Saturday, June 28, 2014

Royal Pineapple ~ Fit for a king!

This fantastic baked pineapple dessert is fit for a king; as in King Kamehameha the Great of Hawaii.  And it's easy to make in advance of your summer dinner party.  It will certainly add a flare to the evening's meal because the presentation in the pineapple shell is very impressive and the tastes are all island, including pineapple, macadamia nuts and coconut.

Julian's Royal Pineapple
This recipe originally came from a fellow food blogger that calls her site Wives with Knives. I've modified the recipe slightly and given you some options not included with the original.  In any case, you're guests will love it.  I've served it up multiple times with nothing but rave reviews.

Click to Enlarge
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons dark rum
1 large pineapple, leaves intact, halved lengthwise

Substitution Notes:  You can use gingersnaps as noted, or really any other crunchy cookie you prefer.  I've used almond cookies with good success.  If macadamia nuts are not to your taste or available, I've substituted thickly sliced pecans.  The real purpose of the nut is to provide some texture, so other nuts would do if you can't get the preferred macadamia.  You can leave out the rum if you have folks not tolerant of alcohol in their food, but I do think it adds a nice flavor.  The cooking time is really not long or high enough to 'cook off' the alcohol to any degree, so consider this when deciding to use it or not.  Finding the right sized pineapple is also key.  You are looking for a relatively small pineapple as you want to serve one half to each person.  Many of the pineapples in the store these days are quite large, so search out the smallest available as the ingredients are rich.  Even a smaller sized Royal Pineapple dessert will top out at over 700 calories, so do you best to find the smaller size.

Ready for Baking
Stir together coconut, gingersnap cookies and macadamia nuts. Set aside.

Whisk together sweetened condensed milk and dark rum. Set aside.

With a sharp knife slice the pineapple in half with leaves intact. Cut the core from each pineapple half and discard. With a small sharp knife carefully cut the remaining pineapple out of the shell. Cut into 1-inch cubes.

Arrange pineapple halves open sides up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Fill with pineapple cubes. Drizzle with half of the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Sprinkle heavily with coconut mixture. Drizzle with the remaining milk mixture.

Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.  Loosely cover with foil the last 10-15 minutes if the coconut starts to get too brown.   Serve warm.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Picnic Chicken aka Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken

I got this recipe for 'mustard baked chicken' from an article in the New York Times and it makes for great, crunchy chicken perfect for picnics. Of course you may want to make it for dinner at home too, and no doubt your family will be asking you to do so once they've tasted it.

Julian's Crispy Mustard Chicken
Indeed, as shown above, we had this dinner at home when it was still too chilly for an outdoor meal. But we were in the mood and the food tasted as good as it would have on a picnic lawn. I don't call it 'baked mustard chicken' as great food writer Laurie Colwin did when she originally published it. That rather implies it has a mustard taste, and it really does not. The technique uses a long baking time which keeps the breadcrumb coated skin crisp while the meat stays moist and tender and is well cooked all the way through to the bone. Her original version was written out in a short paragraph, casually instructing the home cook to coat the chicken with mustard, garlic, a little thyme, and a pinch of cinnamon. The NYTimes adapted it and since then I've modified it slightly too. But that doesn't mean you need to follow the exacting measurements below. Once you make it a time or two, you will simply toss the items together and end up with a delicious oven-fried chicken dinner.

Selecting the Chicken and Timing: I've used several chicken cuts for this meal. The original recipe calls for chicken quarters (leg/thigh or wing/breast combos). This works well and takes about 2 hours to cook. If it's just us guys, we tend to prefer legs and wings, and as shown in these photos, that's what I used here. These smaller pieces reduced the cooking time to about 1 1/2 hours. If you use a traditional cut up fryer, where the legs and wings are separated, then consider starting the breasts and thighs first, and one half hour later, adding the remaining pieces to the oven.

2 to 3 pounds chicken, cut into pieces
1 quart buttermilk
3/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
2 cups dry unseasoned Panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon sweet paprika, or as needed
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

12-24 hours in advance, place the cleaned chicken in a zippered storage back and add the buttermilk. Refrigerate, turning occasionally to make sure the chicken is all coated. When ready to prepare, remove from the refrigerator and discard the buttermilk and shake off the chicken.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil. Add a wire rack and spray it with food release (Pam) or vegetable oil.

Ready for Baking
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine mustard, garlic, thyme, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Place bread crumbs in another large bowl. (Panko style crumbs are preferred and will give you a crisper chicken.)

Working in batches, coat chicken quarters on all sides with mustard mixture. Shake off excess mustard, then coat completely with bread crumbs. Arrange in a single layer in a large on the prepared rack.

