Just the Time for Chicken Corn Chowder

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There are few things I love more than when my son asks me to post recipes on here so he can make them at school in Boston. We were talking yesterday afternoon and he said he was looking for “stewy” soups to cook. Well, last week, feeling the first fingers of fall on a typical Southern California October Sunday (yes, 89 degrees outside) I made Chicken Corn Chowder and told him I’d put a recipe up here.

Now, let’s start with this. I don’t like super heavy chowders. If they’re too thick they just leave you feeling lethargic. If you’re in Bangor, Maine in the middle of winter and you can’t open your front door anyway that serves a purpose, but here in Southern California (and frankly in most other places) too much flour in your soup is just, literally, a drag. So my chowders are more soupy than chowdery. (Just so you know).

Onward to the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 6 strips of your favorite bacon, cut widthwise into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 1 medium brown onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • 3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
  • Healthy Pinch of your favorite dried herb mix
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn (1 package)
  • 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken (if you don’t have any just dice a chicken breast or two and saute’ with a little salt and pepper until cooked)
  • Four cups chicken stock (not broth, stock, you want the extra flavor from the stock)
  • 2 Cups Whipping Cream or Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 TBS Frank’s Hot Sauce (or something similar)
  • 6-10 Red (baby) potatoes, diced
  • 2 TBS Non EV Olive Oil or Grape Seed Oil
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese (to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Recipe

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a large stockpot, cook the bacon strips until crisp, set aside the bacon and drain off most of the fat. Add the olive oil (or Grape Seed Oil) and the Mirapoix (Onion, Carrot, Celery) and the bell pepper and stir over medium heat until the onion is translucent and then add the chicken and then the flour and stir until the flour just starts to brown. Add the corn (it’s fine if it’s still frozen) and stir for one minute (two minutes if frozen). Add the dried herbs and stir until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and bring to a slow boil and then reduce heat to simmer and add the cream. Stir in the hot sauce just before serving.

While the soup is coming to temperature salt and pepper the diced potatoes and place in a greased (or sprayed) pyrex or baking sheet and roast, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until just starting to brown (and tender). Add the potatoes to each bowl of soup as it is served. Do not add them to the soup.  (I don’t like them mushy). If you want more texture, reserve some of the corn and saute’ it for a minute and scatter it over the soup as you serve the soup. You can do this with some extra, diced, red bell pepper too.  If you want to put some cheddar cheese (or almost any kind of cheese you might have) on the soup, you can do this, too.

If you’re like me and you like things with a little heat, add a little more franks with the potatoes and whatever else you scatter over the soup when you serve it.  Yum!

Enjoy.

Now – there are people who would say that the corn should be fresh off the cob, that you should reserve the corn milk (the liquid that comes off the cob as the corn is shaved off), that a chowder should be thick enough to stand up a spoon, that you should use half and half, that the potatoes should be cooked in the soup, etc.  All of these things are true.  Those people should do those things.  You should too if they’re important to you. To me, this is a simple, flavorful and easy to prepare soup that still has some texture. Knock yourself out.

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Fall… Braises, Butternut Squash, Slow Food

I love fall.  Not that we have much “fall” in southern California.  There is a tree across the street from my house that changes color though, so it’s sort of like a fall, but actually more hollywood style.  It gets “cold” at night though.  Most nights this time of year the temperature gets down to about 40 or so at our home and there are a lot of nights starting in November that are in the 30s.  People don’t associate 30s with LA.  I like it kind of chilly.  The dogs’ evening walk is more fun.  It’s also the universal signal that it is time for fall food, which is my favorite time of the year.

To me, fall food is slow food.  It is a time for braises and roasts.  Squashes, most notably butternut and pumpkin, find their way on to restaurant menus.  It’s almost as though the cooler weather outside gives us permission to spend a little more time in the kitchen.  Things can take longer.  It’s okay.

Short Ribs are one of my very favorite fall dishes.  I love the gravy and the fall off the bone silkiness of these lovely bones when they are well prepared.  I have a great recipe.  It takes a little time but it’s worth it.  Invite some friends over, open a very nice bottle of full bodied red wine (we had a terrific Cabernet last night), if it’s really cold where you live light a fire.  It’s fall.

Rather than serving these over one of the more ubiquitous sides, like mashed potatoes for instance (which would be amazing but don’t work for my diet), I served these over a light balsamic, white bean, caramelized onion and garlic puree (it has the benefit of actually being good for you).

