein of cartilage (OK, I know I’m mixing my anatomical metaphors there, but you know what I mean) through part of one of these sirloin strips, but otherwise they were things of beauty.  I cut them into cubes and season them with salt and pepper before…

… throwing them into a very hot non-stick pan and searing them fully on each edge.

It only takes about 5 minutes to cook these tidbits, which I then add to the mushroom gravy for a couple minutes (not enough time to remove all the pink on the inside, but long enough to allow them to soak up some of the sauce.

Meanwhile, I make the husbandman mash the potatoes (perhaps an indelicate thing to do, considering he wanted rice, but he manned up).  After draining all the water/stock, he adds enough sour cream and butter to make the potatoes creamy, then shreds the cheddar cheese into the mix.  And that’s it; mashed potatoes are so elegantly easy to make.

A side salad to accompany this meal is definitely in order, but I don’t want to go overboard.  Arugula has just the right tang for savory steak, and brightening it with a squeeze of lemon, some fresh sliced red tomato, and some slivered onions is almost all it needs.  But the added bonus of some shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, to add salt and nuttiness, brings it over the top.

I remember going to Golden Corral as a kid and thinking their all-you-can-eat salad bar and “made to order” steaks were the highest of culinary delight.  My favorite dish was always the steak tips in mushroom gravy, which were delivered to the table from the kitchen in these cool little cast-iron skillets.  I thought it was comfort food at its best.  Ah, youth!  My mother-in-law still enjoys her Golden Corral, so I daresay she’d enjoy this homage to those youthful pleasures, and I hope she’d appreciate the difference between their mass-produced stuff and my homemade version.  My bites of sirloin are crusty-seared without and shot through with pink within, and the mushrooms burst on the tongue with rich beef, garlic, and onion flavor.  The smooth gravy absolutely demands to be sopped up by the cheesy potatoes, and the fresh green salad offsets all the richness just right.  This isn’t a Weeknight Wondermeal because it calls for a decent amount of ingredients, but on the whole it’s a pretty simple dinner to assemble – and it can be pretty cheap.  After days and days of leftover white meat, this is exactly the red meat I needed to put Thanksgiving away until next year.

Dinner for One: Fancified Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner

If you are anything like me (read: made a Thanksgiving feast large enough to feed 8 lumberjacks when only feeding yourself and your No. 1), you still have LOTS of leftovers to work through. This I expect.  But I don’t expect my readers to simply *hate* leftovers like I do.  Let me be clear: I LOATHE leftovers.  It has something to do with my childhood.  As such, it is very rare that I ever indulge in the same meal in consecutive sittings, and since I usually portion control pretty well, at most the husbandman (the aforementioned No. 1) gets to indulge his deep affection for leftovers with a single, but generous lunch within a few days of diving into the fresh stuff.  But the smallest turkey we could find clocked in at 12 pounds, which I roasted absolutely perfectly (if I do say so myself).  Given that we’re on a tight budget these days even I couldn’t stick my nose up at the abundant albeit cold deliciousness in my fridge, or the prudent economy of said deliciousness.  On Friday, I made some sinfully amazing Turkey Day sandwiches (which I regret not blogging about), and Clayton’s eaten a few more turkey sandwiches in the last few days.  Today I did my bit by assembling a little something something for myself.

Fancified Leftover Thanksgiving Dinner

Leftover stuffing, turkey, cranberry relish, and gravy
feta cheese
1 tsp flour
1 tbs butter
1 cup turkey stock
salad stuff

The other day, I cut some beer cans down to make an elegant stacked crab salad.  I hung onto those razor sharp accouterments for future use — like today’s.  I had an idea about a Thanksgiving themed tian, with a few additions from the larder.  But first, I spread some foil over a baking sheet, since unlike my last stack o’ dinner, which was served chilled, this stack I meant to bake.  Booyah!

Using my killer samurai edge’d cylinder, I cut a 1/2″ round of feta cheese from the block, and about a 3/4″ round of stuffing from the whole.  I made a very smooth cornbread stuffing — something more akin to a quiche or pudding than the more chunky varieties I usually prepare.  This made it very easy to carve out a perfect disc.

