Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tarragon Chicken

Tarragon Chicken is lovely dish of chicken, cream and tarragon - a classic in France. Serve it over rice or pasta.

I read cookbooks like novels. Every recipe evokes an emotion and hints at a story, the person who invented the dish, the culture that nurtured the tradition or the landscape that grows the local produce used. Jamie magazine’s 22nd issue is all about France and French cooking.

The whole issue was like snuggling into a warm bed in the dead of winter, while cold rain falls outside. We lived in Paris for three years and, while it wasn’t all a bed of roses and I can acknowledge the highs and lows of Paris, all in all it was a happy three years full of family, friends and fun and fresh food.

When I read this recipe, I knew I had to make it. Just the word tarragon brings me back. (Does anyone use tarragon but the French?)

Tarragon Chicken

Call it Tarragon Chicken or Petite Blanquette De Poulet a L’estragon, if you are feeling fancy. This recipe is adapted from one in the cookbook Boundary by way of Jamie magazine, Issue 22. 

3-4 tbsp olive oil
1 x 3 lb or 1.4kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 1/4 oz or 150g button mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon or 50ml white wine
1 bunch of thyme, tied with string
5 bay leaves
2 cups + 1 tablespoon or 500ml chicken stock
1/3 cup or 40g flour
1/8 cup or 40g butter, softened
Juice of 1 lemon
Scant cup or 220ml whipping cream
2 egg yolks, beaten
3–4 tbsp chopped tarragon

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large pan over a high heat. Add the chicken, in batches if necessary, and cook until browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Wipe out the pan then heat the remaining oil. (I skipped this step because I couldn’t bear to wipe away all the beautiful caramels of the pan. I don’t know why on earth you would want to get rid of all that flavor!) Add the carrot, celery and onion and cook over a medium heat for five minutes, until the onion is translucent.

Add the mushrooms and cook for a further five minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. 

Return the chicken to the pan with the thyme, bay and stock. Simmer, covered, for 40–50 minutes or till the chicken is falling off the bone.

Spoon the chicken and vegetables into a serving dish and keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan. 
(I simply used a slotted spoon.)

Whisk together the flour and butter, (which we all remember is called beurre manie, right?) add to the cooking liquid, whisking continuously, and place over a medium heat.

Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. (I don’t know if my simmer is hotter than the Jamie test kitchens, but I didn’t have a whole lot of juice let after the chicken and the vegetables were scooped out so I had to add about 3/4 cup of water to make the sauce easier to stir.)

Add the lemon juice and season to taste.

Combine the cream and egg yolks in a jug and whisk into the sauce.

Stir in the tarragon, pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. 

I served this over some lovely linguine. It was indeed delicious! Enjoy! 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dutch Sandwiches

Toasted artisan bread spread with garlic mayonnaise then topped with grilled chicken and tomatoes makes a lovely lunch. 

Long ago, in an era we call BC (Before Children) we lived in Abu Dhabi and I worked at the InterContinental Hotel. My boss was head of marketing and I was in charge of Public Relations, which meant I entertained the journalists who came to see a performance at the hotel, or attend a restaurant opening, and I produced our in-house brochures and newsletter, among other tasks. I got along well with my boss and his wife, a Dutch couple of enormous height with an equally large sense of humor. Aside from me, all the executive staff lived in the hotel. (As I already had accommodation through my husband's company, I opted for a transportation allowance instead.)

One day they invited me to their hotel apartment for sandwiches. Much to my surprise, they brought out bread with ham and cheese on top. Apparently, in the Netherlands, all sandwiches were open-faced. And there I was thinking that a sandwich was a sandwich all over the world. From them, I also learned that the Dutch kiss three times upon meeting. Left cheek, right cheek, left cheek or the other way around. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s three times. Both lessons have stood me in good stead in the years since.

Here, then, I offer you, my Dutch sandwiches:

1 very small clove of garlic, minced finely
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 grilled chicken breast (Those of you who read Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken might have been wondering what happened to the third breast. Here it is.)
1 tomato
6 slices of artisan wholegrain bread

Add the lemon juice to the minced garlic in a small bowl. The lemon juice will reduce the sharpness and pungency of the fresh garlic so leave it to steep for at least five minutes before adding the mayonnaise and mixing thoroughly.

