Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lidia's chicken, plus a really good day

Friends with recipes: Besides stealing from other people's blogs, I like to borrow recipes from friends. They accumulate in my email with a special green label and then, sadly, are often forgotten about. Nevertheless, there are some good ones in there: chocolate chip banana bread from Julie; Gina's lasagne; and Thomas Keller's Moules au Safron by way of Nicole. I've even hounded my friends for their parents' recipes: the file contains Neal's mother's plum cake and Liz's mother's chicken tagine. (Incidentally, Neal and Liz are married and I think that entree and dessert would be a nice combination for a dinner party, to which they should invite me.)

I did get around to one from the folder a few weeks ago--Lidia's pan roasted chicken with olives and pine nuts, another from Liz, who is probably reading this thinking, I gotta get some new friends that don't talk about me on their nerdy blogs.

Anyhow, to the point. The chicken is the point, and the chicken was delicious! Whenever you've got pan-roasted anything with white wine and garlic, you know you're going to be happy. The fact that the recipe calls for those lovely, briny, bright green Castelvetrano olives was a total bonus. 

One thing, though: the recipe needs more of a sauce, an opinion voiced by even the sauce-averse husband. In fairness to Liz, she did tell me this at the outset, but I decided to make the recipe as printed the first time around. Next time, I would definitely sauce it up with more wine and some chicken broth.

In any case, the chicken emerged from the pan sticky and flavorful. The pine nuts were crunchy and unexpected and perfect with the olives. The husband noted the recipe could stand a little bacon; he has a point, but then again, most things could.


Fried egg Tuesday: Though I claim to be largely non-fussy in the food department, I am rather finicky when it comes to breakfast. I have two things every morning: coffee and grapefruit juice, both of which I am basically addicted to. When it comes to the eating part, mostly I just want bread or other baked goods. I force a yogurt down once in awhile, which is improved by the husband's homemade granola but which I find otherwise gag-worthy, no matter the flavor or type. Can't get on board with oatmeal. So, it's usually toast.

One day this last week, I popped the toast in the toaster. Business as usual. But then I started feeling froggy. Hell, I'm going to have a fried egg, I decided.

As a recent convert to eggs, I don't have much of a track record with cooking them, particularly fried, but I decided to give it a go. Since we don't have a non-stick skillet I knew there could be issues with getting the egg out of the pan, so I added a few drops of canola oil to the melting butter. And wouldn't you know, that was just the trick. Sunny-side up, please!


No complaints: Today I am hopelessly in love with San Francisco. It's January, blue skies, and 60 degrees. To take advantage of the good weather, we piled in the car with Soph and headed to the Presidio, where we took a bit of a walk, winding up at this nice little vista.

I'm not saying this is a great picture, or even a good picture--you know my forte is unleashing the macro setting on something I'm about to eat. About panoramic views I am clueless. But, I like this one. You've got two  major San Francisco icons--Alcatraz, and the domed top of the Palace of Fine Arts,  constructed in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition and now home to the Exploratorium. And then there's the Pacific Ocean. Any view that includes the ocean is a winner.

After our walk, we hit up Hukilau, where we scored an outdoor table and ate Ahi poke, teriyaki short ribs, and mac salad, washed down with some cold Hawaiian beers. It only occurs to me now, hours later, that I could have taken a photo of lunch, but at the time, I wasn't thinking about it. Sometimes it's good to forget about what you should be doing and just be.

These kinds of days are my favorite--nowhere to get to, enjoying being in the sun, close to the ocean, and with my little pack. Throw in a good lunch and I'm in heaven. What about you, what constitutes your favorite day?

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Bonne idee: If you're looking for something lovely, simple, and light to serve as a little snack or starter, you may want to try gougeres.

Gougeres is French for cheese puffs (I think), which is exactly what these are--delicate puffs of air with a faintly cheesy background. Not heavy, not gooey, just right.

They require a pate a choux dough,  a savory version of what you might use for their sweet cousin, the cream puff. If you've never made this dough, it's surprisingly simple. Bring some milk and butter to a boil, add flour, then eggs, and beat the life out of it (or into it, perhaps). Having a stand mixer is awfully nice for this recipe but you could do it with a hand mixer too.

I made gougeres once before, from a different cookbook, but which used pretty much an identical method. They also turned out wonderfully. I have a vague memory of that recipe calling for a bit of fresh thyme; that was a nice addition. That's one thing about gougeres: you can tweak them with herbs and cheese to get just the combination that suits your taste.

But Dorie's recipe, which is the one I used this time around, was simple and perfect. I opted for sharp cheddar, but next time I'll use Gruyere--I think that flavor might be a bit stronger, and I felt myself craving a cheesier essence.

In any event, give these a go--they're easy, delicious, and just a little bit impressive. Oh, and Dorie recommends you serve them with Champagne. Who am I to argue?

From Around My French Table

Makes about 36 gougeres

1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. water
8 T. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 t. salt
1 c. flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyere or cheddar (about 6 oz.)

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.

Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rapid oil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over high heat. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low, and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring--with vigor--for another minute or two to dry the dough. The dough should now be very smooth.

Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or into a bowl that you can use for mixing with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is shiny and thick. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don't be concerned if the dough separates--by the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Beat in the grated cheese. Once the dough is made, it should be spooned out immediately. 

Using about 1 T. of dough for each gougere, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between the mounds. (You can also use a pastry bag or ziploc bag with the corner trimmed off to get fancier puffs, which is what I did before--this time around, I just spooned and dropped.)

Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougeres are golden, firm, and, yes, puffed, another 12-15 minutes or so. Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.

Note: Dorie says that although the dough must be spooned out immediately, you can freeze the gougeres on a pan, unbaked, then bake the off at the last minute. No need to defrost, just give them a minute or two longer in the oven.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Duck with red-wine sauce and candied kumquats

Duck, two ways: Up until Christmas Day 2011, I had only cooked duck once in my life, with moderate success. Looking back, I can't recall the recipe I used, only that I overcooked it. Overcooking duck a little bit is not the worst thing, as it's still edible. But it's disappointing, because duck isn't cheap.

I decided to give it another go this holiday season, combining two recipes for Christmas dinner. I used the heavenly marinade and cooking method described here but made the fig and port sauce described here  which happens to be one I've made a few times to go alongside roasted pork. Well, let me tell you. This duck turned out exactly as I had hoped, medium-rare with a crispy skin, and served with a wild mushroom risotto, it was perfection.

Flying high (get it?) on my Christmas duck success, I opted to try it again for New Year's Eve. In case you hadn't noticed, when I get into something, I get into it. But I wanted to try a different recipe and method. Whereas the first recipe called for slowly rendering the fat, then crisping the duck, the second threw caution to the wind and just went straight for the crisping.

This recipe was courtesy of Ms. Greenspan, another hit from her seemingly endless supply. I found it in her cookbook, Around My French Table, which you know I adore, but I also found it here for you, in slightly increased proportions. When I don't have to type out a recipe I'm a happy girl.

Dorie's duck recipe rivaled the first, no question. It would have been hard to beat the flavor from the first marinade, but this recipe was so elegant with the wine sauce and the whimsical kumquats, I had to claim the competition a draw. It would have been excellent with polenta but as I was running late and we were both a little full from an enthusiastic snacking session, we opted just for sauteed chard. And you know, it was enough.

One thing: I took these pictures and then realized I had forgotten to drizzle the sauce over, which looked rosy and gorgeous. But once I remedied this, I wanted to eat. Photographing food will never supersede eating food in my book. So, you'll have to use your imagination on this one.


And now I'm a movie critic too: We've been watching a lot of movies recently, and I thought I'd share with you three recommendations: one old, one newish, and one still in the theaters.

Klute (1971): Klute has three major things going for it: 1) Donald Sutherland (I'll watch DS at any age but it's fun to see him with a shock of dark hair) 2) Jane Fonda, in a performance that earned her an Oscar and 3) New York City in the 1970's, a setting so iconic it deserves its own screen credit.  The plot is this: a man disappears, and, when the police fail to find him, his friend, played by Donald Sutherland, takes matters into his own hands. His search for his friend leads him to a prostitute in New York City (Jane Fonda), who claims not to know the missing man but clearly has some connection to him. I happen to find movies of this period interesting: gritty films emerging on the heels of a more innocent time. I think you'll find it worth watching; whether or not you enjoy it maybe another issue. Death, prostitution, and junkies rarely make for a bundle of laughs.

Super 8 (2011): Even if this didn't have Kyle Chandler in it (you know I love me some Coach Taylor), I'd still recommend it. Set in a small town, Super 8 is reminiscent of both E.T. and Stand by Me: a group of young boys shooting a horror movie on their, yes, Super 8 camera, witness a bizarre train accident in the middle of the night, which is only the beginning of a series of strange events. Chandler plays the Deputy Sheriff and father of one of the boys.

The movie is set in 1979 and anyone who was alive in that year will appreciate the careful attention to period details: the appearance of the first Walkman, "My Sharona" blaring in the background. We really enjoyed this movie: it was exciting, well-acted and written, and satisfying. Plus Elle Fanning is in it and I think she's great--she was also in Somewhere, another solid film, but not the subject of this review.

The Descendants (2011):  I loved this and not only because it's set in Hawaii and stars a weathered but foxy-as-ever George Clooney. I found it smart, funny, and touching (no surprise as the director, Alexander Payne, also made Election and Sideways.) While the events of the movie are small (an accident, infidelity, father-daughter strife), their impact is large, something which is often true in real life. Few of us have truly unique experiences: love and loss are universal, yet they are, to the individual, monumental. And yet, even in moments of great joy or sorrow, one's tiny life is always set against the backdrop of something infinitely larger. In the case of Clooney's Matt King, the background is slightly more specific: the acres of pristine property his ancestors have owned on Kauai for decades, which are now to be sold to the highest bidder, at least if his cousins have their way. While muddled in the details of his failed marriage and his weaknesses as a parent, Matt also holds the power to preserve something that will outlast them all.

I thought the movie was fantastic and look forward to rewatching it at some point. I'm giving it an A, no reservations. A friend of mine ranked it a B+; I can't imagine what she found lacking. (Note to self: grill LD about her stingy movie rating system).

I hope you check out some of these films. I think you might enjoy them.