Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Weeknight Chicken Dinner

I had the idea of cooking chicken for tonight's dinner and wanted to keep it simple with only a few components. When cooking at home I always try to use some of the ingredients I have on hand, so the nice pomegranate on my kitchen table gave me the idea of doing a somewhat sweet glaze for the roasted chicken breast. I chose to make simple mashed russet potatoes with a swirl of roasted puree of Kabocha Squash and bacon-studded sauteed Swiss chard. The dish had a nice balance of textures, flavors and colors; not a bad meal for a weeknight in front of the TV.

Pomegranate Glazed Chicken Breast
2 each Organic Chicken Breast, skin on
2 cups Pomegranate juice, fresh or bottled
1 cup Orange Juice
2 ea Star Anise
2 T Brown Sugar
Kosher salt/fresh cracked pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Put all glaze ingredients in a pan and bring to a simmer.
3. Slowly reduce the liquid untill it thickens like a syrup; remove from heat and remove star anise.
4. Season chicken breasts and place skin side down in a hot saute pan with a dash of olive oil.
5. Place pan in oven to finish cooking, bring chicken up to 170F internal; flip over.
6. Spoon glaze over the chicken breasts and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes until it reaches 175F.

Serve with a sprinkle of fresh pomegranate seeds

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Bay Area Tradition on Hold?

While the rest of the country is eating turkey today, we in the San Francisco Bay Area like to do things a little different. That difference is serving local Dungeness crab whenever possible. This has become a holiday tradition for a lot of people, but due to the stubbornness of a few not willing to agree on a fair market price it's just not going to happen. Pete my fish guy at All Seas Seafood says that there is tons of crab off shore up for grabs but the fishermen are holding out for a extra .25 cents per pound and both sides won't budge on it. Everyone loses now and us Dungeness fans might just have to be forced to eat turkey.

Holiday Meal

This year I chose to do something a little different for the holiday meal and make a chicken ballottine. This a classic French way of preparing birds, its very similar to a galantine but with a different cooking technique. A Ballottine is normally a bird, chicken in my case, it is completely boned out leaving the skin and meat intact. The next step is to make a filling known as a forcemeat. it is stuffed, trussed then roasted and served hot. another close way of stuffing and cooking a bird is called a galantine which is prepared the same way but poached and served cold.

To start I made a stuffing of ground raw dark chicken meat, raw Italian sausage, panko bread crumbs, prosciutto ham, pine nuts and fresh sage, I used my kitchen aid mixer to mix all the ingredients together. For the bird I started by completely removing all the bones and laying the chicken skin side down, next the stuffing is evenly spread all over the chicken, the chicken is gathered up and trussed in the form of a whole intact chicken. Next is to roast the bird till it reaches a internal temperature of 170F. I served the chicken with mashed potatoes, pan gravy and shaved sauteed brussel sprouts.

Stuffed Chicken with Mashed Potatoes

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday Night Diver Scallops

Pan Seared Scallops with Thai Curry Sauce
One my favorite things to eat is fresh day boat diver scallops. They are not a everyday occurrence due to thier high cost, but worth every penny. Diver scallops are considered the best because of how they are harvested. Scuba divers hand pick the scallops only when they reach the right size and the boat they are on returns to shore the very same day, insuring optimal freshness. Other lower-grade scallops are harvested by using a form of dredge that is dragged along the bottom of the sea, not only destroying all forms of life in its path, but taking young scallops and damaging their shells too.

Tonight I chose to simply season the scallops with sea salt and black pepper then I pan seared them in a hot pan until nicely caramelized and just cooked through. I served with them a rich coconut curry sauce, steamed black forbidden rice and sauteed baby bok choy. I garnished each scallop with a dollop of finger lime "caviar".

My Favorite Coconut Curry Sauce

6 oz Coconut Milk
1 T Thai Yellow Curry Paste
1 small knob Ginger, grated
1 clove Garlic, grated
2 Kaffir Lime leaves
1 T Soy Sauce, low sodium
1 T Mirin Rice Wine
Fish Sauce (to taste, salty)
Juice of one lime
1 T Fresh Basil, chopped
1 T Fresh Cilantro, chopped

1. Saute the ginger, garlic and curry paste in a dash of vegetable oil 'till fragrant.
2. Add the coconut milk, lime leaf, soy sauce, mirin, fish sauce, simmer until reduced to a saucy consistency; remove and discard lime leaf.
3. To finish add the chopped basil, cilantro and lime juice; spoon over the cooked scallops.

