Archive | November, 2013

Smoky Mexican Chicken Soup

29 Nov

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in America. It’s a day on which we are thankful for the blessings we have in our lives, and an excuse to pig out on crispy roast turkey, candied yams, creamy green beans, tart cranberries, butter-laden rolls and pumpkin pie. Heck, let’s throw in some pecan pie too, for good measure.

After roasting my favorite holiday bird with all the trimmings, eating like the end of the world was nigh, doing all the dishes… Twice!… and cutting into both a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie, I fully collapsed at 5:03P and woke up 3 hours later with Mr. Farklepants caressing my arm and lovingly asking me if I wanted to get up or sleep through the night?! Oh, you turkey, you!

I managed to get back into a conscious vertical position long enough to polish off another slice of pie and then crashed in tryptophan fantasyland until 6:17A this morning, when torrential down pours alerted my brain that I drank entirely too much yesterday. I wish I was one of those people that could jump right back on the snooze train, but once I’m awake, there’s no turning back… It’s my mother’s genes, you see. My genetic make up is the kind that creepily stands by the edge of your bed at 6A, menacingly watching your every eye twitch for a sign of life, and warning you promptly that the day is ticking away. I defiantly did go back to bed, but genetics prevailed.

I schlepped myself into our kitchen with that post-party trepidation we all know so well, and was pleasantly reminded of the fact that, pre-tryptophan TKO, I already cleaned up the turkey battlefield that is Thanksgiving cooking. Hurray! Feeling victorious, I tuned on the TV so I could get outraged at people’s pathetic behavior on Black Friday, poured myself a cup of coffee, squirted whipped cream directly in my mouth and enjoyed the last remaining slice of pumpkin pie, because…I felt sorry for it?!

I’m impressed with the dent we made into that gorgeous turkey too. And to work away some of the leftovers, nothing says rainy post-Thanksgiving what-are-we-going-to-do-with-all-that-turkey?! bliss more than a smoky hearty soup. While I named this one “chicken” soup, anything goes and it’s the prefect vessel to sail right back into tryptophan land… For all other 51 weeks, use rotisserie chicken!

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Smoky Mexican Chicken Soup
(Inspired by traditional Mexican Cuisine)
– 2-3 cups of leftover cooked turkey or rotisserie chicken, shredded
– 1 red bell pepper
– 1 green Pasillo pepper
– 4-5 ribs of celery
– 1 medium onion
– 1.5 cups of corn, thawed if frozen
– 1.5 cups of black beans, cooked or canned
– 1.5 Tbsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of hot smoked paprika
– 2-3 hot peppers in adobo sauce, diced (use more for a more spicy soup)
– 2 15oz cans of diced tomato
– 3/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped + more for garnish
– 6-8 cups of chicken broth
– 1.5 cups of smoky BBQ sauce
– salt & pepper to taste

Dice all vegetables and sauté over medium heat until softened. Sprinkle with cumin and paprika, add hot peppers in adobo sauce and sauté a few minutes more to blend the flavors.

Add canned diced tomato and chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until all vegetables are soft.

Add BBQ sauce, shredded chicken or turkey, corn, beans and cilantro. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes more to warm through.

Ladle in bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, sour cream and/or grated Mexican cheese.

Curried Orange-Mustard Glazed Turkey

18 Nov

Turkey Day is almost here. At the Farklepants house, we’re excited about that. There’s nothing that screams ‘family bonding’ more than a variety of X-Box controllers, ipods, Wii remotes & laptops gathering around a roasted ex-bird, as horrible as that sounds to my vegetarian friends.

The first turkey I ever roasted, was an uncharted adventure to me. I had no idea what I was doing, really. I had been in the country for nary a year or so, and I was all gung-ho about buying a whole turkey and roasting it to a crisp in my sub-par apartment oven. I had dreamy fantasies of American holiday greatness, and Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be Thanksgiving without a turkey. Period. My kitchen was the size of a shoebox with barely any counter-space. Let me tell you, over the years I have come to understand the value of counter-space real estate. As a matter of fact, if counter-space had any equitable value, it would be comparable to a gaudy mansion, complete with gold-plated tiled Roman pool and room for an Arabian race horse. Counter space is everything, and the lack thereof on a day like Thanksgiving transforms me into Beowulf.

