Saturday, January 25, 2014

White Chili and Simmer vs Boil

Nothing warms you up like a good bowl of chili and this year 'white chili' seems to be all the rage. It's really a hearty chicken soup with Tex-Mex flavors. It is healthier than its tomato/beef based cousin but just as satisfying. There is a quick and a longer technique, so I'll describe both for you depending on the time you have available. As always, there is a trade off for flavor unless you've made chicken stock in advance.

Julian's White Chili
Chicken Stock - Simmer vs. Boil
Today I purchased skinless breasts and a thigh with the bone in, as I have the time to make my own chicken stock. If you do not, use previously made stock or store bought. If you are making your own, which will taste better and fill your house with such a comforting aroma, then skinless meat with bone in is the best option.

Skinless chicken breasts/thigh will mean less fat in your stock. The bones will provide flavor. I simply add some chopped onion, carrots and celery to a large heavy pot (or Dutch oven) and cook them quickly with some olive oil. Add a dash of salt and pepper for flavor. To that I cover the meat with enough cold water to at least submerse fully or more. Heat the pot until it is just about, but not quite, boiling. Our goal here is to simmer the meat, not boil it.

Here you are looking to keep the covered pot at just below the boiling point, about 175F-200F degrees. I do not measure the temperature but judge this simply by looking to see if there are a few bubbles coming up every minute or so. I check the pot every 30 minutes to see how it's doing and adjust the temperature accordingly.

Making the Chicken Stock
Avoid a full boil because higher temperatures mean more volatile aroma and flavor compounds will be released, leaving a flatter-tasting stock. Boiling also means more motion within the liquid, which makes it harder to skim off the protein scum which forms on the surface while a stock is cooking, as some of it will become reincorporated into the stock. Boiling induces faster breakdown of proteins and other particulate matter, leaving you with a cloudier end stock and tough, dry meat.

In all I let the meat simmer for about two hours, although it can be done in as little as one hour if you prefer. Then I remove the whole piece of meat, separate it from the bone and discard the bones. Skim the top of the pot to remove any protein solids that have appeared and the stock is ready.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings)

3 chicken breast halves
1 chicken thigh
Tender, moist, shredded chicken.
32-46 ounces chicken stock
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, halved and sliced thickly
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 15-ounce can Great Northern white beans (do not drain)
1 15-ounce can Butter beans
1 15-ounce can white kidney beans
1 4-ounce can diced green chilis
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-3 teaspoons chili powder
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish

If you are making your own stock, purchase bone in skinless pieces as noted above and follow those directions. Otherwise start with boneless/skinless pieces of chicken. Add about 3 quarts of cold water to a heavy bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the chicken until and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to cool on a plate and discard the cooking water.

Regardless of the chicken cooking method, you should now have cooked boneless skinless chicken. Using two forks shred the chicken. Add the chicken stock to a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven and heat to a simmer. Add the onion and carrot and cook until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Add the beans with their liquids, spices and the shredded chicken.Taste the broth with a small amount of chili powder and add more to your taste. Stir until combined and heated through, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and garnish each serving with the chopped cilantro.   

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Paella ~ Valencia's Famous Dish

While most of us think of paella as Spain's national dish, most Spaniards think of the popular meal as being from Valencia.

Julian's Lobster-Shrimp Paella - for 2-3 persons
Shown in my 13 inch pan. 
Valencia, a region within Spain, was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC. The city is situated on the banks of the Turia river, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, fronting the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Its historic city center is now one of the largest in Spain, containing ancient monuments, great views and cultural attractions, making Valencia one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.  If you are going to Spain be sure to give Valencia some time on your schedule.

The term paella actually refers to the specialized flat, wide pan in which the meal is cooked. Spain is not known for forests so the small available twigs and branches from pruning made for a quick hot fire instead of a slow burning one from logs. So the size of the pan grew in width instead of depth that maximum evaporation over a shorter lived hot fire.  After the Arabs introduced rice to Spain, the peasants of Valencia are reported to have used used the paella pan to cook rice with easily available ingredients from the countryside: tomatoes, onions and snails. On special occasions rabbit, duck, chicken and sausages were included. The popular seafood versions are actually a more modern addition. Paella is said to to be a union of two cultures from Spain; the Romans for the pan and the Arabs that introduced rice. By the end of the nineteenth century 'Paella Valenciana' had established itself and has become popular worldwide.

Julian's Clam and Sausage Paella
While I give you a classic recipe below, as shown above, you can really use any meats or seafoods you enjoy. As I had clams available I just paired them with sausage. Clams and mussels can be cooked right in the paella. Add them during the last 5-10 minutes of rice cooking after you stir in the peas, and they will open up just as the rice is ready. Make sure your cooking lid to does not inhibit the clams/mussels from opening. You can use foil as well.

Quick Preparation Tip:  If you are making this for a weeknight dinner, as I often do, you can substitute the short grain rice for a quick cooking seasoned rice like Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice. An 8 ounce bag will fill a classic paella pan (12-13 inches wide) like mine above. As it is pre-seasoned and cooks in under 30 minutes, it's great when you need to prepare the meal quickly.

Special equipment:
Large paella pan (18 inches)

Ingredients (serves 6-8 adults)
Paella at a restaurant in Sitges, Spain
2-3-pounds chicken, cut into bit-size pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
BBQ Rub for the chicken
2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 medium chopped carrot (optional)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes
        drained and hand-crushed
2 cups Spanish rice (Bomba preferred)
5 1/2 cups broth*, room temperature
Generous pinch saffron threads
1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 lobster tails, cut in half
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving

*Broth:  I typically use a chicken broth for the above recipe. If making only a seafood paella with no meat, use a seafood/shellfish broth. Vegetable broth can also be used. Whatever broth you use should be flavorful and compliment the flavors of the ingredients.

