January 30, 2008
Chicken with creamy lemon and artichoke sauce

lemonchook.jpgJanuary is not a very inspiring month for cooking. The choice of seasonal vegetables is slim and very starchy. You've used up all your best festive ideas over the holidays. And the stress and excitement of Christmas and the new year means your defences are down and you catch the mother of all colds. I have to say that this dish was an antidote to all of the above. The lemon gives you vitamin C and revives your taste buds with a fresh zing. The chicken and garlic give you strength to face a cold January day. And the cream, well, is comforting and indulgent, as it always is. And the best part, for me, is that it was a tiny chink in the artichoke-resistant armor of the Critic. He thinks he doesn't like artichokes, but I am slowly starting to change his mind.

One of the ways I overcome the dearth of good vegetables in the winter is to turn to the freezer section of the store. In the summer, I stick to fresh and seasonal vegetables but in the middle of the winter, I am a bit more relaxed. And when I do buy them, I like to favor the ones that are, frankly, too much of a pain to prepare under normal circumstances. For this reason, artichoke hearts and fava beans are frequently to be found in my freezer.

Another advantage to using frozen artichoke hearts, of course, is that this is very quick and easy to prepare! I served it over rice because the Critic also has a quinoa aversion. However, next time I think I'll prepare a little of each as I am a complete fan and think it would look beautiful over a mound of red quinoa grains!

Chicken with a creamy lemon and artichoke sauce (serves 2)

2 boned chicken breasts
2 cloves garlic
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup (110 ml) cream
a splash of wine
6 frozen artichoke hearts
1 tsp fresh or frozen basil
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil

Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed frying pan with the oil. Finely chop the garlic and add it to the butter and oil. Cut the chicken in bite-sized pieces and add them to the pan. Brown them on all sides. Add the wine and lemon juice and deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up any bits of garlic or chicken that have stuck to the bottom. Slice the artichoke hearts and add them to the pan. Add the cream and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the artichoke pieces are tender. Stir in the basil and taste for salt. Serve over grains or pasta, as your fancy takes you!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:45 AM | Comments (2)
January 22, 2008
Creamy Polenta with Mushroom Ragout

It's getting cold out there. So let's make it warm inside. Creamy polenta is a great way to warm yourself up, as are earthy mushroom in a red wine and cream sauce.

Polenta can be served many ways - and I'll be exploring some of those ways in the next few weeks - but serving it as a creamy porridgey goop is one of the most warming ways. I swiped the idea of adding cream cheese from Elise over at Simple Recipes, though I cut back on it a little since the rest of the meal is heavy.

You can make basic polenta with just corn meal and water, but adding some fat does for it what adding a little butter does for oatmeal - makes it less of a chore to eat, and more of a true pleasure.

In the picture above, the mushrooms and polenta are served with a quick sautee of garlickly spinach and zucchini. Add a little lemon to the green veggies to help cut the wonderful warmth and weight of the polenta/mushroom combination.

Creamy Polenta
1 cup corn meal
4 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
1 teaspoon dried sage
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepot, boil four cups of water. Add the salt. Once the water is boiling, using a whisk, slowly stir in the cornmeal. Don't dump the cornmeal in all at once or you'll end up with lumps you won't be able to whisk out.

Once all the corn meal is incorporated, witch to a wooden spoon and continue to stir. Stir in the butter. Cook over medium-low heat for at least fifteen minutes, stirring frequently.

Next, stir in the cream cheese. The cheese should melt into the mix. Mix in the sage.

Taste (carefully, this is sticky hot goop) and adjust salt and pepper to taste. If you don't like the look of black pepper flakes, use white pepper instead.

Musroom Ragout
4 cups sliced portobella mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

If you buy whole large mushroom caps (it'll take about six for this recipe), cut them into quarters before slicing about 1/3" thick.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in the mushrooms, oregano, and a pinch of salt to help draw out the moisture.

Toss the mushrooms frequently to coat with the melted butter. Slowly more moisture will come out of the mushrooms. If they start to burn, reduce the heat and toss more frequently.

After the musrooms start to become tender, add the cream and wine and stir into the mushrooms. Reduce heat and cook over medium-low heat for ten minutes to reduce the liquids and get a nice rich creamy sauce.

Plate a circle of polenta in the middle of a plate, spooning the mushroooms on top.

In the photo the dish is shown with a quick side sautee of spinach and zucchini with garlic.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:04 AM | Comments (62)
January 15, 2008
Red Cabbage and Cumin Soup

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When I was young, my Austrian grandmother would make us stewed red cabbage with apple on cold winter days. I loved the jewel-like color of the dish and the sweetness. My sister once told me she had taken down the recipe from my grandmother, but when I asked her for it at Christmas she didn't remember ever having made it. So either I have an over-active imagination or she has a faulty memory, but the result is the same: we have lost the original recipe. Unfortunately, I had already picked up a head of cabbage when I found out we no longer have the recipe. And so I turned, as one does in this day and age, to the Internet. I found a lot of red-cabbage-and-apple dishes, but by the end of the search I was no longer interested in such a mundane recipe. The soup I came up with came from ideas gleaned all over the web, including this site; when one of the recipes called for caraway seeds, I remembered Barrett's brilliant pairing of cumin and cabbage and used that instead. The end result was perfect for a blustery winter day: warming and healthy and full of punchy flavors, with a beautiful purple sheen to warm the heart.

