Sunday, 15 January 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! 

Along with the potatoes 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 (plus oregano). Also, one of my favourite things is to have feta cheese on the side. That's a habit I acquired during childhood when my aunt would mash a bit of feta into my potatoes so that I would find them more palatable ...  Thanks, auntie, it worked! 


Ingredients:

One 3 to 4-pound chicken (1.5 to 2 kilograms), organic is best
Salt and pepper 

dried Greek oregano
1 small onion, peeled and cut into quarters

2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
4 large baking potatoes, or use more if you want leftovers
the juice of two lemons
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/230°C. 
  • 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 some 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. (When it's time for clean up, use a 10% bleach solution: that's a ratio of 10% beach and  90% water — on the surfaces that were exposed to the raw chicken). 
  • Sprinkle the juice of one lemon into its cavity and season it with salt and pepper. 
  • Place the onion pieces and the garlic into the cavity and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. 
  • Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and then slice each half in four.  The slices should look like wedges. 
  • Place the chicken in a roasting pan and surround it with the potato wedges. 
  • Use the juice of the second lemon to season the potatoes and the outside of the chicken. 
  • Pour the olive oil over everything and season again with salt and pepper.  
  • Get your oregano and sprinkle it all over the chicken and potatoes. Don’t be stingy with it, but don’t pour it on too liberally, either. (I have never measured exactly how much I use). This dish requires a strong oregano flavour, but if too much is used, the chicken and potatoes might come out tasting bitter. 
  • 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/200°C 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 on the 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 across 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 had grazed my skin, and my toes needed the comfort of a warm fire. I anticipated the pleasure of spending time with 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, a fire, the aroma of this familiar chicken and potatoes dish. This description is idyllic, perhaps it may even give the impression of being a daydream; it was real, however, real and ephemeral ...




Friday, 13 January 2012

HALIBUT in CRABMEAT and MUSHROOM BECHAMEL


How about them photography skills ...

"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. 


The jacket is long gone, but otherwise, the book is in very good condition.
It's nice to have one of his cookbooks around as a reference, and once in a while, I peruse its pages. Recently one of the recipes caught my attention: "fish in béchamel sauce." I decided to cook it, but I thought it would be an excellent idea to include mushrooms and crab meat in the béchamel!

Just a few minutes before sitting down to write this post I checked Beard's recipe once more. I noticed a "variations" section below the recipe in which Beard clearly states that both mushrooms and shellfish can be added to the béchamel. I had most likely read this ... Then forgot about it ... And claimed the idea as my own! Well, such are my adventures here in suburbia. Thrills and chills! Mushrooms and shellfish!  

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
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 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 dried 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 cayenne pepper

Directions:

Make the Béchamel sauce:
  • Saute the shallots in the vegetable oil until they become translucent. 
  • Add the mushrooms, the thyme, and some salt and pepper to taste. 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 black 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 and set it aside. 
  • In a large saucepan, add the wine, parsley, lemon, and tarragon, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. 
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the halibut. Cover the pan and poach until the halibut flesh is opaque, about 8 minutes. As you are cooking the fish, make sure the liquid doesn't come back to the boil. 
  • When the halibut has cooked use a spatula to carefully remove it from the saucepan and place it into the 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 cayenne over the sauce and broil until the sauce appears lightly golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. 

Monday, 9 January 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, 1 January 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 workaday 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 apparently, it's guarded like the crown jewels in the Tower of London. But 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 also that it had 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 get some more sleep and perhaps when I next awaken things will make more sense, although I doubt it." 

Sigh! 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 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 and 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 large sprig of rosemary plus 4 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. Let them steep long enough so that the milk is infused with the flavours of rosemary and garlic. 
  • Back to the spuds: when you have drained the potatoes, strain the milk onto them, add some salt and pepper and some olive oil (butter if you must) and then get to mashing. 
  • 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).



 Happy 2012 from me, Ana! 


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