Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saffron Chicken

Ho hum post title for me, but I can't come up with a bad pun every time I make a post, can I?

May I start this blog saying I don't like the new Blogger format?  This will be the last time I complain about it.  Blogger provides me with a free and user-friendly service that is nonessential and strictly for my own enjoyment.  If I don't like it, I could simply learn how to create my own website from scratch and pay someone to host it.  Since I am lazy and poor, and about to be even poorer, I will deal with whatever Blogger throws my way.

Any regular TERP reader knows I take my inspiration from all kinds of places.  Sometimes the merest suggestion can send my brain spinning into a new idea for a dish.  There are times when inspiration comes simply from a discussion I have with friends.

This is what happened with today's recipe.  I was happily chatting away on an online forum about saffron.  I don't use saffron much.  I don't make paella (too much fish!) so the only dish I use saffron in is risotto milanese.  I considered what else I could make with saffron, but I kept thinking about how much I really like my risotto milanese. 

That's when my brain kicked into hyperdrive.  I don't eat much rice these days, so I'm not likely to be making much risotto.  I started thinking about how I could translate the flavors of risotto into another dish.  What if I made the old standby - chicken - using the flavors of a basic risotto like saffron, wine, onion, and garlic?   How would that taste?

 I crumbled a pinch of saffron in warm chicken stock to dissolve and set it aside.

 I crisped up some pancetta in a pan and removed it.

Chicken breasts were browned well and set aside.
I added some butter and olive oil to the pan and softened an onion.  Later I added some garlic.

The saffron stock and some white wine went in and the pan was dutifully scraped of the necessary brown bits and the chicken went back in for a final simmer.

I saw that I had this messy, chunky liquid in the pan.  It wasn't the smooth saffron sauce I had envisioned in my mind.  I remedied that by throwing it all in the blender with a chunk of butter.

Much better.  My intention was to artfully slice the chicken breast and place those slices in some fancy pattern in the sauce and photograph the whole thing in the light box.  It was 9:10 PM, husband was home, I was tired from a gym workout.  I threw the chicken breast on the plate and photographed it on top of the stove using the overhead light.  Look, we all know TERP is not exactly a shining example of food photography.  Deal with it!

How was the sauce?  Pretty good.  It wasn't as yellow as I thought it would be (so no jokes about, "Please don't eat the yellow sauce," which I was so looking forward to doing).  The saffron and pancetta gave it just the right twist on flavor so it didn't taste like every other chicken dish I make.  Would definitely try this one again.

Chicken in Saffron Wine Sauce

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4 thin slices pancetta, cut into small pieces
  • 3 Tbl butter, divided use
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
Place stock in a microwave-safe container and heat on high for one minute.  Gently crumble saffron into warm stock and stir to dissolve.  Set aside.

In a large pan, cook pancetta until crisp.  Remove from pan and crumble into small pieces.

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Place in the pan and brown well on both sides, about 7 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add olive oil and 2 Tbl of butter to the pan.  Add the onion and cook until soft.  When onion is soft, add the garlic and cook another minute more.

Add wine and saffron stock mixture to the pan.  Bring to a boil and let it reduce for two minutes.  Return chicken to the pan along with the pancetta.  Reduce to simmer and cook about 15 minutes more.

Remove chicken breasts from pan and pour sauce into a blender or food processor with remaining tablespoon of butter.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Easter Cake - It Has Potential

I have an oven that tends to underbake things.  I don't know how many times I have put a cake in that oven and waited an extra 5 or 10 minutes past the maximum baking time for it to be done.

Is that my excuse?  Is that a good one?  You decide.  Here is  my story and my recipe.

After I made my mother-in-law's birthday cake I had acquired two things.  One was a love of cake made with browned butter.  The other was an excess of hazelnut praline paste.  Ever have hazelnut praline paste?  Think of non-chocolate Nutella.  It's just that addictive.  I considered making another cake out of those two elements, a completely different cake from the one I made previously.  I squeezed my brains until I came up with a way to do it.

I decided to make a variation on my Bourbon Orange Pound Cake (which is itself a variation on Julia Child's vanilla pound cake).  I would sub out some of the sugar with the praline paste and brown the butter in the recipe.