Dust the chicken with paprika and scatter butter pieces on top. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and crispy, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Do not overcrowd the rack for optimal crunchiness. (Depending on the oven, the size of the rack(s) and the size of the chicken pieces, baking time may be as long as 2 1/2 hours.) Serve hot or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate or chill before serving.

Julian's Favorite Picnic Chicken

Saturday, June 14, 2014

English Pea Soup ~ The Taste of Early Summer

Served chilled, warm or at room temperature, this delightful soup is always welcome when the weather warms and summer gets underway. Don't confuse this with split pea soup. This is made from fresh English peas which are only available this time of the year. If you've never enjoyed it, now is the time to give it a try.  It's easy to prepare and has a fresh summer taste.

Shelling Fresh English Peas
I wrote about this soup previously and gave you the recipe from professional chefs. Since then I've modified it and think this is actually better. But you can judge for yourself. It doesn't include mint and it does include some optional cream. I think the flavor overall is more subtle and better on the palate, as I force the peas through a fine sieve to remove fiber that can make the soup feel a bit gritty otherwise.

This is a half batch of soup.
Ingredients (Makes 4 first-course bowls)
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken stock
3 pounds fresh peas in the pod
        (about a pound of cleaned peas)
1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)
salt and white pepper, to taste

Shuck the peas (remove the peas from the pod) and rinse. Set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, warm the 2 tablespoons of oil and saute the onion for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the peas, and stir. Cook another 10-20 minutes, until the peas are very tender. Check them regularly. If you want to put a few of the whole peas in the bowls at serving time, reserve them now. Let the hot liquid and peas cool slightly before proceeding.

Blender Version: If you have a good quality blender, it will do the best and easiest job of making the soup. Fill the blender about halfway (or to the pre-marked full liquid line) and secure the lid. Remember the liquid will expand when blended, so give yourself extra room and do not overfill the blender container. Insuring the lid is well locked in place or using a towel and holding the lid down, set the blender to puree the mixture.  Run for 2-3 minutes or using the pre-selected puree mode which self times.

Food Processor Version:  Food processors are not typically water tight, so in this version you must begin by draining most of the hot liquid from the peas and reserving the liquid. Add the peas the food processor along with a 1/2 cup or so of the hot liquid and run on high to puree until the peas are very smooth.
Puree the peas then                   work through a fine sieve.
Regardless which device you used, then...
Place a fine screened sieve over a bowl and, one batch at a time, pour the pureed peas into the sive. Use a spoon or spatula to work the pureed peas through the sieve. Scrape down the sieve as needed until all peas have been processed. Discard the contents of the sieve.

Return the pea puree to a soup pot. If you used the food processor method, add back the reserved broth. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding salt and white pepper. Stir in the optional cream and warm if you prefer.

Soup may be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. If chilling the soup check for thickness and add some water/stock to thin if necessary at serving time.

Subtle pea flavor. Silky on the tongue.
Serve soup with crusty bread and good quality salted butter.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rescuing Inferior Strawberries for Shortcake

It is the season for strawberries over shortcake and ice cream. But so often I find that the berries available are not that good. In fact they can look good, even smell good, but have little flavor. So today I wanted to show you how I rescue inferior berries to make a flavorful dessert.

Julian's Best Strawberry Shortcake
(even with poor quality berries)
If you have great berries, you really can just macerate them with sugar and they are ready to serve. I discussed this and a freezer technique previously. But those were for hand-picked berries from long ago. So if you don't have good berries, I suggest making a sauce in which the berries can absorb flavor and color.

2-4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier
3 Tablespoons strawberry or raspberry jam/preserves
2 quarts fresh strawberries

Wash, hull and halve the berries. Place about 6 berries (12 halves) in a small sauce pan. Sprinkle the remaining berries with 2-4 tablespoons of white granulated sugar, stir in and taste for sweetness.

Turning the berries regularly in the sauce improves flavor.
Add to the sauce pan 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur) and 2 heaping tablespoons of strawberry or raspberry preserves. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until the berries are very soft. Mash with a spoon during cooking to extract all flavors. This takes about 10 minutes, depending on how hard the berries were to begin with.

With a fine sieve over a bowl, push the cooked berry mixtures through the sieve. Discard the solids and let the sauce cool for 10 minutes. Stir the sauce over the fresh sugared berries. Taste and add more sugar if required, although take care to make make the berries to sweet as to distract from the strawberry flavor. Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours, turning the berries in the sauce every 30 minutes or so.

If you would like my quick, always perfect biscuit recipe for use as a short cake, see my prior post on 7-Up Biscuits.