Braised Short Ribs

  •  5 – 6 lbs Beef Short Ribs.  (I just buy these at the grocery store)
  • 2 – 3 celery stalks
  • 2 – 3 Carrots
  • 1 large spanish (brown) onion
  • 1 8oz jar sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, rinsed in hot water. (discard the oil)
  • 2 TBs Crushed Garlic or 4 – 5 Garlic Cloves
  • 6oz Tomato Paste
  • 3 – 4 cups full bodied red wine (if necessary for any reason, substitute with 3 cups beef broth, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 3 TBS Worcestershire)
  • 1 rounded tsp dried Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive or Grapeseed Oil

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Liberally season the short rips with salt and pepper.  Heat a large oven proof pot or dutch oven (I use a Le Creuset for this and it is perfect) to hot over medium high heat.  Add a splash of the oil and brown the short ribs on each side.  Let this take a little time so they develop a rich brown color.  Remove the short ribs from the pot and discard the accumulated fat.

While the short ribs are braising either fine dice (if you like your gravy textured) or puree (if you like your gravy smooth) the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and sun dried tomatoes. When you have removed the short ribs from the dutch oven (and poured off the fat) add some more oil to the oven and immediately add the diced or pureed vegetables, using their liquid to scrape the brown bits (fond) off of the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the heat if the vegetables start to burn, but leave them in the pot, stirring often so they are well browned.

When the vegetables are well browned add the cooking liquid (wine or mixture) and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and let liquid reduce by about 1/3.  Add the short ribs back into the pot, arranging them so they form a layer on the bottom of the pan (on edge is fine), if necessary, add a little water or beef broth so the liquid is just below the tops of the meat.  (If the meat is submerged at first don’t worry about this as the liquid will cook off in the oven).  Place the ribs/pot on the center rack of your oven for between 3 and 4 hours, checking frequently to make sure the liquid doesn’t evaporate too much.  Remove the top from the pot about 45 minutes before serving to brown the tops of things …

White Bean, Caramelized Onion and Garlic Puree with Aged Balsamic Vinegar

While the ribs are braising away in the oven make this simple side.  Serve the ribs on top of it with a healthy portion of the sauce.  People will think you are a genius.

  • 2 15oz (normal sized) Cans Any Kind of White Beans
  • 1 Large brown onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic (or 4 cloves – smashed)
  • 1 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tbs Good Aged Balsamic Vinegar (not the crappy stuff you get in a regular store)

In a medium saucepan saute’ the onions over medium heat until well browned (adding a pinch of salt will help them brown faster).  Add the garlic and continue to saute’ for another minute or until the garlic starts to brown.  Add the beans and the broth and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until liquid has almost completely evaporated, about 30 minutes, stirring often.  Puree mixture in a blender or food processor.  Pour into a baking dish or back into the pan and keep warm over very low heat or in a low oven.  Add balsamic just before serving.

Put a few tablespoons of the puree under the short ribs.  Enjoy …

Make Your Own Damn Pizza…

One of the early triumphs of any home cook is the discovery that good Pizza needn’t require a phone call, internet order or a trip to some local wood-fire pizzeria.  In fact, you can make damn good pizza yourself.  It’s fun and it has the benefit of letting you make exactly the kind of pizza you like, AKA, your own damn pizza.

Ingredients:

  • Pizza Crust (Trader Joes or whatever kind you want).
  • Pizza Sauce (Any store bought marinara you like)
  • Cheese (Traditionally Mozzarella but can be any time you want – though if it melts its better)
  • Various and sundry toppings
  • Olive Oil
  • All Purpose Flour

The crust.  (this is actually the hardest part).  Tomorrow I will post a comparatively simple recipe for good, homemade pizza crust.  For today I’m going to make it even simpler and say, go to Trader Joes and buy “pizza dough” out of their refrigerated section.  It’s about a buck, ninety-nine for a bag and a bag makes three good sized Pizzas.  (Don’t try to make one large pizza or you will end up with a doughy mess).

Let the dough come up to close to room temperature and you’re ready to roll.

Trader Joes also sells a pretty good pizza sauce but you can really use any store-bought marinara or other sauce that you like.  Remember, this is your damn pizza.  That starts with the sauce.

Typically a pizza is made with mozzarella cheese.  Lactose intolerant?  Fine.  Use goat cheese.  (See “your damn pizza” above).  Like blue cheese?  Use blue cheese.  (If you want to screw up your damn pizza that’s your decision).  A word of caution here, you don’t need as much cheese as you think you do.  When that stuff melts it fills in.  I’m not going to give you measurements because I don’t know how big your pizza will be.