But we digress… I roasted my first bird 13 years ago. It was just myself and I wasn’t expecting any guests, but roasting a bird on Thanksgiving was practically a rite of passage to my new American life, and I wanted to do it the traditional way with the stuffing cooked inside. Ambition is my middle name, y’all. Truthfully, the turkey turned out moist and delicious, but the stuffing very much resembled a Columbian cartel-ghetto… on a bad day! Also, this is probably not news, but roasting a whole turkey when your only dinner guest is you, means that you will have committed to a turkey bonanza for 3 odd months or so. The good news is, is that cooked turkey meat freezes surprisingly well.

I’ve since earned my stars & stripes in this country, which was recently re-enforced by boldly venturing into the eggnog realm of the holiday season, but last year I got adventurous with Mrs. Bigglesworth and rubbed her all over with a sweet curry & cumin concoction, in true Bollywood-style. I’m not sure if I just got lucky with a juicy bird, or if some sort of sweet voodoo happened with the seasonings, but that bird was to die for. Also, the smell of this turkey was like a siren call. Quite frankly, with a house full of teenagers and electronics, I can’t wait to hear those game controllers & remotes to crash on that tryptophan rock again…

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CURRIED ORANGE-MUSTARD GLAZED TURKEY
(a Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 whole turkey, 18lbs or less
– salt and pepper
– 6 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– 4 limes, juiced
– 4 tsp of ground ginger
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 1/2 stick of softened butter
– For the cavity: a bundle of fresh herbs, 1 quartered onion, a few roughly chopped celery stalks and carrots

Glaze:
– 1/3 cup of orange marmalade
– 1/3 cup of grainy mustard or brown mustard

Preheat oven to 450F. (Bear with me… a high ‘starting’ temperature will cause the fat underneath the skin to brown the skin from below. Starting off with a low temperature, will cause the flavorful fat to melt and run away into oblivion, without doing any tasty browning at all).

Remove gizzards and neck, then wash the turkey and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Contemplate what to put in the cavity of the turkey…. Personally, I put a bundle of fresh herbs in my turkey’s cavity, consisting of lots of fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and sage. And I also stuff a quartered onion, a few chopped celery stalks and some roughly chopped carrots in there, for good measure.

Place the turkey on a rack in a foil-lined roasting pan. You want to prevent the bottom from getting soggy, so if you don’t have a rack, use some imagination to ‘prop’ your bird up from the bottom. Make sort of a rack with a few hard veggies like carrots, turnips and potatoes, or buy 2 disposable roasting pans and crumple them up to form an improvised V-shape rack. The possibilities are endless, just make sure your contraption is food safe and oven safe.

Cut a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold in a triangle shape. Lay it on top of your turkey’s breast and mold it to form sort of a warrior shield for the breast of the turkey. Tip facing down towards the cavity, wide part of the triangle to go over the bird like a cape. Once molded, remove the foil making sure to keep the mold ‘intact’ and set it aside.

Combine the curry powder, lime juice, ginger, cumin, and butter. Rub the mixture all over the turkey and under the skin.

Place the turkey in the blazing hot oven for 30-40 minutes, just to give the breast a chance to brown. After about 30 min, the breast should be nicely browned. If it isn’t, put it back in the oven and give it another 10 min or so. When the breast is browned, take the pan out of the oven and place the molded aluminum shield over the breast. This will deflect some of the heat and keep the breast from drying out while the red meat cooks. I learned this from Alton Brown. Honest to God. Stick your thermometer directly through the foil in the thickest part of the breast, making sure not to touch any bone.