The first layer is the feta cheese.  Clayton wasn’t sure why I chose this cheese over others, but I quite rightly suspected that its saltiness, and the unique fluffy sort of way it “melted”, would be the perfect compliment to this preparation.

The next layer is a few spoonfuls of my homemade cranberry relish, prepared with long, thin strips of orange peel — nice and chunky and tart and bursting and juicy.

Next, I insert my layer of stuffing, and then top the whole tian off with a mixture of dark and light turkey, daubing some of the congealed turkey fat over the top to keep everything moisturized.  (Sorry the picture is so out of focus; I was having problems with the light tonight.)  I set the whole baking sheet, can in place, into a 350 degree oven to heat through for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, I make a blond roux by first whisking my butter (melted) and my flour over medium high heat…

… before adding my turkey stock …

… and a few heaping tablespoons of my leftover gravy, which has also congealed.  See, I need to thin it out a bit, but just reheating it in the pan might burn it – so making a simple gravy base with the roux and stock before adding this super-potent homemade turkey gravy concentrate works best.  It maintains the fantastic flavors I harvested last Wednesday night by cooking down the neck and gizzards with fresh aromatics and butter.  There are even delicious bits of turkey neck meat still studding its smooth rich texture.

I bring this to a high heat so it will thicken, then toss a few more bits of shredded turkey into it so they can heat through and soak up all this flavor before I form a steaming standing pool of yum on the plate.

Said steaming pool of yum will envelop my now hot and ready dinner.  Admittedly, the feta squished a bit more than I’d hoped, and the cranberries ran, but using some gentle pressure on the turkey to hold everything together, and sliding a flat spatula between the filling and the foil, I remove my savory stack from its baking sheet.  I press down on the center of the filling while sliding the can carefully up, essentially extruding my whole turkey dinner into a skyscraper on my plate.

Oh, and I whip together a quick salad as an accompaniment (some iceberg, ranch dressing, slivered onions, and scallions.  It’s all I had in the house…).

All the flavors of Thanksgiving, vertically presented.  My puffed feta cheese nestles a vibrant layer of tart cranberry relish, and a pedestal of savory cornbread stuffing buttresses a steaming stack of unctuous tender pulled turkey, all draped with rich, smooth giblet gravy.  It’s the same meal I’ve enjoyed a few times already, but presented in oh such a sumptuous way.  And I daresay it tasted even better tonight, constructed as it was with such delicacy and respect.  Dropping absolutely no new dimes on this dinner by making it completely from leftovers and simple items from my fridge helped, too.  If all leftovers could be this elegant, I might eat them more often…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

After a miserably hot summer, August has proven to be quite mild this year – the other day dropping to the low 60’s.  Needless to say, I complained about the chill, which gave me a head  cold and has laid me up with the sniffles and whines.  But the cooler weather does mean I can use the kitchen more, whereas a few weeks ago even boiling water increased the ambient temperature in the apartment from unbearable to murderous.  It also means I hanker for more substantive meals – like tonight’s braised lamb leg and chevre infused mashed potatoes.  Hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, this rich, glorious, tender mutton was ideally paired with fluffy potatoes flavored with goat-cheesy gameyness, all topped with cooling cucumber tzatziki.  Even if my cold has gotten worse, the ingestion of such delicious stuff did make me feel better…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

2lb boneless leg of lamb
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups small tomatoes
2 tbs fresh oregano leaves
chicken broth
EVOO
1-1 1/2lbs white potatoes
1/2 cup half & half
4 oz goat cheese
3 tbs butter
8 oz Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber
1-2 tbs lemon zest
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 tbs chopped chives

Usually, I make a larger piece of lamb so Clayton and I can make sandwiches with the leftovers, but today I just purchased what looked more like a 3″ thick steak than anything else.  It was rolled and tied, which I ultimately could have removed (since, as you’ll see, it unraveled on its own accord later), but for now I just dusted the whole hunk with salt, pepper, and flour before dropping it into my medium roasting pan with a glug of EVOO heated to high.