As for other condiments, you can buy a bag of 7,214 precut pieces of pepperoni for $2.  You’re going to use 12.  Put the rest in the fridge for next time.  It’s salt cured and will stay preserved for about 52 months.  I like Italian sausage.  I cut the skins off and toss it in a frying pan and “mash” it into clumps with a potato masher.  Like slices?  (read, ‘your damn pizza’ above).  As a general rule it is a good idea to precook most of the ingredients so all you’re doing when you put the pizza in the oven is effectively heating the sauce and melting the cheese…If you have a 3200 degree wood burning pizza oven you can cook the whole damn thing together.

I like caramelized onions.  I put an onion in a frying pan with a little olive oil and let it cook low and slow until it is nicely browned.  Yum.

If you want to go crazy get some green, basil pesto (or make you’re own if buying it is beneath you).    By the way, your own will be better and it is very easy to make.  Also get some shrimp and some fresh basil leaves.  Use the pesto for your pizza sauce with a mozzarella or mild goat cheese and give the shrimp a quick sauté’ before you put in on the pizza.

OK.  How to Make Your Own Damn Pizza.

Cut the pizza dough into thirds (about a billiard sized ball).  Put a copious amount of all purpose flour on your countertop or other very flat surface and also on the pizza dough.  Either with your hands (like a real man) or with a rolling pin (like me) make your pizza flat.  The thinner the better in my mind but if you like thick crust remember (see “your damn pizza” above).  Just know that it will puff up in the oven and then die back down when it comes back out.

Heat your oven and your pizza pan or baking sheet in the oven to 450 degrees.  If you have a very very good oven then go ahead and heat it to 500.  If you are my son and you are in a tinderbox apartment building that gives me the willies, then 450 is fine.

When the baking sheet and the oven are up to temperature dust some flour on the baking sheet or pizza pan and then lay your already flattened pizza dough on the pan and put it in the oven for about five minutes.  Take it out and coat the top with a little brushed on olive oil before turning the crust over and putting it back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes.

Take the “pre-fired” (a term sure to impress your female guests) out of the oven and put on a thin coat of sauce, your cheese and toppings.  Put it back in the oven and watch through the window as the cheese melts.  When the cheese is melted you’re ready to go.

Take it out of the oven and cut it up (a decent Pizza slicer costs about $5) and serve it to your admiring friends.

Enjoy accolades and fend off friend requests from unknown coeds.

The Standing Rib (or Prime Rib) Roast… (so easy it’s funny!)

We all love that moment when the Prime Rib roast comes out to the table to be carved.  To any carnivore (and I suspect to many vegetarians) the sight of this holiday roast is enough to make your mouth water.  To the uninitiated these roasts look like they would be hard to prepare.  The fact is that they are among the easiest things to cook for any occasion.  All you need is a roast (Bone in Rib Roast, Large or Small End – but small end is more tender), some salt and pepper and a little olive oil.

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I learned a great technique for cooking these a few years ago from Alton Brown on the Food Network.  (I used to LOVE his show and I really miss it).  Most recipes tell you to salt and pepper the roast and then put it into an oven that is preheated to 450 – 500 degrees, dropping the temperature to 350 when you put the roast in.  While this technique is fine, I’ve found that your roast will shrink dramatically due to fat loss.  Fat is flavor and I’d rather not lose it and Alton’s technique works so much better that it is the only technique I use now.

Note in the picture above that the oven temperature is set to 220.  I put the roast in the oven in the morning or early afternoon with the oven at 220 and I let it cook “low and slow” to an internal temperature of 140 degrees for medium rare.  Cooking it this way gives the internal “tough bits” a lot longer to break down and it also brings the roast out of the oven at more or less the same size as when it goes in.  Also, you don’t need to get the roast out of the oven before it comes up to temperature as the temp will only rise a degree or two after bringing it out.  (all pieces of meat will continue to increase in temperature for a few minutes after you remove them from the heat – the hotter the heat source, the more this will happen).

Lastly, cook the rib as I have it in the picture above, with the bones on top.  This protects the loin (lean) portion of the meat and causes the juices from around the bones to run down through the roast while it cooks.

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A thermometer such as the one shown above is a handy tool.  When you remove the roast from the oven let it cool before removing the probe (which I insert about an inch above the bones.)

