Monday, February 28, 2011

Crispy and sticky chicken thighs with smashed new potatoes and cherry tomatoes

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Chicken skin is an interesting thing. When it's crispy, it's oh so delectable. (Not healthy, delectable.). When it's rubbery, it's, well, rubbery and pretty gross to be perfectly honest. Sometimes I struggle to get the crispiness to stay until I serve the meal. So this particular recipe made me raise an eyebrow in my oh-so-skeptical way. Crispy... really?

Really.

The chicken is browned in a pan and then finished in the oven. If you get it good and crisp on the stovetop, the 400 degree blazing hot oven will do the rest and you will have the poultry version of bacon to crunch away on. (And if you have leftovers like we did, reheat the dish covered in foil until it's warm, then crank the broiler on to crisp it up. Worked like a charm in my countertop oven...)

Oh there's more to this dish than chicken skin. There are lush slightly squished potatoes, silky skinless tomatoes and plenty of oregano. I finished it with a drizzle of my super special Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive oil.  Jeff placed it among the top chicken dishes I've ever made. Go figure - I picked it because it sounded pretty easy, so his reaction was a pleasant bonus.

The original calls for fresh oregano. I didn't have any so I used dried Greek oregano - I find the taste milder than Italian. I'll try this one again during the summer when my oregano needs a good lesson (it keeps trying to take over my herb garden).

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Crispy and sticky chicken thighs with smashed new potatoes and cherry tomatoes
adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

1 3/4 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed

12 chicken thighs, skin on, preferably free-range or organic
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds cherry tomatoes, different shapes and colors if you can find them
1 bunch fresh oregano, leaves picked (or about 1 tsp. dried, preferably Greek)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder (optional)

Put the potatoes into a large saucepan of salted boiling water and boil until cooked.

While the potatoes are cooking, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place chicken thighs in a bowl. Rub the meat all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss.

Heat a large frying pan, big enough to hold all the chicken pieces snugly in 1 layer, and put the chicken into the pan, skin side down. If you don't have a pan that's big enough, feel free to cook the chicken in 2 batches. Toss and fry over a high heat for 10 minutes or so, until almost cooked, then remove with a slotted spoon to an ovenproof pan or dish. (I used one pan for stove and oven - I just drained the grease after cooking the chicken)

Prick the tomatoes with a sharp knife. Place them in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for a minute or so. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, pinch off their skins. You don't have to, but by doing this they will become lovely and sweet when cooked, and their intense flavor will infuse the potatoes. By now the potatoes will be cooked. Drain them in a colander and lightly crush them by pushing down on them with your thumb.

Bash up most of the oregano leaves with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar, or a Flavor Shaker if you have one. Add 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, a good splash (about 1 Tbsp.) of red wine vinegar and some pepper and give everything another bash. Add to the chicken with the potatoes, the tomatoes and the rest of the oregano leaves. Sprinkle with the garlic powder. Toss everything together carefully. Spread out in a single layer in an appropriately sized roasting pan or back in your original pan, and bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven until golden.

Finish with a drizzle of good Extra Virgin olive oil.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Leek Bread Pudding

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Every day, on my way to work, I pass by a Church in Scotch Plains that has a sign on the corner of their property. They post witty little messages on the sign… things like “Give Satan an inch and he’ll become a ruler.” For 4 years, I’ve been chuckling at whatever play on words they’ve posted that week. But at the end of a long snowy winter, their newest thought pretty much sums up the feelings of just about everyone I know: “Whoever’s praying for snow, please stop!”

I usually like winter, but I’m over it this year. Last Friday it was 65 degrees out, before the temperatures dropped again. It was a cruel tease. I saw tiny little spikes of my hyacinths poking through the soil and then it snowed again. The silver lining is that I can still crank up the oven and make lots of yummy comfort food. So that’s what you’ll be seeing here over the next week or so. Things like this lush leek bread pudding and blueberry butter cake and crispy chicken thighs…

But back to the leek bread pudding. It’s from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, a book which continues to be one of my top 5 favorite cookbooks. It's pretty simple to put together and tastes as good if not better leftover. We had it with grilled steaks, but it'd go well with ham, lamb or even pork. My adaptation is below - the original called for whole milk. I didn't miss the extra fat...

