Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Chicken Under A Brick

In Italy, Pollo Al Mattone, is a pan fried chicken dish pressed with  a heavy weight to get as much contact between skin and heat as possible. I've seen version on the grill. I've seen versions that are all stove top. I've seen versions that sear on the stove and finish in the oven,  although that hardly seems traditional. I assume these older dishes were made in houses without ovens and in fact the whole process today seems to mimic the crispy skin more easily created by roasting at high heat (or in a neighborhood rosticceria).
A recipe originally from Tuscany, the dish is thought to have originated in the town (really part of Florence now) of Impruneta famous for terra cotta tiles and pots -- just the thing to weigh down your cooking bird. Made for the feast day of Saint Luke -- Impruneta's patron -- Pollo Al Mattone has fed generations of revelers and pilgrims alike in the hillside village.
To help flatten our bird I removed the backbone and -- although this isn't at all traditional most of the ribcage and breastbone too. My chicken laid nearly flat with the legs giving just a bit of protection to the more easily dried out breast meat. I marinated our bird overnight in garlic, lemon, olive oil, rosemary and fresh thyme. When it was time to cook I poured a shimmer of olive oil in a hot skillet and laid in the chicken (with some sprigs of rosemary on the breast) skin side down, weighted with a heavy iron frying pan. After 5 minutes or so I moved the whole contraption to a 500º oven/. After 15 minutes I removed the weight and flipped the bird over to further crisp for another 10 minutes.
Though certainly not flashy and hardly chic of us this simple homey dish is the perfect way to ring in the new year and fortify for the perils and excitement of 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Leftovers Reborn

When I looked into our fridge and saw leftover scalloped potatoes and the remains of our not quite Christmas Day prime rib, I thought hash. Well to be honest I looked at the beef and thought hash. I probably first thought that while I was roasting the meat or maybe even before. But using those leftover potatoes sadly didn't even occur to me until I was almost starting to fry. I had purpose boiled a couple potatoes but when I started to think about my hash beng a combination of onions, beef, potatoes and cream I realized those scalloped spuds were just the right ingredient (and my boiled potatoes could be surprise breakfast has browns). I started a skillet with come of the beef fat from the roast over medium heat. When I had a good bit of rendered fat I removed anything solid and added my chopped scalloped potatoes (already flavored with plenty of thyme) reserving as much of he cream sauce as possible for later use. I let those brown for about 10 minutes and then added in a chopped onion and let the two vegetables cook together for about another 10 minutes until the onion was transucent. Next went in the chopped beef, garlic, fresh sage, cayenne pepper and a pinch of nutmeg (the potatoes already had a hit of both garlic and nutmeg). I let the beef brown in the skillet for about 5 minutes or so and then added in the cream sauce I'd set aside from the potatoes along with a hit of fresh cream and brought the heat up to high just long enough for the hash to build a tasty bottom crust. I flipped (as much as I could) and let the other side crisp while I quickly fried an egg to set on top -- runny yolk and all.
A diner style dinner that still feels like Christmas

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Hambone

With all the rain we've been having the internet has been so slow I couldn't even post James' slow cooking dinner last night. While it rained outside our Christmas hambone helped cook up a savory pot of beans flavored with apple cider. I brought soaked beans, water, apple cider, the hambone, 1 quartered yellow onion, fresh thyme, fresh sage leaves, carrots (because I had them and because I though the sweetness would play well off the cider), bay leaves, chili flakes, and plenty of cracked black pepper to a boil and then allowed the pot to simmer and bubble until the beans were tender -- tasting and adding salt along the way. A great way to stay warm and toasty while it storms outside.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Holdover