To carve the roast, simply cut the bones off (together – and save them to make barbecue ribs, YUM!) and then slice the roast as you’ve seen a million times at buffets.  Enjoy, and don’t tell your friends how easy this is.

Variations on a Theme. Simple Sauces for Simple Pasta

Let’s face it.  The Simple Pasta recipe in the previous post will satisfy hunger, but the point of this blog is to teach young men to cook (well, young men of any age) in a way that will woo women.  These variations remain simple, but they add complexity and a touch of flare to the dishes you’ll be preparing and it is in these flourishes that one crosses an important bridge between just a workaday cook and something more elegant than that.  Beware, once you start playing with these variations you will find that the average restaurant pastas are much less mystical.

Still simple.  Just more interesting.  All of these pastas start with the Simple recipe in the previous post, with one small variation.  Instead of using the full 1/4 of olive oil use about half that amountThey also all simply build on each other so this as about as simple as simple can be.  (just trying to see how many times I can type simple without being silly – probably done now).

Garlic and Olive Oil, Aglio Olio if you want to be fancy.  (hint – you do!)

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons minced garlic (from a relatively fresh jar is fine)
  • 1 Tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of dried italian herbs

Preparation:

While your Simple Pasta is in the boiling water, add three to four tablespoons of EV Olive Oil to a small frying pan (an omelet pan will do) on medium low heat. Note.  Medium low heat.  not high heat.  Low heat.  The whole idea behind making this very simple sauce is that you are flavoring the olive oil with the garlic so you want to go low and slow.  Otherwise you’ll end up flavoring the olive oil with burned garlic.

Add the garlic to the olive oil while it is still cool.  Give it a simple stir and leave it but watch to make sure the garlic isn’t browning too much.  (which is how you know it’s burned – burned garlic is bitter, not good).

Add the red pepper flakes to the olive oil and give it another simple stir.

Once your pasta is done and you’ve added the ingredients in the simple sauce to the pot simply pour this olive oil & garlic into the pot and stir it to combine.  Serve with parmesan cheese.  Enjoy the adulation of your companions.

Sun Dried Tomato, Fennel

Sun dried tomatoes provide a deep, “caramelly” tomato flavor to a dish.  Fennel has the flavor of black licorice and adds a sweet depth to the flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Bottle (provided you bought one of the small bottles in the store) julienned sun dried tomatoes.  If you weren’t paying attention and you bought whole sundried tomatoes just cut them in strips and they will be Julienned.  (which just means cut in strips).
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds.

Preparation

Simply add the sun dried tomatoes and the fennel seeds to the aglio olio above while it is simmering away.  (simmering just means cooking over very low heat).  Finish the pasta in the same way by simply dumping this into the pot and stirring it in.

Chicken or Sausage

It seems strange to think that you could just add a meat, like a chicken or sausage to this and it would be fine, but in reality that is exactly the case.  You can add this either to the sauce with the Sun Dried Tomatoes and Fennel, or you can simply add it to the Aglio Olio it’s up to you.

In either case, check to see if you need to add a little extra olive oil and butter to the sauce base as proteins tend to absorb these quickly.

Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 Package Chicken Tenders cut into bite sized chunks or 2 boneless skinless breasts (thawed if frozen) cut into bite sized chunks.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.
  • McKormick Poultry Seasoning (if available – if you don’t have it just go with salt and pepper)
  • Olive Oil (not EV) or Grapeseed Oil for sauteeing.

Preparation

Heat a medium or large frying pan to hot and add about 2 Tbs of the olive oil.  Immediately add the chicken.  Turn until just beginning to brown.  Remove and toss into pasta, reserving any amount you wish for leftovers.  (there may be too much for the pasta).

Sausage

1 package italian sausage.

With a sharp knife, remove the skins from the sausage.  (cut a thin line lengthwise and it will simply peel off).  Heat a medium to large frying pan to hot and add the sausage.  Break up the sausage while it is cooking.  Reserve about half of the cooked sausage.  Toss the remainder with the cooked Pasta.

I guess the point is, within reason, use your imagination.  Want to add peas?  Add peas.  Don’t add a whole package unless you really like them.  Like fresh tomatoes?  Toss some in.  Want to add a little cream?  Add it at the end over a low flame and stir until the pasta is hot to the touch.  Remove from the flame and you’ll have a nice touch of creaminess.

At any rate.  You are now already on your way to being a bonafide chick magnet.  That’s worth a day’s work, right?

Simple Pasta. First basic recipe for college guys.