Give the chicken a good rub with my BBQ mix or any one of your choosing. Let the chicken absorb the rub while you prepare the vegetables and other ingredients, for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Heat half the oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the sausage until browned, remove and reserve. Add the remaining oil and add chicken (skin-side down if using) and brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from pan and reserve.

In the same pan, make a sofrito by sauteing the onions and garlic in the meat drippings. Cook for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat stirring regularly. Add the optional chopped carrots and cook while stirring another 2 minutes. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Fold in the rice and stir to coat the grains. Pour in broth, stir to combine and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. You do not need to cover the pan or stir the rice while cooking. Add the chicken, chorizo, saffron and smoked paprika by dispersing it evenly throughout the mixture. Cook for 10 minutes more. Add the clams and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. Cover with lid or foil insuring the clams have room to open. They will take about 8 minutes to cook. Uncover and give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, which should take about 15 minutes longer. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is filling the pan, add the lobster tails and the peas. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and tender (taste), turn the heat up for 30 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom.  The ideal paella has a toasted rice bottom crust called socarrat.

Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro lemon wedges.

Julian's Plated Paella

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Butter Cake ~ California Pizza Kitchen

The classic cake seems to have made it's return, mainstream this time with the good folks at California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) giving it a try.  You may recall I wrote pretty extensively about the two major variations on Classic Butter Cake in 2011. The two versions being 1) a more cheesecake-like texture and 2) a more yellow-cake like texture which I use as a birthday cake. So when I saw it on the menu at CPK I decided I had to give it a try.

California Pizza Kitchen's Classic Butter Cake
As the dessert served by CPK without the optional Haagen-Dazs icecream tops 1,000 calories, you may want to share as I did, and skip the optional ice cream.  It does not need it. But it was worth the caloric load. CPK butter cake presents in the menu photos and at first sight much like classic St. Louis or Philadelphia gooey butter cake for the 1930's - 1960's. I think you'll agree that in the photo above it looks rather cheesecake like upon arrival at our table.

But when you cut into it you find it has a more cake-like texture as shown in the photo above.  And here's the great thing... it's in-between the gooey and the cake version. While it may look cake-like in this photo, you'll find when you taste it that it is warm and extremely moist. Toward the center-bottom it boarders on gooey. The flavor is classic too, with a strong sweet butter taste.

With a dip in the whipped cream, you'll find the dessert heavenly and worth the occasional indulgence. Because I cook and bake a lot, I'm frequently disappointed when I try similar items in restaurants. This is one case where I was pleasantly surprised. I will now try to make my butter cake more like this little bit of heaven from the good chefs at California Pizza Kitchen.  Next time you are in one of their restaurants, give it a try but remember to eat light before the dessert arrives!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Perfect Fried Rice - Leftovers are essential.

After a recent slow-roasted pork shoulder, I found myself with left over pork which looked ideal for fried rice.  As a homemade dish, fried rice typically is made with leftover ingredients.  My mother-law, who is Chinese, typically serves it as a breakfast item, although here in the United States fried rice is a popular dinner dish and sold as such in many Chinese restaurants.

Made from fresh rice. Not bad, but not as good as day-old.
Fried rice is also an important component of traditional Chinese food and was first noted in historical records in 4000 BC. Fried rice is also known as a typical Indonesian dish. In both cultures there are various types of fried rice recipes but the main element is rice, cooking oil, egg, soy and Hoisan sauce. In addition, many other extras can be included, including vegetables, meat and seafood of all types. Hence, an ideal dish to be made with leftovers in just about every combination.

Kevin's mother always says you have to use leftover rice, so I decided to test to see if this was really important. Turns out she is absolutely correct. The moisture in fresh rice will cause it to steam and become pasty. The cooking also should ideally occur in a thin wok or pan over very high heat.  High temperature imparts a flavor that no seasoning or sauce can provide. Rice left over from dinner the night before or takeout is ideal. The more dry the better. Do not add water. Simply break it up and use it dry. In the above photo, I used freshly made but cooled white rice. It was pasty and less flavorful than the use of day-old dry rice.

Most any leftover ingredients will do.
There is no need to chop all types of vegetables into tiny cubes (or use frozen ones), like they do in many Chinese restaurants. Although if you have the time and are so inclined, the uniform size is perhaps more visually appealing. Just insure that you provide bit sized pieces of vegetables and meats, and that all of the products you use are either pre-cooked (left over) or will cook during the short cooking time in the wok. For example, while eggs will cook very quickly, raw carrots take considerable time to cook so these must be pre-cooked. It is for this reason that left-overs are ideal.

The below recipe makes six good sized adult servings.

2 tablespoons oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup carrots, frozen or fresh, diced and pre-cooked if fresh
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup cold cooked pork, small dice (or other meat or seafood, precooked)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger (optional)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 green onions with tops, sliced (green and white separated)
3 cups cold cooked rice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a wok or large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat eggs with 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce to combine. Add eggs to wok and cook until the eggs are firm on the bottom.  Stir and cut up the eggs until they are cooked through. Transfer cooked eggs to a bowl and set aside.  Use a paper towel to wipe out the wok/skillet.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to wok and swirl to coat. Add the celery, onions and mushrooms and cook until starting to soften, about 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the carrots and peas stirring into the mixture and cook until tender, another 3 minutes or so. Add the pork (or other meat/seafood), bean sprouts, ginger and garlic along with the white part of the green onions. Stir constantly until fragrant and warmed through, about 3 minutes more. Add the rice, soy and Hoisin sauce and pepper and stir in. Let cook for an additional minute or two without stirring.  Place in serving dishes and garnish with green onion tops.

Before the rice is added.