Sunday, January 15, 2012

TRADITIONAL GREEK ROAST CHICKEN WITH RIGANI AND POTATOES





First off, although it's easy to guess:  Rigani in Greek means oregano.  This recipe is representative of one of the most typical way Greeks prepare roast chicken.  It's fast to make and delicious.  It contains the holy trinity of Greek seasonings: olive oil, lemon and oregano, and believe me, the chicken here gets seasoned with a lot of oregano.  Don't be stingy with the stuff.  I 'm always surprised at how juicy the chicken is when it comes out of the oven.  I think the meat stays moist because of the way the chicken skin is prepared.  A large pot of boiling water is poured over the uncooked chicken.  The effect of this is to toughen the skin a bit.  Since the skin gets tougher, it protects moisture from escaping during baking, and so the roasted meat is juicier.  The classic accompaniment to this dish are roasted potatoes, which are baked alongside the bird.  Love it!  
To accompany this dish I usually serve vegetables such as string beans or carrots, and a green salad made up of arugula or Romaine lettuce.  Sometimes, if they are available, I'll serve boiled dandelion greens seasoned with olive oil and lemon. Also, one of my favorite things is to have feta cheese on the side.  That's a habit I acquired during childhood, when my mother would mash a bit of feta into my potatoes so that I would find them more palatable.  Thanks mom, it worked.  I no longer need this enticement.  Now I do it out of choice:  to me, roasted Greek potatoes and feta cheese go great together.  






Ingredients:


A 3 to 4 pound chicken, preferably organic
Salt and pepper 

dried oregano (Greek oregano if you can find it)
1 small onion, peeled

2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
about 4 large baking potatoes, or use more if you want leftovers
1 large, juicy lemon, plus 1/2 lemon to sprinkle inside the bird
1/4 cup olive oil 





If you want to be really traditional, use a round baking pan.  Perhaps the choice of a round pan dates back to the days when round clay pots were used for baking.


Directions:


Preheat the oven to 450° F. Traditionally, before Greeks roast a chicken, they wash it well, then place it in a bowl in the sink and pour a kettleful of boiling water over it.  This will kill bacteria, but it will also toughen the skin, so that the chicken will be juicier when fully cooked.  So pour the hot water over the chicken then remove the bird from the sink and pat it dry with paper towels.  
Season it inside and out with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the lemon juice of half a lemon into the cavity. Place the peeled onion and the garlic into the cavity and tie the legs together with chicken twine.  Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and then slice each half in four.  The slices should look like like wedges.  Place the chicken in a roasting pan  and surround it with the potato wedges.   Squeeze the lemon juice of one lemon all over the chicken and potatoes.  Then pour the olive oil over them and season them with salt and pepper.  Get your oregano and sprinkle that all over.  Don’t be stingy with it, but don’t be too liberal pouring it on either.  I have never measured how much I use.  This dish needs a strong oregano presence but if too much is used, the chicken and potatoes might come out tasting bitter.  So I keep that in mind. Pour 1/4 cup of water into the pan, taking care not to spill any of it on the chicken.  Place the pan in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes.  Lower the heat to 400° F and cook for another hour.  The end result:  a golden chicken, and potatoes deliciously saturated with the cooking juices. 





This picture triggers so many memories for me...  I remember winter Sundays trotting to my aunt's house for dinner, stopping to gaze up at the bare trees and grey sky, then picking up my walking pace so as to outrun the approaching dusk.  I was a pre-teen on a mission.  Skip over the streets and sidewalks, stop to see what goodies the candy shops had for sale, and what new comic books had arrived at the newsstands.  Then skip again over rocks and streets and sidewalks, till I reached the archway which led to my aunt's home.  My face and legs were red from the air that grazed my skin, and my toes needed the comfort of a warm fire.  Conditions which were easy to ignore as I anticipated the pleasure of spending time with my family.  When I reached my destination, a cousin waited at the door to envelop me in a hug. Wonderful sounds and smells would greet me.  Laughter, talk, the aroma of this familiar chicken and potatoes dish.

Friday, January 13, 2012

HALIBUT in CRABMEAT and MUSHROOM BECHAMEL



"The James Beard Cookbook," authored by the American chef and food authority James Beard, was published in 1959.  It was revised and republished in 1970, and I am lucky enough to own one of the 1970 editions.  James Beard brought French cooking to 1950's America.   His legacy lives on in his numerous writings and cookbooks, and in the James Beard Foundation and its annual Beard awards given to various culinary genres.


The jacket is long gone, but otherwise the book is in very good condition.