Pasta for Starters.  (this post is for beginning cooks.  Preferably college aged boys in dorms in Boston but really for anyone who wants to just make a good, basic pasta without using a jar of Spaghetti Sauce).

There are really only two tricks when you’re cooking pasta. 

  1. Make sure the water is at a rolling boil when you put the noodles in and that you stir the pasta pretty consistently through the first few minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick together.
  2. Cook it for the right length of time.  While there are many comical ways to do this, I think the best way is simply to taste it.

Once you’ve made a pot of pasta the next step is to dress it.  This can be as simple as dumping in your favorite spaghetti sauce and it can be equally simple to do it yourself.

Here then, is Jim’s fool proof method for simple weeknight pasta (with lots of leftovers).

Ingredients:

  • One Bag or Box of Pasta of Choice
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Plus a drizzle for the pot of water.
  • 3 TBS Butter (tablespoons – just look at the markings on the outside of the stick)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Italian Herb Mix
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Parmesan Cheese (for garnish)

Fill a large stockpot to about 3” below the rim and bring it to a rolling boil.  Once the water is boiling add two to three healthy pinches of salt and a splash of olive oil.  While the olive oil may help to keep the pasta from sticking it’s mainly there for flavor, as is the salt.  The only way to keep the pasta from sticking to itself is to stir.

Once the water is ready (and boiling furiously away) add the pasta to the water.  If you’re working with a string pasta (spaghetti, linguini, cappellini, etc., the noodles may stick out over the water.  Not to worry.  In a few seconds the bottoms of the noodles will soften enough to let the pasta slide in.

As a rule, I stir the pot while I’m adding the pasta and for another 15 seconds or so after.  Then I come back after about a minute and stir it again. I want to see the pasta pieces moving freely and not stuck together.  Then you can leave it alone for a few more minutes while it cooks.

Almost any pasta box will have cooking instructions telling you approximately how long to cook the pasta.  These are not laws such as gravity, they are rules of thumb.  They’ll get you close, but you need to be vigilant starting about 1 minute before and to about one minute after the time on the box.  When cooked properly the pasta should be softened, not chewy, but it should still require you to bite down a little to get through it.  Al Dente is the term.  Literally translated, “to the tooth.”  This means that perfect pasta requires a little bit of tooth to eat.  It doesn’t turn to mush in your mouth and it doesn’t require a lot of chewing.

Reserve one cup (measuring cup) of the pasta water for use in your sauce and drain the rest of the pasta through a strainer in the sink.  Don’t worry about shaking out every last drop of water.  Pour the strained pasta back in the pot.  (Now – there are pasta purists who will tell you you should rinse it at this point.  If you’re making a salad, by all means, rinse away, but if you’re making pasta to eat – like – now, then don’t worry about rinsing it.  I don’t rinse it because I don’t want to cool it).

Once you have the pasta done you’re ready to sauce it.  Here’s my favorite, very simple sauce. 

To the finished pasta add 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 TBS butter, 1/2 teaspoon dried italian herb mix, two healthy pinches of salt and several grinds from your pepper mill.  Then pour in about half of the reserved pasta water.  Stir to combine.  Serve warm with Parmesan Cheese.  You’ll never use a bottled sauce again.

It’s hard to believe it could be that simple!

Tomorrow I will post a series of variations on this theme.  The point though is that you can make this pasta quickly and easily with just a few things that you have around the kitchen.  The leftovers will last at least a week (Under refrigeration) and you can warm them up in the microwave.

 

Time to get cooking.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Fire!

Grilling is a great summer pastime.  What I think is funny is that there are a lot of folks who grill, but who seem to have an aversion to open flame.  Squirt bottles, grills that promise no flare ups, and lots of other gadgets have been created, essentially to keep a grill from being a grill.  Here’s a little secret, the grill’s secret to great flavor, caramelization, is high heat.  In a high heat situation your grill will create fire.  Fire, in and of itself isn’t bad.  Don’t panic.  Just know your foods well (the higher the fat content the better your food will respond to a little flame) and make sure you don’t ever leave the grill for too long.

These marinaded lamb chops are perfect for a little fire and a very hot grill. Keep an eye on them or you will quickly have lamb charcoal!