Place the turkey back in the oven and drop the oven temperature to 350F. Roast at 350F until the thermometer registers 155F, or about 2 hours later for an 18 lbs bird. About 10 to 15 minutes before the turkey is done, or roughly after 2 hours and 15 minutes, remove the aluminum foil shield from the beast and discard, combine the preserves and mustard and brush generously over the bird. Continue roasting until internal temperature reaches 161F, about 15-min longer.

Food safety guidelines tell us that we should roast poultry to an inner-temperature of 165F. Keep in mind that once you remove the turkey from the oven, it will continue to cook for several more minutes while you allow it to rest, which means that if you take it out of the oven at exactly 165F, it will be over-cooked! Taking it out of the oven a few degrees shy of 165F, like at 161F, will mean that by the time you’re ready to carve this turkey, it will be perfectly cooked at 165F and still juicy & moist…

Cider Braised Chicken

12 Nov

“What on God’s great Earth is Jidori chicken breast?!”, I asked myself slightly puzzled, whilst typing up a fancy restaurant menu for a client of mine. My first thought was that it was probably a specific type of chicken. You know, like when you’re driving on a road trip in the Montana wilderness and spontaneously burst out in amazement: “OMG!!!! LOOK HONEY!! A flock of free roaming wild Jidori chickens!”. Okay, maybe not like that, but either way, I wasn’t that far off…

When I spoke with the Chef in question, he explained to me in a thick French accent that ‘jidori’ chicken is like the ‘Kobe’ beef in the poultry world. The term is Japanese, and roughly translated, it means ‘from the ground up’. “Um… Is there any other kind except for the GROUND-roaming kind ?”, I asked? “Do I need to start watching out for free-FLYING, sky-roaming pooping wild chickens?!”. Laurent laughed a hearty belly-laugh. “Ze term revers do ze virst class freshzness and robuste flaveur”, he explains. Story has it that at some point in Japanese history, underneath a blossoming pink cherry tree in my imagination, a precious pure bred ‘Hinaidori’ chicken made wild love to a handsome ‘Rhode Island Red’, et voila, the ‘Akita-Hinai’ chicken was born. The young chick was raised in traditional Japanese ‘Jidori’ style, and there you have it: the Akita-Hinai Jidori chicken. Jidori farmed chickens are cage-free birds that are free roaming and fed an all-vegetarian diet, including clover, juicy tomatoes & crisp apples. These organic birds are free of any hormones and/or other meat by-products, and are delivered for consumption on the same day they went to poultry heaven, to ensure the utmost freshness. Jidori chickens are never frozen, which means they retain less water and have a firmer, plumper & pinker breast and a deep, robust chicken flavor… The term ‘Jidori’ is trademarked in the same way ‘Champagne’ is trademarked. Only chickens that are bred and raised in this manner, are allowed to be name ‘Jidori’ chickens, but the term doesn’t per se refer to the animal’s origin, like Kobe beef does to beef. Freely speaking, any chicken can be a jidori-chicken for as long as it is bred in the traditional jidori-way. Technically, this means that ‘Catharina The Great’ from your own backyard coop can also be a jidori-style chicken, provided you love her, tell her bedtime stories and feed her organic fodder that contains plenty of whole foods and no meat by-products… If you think about it, jidori chickens are like the Pamela Andersons of the poultry world. (hashtags: spoiled, vegetarian, plump breast)

In the late 1990’s, Dennis Mao from Mao Foods brought jidori chicken to America, and mainly to the Los Angeles based restaurant scene. Since then, like any true Hollywood Starlet with plump pink breasts, Jidori chicken’s rise to fame cannot be stopped and nationwide demand far exceeds Mao Foods’ supply… As a matter of fact, unless you are a fancy chef with a Michelin-star restaurant, it’s nearly impossible to buy jidori-style chicken as a regular consumer. So are we cheated from the ultimate deliciousness in poultry? Not entirely. In a fairly recent newspaper interview, Dennis Mao admits that a sustainably raised chicken that is treated humanely in a stress-free environment, fed quality feed and bought directly from a small organic farm, probably tastes as good as his own ‘jidori’-style chicken… and that’s good news for us plain folks. I’m all for eating happy chickens, as horrible as that sounds to some of you.