It's nice to have one of his cookbooks as a reference, and I often peruse the recipes.  One which captured my attention was fish in béchamel sauce, which I finally got around to making.  I thought it would be a nice idea to include mushrooms and crab meat in the sauce.  I was thrilled with my ingenuity.  Then I checked Beard's recipe once more, just a few minutes before I sat down to write this post.  There is a "variations" section below his recipe, in which Beard clearly states that both mushrooms and shell fish can be added to the béchamel.  So much for my ingenuity.  I am sure I had read that part, and then conveniently forgotten about it, until the time came when I believed it was my own invention.  Memory does play tricks on us sometimes.  
So anyway, since I love both béchamel and halibut, I combined the two and made an excellent entree.  Something green needed to be served on the side, if only to make the pictures look good, something like steamed broccoli, or haricots verts, or asparagus....  I was too rushed to prepare anything like that and wound up serving my entree with just a nice tomato salad.  Well, Beard never mentioned anything specific about vegetables concerning this recipe.  Fresh vegetables are kind of a newfangled idea.  They did not really appear on the American culinary scene until the late '70s or early '80's.  What self respecting American ate vegetables in the 1950s?  



Ingredients:
For the Béchamel sauce:
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 and 3/4 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • a dash of thyme
  • 1/2 cup nice crab meat, or you can even use shrimp

For the Halibut:

  • 1 bottle of fruity white wine
  • a few sprigs of parsley
  • a slice of lemon
  • a pinch of tarragon
  • 4 halibut fillets, about 1-inch thick
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • a few dashes of paprika (optional, I use to sprinkle on top of the sauce just to make it look cute)




Directions:

Make the Béchamel sauce:


In some vegetable oil saute the shallots until they are soft, then add the mushrooms, some salt and pepper to taste and the thyme. Cook until the mushrooms are soft and begin to give off their liquid.  Set aside. 
In a 2-quart saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, but not browned.  Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick and smooth, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese, the Dijon mustard and some pepper to taste.  Add the crab meat and the mushrooms with their liquid and stir to combine.




  



For the halibut:


Preheat the broiler.  Grease a baking dish that will comfortably fit the halibut with cooking spray and set it aside. 
In a large saucepan, bring the wine, parsley, lemon and tarragon to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the halibut. Cover the pan and poach until the flesh is opaque, about 8 minutes. Make sure the liquid doesn't come back to the boil.  When the fish has cooked use a spatula and carefully place the fish into the prepared prepared baking dish.  Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the béchamel sauce over the fish and top with the Parmesan cheese.  Dot with butter, sprinkle the paprika over the sauce and broil until the sauce appears lightly golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. 









Monday, January 9, 2012

CREAMY CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH KALE AND DILL


My kitchen smelled oh soo good when I was cooking this!  From the aroma, I knew the soup was going to taste great.  It was quick and easy to make, a healthy and flavorful dish!  This is a recipe from vegetarian chef Amy Chaplin, and it appeared on the January issue of Martha Stewart's "Living" magazine.  Cauliflower, sauteed onions, leeks, garlic, kale and dill are simmered in broth, then are blended until smooth.  It's ready in less than half an hour. Both cauliflower and kale belong to the cabbage family, and as such they are super-foods, containing potent anti-cancer properties.  They are also high in fiber, vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium.  Super-foods indeed.  Don't cook them for a longer time than recommended, because their nutritional value decreases with overcooking. This was originally a vegetarian recipe, but I chose to add chicken broth to it, thus taking it out of the vegetarian category.  Due to dietary reasons I have to learn to increase my protein intake, and the chicken broth added that extra protein.  I may as well announce something here: on January 17, I will be having gastric bypass surgery, something I will be blogging about.  Once I start eating solid food again, I will be having tiny portions, and one of the most important rules will be to have protein first.  I know one thing: this soup recipe and I will become very good friends! 


Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 leek, cleaned well and chopped (white and light green parts only)
4 or 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
about 4 cups of low fat, low sodium chicken broth
5 large kale or collard leaves, stems removed and sliced (or you can use spinach)

juice of half of a lemon
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill 

some basil leaves to taste

Directions:

  • Warm the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onions and leek and saute for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the garlic and a bit of salt and continue cooking for a few more minutes.  
I used all these onions and leeks... it was time they made it out of the fridge and into a pot!