I did this successfully.  I mixed up the batter.  I stuck it in the oven at 350.  The instructions say to bake 55-65 minutes.  I decided to set the minimum at 60 minutes.  I doubted 60 minutes would be enough time, because that darned oven always overbakes everything, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

My buzzer went off at 60 minutes.  I pulled the cake out of the oven. I smelled burning.  Sure enough my cake had too-dark brown crispy edges.  My cake was burned - not terribly burned, but definitely a bit singed.

Since it had yet to become a briquet, I decided it was soft enough to salvage.  I served it with the rest of dessert at Easter dinner.

The cake was dry.  It was dry dry dry dry dry.  The texture seemed to mask the hazelnut flavor. I didn't get a whole lot of compliments from those who ate it at Easter dinner.  The best compliment I got was from Mom who said it was a good cake to have with the cup of tea.  Of course she thinks of tea.  The cake was DRY.

I brought the copious leftovers to work.  I told the first person to try a slice to make sure he had coffee.  He did say it was dry.  That didn't stop too many people from eating it.  Oddly enough, I tried another slice later that day and didn't think it was so bad.  It seemed to have areas that weren't as dry as others. It actually tasted like brown butter and hazelnuts.

So the next time I make this cake I know not to bake it for quite so long.  In fact, I might even start checking it at 50 minutes and not 55, which was what I considered the minimum.  I might also experiment with adding more butter.  I would think that in the process of browning, some of the liquid in the butter evaporated.  My other brown butter cake used 3 sticks.  Maybe I should try that the next time as well.

Here is the recipe as I orginally made it.  Consider my warnings and play with the ingredients and cooking times as you see fit.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Pound Cake

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, whisked to combine
  • ¼ cup hazelnut praline paste
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbl Frangelico
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a Bundt pan.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Heat butter over low heat until it becomes foamy. Allow foam to subside and cook until butter turns a deep amber color and smells nutty. Scrape all of it into a bowl set over an ice bath and chill until set, but still soft.

In a mixer, cream butter until soft. Stream in the sugar and continue beating on medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs just a little (about a tablespoon) at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Mix at medium speed until all eggs are mixed in and mixture is pale and gaining more volume. Beat in hazelnut paste.

Add flour and buttermilk alternately, ending with the flour. When it is well mixed, gently stir in vanilla and Frangelico.

 Pour mixture into pan and bake for 55-65 minutes (CHECK IT AT 55). Use the toothpick test to test for doneness. When baked cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then remove from pan.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Dinner Updates

My family had to do Easter a day early this year due to everyone's packed schedules.  Saturday night we did a pre-Easter dinner at Mom's with her and me sharing cooking duties.

My duties consisted of the pork, the Easter pie, and the desserts.  I also made some homemade biscuits. I spread all of this cooking out over two days.  It was quite a cooking adventure.

Easter Pie is always a requirement at our dinners.  I stuck to my classic family recipe (doubling the crust recipe) but was sure to add a little extra meat.  I had pepperoni, sweet sorpresata, and proscuitto in the mix. 

I decided to try a different method for the crust dough.  I put it in the Kitchen Aid and mixed it with a dough hook, making a "well" for the eggs. 

Instead of cutting the dough into two crusts, I made one huge crust and then wrapped it around the filling. I brushed the whole thing with egg wash and baked it at 350.  I think the resulting pie looked rather pretty.

I love pulled pork and always wanted to make it, so I decided Easter would be the perfect chance to try it. 

I rubbed a 5-pound pork  shoulder with brown sugar, dry mustard, paprika, and salt.  I found this Tyler Florence recipe for the rub.  I let it sit for about 2 hours. 

I cooked it for 6 hours at 275 in my Romertopf clay pot.  It was falling apart perfectly at the end.  I mixed it with a little barbecue sauce.  I found  a great recipe on Noble Pig.  It's a strong sauce, so I didn't put too much on when I first pulled the pork.  I most of it out on the buffet so people could take as much as they wanted when they served themselves.

I also made desserts because I'm designated dessert maker at holidays.  I made a variation on my pound cake recipe.  This time I tried it with brown butter and hazelnuts.  I will post a recipe for this in another post.  I'm afraid my only photo is this one from the baked goods table at dinner.  It's the cake behind the wine glass to the right of the Easter Pie. (My sister-in-law made those beautiful cookies.)