I sear each side, including the 3″ wide edges, until the meat is a nice golden brown.

These are some of our little tomatoes, grown on our wee roof-deck.  We’re calling them compost tomatoes, since they sprang unbidden from the compost-mixed-dirt Clayton filled the boxes with before actually planting any seedlings.  They’re delicious — very sweet and complex — although their skins are very thick and a bit tough.  Still – we keep getting scads of these, so I decided to use most of them to make a sort of tomato sauce for the lamb.

After the mutton joint is browned all over, I add most of my chopped onion (reserving about 3 tbs for my yogurt sauce), my oregano leaves, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, and my de-stemmed tomatoes to the pan.

Using the veggies as a sort of rack, I lay my lamb across them and add about an inch of chicken broth the the pan.

Even though it’s cool enough to use the oven, I decide to throw the pan, covered with foil, out into Little Red on the deck anyway.  I shut the lid, and let this braise for about an hour before checking on it.

Meanwhile, I remove the skin and seeds from my cucumber, trying to drain out as much liquid as possible.  Tzatziki shouldn’t be too wet, so I sometimes even salt the cucumber and let it drain some more if I fear it will leech too much into the yogurt.  I also mince some garlic very finely; I’ll only need a 1/4 teaspoon or so, since raw garlic is so very potent.

I mix the remainder of my onion, my chopped cucumber, and my garlic with some salt and pepper before adding my yogurt.

The final ingredient is lemon zest – which gives this sauce a bright flavor.  I put the bowl in the fridge to chill while the rest of dinner comes together.

At the hour mark, my meat is already tender, and I can almost pull it apart with two forks.  As you can see, it also wiggled its way out of the butcher’s net – so I fish that out of the pan and chuck it in the trash.  At this point, I remove the foil paper and close the lid on Little Red again, so that the meat can brown some more and most of the remaining chicken stock can boil off.

Clayton was in charge of the potatoes today, and he got them started before I could snap any pictures.  Luckily, I caught him in the act and snapped this little, relatively uninformative candid.  But basically, we peeled the potatoes, cut them into smaller pieces, and boiled them until tender in salted water.  Then he he added the half & half, butter, and goat cheese to the pan, and mashed everything up together real nice. A little salt and pepper was added, too.

After about 30 more minutes on Little Red, and the meat has nicely browned.  I remove it from the pan…

… which I put on high heat on the stovetop to reduce even further, stirring well to blend all the ingredients together.  This makes the tomatoes spill their guts into the hot oil and chicken fat, thickening the sauce to a red gravy.

The meat falls apart with nary a nasty look, and I add the chunks back into the pan and mix it well with the lovely tomato sauce, until everything is well coated.

A hearty helping of chevre mashed potatoes is layered with tender, juicy, flavorful lamb, the gameyness of which is cut by a perfect balance of tomato and creamy cucumber tzatziki.  I drizzle a little of the red oil leftover in the pan over the whole dish, and scatter some fresh chives for color and zip.  My heart is warmed through by the incredible taste, and my aching body thanks me for providing it with such sublime enrichment.  If I have more dishes like these on my winter horizon, I won’t mind it when the cold weather finally comes.

One final parting shot for my dear readers: the breathtaking Cambridge sky.  If only my camera could really capture all the magnificent beauty.  Dearest Uprooted Magnolia, where are you and your camera-eye when I need you?

Chicken, White Bean, and Tomatillo Stew

I love white chicken chili.  I’ve made it before on this blog, as a matter of fact — perhaps I should review that recipe to see if I’m just recreating it here.  Nah – what’s wrong with eating something twice?  And since I rarely use a recipe, per se, I venture to guess this one’s somewhat different than my past attempts, but it was still delicious.  It’s as warm and hearty as your traditional red beef and bean chili, but it seems lighter and less heartburn inducing than its more sanguine cousin.  There’s just something about the tart flavor of tomatillos simmered with the satisfying starch of cannellini beans that gets my motor running.

