Last Night’s Dinner, And Why I Hate Supermarket Butchers

10 11 2008

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Psst… Hey guess what? It’s root vegetable season! *Glee!* Fall has officially worked it’s way inside me, folks and it’s delicious! I finally got around to cleaning my kitchen and in celebration, I decided that it was befitting of me to destroy it all over again. It had been so long since I last cooked something more complicated than an egg and cheese sandwich that I almost forgot how much I simply love to cook. Really. That long. Well fret not, for I have seen the error of my ways and am now resolving to keep the battleground clean and cook at least one honest-to-goodness meal every week. For serious.

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So let me tell you all about last night’s dinner. Remember how I’ve been spewing forth my love of all things autumn for the last, oh, four months? Well I finally got around to eating my season. With a cart full of turnips, butternut squash, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin and celeriac, so began my journey. Down dried mushroom land, forward to expensive cheese land and with a quick pit stop to cut-up dead things land we were on our way to flavor country. Not before playing my favorite supermarket game though. It’s “Stump The Poor Checkout Lady” time! WEEEEEOOOO! It may make me sound like a horrible person, but one of my favorite parts of grocery shopping is getting to the checkout and enjoying the look of confusion and “what the fuck are you making, lady?” gazes that I get every time I try to buy my vegetables. Am I the only person in this town who eats this shit? Were I a more self-conscious person, I might start to develop a complex… The poor woman only got a 2/6; apparently parsnips and celery root aren’t excessively consumed in our fair city. Such is life, I suppose. So with my cart full of knobbly root vegetables and my soul satisfied with food-snobbery, I bid farewell to the supermarket and ran right home to begin The Chopping.

I’ve always really enjoyed doing vegetable cuts. It’s strange to most people and that I understand, but maybe it’s related to my love of garde-manger. Also, butchery. I hope it doesn’t sound to macabre, but I really do love butchery. I think I can chalk that one up to the little autistic kid inside of me that loves breaking things down into their proper parts and arranging them according to size and usage. Speaking of butchery, if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s supermarket butchers. Really. If you’ve been properly trained your job really isn’t too hard. Break down the meat, follow the bones, clean the silver skin and cartilage off, package and label. Breaking down a chicken is one of the easiest things to accomplish in butchery, so why did the chicken parts I bought come with a spine? Hmmm? When I see “skin on, bone in” on a pack of chicken breasts, it damn well better come with a part of a wing bone and ZERO spine. Zero. Spine. Do your job, it’s not hard. Anyways…

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So I’ve been anxious to try this for a while. Laying awake one night in the clutches of insomnia, I came up with a stuffed chicken idea. Turns out that I do all of my best thinking while I’m only half awake. Who’d have thought, huh? So was born the notion of wild mushroom stuffed chicken with bacon and gruyere. You heard me. Paired with a braise of my beloved fall underground dwellers it was the best part of a Sunday evening. Oh, you want to know how to make this do you? Well I suppose, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the “WFT?” looks you’ll get at the grocery store and the “OMG!” feeling you’ll get in your stomach when it’s all said and done.

Wild Mushroom Chicken and Braise of Fall Vegetables

For the chicken

2 bone in, skin on breasts of chicken
1 clove garlic, fine dice
2 shallots, fine dice
2 tbsp cooked bacon, diced*
1/4 cup dried mixed wild mushrooms**
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp butter, divided
1 tbsp herbs de provence
salt and pepper to taste

*do not use pre-packaged cooked bacon please. Just cook one strip and cut it up, mkay?
**you can buy mixed dried mushrooms. If your store doesn’t carry them, an even combination of porcini, portabello, oyster and shitake mushrooms will work.

For the vegetables

2 cups each of:
celeriac
parsnips
butternut squash
pumpkin
waxy white potatoes
turnips, all cut into one inch cubes
5 cloves garlic, smashed
6 tbsp olive oil
1.5 cups chicken stock
pinch of cloves
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Start with your vegetables. Skin and chop your ingredients for the braise. Over medium heat, sautee vegetables until they begin to color. You will have to do this in sections and remember to not overcrowd your frying pan; use 1.5 tbsp oil per each batch or thereabouts. Transfer vegetables to your roasting pan. Deglaze frying pan with the chicken stock and simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in your spices and pour brazing liquid over vegetables. Put in a 300 degree oven and cook for approximately 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Use a wooden spoon to stir, or a rubber spatula so you don’t turn your lovely cubes of vegetables into lovely baby food. Eat with your eyes.
You will know when your vegetables are done when there’s no more liquid in the pan and they are firm but tender when pierced with a knife, or pleasant to the bite.

While your vegetables cook, start the stuffing for your chicken. Over medium heat in a small saucepan, sweat shallots and garlic in 1 tbsp each butter and olive oil until soft. Deglaze with stock and bring to a slight boil. Add your mushrooms and herbs and simmer for about 20 minutes or until mushrooms have re hydrated. Strain the liquid and reserve. Mix bacon in with mushroom mixture, set aside.
To clean your chicken: hopefully your butcher isn’t an idiot, or maybe you bought a whole chicken to carve yourself, but clean the breast off of the bone, leaving the skin intact and up to the first joint of the wing bone if you were so lucky as to get one. I wasn’t and for this I am sad. Remove the tender from the back of the breast and set aside. Make a cut down the middle of the back of the breast that goes about half way in. From this cut, cut into each side to make a pocket in which to stuff your stuffing. If you’ve made chicken kiev or cordon bleu before then it’s exactly like that. Stuff the breasts with your mushroom and bacon mixture and grated cheese. Place your reserved tender over the pocket and using any loose skin or meat, close the pocket so that you can not see the filling. It’s tricky but can be done, I promise. Heat remaining oil and butter in a pan over medium high heat and brown chicken breasts, starting with the skin side. It helps to hold them closed with tongs sometimes so that you don’t lose your cheese when the meat starts to expand and shrink the skin. Once all sides are browned, place in a 350 oven and cook until done.
Deglaze your chicken fry pan with the reserved mushroom liquid and reduce until thick. Add more stock if you need to, or white wine if you have any. I didn’t have any but wish I had. No bigs.