Christmas ended up being a pretty lazy day around here, fresh baked sweets for breakfast, napping, halfway watching Christmas movies and the NBA game. Instead of the elaborate Norman Rockwell style dinner I'd planned James ended up eating fried eggs and ham leftover from the night before. Not exactly magazine ready.
Ignoring the blasphemy I took a knife to the prime rib and sliced it into steaks for later in the week. The brussels sprouts cook up fine any day, but I couldn't let these popovers go. I had the batter ( 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 tsp salt, 4 eggs) mixed up and waiting in the fridge. So as I prepared to pan-fry the steaks I set the oven to 450º and filled each cup of a muffin tim with about 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp of beef fat. After 5 minutes in the oven the fat was melted and hot (it would have been better if I'd pre-heated the pan before adding the fat I think) I poured in the batter and popped the popovers into the hot oven. After 20 minutes I lowered the oven temperature to 350º and let the dough cook for another 20 minutes.
What emerged were delightfully puffy, high, eggy, crusty breads that really felt like an occasion.
I was more than a little proud.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Time To Cook

I'm using my holiday vacation to get back into the swing of cooking and to treat James to some long overdue dinners.
Our CSA meat box from Victorian Farmstead came today. Inside were a pair of cube steaks. I'm sure there are other ways to prepare that cut but when I see cube steak I think chicken fried steak. For me it's hard to see anything but chicken fried steak.
So, though I honestly think it's been years since I made it, I whipped up a Southern/ Western style diner dinner -- chicken fried steak and cream gravy, mashed potatoes, and because we still have a fridge full of our garden harvest, kale braised with plenty of slab bacon.
It's been so long since I've made these crispy steaks I actually had to look up my recipe -- and then change it a bit of course. For our two steaks, in one bowl I beat one egg with a bit of tabasco sauce and S&P, In a second bowl I mixed about 1/2 cup of flour with garlic powder, paprika, and a dash of chili powder. I dipped the steaks in the egg and then coated them in the flour and laid them in a sizzling hot iron skillet loaded with melted bacon grease. I usually fry in oil which makes a lighter, crispier coating but tonight that smokey bacon flavor called to me. After the steaks were fried on both sides and moved to waiting plates I added the rest of the coating flour into the skillet and cooked a quick roux for the gravy that I thinned with fresh whole milk.
Steaks and cream gravy -- with just a little pickle on the side.
That's what I call vacation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Breakfast

 James mentioned the other day that he had been craving cinnamon rolls. "The kind they sell with the thick white icing," he explained.
I've been wanted an excuse to try an overnight cinnamon roll recipe -- the kind that take a long rise in the fridge before baking in time for breakfast. Sounds just like Christmas to me.I started with a recipe from -- someone I have never trusted before -- Food Network's Alton Brown. His dough was fairly similar to the parker house rolls I made for our Christmas eve dinner, milk butter eggs and just a bit more sugar. Easy enough. But Alton advocates a cream cheese frosting and I knew that was not the sticky super sweet white James had in mind. I whipped up a glaze of  1 cup powdered sugar, 2 TB melted butter, 2 TB milk and a dash of vanilla.
Merry Christmas Honey!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Welcome Santa: Christmas Eve 2012

 Classic Americana. Mustard brown sugar glazed ham, scalloped potatoes, lemony green beans and parker house rolls. James favorites for a cozy Christmas for two.
We don't have many traditions, but as long as I've known James I've made this unbeatable gingerbread cake every year. Flavored with hearty guinness stout,  the recipe is a specialty of New York's Gramercy tavern's (former) elite pastry chef Claudia Fleming. Fleming may have moved on to her own restaurant on the North Fork but her recipe lives on.
Christmas for two -- warm hearts and lots of leftovers.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gone So Long

I've been away so long. I am out of practice, to say the least. I left home just after Thanksgiving thinking it would be a day or maybe two. Work happens, life happens, family happens and here I am nearly a month later just venturing back into my little kitchen.
I decided to start small. A quick pasta.
Our "girls" have been working so we have plenty of eggs. Salami lasts quite a while so we have a bit to add for flavor into this make-shift carbonara. While the pasta boiled I sautéed chunks of salami, garlic and chili peppers in olive oil until the pork was just crisped and the oil flavored with the cured meat's spices. Next I beat a couple eggs and a small handful of grated parmesan cheese with plenty of cracked black pepper.
I poured the hot drained pasta back into the pot along with the salami mixture, eggs and a splash of pasta cooking water. With just a few minutes of vigorous stirring those separate ingredients came together to a creamy, cheesy sauce.
Dinner is back.