Meanwhile toast your wholegrain bread slices, slice your chicken breast and your tomato.

Add a nice spread of the garlic mayo to each golden slice. Top with chicken and then tomato. Finish it off with a good grind of fresh black pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt, if desired.

1. Garlic mayo 2. Grilled chicken 3. Tomato slices

Best served with a glass of crisp white wine and eaten while watching England trounce poor Romania in the Rugby World Cup. I wonder how many times the Romanians kiss upon meeting. They could sure use some love right now.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ham and Spinach Quiche

If you have leftover cheese, vegetables and cooked meat, you have another delicious meal in the making. Quiche is a great way to use up leftovers and make a fabulous new dish your family will love. 

Frankly, the piecrust deserves a post of its own.  It is versatile and works just as well with savory and sweet fillings. It is the piecrust of my quiches, as well as my banana cream pie and apple pie and pecan pie and so on.  I am asked for the recipe often, but I cannot take credit. I come by it honestly: The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, 1980 edition, Zoe Coulson, ed.  This cookbook was a gift from my mother-in-law on our first married Christmas in 1986 and it has been so well-used (read: falling apart) that I am on my second copy now, purchased on Ebay.  I had to have the same edition!  Perhaps later editions have all the same recipes. I’ll never know. But in the 1980 edition, I know where everything is. 

I could wax eloquent about the Before You Cook section, amply used by my newlywed husband to cook wonderful meals for me upon his return from offshore, with its illustrations of kitchen tools and pots and pans and equipment, essential for a newbie. Or the Color Index with photographs of every one of the more than 900 recipes. Or the illustrated, step-by-step instructions.  Suffice to say, this book is one of two we have taken in the luggage to every new overseas posting in 25 years of marriage.  The second book is a binder of photocopied and handwritten recipes I have amassed over the years from friends and family. 

But time to get on to the recipe at hand!

Pastry for a one-crust pie

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (Good Housekeeping says only 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening (Crisco is my preferred but I have had to use butter in some countries where Crisco is not available. It works but the crust is not as flaky.)
2-3 tablespoons of cold water

Put the flour, shortening and salt together in one bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the flour into the shortening until you have small crumbs.

Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time, blending with the tines of a fork, until the mixture forms a soft dough which can be rolled into a ball.   

Flatten the ball into a patty and wrap it in cling film and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

When you are ready to bake, roll the dough out into a circle to fit your pie pan.

As you can see from the photos, I cheat. I discovered these miracles of plastic and zipper more than 15 years ago in a bakers’ catalog and I have not been without them, if I can help it, since.  (Mind you, this was before the days of Al Gore’s Internet, so we ordered from a printed catalog by FAX! And I have once again dated myself.) You can, of course, roll it out the old-fashioned way but I would suggest at least using a piece of waxed or parchment paper to make transferring the dough from the counter top to the pie plate easier. If it helps, you can even draw your circle on the paper with a permanent marker.

Put your pie plate on top and your hand under. Flip!

Poke the crust with the tines of your fork to keep it from puffing up in the wrong places.
And now, the quiche filling.

Quiche is like an omelet. You can put anything and everything in it.

1. Choose a cheese (Cheddar, blue, Brie, Camembert, Gouda, Emmental, Swiss, etc.)
2. Choose a vegetable (Broccoli, tomato, cauliflower, asparagus, potato, onion, etc. Quick cooking vegetables can be added raw, for instance, tomatoes. Others, like broccoli and asparagus, should be parboiled. Still others, like potatoes or carrots, should be fully cooked.)
3. Choose a cooked meat (optional) (Ham, bacon, chicken, beef, lamb, fish, shrimp, etc.) All of these should be fully cooked, of course.

Then you have eggs, milk and cream. Your quantities of everything will depend on the depth of your pie plate.