  • Add the cauliflower.  
  • Add the chicken broth.  Use as much as needed to reach just below the surface of the cauliflower. Don’t add too much, you can always add more later when blending the soup. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. 
The dill smelled oh so good!  It gave an extra depth of flavor to the soup.
After the veggies cook, they are pureed to make a smooth, creamy soup.
  • Add the greens, lemon juice and dill, then stir and simmer a few minutes longer. Remove from the heat, add the basil and maybe a little more dill and let the soup sit about 5 minutes, so that it can cool slightly. 
  • Using an upright blender, blend the soup in batches until smooth, adding more broth (or you can use some water this time), if  it’s too thick. 
  • Season with salt and pepper, reheat if needed, and serve.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

MASHED POTATOES INFUSED WITH ROSEMARY AND GARLIC




Mashed potatoes are a form of comfort served up in a bowl.  A soft, mushy, milky mash, steaming hot, with a sweet aroma that calls you to sit at the dinner table, satisfy your hunger, and send away your workday cares.  Mashed Potatoes!  Yes! 

Yesterday's dinner was made up of steak and mashed potatoes. Prior to cooking, the steak had marinated for two hours in a sweetened concoction which gave it a somewhat crunchy exterior and also added an unbelievably tender, tasty texture. A nice honey undertone to it also. I am disappointed that I don't have the recipe for the marinade, it belongs to the friend who cooked the steak, and it's guarded like the crown jewels in the Tower of London. Trust me, that recipe will be posted on this blog one day, just wait and see. Anyway, after the dishes were done, we headed out for a night of New Year's Eve debauchery. Yeah, too out of it to remember where I was when 2012 "was born," but I am guessing, and probably rightly, that indeed it was born.  This afternoon I staggered to the front door and picked up the newspaper, all the while nursing a prodigiously colossal hangover. I tried to focus my right eye on the paper.  That was the eye I was managing keep open.  I could tell that my left eye was tightly shut and that it had also somehow gotten bandaged. I don't know why or who done it. So as I said, I focused my right eye on the front page of the paper. The date was emblazoned in large black letters: "Happy New Year, January 1st, 2013!" Oh no, 2013?!?!!?  2013?  Where had 2012 gone? The last thing I remembered was eating rosemary, nutmeg and garlic infused mashed potatoes on New Year's Eve 2011.  Then what happened?  How much partying had I done?  Was this a parallel universe? What happened to 2012?  What happened to the whole of 2012?  What was the problem with my left eye?  Who was the president?  Obama?  Hillary?  Ron Paul?  I caught another headline:  "The US to switch back to the gold standard."  I guessed that Ron Paul had been elected.  Shucks, I would have taken Santorum over Ron Paul (Santorum? Just kidding)!  I let the newspaper fall to the floor, and I tottered back to bed.  "Don't have no answers," I murmured to myself as I crawled underneath my blanket.  "Just let me take a nap, and perhaps when I next wake up things will make more sense... although I doubt it." 

It was the nutmeg.  I had used too much nutmeg in the mashed potatoes. And as it turns out, my left eye wasn't bandaged. That was the ... it was my ... I have no idea how my bra got twisted and tangled over my left eye! The steak I mentioned? Wait till you hear this one. Are you ready? It wasn't meat. Turns out we attacked a tray of brownies. And not baked from scratch, either. Brownies from a box!




And as it also turns out, I had never even left the house.  I stayed home and finished reading a wonderful "who done it," called "Death Comes to Pemberly."  Loved it, loved it.  Jane Austen's characters from "Pride and Prejudice" occupy the pages of this novel by P.D. James, and Mr. Wickham is still up to no good.  I highly recommend this book. I was so engrossed in reading it that I was careless with the amount of nutmeg I infused into my mashed potatoes.  Nutmeg in large quantities can be dangerous.  It has hallucinogenic properties.  Look it up! Bellow, I give you the recipe for the mash, minus the nutmeg. In all seriousness, the rosemary & garlic infusion turns the potatoes from an ordinary side dish into a rather special concoction. Just don't eat it with brownies. 




Recipe:

Get some potatoes that are appropriate for mashing. Peel them, cut them up and boil them until they are soft.  Right away drain them.  Meanwhile, and while the potatoes are boiling, place the milk you will be using to mash them with into a saucepan.  Throw in a nice size sprig of rosemary plus 5 cloves of peeled smashed garlic and bring to a boil. When the milk boils, but before it spills all over the stove top, remove it from the heat. Let the rosemary and garlic steep in the milk until you are ready to use it. They should steep long enough so that the milk is infused with the flavors of rosemary and garlic. When you have drained the potatoes, strain the milk into them, add some salt and pepper and some butter and then get to mashing.  That's it.  Place the potatoes in a serving bowl and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese over them.  Bring them to the table and pass them around.  (Tip:  keep away from the nutmeg.  In fact, don't even keep a supply of it in your house, or apartment, or castle, or where ever it is you happen to live. Really?  You live in a castle? How much is your heating bill?  Do you have a moat? Send pictures, please).


Love, Laughter and a Happy 2012 from Ana! 


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