The menu I was typing for my client featured a cider braised Jidori chicken breast. When I hear cider, I think ‘Normandy’ in France. I think warm Camembert ‘en croûte’, green pastures, bovines and delicious apple cider… The recipe below is my own take on authentic Normandy chicken. Give it it a try, oh… and buy happy chicken, y’all!

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CIDER BRAISED CHICKEN WITH ROSEMARY, APPLES & MUSHROOMS
(Adapted from “Knack Weekend”)
– 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or 6-8 thighs.
– 2 apples, peeled & cut into wedges or dice (I use Jonagold or Golden Delicious)
– 1-2 large shallot, minced
– 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, whole + a bit more finely chopped, for garnish
– 16oz of white button mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered, if large
– 1/3 cup of Calvados or white wine
– 3 cups of hard cider
– a splash of cream
– 2 Tbsp of all purpose flour, to thicken the sauce
– salt & pepper to taste

Rinse and pat chicken dry. Season on all sides with salt & pepper. Melt 3 Tbsp of butter over medium-high heat, and brown chicken, approx. 3-4 min per side.

Sprinkle chicken with flour and allow the flour to melt with the butter so it forms a “roux”.

Add Calvados, and ignite to allow alcohol to evaporate quickly. Stand back and be careful! Then add apple cider and rosemary, scrape browned bits off the bottom of the pan and braise chicken without the lid of the pot for approx. 25-30 min.

In the meantime, in a separate pan, melt another 2 Tbsp of butter over medium-high heat and brown shallots, mushrooms & apples. When all are browned and caramelized, approx. 10-15 min or so, add all of it (incl. their liquid) to the pot with the chicken, and allow to braise without the lid for another 10-15 min until chicken is tender and cooked all the way through.

Finish the sauce with a splash of cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh rosemary, if desired, and serve with crusty French bread or roasted potatoes.

Finnish Salmon Chowder

7 Nov

Hurray! We’re fast approaching my 90-day binge fest favorite season of the year. Besides the fact that it’s widely accepted that legs don’t need daily shaving anymore, Winter is practically a free season pass to sweet candy, luscious pies, roasted turkeys with all the fixings, bottomless spiced hot chocolates and all kinds of other culinary deliciousness… Not to forget domestic fabulousness like plaid flannel pajamas, wickedly cool decorations, the year’s best movie releases, crackling hearths and overall homely splendor. Let’s admit it, Winter is like the ‘Hyacinth Bouquet’ of all seasons.

Back when I was still gainfully employed for an adventure travel company in Belgium, a handful of co-workers & I got invited on a 5-day dog-sledding ‘trek’ through the great outdoors in Lapland, in the very Northern tip of Finland… We flew from Brussels to Ivalo and then onwards to Kittala, located at the rim of the Arctic Circle. Upon arrival at our destination, we stopped at what looked like a log cabin and were greeted by a Finnish guide who beckoned us to come inside his ‘mud’ room and promptly fitted us for a bright red thermal monkey suit.

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We were instructed to wear this one-piece hooded suit so that only our nose and eyes were exposed. The staff was very particular about making sure we understood the importance of covering up as much as we could. We were told the hairs inside our nose would freeze, but we were reassured to not panic since our own body temperature would prevent our nostrils from freezing shut. Great! We were warned the moisture in the corner of our eyes may – or may not – freeze, causing your eyelid(s) to freeze and get stuck. “When this happens, place your gloved hand over your eye and wait to defrost”, they said, “don’t pull your eyelids, as it may cause injury”. It was -55C outside (minus 67F. MINUS, people!!!). Factor in the wind chill, and I’ve never been happier to carry 50-odd pounds of excess fat on my frame than I was then. As the days progressed, we’d mock and laugh at each other whenever an eye would freeze half shut, and we had a running tally of bets to see who’d be the first one to have both eyes freeze shut. It sounds terrible, but I’ve never laughed harder.