For this quiche in a normal pie plate, I used about 4.5 ounces or 125g of cheddar, 2 ounces or 55g of frozen spinach (thawed, then drained), and about 3 ounces or 85g of leftover, previously frozen ham. (Am I the only one who buys ham that the family eats for a day or two and then abandons?  I pop it in the freezer when it’s still good and, while you cannot thaw it and still make decent sandwiches, it is perfect for quiche or omelets. You are welcome.)

To those I added four whole eggs, 3/4 cup or 180ml cream and 1/2 cup or 120ml milk, black pepper and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Pour this mixture into your piecrust and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. The first 10 minutes should be at 400°F or 200°C and then turn your oven down to 350°F or 180°C for the rest of the time.

I usually serve each slice of quiche with a tomato salad or even a green salad on the side but truly, it is a meal all by itself.  Any questions, leave me a comment.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken

This Easy Caesar salad with grilled chicken recipe - with creamy homemade dressing - is a full meal, or divide it up as starters.

Food Lust People Love: This Easy Caesar salad with grilled chicken recipe - with creamy homemade dressing - is a full meal, or divide it up as starters.

For years when I asked elder daughter what she wanted for dinner, this was her most frequent request.   After she went off to university, her little sister continued the tradition.  We even have bowls, big lovely salad bowls - one is large enough when making for side salad for everyone - which replace plates when we are having Caesar salad as a main course.  We have four such bowls.  It makes me sad tonight to be filling only two.

Ingredients for dressing
2 tablespoons fresh or reconstituted lime or lemon juice (You can also use vinegar, in a pinch.)
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup cold water (Cold helps the dressing emulsify.)
1 small (45g) can of anchovies in olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt or to taste (Some anchovies are saltier than others so you can wait to add the salt until after the dressing is emulsified so you can taste it.)
¼ teaspoon powdered English mustard (Colemans)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled

Puree all together in a blender or with a hand blender until emulsified.  This will keep for a couple of weeks stored in the refrigerator in a closed jar.

Ingredients for chicken
One chicken breast per person
Sea salt
Black pepper
Olive oil

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with your vinegar.

This can be a flavored vinegar, red wine, white wine, balsamic, cider, etc.  Your favorite vinegar. I keep several in my cupboards, but my go-to bottle for most marinating is plain white vinegar. I poke a hole in the lid with a sharp knife and then sprinkling is very easy. You don’t need much and, without other flavors and spices, the flavor of the charred chicken comes through.  I also always buy the same brand, same size bottle so I can reused the lid on each new bottle instead of flailing about with a sharp knife re-poking holes each time I run out.

Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a Ziploc bag and pop the chicken in.  Zip it up and rub the oil all around. Leave bag of chicken in the refrigerator to marinate until you are ready to grill it.

When you are ready to grill, heat your griddle pan until it is screaming hot.  Imagining your grill pan is a clock and the lines on the grill run from 12 to 6 o’clock, put your chicken on point to the right at about 2 and 8 for three minutes.  Try to move the chicken with tongs. If it is still sticking, leave it on for another minute or so.

Turn the chicken over and point it to the left at about 11 and 5 for another three minutes.

Turn the chicken once more and keep it pointing left for about one minute.

Turn the last time and point it right for one more minute.   

Remove the breasts from the hot pan and allow to rest for a few minutes, lightly covered with foil.  These times are approximate, depending on the thickness of your chicken breasts. If you think yours may be thicker than average, cut the thickest part to check for doneness before serving and pop them back on the grill if you see any pink.

To serve, slice the chicken breasts on the diagonal.

Ingredients for salad
Salad greens (Romaine, Romaine hearts, Baby Cos, Rocket, Arugula – even some of your heartier spring mixes or mesclun. They need to be able to stand up to the thickness of the dressing.)
Caesar dressing
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Grilled chicken
Croutons (optional)

Make sure your greens are clean and dry.  Drizzle them with your Caesar dressing and toss until lightly coated.  Add the Parmesan and croutons, then the chicken.  Serve, with extra freshly ground black pepper if desired. 

Food Lust People Love: This Easy Caesar salad with grilled chicken recipe - with creamy homemade dressing - is a full meal, or divide it up as starters.