Last night I made a family favorite, Lamb Chops or as we call them, Lamb Lollipops.  We buy the lamb by the rack from Costco.  Two racks feeds my family of four – but we’re lamb piggies.  Their lamb, like all of their meats, is tender and excellent.  I make a simple marinade of Balsamic, Worcestershire, Dijon, Italian Herbs (dried) and olive oil.  I’ll give you the recipe in a second.  Before I put the lamb on the grill I make sure the temperature (from the external gauge) is right around 500 degrees.  When I put the lamb on the grill I know it will flare up.  I want it to.  This makes me happy.  I am Og, the fire eating caveman.  Perhaps its a return to my man roots.  Bones, Meat and Fire!  Yum!

Sorry – digression there.

Brushing a little of the reserved (unused) marinade on the lamb makes a great final touch. Brushing some of the used marinade on the lamb makes you sick. (that’s bad).

I turn the chops about 3 minutes after I put them on the grill and they’ll be done about 3 minutes after that (to medium rare – which any real lamb aficionado will tell you is the only temperature at which lamb should be served.)  Alongside of the lamb, another family favorite is grilled Asparagus.  I just toss this in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then toss it right on the grill.  If you cook the lamb first you can cook the Asparagus while the lamb is resting.  While my inner Og isn’t so sure about the vegetable, my metro 20th century male mind is very proud of myself for making a healthy vegetable side dish.  A little salt and pepper and they’re ready to serve.

Ready in about five minutes, grilled asparagus is a great accompaniment to the lamb.

Lamb marinade:

  • Two heaping tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (cooking grade)
  • 1/3 cup worcestershire (Yay!  I spelled that right on the first try!)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (right out of the jar)
  • 1 tsp dried Italian Herb mix – I prefer Spice Islands blend.
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup non extra virgin olive oil

Set aside about 3/4 cup of the completed marinade to baste on lamb as it finishes cooking.

In a medium sized mixing bowl mix the four first ingredients together.  While whisking, drizzle in olive oil in a slow and steady stream to create an emulsion.  (essentially to combine the olive oil and the other ingredients in a way that they won’t separate.  Watch Alton Brown on the food network if you want to know how this works).

Cut lamb apart along the ribs and lay out on a sheet of foil.  Season liberally with salt and pepper, patting the spices into the lamb.  In a mixing bowl or Pyrex baking dish, marinade the ribs separately for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  (Do not use a gallon sized zip lock as the lamb bones are prone to pierce these and you don’t want marinade and lamb juice all over your fridge.)

Heat your grill to 500 degrees and quickly distributed chops on the grill.  Flame may (hopefully) occur.  (most of this will initially be the olive oil in the marinade, but this will quickly start to melt the fat in the lamb chops).  Keep an eye on the chops.  Yellow fire is good.  Red fire is getting too hot.  Using a pair of long tongs (I prefer OSO Good Grips) turn chops after about 3 minutes, redistributing as necessary since any grill has warmer and cooler sections.  The more heat and flame your lamb is exposed to the more the fat will render and the more flavor you will experience when you eat them.  Yum.

For Asparagus.

Two grocery store bunches of Asparagus is good for a family of four.  I break off one of the stalks to see where it becomes tender. (Consult any of a million cookbooks on the topic).  Then I cut all of the rest of the stocks to that length.  If I’m having company I may use a vegetable peeler to peel the asparagus and I may not.  It depends on how much I like my guests.  Once they’re cut I just put them in a big mixing bowl and toss with some balsamic (cooking grade), olive oil – EV or not doesn’t matter, and salt and pepper.  When the lamb comes off of the grill I toss these on the grill.  Flame may happen.  This is good.  Make sure you put the asparagus on the grill across the grates or it will all fall through.  Don’t laugh.  I’ve seen this happen.  (right in front of me as it were).  Turn the asparagus after about two minutes and then turn again.  Taste one for doneness.  I take them off the grill while they’re still a little underdone.  They’re so hot that they will continue cooking.

Serve and Enjoy.  (leave your club outside).

BS Breasts… a technique for Flavorful Chicken Breasts

I hate boneless skinless chicken breasts.  I like chicken with skin.  I like the fat, crackle, salt, FLAVOR, that comes from the skin.  My favorite chicken to cook, outside of a whole roasted chicken, is the “Split Breasts” available from most markets.  In a future post I’ll share my technique for barbecuing these so they’re perfect.  This post isn’t about that.  It’s about my least favorite kind of chicken; boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Here’s the thing.  All of the good reasons to eat this food are all of the good reasons why it’s bad.  (From here on out in this post I’m going to call these BS Breasts, simply because I like the sound of that).  Let’s dissect a boneless, skinless chicken breast.  Ready?  They are made up of very lean chicken meat.  That’s it.  Extremely little fat, no connective tissue, no bones, no nothing.  Therefore, they have very little flavor and no natural tenderizers.  When most people cook them they turn out like semi soft hockey pucks.  Yuck!