A note on the photo: I took this the first night I served the soup to the Critic, before I had the bright idea of adding fresh apple and goat's cheese to the garnish list. So if you read through the recipe and wonder why you don't see them, it's because the photo I took the next day at lunch wasn't as pretty, even if it did include all the ingredients. I take so many unsatisfactory photos that I just couldn't resist using the prettier one!

This is a wonderful winter soup, if only because it uses one of the few vegetables in season to have some color. Red cabbage is also sweeter than many other brassicas and so is more appealing to picky eaters like the Critic. I could tell that this was a dish he would never willingly order in a restaurant, but he finished his bowl and liked it. Unfortunately, he wasn't around to try the final version with goat's cheese, but I'm sure he would have liked it even better, as I did! The sharpness of the cheese offset the slightly sweet and spicy soup perfectly, adding a whole new layer of flavor.

The list of ingredients for this soup is fairly short and the cooking time too, making it a perfect dish for a busy cook!

Red Cabbage and Cumin Soup (makes 4 bowls)

1 small head of red cabbage (about 400g)
2 apples, one reserved
1 onion
3 Tbs butter
4 Tbs cumin, 1 Tbs reserved
8-10 roasted chestnuts (vacuum packed chestnuts can be substituted, but will have more flavor and texture if they are toasted in a hot oven for a few minutes)
1 crottin de chevre, or about 60 g goat's cheese
500 ml turkey or chicken stock
1 glass of white wine
1 glug of Pommeau (optional)
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pan. Chop the onion roughly and add to the butter. While the onion is softening, peel, core and chop one of the apples. Add it to the mixture and continue cooking until the apple is soft. Cut the cabbage in two and carve out the hard core. Slice the rest of the cabbage finely and add it to the apple and onion mixture. Cook for five minutes. With a mortar and pestle, crush 3 Tbs of the cumin and add to the pan. Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine. When it has reduced by half and any brown bits have been scraped from the bottom of the pan, add the broth. Simmer for half an hour, or until the cabbage is completely limp and cooked through. Use a stick blender or a food processor to reduce the soup to a glossy smooth consistency. Taste for seasoning; depending on your stock, you may need a good pinch of salt.

Just before serving, peel, core and cube the apple, crumble the cheese and break up the chestnuts. Crush the remaining cumin with the mortar and pestle. Stir the pommeau (if any) into the soup and garnish with apple, cheese, chestnuts and cumin.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:38 AM | Comments (8)
The Great Boston Molasses Disaster

Today is the 89th anniversary of what might be the strangest food-related disaster in U.S. history.

It was a mild winter afternoon when the 2.5 million gallon molasses tank at the Purity Distilling Factory burst. A wave of sticky brown molasses rolled down Commercial Street, covering the North End of Boston in a sweet, thick muck.

In the end, 150 people were injured, and 21 people and many horses were killed by the goop. Boston's North End retained the molasses smell for years afterwards.

I should mention that I will spend the day working in an office in South Baltimore, sandwiched between the Domino Sugar factory and a farm of - yes, it's true - giant molasses storage tanks.

Just in case, I usually park uphill from the tanks.

Wikipedia article here.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:50 AM | Comments (4)
January 7, 2008
Resolutions

xmaspudfire.jpgThe past month has been full of food and wonderful memories, but unfortunately not much writing here at Too Many Chefs. The Critic and I made a traditional English Christmas dinner for over 30 family members and friends at my mother's house in Illinois. In addition to the usual turkey, stuffing, ham, sausages, bacon and vegetables, the Critic made his spectacular mince pies and I prepared three massive Christmas puddings. I also rediscovered my grandmother's recipe for lentil soup and read a few good books about food. The baby discovered a few new taste sensations, including pureed roasted potatoes and Cheerios. The Toddler discovered licorice laces, candy necklaces and goldfish crackers. It was quite a good month for food, all in all.

So one of my new year's resolutions is to document some of the recipes, despite the fact that the holidays are over and no one will be searching for a Christmas pudding recipe until December 2008. I've been making our own Christmas puddings for three years now and each year in the rush to the holidays I neglect to post the recipe in time. So here it is, 11 months early...

The first year I made a Christmas pudding, there was a misconception and a load of mistrust to be overcome. The Critic had been telling me for years that a true Christmas pudding needed to be prepared 4-6 weeks before Christmas and involved frequent dosing with alcohol. When I finally came to research the recipe, however, I could find no mention of this practice. All the recipes seemed pretty straightforward and at most included instructions on reheating the pudding on Christmas day. So I wrote my personal food hero, Nigel Slater. And, amazingly, I received a personal message from him the next day. The Critic was wrong. Christmas cake needs frequent dousing, but not the pudding. As for the mistrust, the Critic was so convinced that I wouldn't get the pudding "right" that he bought a couple of puddings in the UK, just in case. He doesn't do that any more. (Well, except for the pudding that found its way into my stocking this year, but that was more by way of a joke...)