Those 5 days were without a doubt the most beautiful, exhilarating and eventful trip I have ever taken. Besides the fact that one of my colleagues fell madly in love with our Finnish guide and shocked us all by impulsively deciding on day 5 to not return to her husband in Belgium, we ‘yeehaw’-ed our own dog sleds through the most magnificent Winter wonderland ever…

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…and we stopped to visit Santa Claus Village.

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That’s right, I’ve been to Santa Claus in the Polar Circle. Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it. I know you’re envious! On a side note, Peggy Sue did eventually return to Belgium to resume her marriage, but we never got any detail as to what happened exactly.

Between seeing a nightly spectacle of Northern lights and eating the best cedar plank salmon I have ever tasted, I have many fond memories of that trip, but a foodie favorite of mine was ‘lohikeitto’. It’s a creamy concoction of salmon, leeks and potatoes, and it tastes great so good with toasted rye bread on a cold winter’s day. It’s Finland’s answer to New England clam chowder, really.

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Finnish Salmon Chowder
(also known as Lohikeitto… Adapted from a few recipes online)
– 3 Tbsp olive oil
– 1 leek, chopped (white and light green part only)
– 2 carrots, diced
– 3 cups of fish broth or stock
– 1 bay leaf
– 3/4 lbs potatoes, cubed and peeled
– 3/4 lbs salmon filet, skinned, de-boned and cut into small chunks
– 3/4 cup cream (or half & half)
– 1 Tbsp cornstarch (up to 1.5 Tbsp if you’d like the broth thick) + 1 Tbsp of water
– 1 Tbsp butter
– salt and pepper
– fresh dill for topping (or parsley, if you’re dill-hater)

Heat the olive in a large saucepan and sauté the leek until softened. Add 3 cups of fish stock and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and carefully add the potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Add the salmon and simmer for five minutes. Add the cream and stir to mix. Make a cornstarch slurry with the cornstarch and 1 Tbsp of water, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Add to the soup and simmer until the soup has thickened.
Add the butter and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with plenty of fresh parsley or dill. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if desired.

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Greek Baked Beans

4 Nov

Last weekend, I found a package of giant dry white beans or ‘gigantes’ in my cupboard. These tasty plump beans are a staple in Greek cuisine, and the mere mentioning of the word ‘Greek’ always sends my mind to the time my best friend & I had pizza & cheap wine in her shoebox-size apartment in the ‘Lange Vlierstraat’ in Antwerp. I know it’s a bit of stretch and a far cry from the usual images of breezy seaside tavernas with vine-wrapped trellises and ouzo. Bear with me, please.

While most young adults live with their parents when they’re still in college, my friend lived solo’ and her digs were usually the place we’d hang out at to channel our inner-dork. Not that ‘two-buck-chuck’ & pizza nights were so unusual during our college years, but that night in particular, she was preparing to move in with her now American ex-husband and the purpose of our gathering was to get silly on cheap wine to facilitate her move into her fiance’s beautiful house on the left banks of the ‘Schelde’ river in Antwerp, and mostly to get rid of the stuff that really shouldn’t see the light of day when you’re twenty-something and about to engage in a serious relationship of co-habitation with the other sex.

On a side note, per my mother, W. & I have had a life-long reputation of unbridled ‘silliness’. ‘Onozel doen’, like mom would say. As a matter of fact, with W. living in Florida, we speak over the phone weekly. Or at least attempt to hold a conversation, which usually starts off with W. bursting out in a suffocating fit of snorting laughter the minute I answer my phone, muttering “I’ll call you right back” in between giggles, which spirals me into a similar guffaw before I even know what it is she wants to share with me. It’s like our ‘tween-gene’ is activated the minute we connect, and we are instantly transported back to the late 80’s.