It’s easy to make them better and the really good news is that all you need is a mallet, an ounce of aggression and a gallon sized ziplock bag.

Technically speaking there are really two problems with BS Breasts.  They have very little flavor-carrying surface area and they are so protein rich (and thick) that they get tough and dry easily.  How do you solve that problem?  It sounds like crazy talk, but pound them out flat.  This increases the flavor-carrying surface area geometrically and it also thins out the protein, making it much less likely that it will be tough.

Here’s a method for preparing these that we call “Dad’s ‘I’m Tired Tonight’ Chicken.”  It’s pretty close to foolproof.  (Which IS actually to say that if you mess it up, you’re a fool…. which is fine so long as you don’t tell anyone.)

Recipe.

  • BS Breasts.  (If you’re the plan ahead type you can buy these frozen for a fraction of the cost of the ones in the deli counter).
  • Seasoning.  Really anything you want, salt and pepper, chicken seasoning, cajon seasoning, fajita seasoning, whatever.
  • Olive Oil
  • Not essential but sometimes nice, lemon juice, flavor infused vinegar (those pretty bottles people give you that you don’t know what to do with)

Method

Heat a grill or large skillet to very hot…

Working one at a time, put the chicken breasts in a gallon sized ziplock bag.  Squeeze out all of the air and zip the bag shut, leaving about 1″ open at one end.  DO NOT SEAL THE BAG!  IT WILL POP OPEN IN A BAD PLACE AND SPRAY RAW CHICKEN ALL OVER YOUR KITCHEN OR YOU.  Use a rubber mallet from a hardware store, your fist, or one of those fancy kitchen mallets with a smooth side, to pound the chicken into a uniform 1/4″ thickness.  It will be surprisingly big.

Do this with all of your BS Breasts.

Drizzle liberally with whatever Olive Oil you have and then season.  (Heavily for the grill, not quite as heavily for indoor preparation.)

With either your grill or your skillet (Big flat frying pan for the uninitiated) fire cracker hot (I like my grill in the 500 degree range for this) lay the flattened breasts down and let them cook for about 1 minute.  If your grill flares from the olive oil, all the better.  Turn them over and let them cook for another two minutes.  No longer.

Drizzle with a little more of the olive oil and your reserved lemon juice or vinegar mix, slice into nice sized serving pieces and serve.  You will never just cook the whole damn BS Breast again.  Ever.  For anything.  I promise.

BTW – leftovers are perfect for salads, pastas, sandwiches, pretty much anything you might want to make chicken for…

Great, Simple, Pesto

We had our friends, Dan and Janci Farwell, over for dinner the other night.  After some go around about whether or not Janci eats fish (it turns out she does but that she doesn’t like Shellfish.  I don’t think this is really ‘outing’ her so I’m leaving this whole tangent in here unedited …  Living on the wild side!), we decided to have grilled Salmon for dinner.

The next step was figuring out how to make it special.  I’ve made Salmon many different ways.  The other night I made it and made a sauce with leeks, english peas, white wine, a little lemon and light cream that was really good.  On this day I thought about doing the same but decided I’d rather not deal with trying to park at Trader Joes so I could run in and pick up leeks and english peas.  Hmmm.. What to sauce the Salmon with?

Whenever I’m at a loss I find the nearest cookbook or Bon Appetit and flip through it for inspiration.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  On this day I saw a restaurant review that mentioned Salmon with a pesto sauce.  Brilliant!  I had everything I needed.  Off to the races.

Never start a race unless you know you have what it takes to finish.

I had two of the three ingredients I needed.  I had Basil and I had Garlic.  However, my stash of frozen Pine Nuts was inexplicably missing from the freezer.  (Pine nuts left in your pantry will go rancid quickly so if you want to save them, freeze them).  Curiously, it had been replaced by someone’s stash of Thin Mints.  Thin Mints won’t work in Pesto.  I thought about the Chefs on Chopped and decided I was not one of them.  I could not make garlic, basil and Thin Mints into a sauce.  So, now I was off to the store to buy pine nuts.  (I should add that once in the car I briefly thought about going to Trader Joes to get leeks and english peas but I ruled that out when a light turned red.)