He now fully admits that my Christmas pudding is a bit less dense, bit more moist and infinitely preferable to the store-bought ones. And I owe it all to Nigel. (From whom I also pinched a recipe, though I never follow it exactly.)

You can make this pudding a few days before you want to serve it and just reheat it on the day. Nigel suggests re-steaming it for 3 1/2 hours, which certainly works well. However, you can also pop it in the microwave for 7-10 minutes instead. If your pudding bowl is not microwave safe, re-steam it for 20 minutes to loosen the pudding from the bowl and then tip it onto a microwave safe plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave it. Unlike most baked desserts, this pudding doesn't really suffer at all from being microwaved.

Nigel and Meg's Christmas Pudding (serves 8 generously)

175 g yellow raisins (Nigel calls for sultanas, but the Critic has never been able to satisfactorily explain to me what this means so I either use yellow ones or a mixed bag from Trader Joe's)
175 g raisins
75 g dried figs, chopped
60 g candied peel
50 g dried apricots
40 dark glace cherries, halved
75 ml brandy
50 ginger in syrup, chopped, plus 2 tbsp of the syrup*
1 apple, grated
1 orange, juice and zest
3 eggs, beaten
125g shredded suet**
175 g soft muscovado sugar (you can substitute light brown sugar)
125 g fresh breadcrumbs
90 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
an old coin (sixpence is traditional, apparently, though my stepdaughter tells me her family stuffs the pudding with a variety of modern loose change)

To serve: 1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped, 1/2 cup brandy, 1 match or lighter

A note on the dried fruits: I have never actually followed this recipe as it is written above. Firstly, I don't know what sultanas are or what they would be called in the US or France. Secondly, I have this weird inability to distinguish between dates and figs and so have discovered that dates work well too. Thirdly, I sometimes don't have as many raisins as I think I do. So my advice is to assemble around 575 grams of the dried fruits YOU like, with an emphasis on big plump raisins. Other fruits which have found their way into my pudding include prunes, dried sweetened cranberries, currants, preserved mango and dried sweetened cherries. It's all good.

The night before you want to make the pudding, put all the dried fruits in a large bowl and stir in the brandy.

The next day, butter a 1 1/2 litre bowl liberally. The perfect pudding bowl is microwave safe, thick porcelain with a nice lip to it, to make tying its top on easy. I originally used a beautiful butter yellow Fiestaware bowl that came to me from my grandmother. Until I broke it, that is. This year, I bought a pudding bowl from The English Shop (12, rue Mesnil, 75016 Paris) which worked perfectly well but did not make my heart sing like the old yellow one did. It only cost a few euros, though, and I won't be as heartbroken when I break it.

In a large bowl mix the ginger, syrup, apples, orange juice and zest with the eggs, suet, sugar, crumbs, baking powder and flour. Add the fruit and brandy mixture and mix well. Pour into the greased bowl and even the top with a spoon. At this point, you can poke a well washed coin or two into the mix. Take a large piece of baking parchment or waxed paper and make a pleat in the center of it about an inch wide. Cover the bowl with the paper and tie it on the bowl tightly with a piece of string. If you have a thick lip on the bowl and a lot of confidence, you can also tie the string across the top of the bowl, making a handy loop to lift the pudding from the bowl when it is done.

If you have a large stock pot with a steam basket, it's ideal for this purpose. However, you can also steam the pudding by simply placing the basin in a large pot and adding a few inches of water. The main thing you want to worry about is checking every so often to make sure that the water has not boiled away. Bring the water up to a boil and then lower the temperature so that it's just barely boiling and keep it there for three and a half hours. Your windows will be steamed and the house will smell exactly like Christmas. Once it is cooked, remove the pudding from the pot. You can either tip it out onto a plate and serve it immediately or put it in a cool place for a few days. Nigel recommends removing the waxed paper cover and covering tightly with cling film, but I never bother personally.

To serve, reheat (if necessary, as mentioned above, in the microwave or with another 3 hours of steaming) and turn out onto a plate. Warm the brandy in a small saucepan. Fill a ladle with the warmed brandy, light it, and pour it over the pudding. Carry proudly into a darkened room to a chorus of "oooooohs". Blow out the flames and serve with a generous helping of whipped cream.

Below is a photo of last year's pudding in its steamer. The photo at the beginning of the post was taken by my brother this year, just as the Critic was pouring the flaming brandy over the pudding.

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* If you can't find ginger in syrup, it's very easy to make: peel and finely chop 50 g fresh ginger and cook it over a low flame in a solution of 75 grams of sugar in 75 ml of water for half an hour.

** In the UK, you can buy vegetarian suet in most supermarkets, which is what I have done until this year. Because the pre-packaged dried vegetarian option was not available to me, I had to go to the butcher section of my mother's grocery store and buy a big old hunk of beef fat, a.k.a. suet. I grated it in my sister's food processor and it was remarkably easy. I didn't notice any taste difference in the end result.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:44 AM | Comments (3)
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