The big hit of the night was my white-chocolate-coconut cream pie.  I found this recipe Laura Brody's cookbook Chocolate American Style.  I didn't want to copy it here on the blog, but I found someone who did if you want the recipe

This is not your standard coconut custard topped with cream or meringue.  Instead it's more like a fluffy  mousse. You make your standard custard and then beat it with cream until it's whipped up. It sits on a crust made from Nilla Wafers crumbs and butter.   Although the original recipe doesn't say to top it with whipped cream, I decided I would do so.  I was even a bit daring and pulled up my piping bag and tried to make it fancy.

Every time I make this my husband tells me it's one of his all-time favorite pies.

It was a beautiful day and all in all it was a beautiful dinner. Mom made chicken salad (for the non pork eaters), Italian potato salad (made with tomatoes, basil, capers, and olives), and roasted asparagus. She also rounded out the appetizers with deviled eggs and veggies with Ina Garten's caramelized onion dip (the most addictive dip ever).  Don't forget about my homemade biscuits (I just use the same recipe I use for the biscuit topping for my Chicken Pot Pie, but I roll the dough out and cut it.)

Gotta love family holidays.  My family loves to eat!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Yet Another Chicken Recipe (Because I need a recipe...)

My dear TERP Muffins, please know that I have not deserted you.  I'm just so busy lately that I haven't had time to be inspired for new recipes.  I do try to read and keep up with your blogs as I can, but as for coming up with new blogs, I have to say my brain is a bit full right now.

I do realize now that after five years, this blog has served me well.  I can go back among the archives and find some of my favorites for reuse.  Isn't having an archive of the recipes I come up with one of my main reasons for having a blog?  I have been very happy I have this blog in the past couple of weeks.

I'm looking forward to Easter as I'm trying some new things and resurrecting some old favorites for the day.  I've been reading many of my blog buddies' anticaptory Easter posts and I look forward to reading more of them and seeing what everyone plans to eat or ate for the holiday (Passover too if that's how your're inclined).

Anyway, I really didn't want to wait until Easter to make a post.  I needed some ideas.

This weekend while watching some random show on Food Network or the Cooking Channel, I saw some show about a French bistro.  Although it wasn't one of the dishes featured on the show, a bunch of grilling chicken breasts on the stove caught my eye.  They looked good to me.

I don't know why I felt so drawn to chicken breasts.  I think they can be one of the most boring meats around.  They have the advantage of being meatier than thighs and , but they can also have much less flavor.  Then I thought rationally.   A French chef (or really any good chef) can take simple ingredients and treat them properly and make something that could be bland into something delicious.  If I thought chicken breasts were boring, all I had to do was remember the chicken I had at the restaurant in Versailles. 

I ended up with a strong desire to make, and a strong craving to eat, a pan-roasted chicken breast topped with a light and flavorful pan sauce.  I decided the next dinner I cooked would be the best chicken breast I could make and would be utterly TERP-worthy.

I really wanted the breasts to be flavorful and juicy, so I brined them first with salt, bay leaves, lemon zest, peppercorns and juniper berries. 

I browned them well in the pan before finishing them in the oven.

I wanted to try a wine that would stand up and demand some attention, so after sauteeing some shallots, I deglazed with Riesling and then added some rosemary.

I sliced them off the bone and into medallions and served with  a cauliflower and ramp puree.
I often find I have to walk a fine line when I'm brining smaller pieces of meat.  Turkeys take brining well, but it can be hard for small pieces to not be too salty.  I had that issue when I tried brining pork chops and I had a bit of that problem when I brined these breasts.  They had the desired texture, but there did seem to be a concentration of salt in the skin.  I also think the riesling was a little too aggressive.  I should have used a sweet one instead of a dry one.

I think I was heading in the right direction with this dish even if it wasn't perfect.  I will definitely try again and tinker with the ingredients a bit.

Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts in Riesling Sauce

Brine Ingredients
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • Zest (and only the zest) of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups of ice
Chicken and sauce ingredients
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 2 large shallts, minced
  • 1 cup riesling
  • 1 Tbl chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbl butter
 In  a large saucepan combine all bring ingredients except for ice.  Bring to a boil and boil a minute or two then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Place brine in a large bowl with the ice and the chicken.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to cook your chicken, carefully rinse off the brine and pat chicken pieces dry.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pan heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the chicken breasts to the pan skin side down.  Brown chicken well on both sides, about 10 minutes per side.  Place in the oven and cook an additional 20 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.  Add shallots to the pan and cook until softened.  Add riesling, scraping up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Simmer until reduced by half.  Add rosemary and butter and cook an additional minute.