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Leek Bread Pudding
adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
12 cups 1-inch cubes crustless Brioche or Pullman sandwich loaf
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups reduced fat milk
3 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Comté or Emmentaler

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Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the leek rounds in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so that any dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. Set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, lift the leeks from the water, drain, and add them to the pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. As the leeks begin to soften, lower the heat to medium-low. The leeks will release liquid. Stir in the butter to emulsify, and season with pepper to taste. Cover the pan with a parchment lid, and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the leeks are very soft, 30 to 35 minutes. If at any point the butter breaks or looks oily, stir in about a tablespoon of water to re-emulsify the sauce. Remove and discard the parchment lid.

Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave the oven on.
Add the leeks to the bread and toss well, then add the chives and thyme.

Lightly whisk the eggs in another large bowl. Whisk in the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and croutons in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Scatter the remaining leeks and croutons over and top with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough of the custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so it soaks in the milk. Let soak for about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining custard, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Restaurant review: Bistro Henry, Manchester, VT

Each winter, my husband and I take at least one trip to Stratton to ski. Over the years we've tried a number of restaurants in the area. We had a few favorites but for some reason, last year most of them disappointed us. So when we went up this year, we wanted to try some new places. Good thing we did, because now we have a new favorite.

We've passed Bistro Henry a zillion times. It's right on the road to the mountain and we've looked at the menu but for some reason never went. We finally decided to give it a go on a Friday night a couple weeks ago. We made a reservation and were promptly seated by the host (who was also the sommelier). The dining room has a quaint, country look and feel - warm and cozy on a cold winter night.

The menu offers lots of classic French dishes along with a few oddities like Szechuan pork dumplings and tuna with pad Thai noodles. We stuck with the French food (but a guy at the table next to us was raving about the tuna.)

I chose the two items on the menu that they seemed very confident about, some might even say a little cocky. I started with "Our really, really, good lobster bisque, really." I wondered if it would live up to their boasting. You know what? It was better than really really good. It was the best lobster bisque I've ever had. Ever. Chunks of moist lobster in a creamy bisque that tasted like... LOBSTER!

For dinner I chose "Duck our way." I thought it was an interesting name because what if I didn't like duck their way? What if I wanted it my way? The description of the dish is as boastful as that of the bisque: "Medium rare breast & crispy leg, green peppercorn sauce. The best. No kidding." The duck was cooked perfectly - per-fect-ly. Crispy skin, fat rendered just right. My only issue was I would have liked just a little more bite in the green peppercorn sauce.

Jeff started with scallops - his favorite. They were served with apples, apple cider beurre blanc and crunchy fried onions. I took a bite and they were excellent, even if I'm not big on scallops.

For dinner, he had grilled veal tournedos with mushroom sauce and truffle butter. Like my duck, it was perfectly cooked and it had all that delicious richness that anything with mushrooms and truffles should.

The restaurant has a nice wine list with bottles across a wide range of prices. The sommelier is friendly and knowledgeable - he recommended a bottle for us and we loved it.

During the meal only one thing really bugged me. And it happened in the bathroom (don't worry! keep reading!) In every stall and on the mirrors, there was a flyer. It talked about a bad review they'd received and how you shouldn't listen to it and how you should tell your friends if you like them. It was written by a guy named Justin... 10 years ago!

So I get that bad reviews can hurt a restaurant. Especially one that turns up high in search results. But Bistro Henry is good - really good. And most of the other reviews I've seen online say so. We will go back - probably every year when we're at Stratton. So my only comment to Bistro Henry: Forget Justin. Your food is good - really good. I'll tell my friends. I'll come back. Let the confidence you show on your menu shine through and Justin won't matter.

Bistro Henry on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Roasted veal chops with black trumpet ragu and crispy artichokes

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Artichokes are interesting little beasts. Yes, I refer to them as beasts, because for the first time, I bought whole fresh artichokes and cleaned them myself. And it was beastly. OK, maybe it wasn't that bad, but there was prickly fluff all over my cutting board. And I was so awkward with them that they were turning black faster than I could clean them. Once cleaned, they're worth the effort. They have that unique taste that keeps sommeliers guessing. They don't really pair well with wines, but even so, these little beasts make plenty of appearances in my kitchen (try my artichoke pie for example).