When I laid the Salmon down face down on the grill Dan was very skeptical that I would be able to turn it.  When I did he dropped to his knees and kissed my ring.  (this may or may not be an exaggeration).  I divulge this trick in another recipe involving grilling Salmon here on the blog but suffice it to say that when you do it your friends will be impressed.

Now the pesto sauce … Yum.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Ounces Fresh Basil leaves.  (You cannot use dried for this recipe).
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 10 Garlic Cloves or Two-Three TBs crushed garlic
  • 1/4 cup very fresh extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all of these ingredients in a food processor (17,000 italian chefs just rolled over in their graves because you are supposed to use a mortar and pestle.  However if one is not handy or you simply want to go faster just use your food processor – the blender looking thingy with the REALLY sharp blade.  No one can see those guys turning over in their graves anyway!).  Anyway, combine all ingredients in the food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped – but not paste.  Taste it and add salt and pepper until you like it.  Try not to eat it all.  You’ll have to go back to the market.

During the last five minutes of cooking the Salmon (use the recipe elsewhere on the blog for cooking the fish) spoon the pesto onto the top of the fish.  Serve immediately with extra pesto on the side.  Receive the adoring accolades from your guests with grace.

Grilled Salmon with Herb, Mustard Sauce

Salmon topped with mustard, herb sauce, 4HB beans and sauteed asparagus makes a nice Sunday night dinner.

Grilled Salmon is a staple around my house.  I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking it over the years and it turns out with just the right combination of crunchy exterior and silky texture.  I got a new cookbook from our friends, Al and Debbie Frank, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook, based on the menus at  Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, California and authored by their executive chef, Dana Slatkin and I wanted to try out some of the recipes.  This is the first one.  Pretty good.

I’m not afraid of using cookbooks.  In fact, I use them all the time.  You’ll notice the page is dog-eared.  There are many pages in this cookbook that I’ve marked for recipes I want to try.  When I get a new cookbook I sit with it and a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and go through it and mark everything that looks good.  Then I leave it out for a couple of days to remind me that there are dishes to try and when the time is right, yippee, I get to try something new. (I don’t ordinarily say yippee…)

Grilling Salmon is pretty straight forward, though I do use one big trick.  The first step is to dust the fish liberally with seasoning.  I use a mix from Penzey’s called Trinidad.  It is a lemon and garlic mix that has great flavor for seafood.  Since this is going to go on the grill, the Salmon needs to be coated pretty heavily with the seasoning, otherwise it will all burn off.  This recipe called for a sauce made with whole grain mustard, a dry white wine, a shallot, dill and thyme. I didn’t have a Shallot.  I used about 1/4 onion and 1 teaspoon garlic as a substitute since shallots basically taste like garlicky onions.  For this one, since the recipe is in a newly on the market cookbook I’m going to say, if it sounds good, buy the cookbook.  You should.  There are a number of recipes in this cookbook that look really good to me so it’d be worth it.

Now down to grilling the Salmon. Like I said, there is one big trick that I use when I’m cooking Salmon.  Ok.  Well, two or three actually.  The first is pretty simple…  Heat the grill to really hot. You’ll note that my grill temp is over 600 degrees!  I know, I know… That’s gonna burn the fish like crazy.  Only, it’s not.  You’ll see.

The next step is going to sound crazy.  I don’t know when I first tried it.  It would have sounded crazy to me too.  Spray the top of the fish liberally with PAM cooking spray. I know what you’re thinking.  Jim’s gone off the deep end. PAM?  Yes. Here’s why.  It has very little flavor and it is actually formulated to be slippery.  When you put the fish down on the grill, skin side up, you’re going to be glad you did this because you’re not going to want that fish to stick.

Lay the fish flesh side down on the grill for two to three minutes.  Using a large, sharp spatula lift and turn over the fish.  It will be nicely caramelized on the top.  Then close the grill and let the fish cook for four to five more minutes for medium rare.  (6 or 7 if it is thicker). Then, using the sharp end of your spatula, cut the fish off of the skin, leaving the skin on the grill.  (with as much oil as is in Salmon it will quickly catch fire and pretty much burn up (making disposal easier).  Serve on a warm plate with the sauce on the side.

For a much simpler sauce, melt four tablespoons of butter and combine with the juice of one lemon and 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil.  (this can be done in the microwave).  Pour over fish and serve…

You'll want to serve the fish right off the grill. So getting all of your sauce ingredients ready ahead of time will speed the finishing process.

Starting the salmon skin side up will make great grill marks on the top...

Use a sharp spatula to shave the fish from the skin, leaving the skin to burn up on the grill.