Anyway, we digress… Thirty odd years ago or so (Gah! I’m old), we found ourselves slumped back on her couch, plastic Dixie cup of wine in hand, and thumbing through an old photo album with letters & pictures of her long forgotten high school pen pal: Kostas. He was Greek. He was twenty-something compared to her sweet sixteen. He had curly black hair, no bodily shame and he was censored by my friend’s prudence by means of black tape. The naughty picture in question was carefully glued in her album, with a strategically placed hand-crafted ‘trap door’ of black tape, which could be lifted to behold all of Kostas’ glory. Like a mini-peep show from the comfort of home, so to speak. I also remember he later came to visit from Greece with his friend while we were much older and already in college, and he turned out to be quite full of himself and a royal penis, pardon the pun.

If you think you can picture the ridiculousness of two grown women giggling like pimpled high school girls over a nude picture of a not-so-good looking young man, think harder and then multiply the dorkiness level by tenfold. That’s us! So any time I hear the word ‘Greek’ now, I have to think about Kostas. And that naughty trap-door picture that had us doubled up in silly laughter.

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GREEK BAKED BEANS
(‘Fasolia Plaki’… adapted per my own flavor preferences)
– 1 package of dry ‘gigantes’ or large white beans (500 gr or 0.5 lbs)
– 3 large juicy tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (or 1 15oz can of diced tomatoes)
– 1 small can of ROTEL ‘mild’ tomatoes & chillies
– 2-3 roasted red bell peppers, peeled & diced (the jarred kind are fine too)
– 6 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
– 1 large onion, diced
– 2 Tbsp of tomato paste
– 2 Tbsp of dried oregano (or a few sprigs of fresh oregano, chopped fine)
– 4 Tbsp of dried parsley (or a handful of fresh parsley, chopped fine)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh dill, chopped fine
– 3 bay leaves
– 1 Tbsp of red pepper flakes (*)
– salt to taste
– 2 cups of the boiling water from the beans
(*) when using Rotel tomatoes & chillies, 1 Tbsp will do you just fine and will turn the dish medium spicy. For mild heat, leave out the red pepper flakes al together. For NO heat, leave out the red pepper flakes and use 2 more tomatoes instead of a can of Rotel chillies, and season with some pepper. For more heat, add more red pepper flakes. You get my drift…

Soak beans overnight in a large container of plain unsalted water, with at least 2-3 inches of water topping the beans once submerged. Let them soak on the counter.

The next day, drain beans from the soaking water, and place in a large pot. Bring beans to a boil and let simmer until tender, but still with a bit of bite. The ‘older’ the beans, the longer this stage will take, but for my 6-8 month old package of dry beans, this was approx. 75 min.
Drain beans, reserving approx. 2 cups of the bean water, and set aside.

If using fresh tomatoes, carve an ‘X’ in the bottom your tomato and flash-boil for about 1 minute in the boiling bean water (or a pot of boiling water). The edges of the ‘X’ will start to curl and this process will make peeling your tomatoes significantly easier. Peel each tomato, cut in quarters, remove seed-cores and dice the flesh in small cubes. Try to reserve some of the juice, but don’t worry too much about that.

While the beans boil, preheat oven to 350F. In a heavy oven-proof skillet (I used a cast iron skillet, but you can also use a regular pan and then transfer everything into a casserole), sauté the diced onions until tender and translucent, approx. 5 min. Add tomato paste, garlic, roasted & peeled bell peppers and red pepper flakes, and sauté for another few minutes to ‘cook out’ the tomato paste a bit. Then add diced tomatoes (with juice), can of Rotel chillies and all of the herbs. Stir the sauce and cook for another 10-15 minutes to reduce and thicken a little bit.

Fold cooked beans in the tomato sauce, and pour the reserved bean water over the beans until they are ‘just’ submerged. Stick bay leaves in the pan and bake, uncovered, in a 350F oven for another 75-90 min until the juices have evaporated. The top will be slightly crispy.

Serve hot with crusty bread. Or with an omelet, like I did.

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