The rest of this recipe is made up of equally yummy things: mushrooms, cream, onion and veal! Yum, yum and yum. Who could resist? I made this as an entree following our Bay scallops with smoked fingerling potato salad, endive and McIntosh apple. The cream makes it really rich. Let me repeat: really rich. It was delicious, but we thought it needed a little acid. We sprinkled a little lemon on it at the end and it helped bring out the flavors. Try it without and if you agree, add a little lemon.

I almost never broil chops. My husband doesn't mind grilling no matter the weather (he is Canadian after all). But these turned out great - I preheated the oven first then turned on the broiler. The veal was tender and juicy. I adapted the original recipe for 2 - I cut the sauce in half, used 2 chops instead of 6 and 2 artichokes instead of 3.

Roasted veal chops with black trumpet ragu and crispy artichokes
adapted from Fresh from the Market by Laurent Tourondel

For the black trumpet ragout:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, cut into medium dice
  • 4 ounces black trumpet mushrooms, trimmed and cleaned
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the veal chops:
  • 2 bone-in veal chops, frenched and cleaned, 14 ounces each
Artichokes
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 small globe artichokes, trimmed and cut into quarters 
For the black trumpet ragout:

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter begins to foam, add the onion and sauté until well caramelized, about 10 minutes.

While the onions are caramelizing, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and sauté the mushrooms until tender and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the caramelized onion and deglaze with the wine. Continue cooking until the wine has reduced to just a tablespoon of liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cream is very thick, about 8 minutes. Add the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the veal chops:

While the ragout is simmering, place the broiler rack about 4 inches away from the heat source and preheat the broiler. Season the veal chops with salt and pepper. Broil the chops until they are pink when cut in the center, about 7 minutes per side for medium-rare doneness. To check for doneness, make a small cut near the bone or insert an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. The temperature should be 140–150 degrees. Remove from the heat, tent with aluminum foil and let rest.

Blanch the artichokes. Fill a deep heavy saucepan or deep fryer with 3 inches of vegetable oil. Heat the oil to 300 degrees. Blanch the artichokes in the oil until the leaves are golden brown and the artichokes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 5 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, arrange the veal chops on 6 serving plates. Spoon the ragout evenly over the veal chops and top each with some artichoke. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top food shops in central New Jersey (or Confessions of a Spice-a-holic)

I have a spice drawer. (Big deal, you’re thinking...) Well, I also have a spice cabinet… two really. They’re so crammed with blends and spices and sauces that I have to be careful when opening them… and that doesn’t include the baking stuff – that’s in another cabinet. Then there’s the top shelf in my pantry which is lined with different mustards, sauces, pastes, etc. Now you get the picture - I love buying and receiving anything that adds flavor to food. So when I come across a shop that sells good stuff, I’m like a little kid on Christmas morning. (Only more dangerous because I have a credit card.)
 
I’ve lived most of my life in central New Jersey. As a foodie, trips into New York were like trips to the promised land. I’d hit Kalustyan’s for my spices, grab bread at Amy’s, cheese at Murray’s, etc. I once hoofed it over to 1st Ave. for pierogis then carried them home on the train. Now that I’m a mom, I don’t get into the city quite as often – but I don’t need to. Plenty of specialty shops have popped up right in my area and more are appearing every day. Plus, grocery stores are carrying more gourmet and ethnic foods, so long treks are no longer necessary.
 
I know there are plenty of NJ foodies who visit my site, so I’ve decided to put together a list of my favorites. Read through it – you might find something new. More importantly, let me know what’s missing – I love finding new shops, so please share! (I’ll find a cabinet someplace with room for more goodies!)
 