Chicken, White Bean, and Tomatillo Stew

4-6 fresh tomatillos (or 1 can of whole tomatillos)
3-4 cloves garlic
1 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced celery
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
3 cubanelle peppers (if you like it hotter, go for habanero or jalapeno!)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 qt chicken stock
1 can small white cannellini beans
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded white cheese (this is American – but queso fresco would work nicely, too)
1 cup minced cilantro leaf
1 avocado, diced

Except for all the simmering, this is a fairly quick and easy dish to make, so I start by roasting my peppers.  I’ve whined before about my body’s inability to deal with spicy foods in comfortable ways, but I hate not having *any* of the pleasure peppers bring, so I’ve started picking less hot babies and roasting them to add to my dishes.  These cubanelle peppers were perfect – they’d bring me the full-flavored punch of pepper without any of the heat, and they are easy enough to roast.  I douse them in EVOO, sea salt, and pepper before laying them on a foil-lined baking sheet and tossing them in a 400° oven for 8 minutes.

They get turned once, then put back in the oven to finish roasting for another 8 or so minutes, or…

… until their skins are almost completely blackened – like so!  I reserve the flavorful oil on the pan, and …

… move the peppers to a paper bag, so that they can sweat off their tough papery skins.

Using the flat of my blade, I scrape off the skin, then I roughly chops the peppers, removing most of the spicy seeds.  I set this aside to add to the stew later.

I’ve washed and patted dry my chicken thighs before adding them to my deep wok to sear in the roasting-pepper EVOO I saved from before.

I brown them fully on both sides.

Once the chicken has a nice tan, I add my tomatillos – from which I’ve removed their paper and washed off their sticky stuff (you know they’re gooseberries, right?) – my onion and my garlic.  I let everything sautee for a moment…

… before adding my celery…

… stock and beans…

… and my roasted peppers.  It doesn’t really matter what order you add everything in.  I was sort of Swedish Cheffing this, but I got everything in there eventually.

Finally, I turn the heat down to low, cover my wok, and let the whole mess simmer for 30-45 minutes.

After the long stewage, I check my meat.  With barely a dirty glance, my thighs just fall right apart. (Provocative, no?)  The tomatillos have disintegrated, the peppers have melted into the stock, and the gravy is thick and rich. Perfect!

The last thing to do is slice my avocados…

… shred my cheese, and mince my fresh leaves of cilantro.

I forgot to grab some sour cream, which with I usually garnish this dish, so instead I infused some heavy cream right into the stew to cool down any heat and add the right amount of lactic acid to round out the flavors.  Served with some tortilla chips for dipping and sopping, this bowl of braised chicken thighs in whitegreen gravy garnished with peppery cilantro, cool silky avocado, and melting shredded cheese was just the right thing for my cold, rainy Sunday night dinner.  Bon appetit!

Spicy Pepper-Skin Chicken and Sprouts with Farmstead Cheese Gravy

The Busa farmstand, on Lexington Road, has been my husband’s domain all this year.  From there, he’s brought me most of the vegetables that have been featured in posts of this summer’s past – all sown and grown by his handsome self.  It’s been a successful year… so successful, in fact, that they’re considering expanding their business next, to include bacon from the veritable Blood Farms, perhaps local cheeses, milk, and eggs and fresh, free range chickens, turkeys and capons from Seven Acres Farm in North Reading, Massachusetts.  We’re in sample mode these days, and Farmer Fran brought Clayton and I one of those free range chickens — so fresh kill’t I swear it still had some life in it.  This zaftig beauty’s breasts put Sofia Vergara to shame, and her tender plump thighs were so packed with oozing flavor that I swear I fell in love.  My idea was simple: use the block of farmstead cheese Clayton brought home from Codman Farms the other day, and the Brussels sprouts in the fridge, and the leftover pepperoni from a couple meals ago.  The result: a crispy-skinned, pepperoni-laced roasted chicken, with crispy-edged, pepperoni-topped sprouts, drizzled with a rich creamy cheese sauce.  It was simultaneously pork spicy, chicken juicy, and earthy sweet green, all basking in a blend of drippings, paprika oils, and nutty velvet cream.  So simple, so sinful, so good.