Serve chicken on a bed of your lovely vegetable braise and a drizzling of reduction sauce. Eat this in your pajamas while watching Sunday night cartoons with a big mug of chai tea. Or whatever else makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Current earmeats: Parkway Drive, and I Killed The Prom Queen. It’s been a week of hardcore for me.

Happy Monday!

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Have A Happy Heart Attack

4 08 2008

Fire roasted bacon TRIPLE(eep!) cheese burger, courtesy of the great outdoors, and that little camping trip I had mentioned. I have never had something so awesome/bad for me in my life.

Fire roasted bacon– HIGHLY recommend.

Happy Monday!





The Gift of Meat and Whiskey: Father’s Day, Redux

16 06 2008

What do men like more than meat and liquor? Possibly, a combination thereof; perfectly tender and falling off the bone, crystallized and charred sugars of whiskey and coke on spare ribs that create juicy, perfect magic. Yes, that’s right, the Jack and Coke ribs were even better in reality than I had imagined they would be. Another gold star, please. It’s more often my strange ideas and combinations that lend themselves the best to tasty actualization. Smokey, sweet, and just a little spicy, it was better than I ever dreamed.

To pair with these ribs of the gods, potato salad was decided on. Now, let me just say that potato salad shouldn’t be one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of dishes. You need at least a day to make a potato salad masterpiece. Otherwise, it just ends up wet. I’m sure there are people out there that are just that into mayonnaise that a potato and mayonnaise soup sounds like a trip to paradise, but I am not those people. I am, however, the kind of person that is optimistic to a fault in the kitchen, believing that somehow, by the sheer will of my mind that the dressing will absorb into potato salad in 18 hours less than required. Unfortunately, I do not possess those kind of super powers, cool as they would be. Soupy or not, it was still a hit and everyone liked it, but I’m reserving my judgment for lunchtime tomorrow.

For dessert, there was S’more pie. Always an advocate of dessert, I can never say that I’m going to cook you dinner without having the dessert steal the show. It’s just unavoidable, sorry. I was re-reminded of this recipe after a post on one of the food blogs I frequent and decided that I would finally take a shot at it. I kinda forgot to write the real recipe down so I just threw caution to the wind and hoped for the best. Two things happened. 1- I guessed on the chocolate layer and succeeded(the graham layer is a no-brainer, I’ve got graham crust permanently etched into my brain) and 2- I guessed on the marshmallow and kinda failed. I had a feeling that it wouldn’t go over well on the marshmallow though. Pops doesn’t own a meat or candy thermometer, and as it is incredibly, almost impossibly difficult to tell the temperature of sugar by sight, it was doomed from the start. Luckily there was a rogue jar of marshmallow fluff in the cabinet so I cheated and poured it on top instead. It worked, but it just wasn’t the same.

There was also grilled corn. All in all, it was a swell father’s day dinner, even though it was a day late. I am armed with new resolve to actually conquer the reading of sugar temperatures with my eyes. Once achieved, I shall be unstoppable, and desserts shall bow before me, trembling in fear of my candy-making prowess. Recipes to follow.

Jack and Coke Ribs
Makes one rack of spare ribs

2 cans Coca Cola, NOT diet. Imperative.
1/4 cup Jack Daniels, or similar bourbon whiskey.
1 cup cherry preserves
1 tbsp worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, empty two room-temperature cans of cola and whisk until no longer effervescent. On medium heat, reduce cola to one can. Add Jack Daniels, cherry preserves, sauces and spices, and reduce by half, or until thick enough to brush on ribs. I recommend cutting each rib individually, brushing with the sauce, and wrapping in foil to slowly roast in a 250 degree oven for at least two hours before grilling. It marries the flavors of the pork and the sauce, and creates juicy, tender, fall off the bone goodness. When done in the oven, grill until caramelized, brushing with any remaining sauce. It may take longer, but trust me, it’s worth it. Blast some Creedence while you cook, it adds to the flavor. MAGIC!

Unless anyone is truly interested in my potato salad recipe, I will not post it unless requested.

S’more Pie
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups graham crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup melted butter

Combine all ingredients and press into a pie shell. Bake at 350 for 10-15 min.

8 squares Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup 35% cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk

Chop chocolate finely and set aside. Heat cream and vanilla and pour over chocolate. Let it sit for 2 min, then whisk together until chocolate is melted. Whisk in egg yolk. Pour into graham crust and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until it just barely jiggles. It will firm up once it cools.

2 jars marshmallow fluff, or two cups of made-by-your-damn-self marshmallow

Pour marshmallow fluff over chilled pie. Take a blowtorch to it until you get a golden-brown reminder of your childhood, or throw it under the broiler at 500 degrees, if you’re a pansy. If using the broiler, wrap the crust edge with tinfoil to avoid sinful crust-charring.