Spices
Pastries, donuts, and bagels
  • The Swiss Pastry Shoppe, 1711 East Second Street, Scotch Plains (try the old-fashioned glazed – AMAZING! And at Easter, the Cheese babka has been a family tradition for years.)
  • Cranford Best Bagels & Deli, 107 South Ave, Cranford (Try a breakfast sandwich, mmmm)
Bread
  • Dom’s, 506 Grand Street, Hoboken (I haven’t gone in ages, but my brother and his family were regulars there until they moved 2 months ago… try the tomato pie.
  • Breadsmith, 32 North Ave W, Cranford (Greek Olive Ciabatta, ‘nuf said.)
Cheese
Meat
  • For Polish Kielbasa, Wawel Delicatessen, 571 Raritan Rd., Roselle
  • For German sausages (wursts), hot dogs, Merguez sausage, breakfast sausage, steaks – Barth’s Market, 41 South Street, New Providence
  • Or Wine Library for D’artagnan Chorizo and Andouille
All things Asian
All things Indian
  • Bhavani cash and Carry, 392 Route 22 West, Green Brook
South American, Jamaican
What’d I miss? Leave a comment and let me know your favorite!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bay Scallops with Smoked Fingerling Potato Salad, Endive, & McIntosh Apple

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I have previously confessed my love for Laurent Tourondel... it's no secret. But I'll tell you something new: I love him even more now. Since my little eclair was born, I've been cooking, but not those spend-all-day-in-the-kitchen meals; it's been more the toss-something-in-the-slow-cooker dinners (which are delicious, don't get me wrong). But I know I'm adapting to motherhood when I get that urge to make a fab dinner, to pick recipes that take up a full page or maybe even two, have unusual ingredients or techniques, and look darn good on a plate. Enter Laurent. For my birthday in December, my mother-in-law sent me a copy of Fresh from the Market. I've drooled over it numerous times, and I finally got around to making a meal from it.

The first course is featured below. I am personally not a scallop fan. But every now and again I'll make a first course with them because my husband loves them. This recipe calls for bay scallops which I find more palatable than the big guys. I was intrigued by smoked potatoes (amazing!) and McIntosh happen to be my favorite apples. This is one great first course. It's got lots of different textures - creamy potato salad, crisp greens, crunchy apples and bacon and lush scallops. Jeff put it in his top five first courses (his long-standing favorite is also from Laurent...)

Watch for the main course: a veal chop with black trumpet ragu and crispy artichokes... mmmm.

If you're in the market for a new cookbook (and who isn't really???) check this one out. Not that I'm partial or anything.

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Nantucket Bay Scallops with Smoked Fingerling Potato Salad, Endive, & McIntosh Apple
adapted from Fresh from the Market by Laurent Tourondel

SERVES 6

Potato Salad
2 slices thick-cut bacon
3/4 pound fingerling potatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup hickory wood chips, soaked in water (or use a stovetop smoker with chips if you have one)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons store-bought barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon mustard oil, or grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely diced celery
1 tablespoon finely diced red onion
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Scallops
1 tablespoon canola oil
11/2 pounds Nantucket Bay scallops

Salad
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 head endive, sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch strips
1 small McIntosh apple, peeled and cut into matchstick-size strips
1 bunch watercress, large stems removed

Make the potato salad
Cook the bacon in a small sauté pan over medium heat until crispy, about 5 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Once cool, roughly chop the bacon.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and salt liberally with kosher salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 18 minutes. Drain the potatoes. When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins.

Line the bottom of a pot with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drain the hickory wood chips and place them in the pot. Heat the wood chips over a burner until they are smoking. Place the potatoes in a steamer insert and set the insert in the pot. Cover tightly with a lid, allowing no smoke to escape from the pot. Smoke the potatoes over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Alternatively, smoke them for 5 minutes in a stovetop smoker.

Whisk the mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, mustard or grapeseed oil, and sherry vinegar in a large bowl to blend.

Add half the warm potatoes to the dressing and, using a fork, crush the potatoes into the vinaigrette. Cut remaining potatoes into quarters and then fold them in.

Fold in the chopped bacon, parsley, celery, and onion, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Let the salad stand for 20 minutes to allow all the flavors to incorporate, stirring occasionally.

Prepare the scallops
Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. When the pan is smoking hot, add the scallops. Sear the scallops on 1 side until caramelized, about 2 minutes. Once the scallops have caramelized, swirl the pan several times and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the scallops to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

Assemble the salad
Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic in a medium bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the endive, apple, and watercress in the vinaigrette to coat.

To serve
Spoon the potato salad in the center of 6 plates. Place the scallops over the potato salad and then top with the watercress salad. Serve immediately.
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