Spicy Pepper-Skin Chicken and Sprouts with Farmstead Cheese Gravy

1 3-4lb fresh chicken
4 cloves garlic, peeled
12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
40 slices pepperoni (the spicier and oilier the better)
2 tbs butter
1 tbs flour
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb fantastic farmstead cheese — this is like a cross between a swiss and cheddar
paprika, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper, sea salt
EVOO

I’ve used the “stuff-stuff-under-the-skin” technique before — using fresh herbs, or compound butters, or slices of apple, or minced garlic and chopped rosemary — all with great success.  And recently I tried the idea of floating pepperoni slices on top of halved Brussels sprouts to spice and oil them as they roast, resulting in caramelized faces, steamed and flavored interiors, topped with spicy porky crispy chips.  (I heard you could do this over home-roasted nuts, too.  I have purposefully not purchased any nuts to test that, for I am afraid.  Afraid of uncontrollable snack-love.)  Anyway, I thought, well, if them ‘ronis can pepper and sizzle over sprouts, they can certainly do so under a roasting skin.  So, using my fingers and hands, I loosen my bird’s skin from her flesh, and tile a single layer of pepperonis between the membrane and the pink, covering as much real estate as I can across the breasts, in the thighs, and along the sternum.

See?  This takes about 20 slices of meat.

Before I tie my bird’s legs together at the ankles, I trim the excess fat from the cavity and chuck it into a large hot skillet.  I figure, why not use the chicken’s own fat, instead of butter or EVOO, to sear everything?  I render this…

… yielding me about 2 tablespoons of perfectly clear drippings.  I remove the fat chunks from the pan (and, I admit, take a wee nibble of rich yummy cracklin’)…

and then layer my sprouts, cut side down, in a single layer along the outer rim of the hot pan.

I then layer my pepperoni over all my sprouts, trying to make sure all each veg is covered by super-spicy salami.  (Kind of looks like a Christmas wreath, doesn’t it?  Happy Holidays!)

Into the center of this my precious of deliciousness, I place my trussed chicken.  Oh yeah — I’ve inserted a few peeled, crushed cloves of garlic in the cavity, just to scent from within, and I’ve salted, peppered, and EVOO’d the skin generously.  Into a hot 425° this goes.  About 35 minutes later, I temp it at 140°.  I crank the heat up to broil before putting the bird back in the oven for a final 10 minutes to crisp up on the outside.

 Meanwhile, I start my cheese gravy.  This special product hails from Robinson Farm, who supplies their lactic lusciousness to several great locations around Boston.  The Prescott, today’s variety, isn’t one of their regular offerings, but I would describe it as a nutty, sweet, raw-silk textured cross between a cheddar and a swiss cheese.  It was the perfect choice for tonight’s meal — not too aggressive, not too sticky, light and flavorful.

It grates perfectly.  I have to keep slapping away Clayton’s pinching fingers.

I add two tablespoons of butter to a large saute pan, then make a roux by tanning a tablespoon of flour in the hot fat.

I add my heavy cream to the roux and bring to a simmer over medium heat before whisking in the cheese.  When it is smooth, thick, and creamy, I season it with paprika, garlic powder, and oregano (to compliment the likely spices in my pepperoni) and bump it with salt and pepper until it’s just right.

My chicken is PERFECT.  It temps at 160°, and my skin is so crisp it hits hollow when I tap it with my knife tip.  But when I pierce it with my knife tip — oh, that’s the real sexy.  Clear, steaming juices rush out… quivering white meat snuggles within, and a crunchy seam of spice and pepper pork is threaded throughout.  I slice this bird right in half.  What?  We’re HUNGRY!

 This saucy bird has got it all: pep, cream, green, and golden brown skin.  She’s tender and sweet, but still has a spicy edge to her, too.  Her roasted sprout halves and toasted meat slices add savor to the white cheese slather that bathes and bastes her ripe and ready body.

As I dig in with my fork and my daintiest knife (it’s that tender!), the juices from the chicken dribbles into the creamy sauce, depositing puddles of red spicy oil that makes my mouth water.  What a delight!  I wish I had company tonight — ‘cuz this was definitely a company dinner.