Yield = 1 cup
Note: For a more spicy sauce add fresh Jalapeno or Serrano peppers

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finger Limes

Finger Lime "Caviar"
One of the hottest foods chefs have recently discovered are finger limes, this member of the citrus family is found in Australia but due to exporting restrictions its not available here yet, luckily they are also being grown in central and Southern California in the Fall months. The appearance of these limes are small long and narrow shapes with a hard skin. The prize and what makes this fruit so unique is not so much the juice but how the juice is contained, small round translucent beads filled with the tart juice, it is very much like caviar with the same crunch resulting in the juice coming out when crushed with your teeth. I think it could be used wherever citrus juice is used, but maybe best sprinkled over seafood as a crunchy and tart garnish,  maybe it can even used on the rim of a martini glass for a margarita? This rare seasonal fruit is also not cheap, the half pint I found in my local store was $10.00 retail. Its a small price to pay for something new and so cool.

Mattarello Pasta

New to the farmer's market circuit is a local San Francisco company Mattarello Artisanal Handmade Pasta featuring quality freshly made pastas using locally produced ingredients.
The Chef and founder John Pauley was insipred after repeated trips to Italy, including a apprenticeship in Bolognia to start making his own pastas. Currently Mattarello is making fresh egg, spinach and whole wheat pasta in the form of tagiatelle and pappardelle. They also produce two finished sauces to compliment their fresh pastas, a ragu of grass fed beef and pork and San Marzano tomato sauce. I cooked a mixture of the spinach and egg tagiatelle pastas and served them with the ragu. The pasta was finished with a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan cheese and it was really good! A huge plus for the home cook is that the fresh pastas will cook in less then a minute, so no more slaving over that hot stove after a long day at work.

Mattarello Pasta can be found at:
Marin County Farmers Market, Larkspur Landing,
Saturdays 9am-2pm
Burlingame Farmers Market, Sundays 9am-130pm

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Artic Char

Pan Seared Artic Char, Soft Polenta and Baby Artichokes

I came across a nice piece of Artic Char recently which became the basis for a simple week night meal. The Artic Char is closely related to salmon as well as trout, found in the Artic and in the high alpine lakes of Europe. The fish is commonly raised in farms for our Western markets and is classified as a best choice because it's sustainable. I like it for its mild trout flavor and always cook it with its thin skin left on which becomes very crisp when cooked in a saute pan. Tonight I served the pan sauteed fillet with creamy cheesy polenta and sauted baby artichokes, perfect.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mystery Basket Cooking

Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast with Chantrelle Cream Sauce

There is a long tradition in professional kitchens to give a random bunch of ingredients to a cook that might be trying out for a job; it's called a "mystery basket" test. This a very good way of finding out how good a cook is. The cooking test requires that they be able to come up with a good tasting and looking dish without any prior planning. In the real cooking world you often don't have the luxury to sit at home surrounded by cookbooks or the Internet to research food ideas, oftentimes it is a last minute request by a diner with a dietary restriction that you have to produce immediately. I did many of these "mystery basket" tests over the years and the one that I remember the best was trying out for Bradley Ogden's soon-to-be-open San Francisco restaurant, One Market.  I had to take a written test first which I think is a very good idea for weeding out the many cooks applying for positions in restaurants. There were questions on the test like "describe risotto" and "what process makes food brown?" I passed it, then advanced to a one-on-one interview with Chef Brad.  He had me verbally tell him step-by-step how to cook a particular dish, and after I finished he liked what I had to say and I was hired on the spot. Even recently I am still tested by last minute requests and this week a had to come up with a three course lunch for a VIP with only a three-hour notice.  The result was a mushroom-stuffed chicken breast roasted and served with a chantrelle cream sauce, new potatoes with sage and sauted asparagus. The client was happy and another successful day at work was accomplished.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pizza Night

It's been a while since I made pizza at home for my girls as it is a somewhat long process involving making the dough, the sauce and assembling all the topping ingredients. First, the kneaded dough has to then rest and proof for about a hour before being portioned and rolled out, during which time a fresh tomato sauce is made. So with a burst of energy I decided to go for it tonight.  My girls being non- adventurous teenagers wanted the classic pepperoni and cheese. For me, I use some of my favorite flavors including grilled eggplant, fresh tomato, olives, fresh mozzarella and arugula, also not forgetting the sprinkle of crushed chili peppers. The whole project turned out to be a easy and relaxing process which was aided by a mandatory glass of wine or two.  Dinner's ready kids - come and get it!

Tomato, Eggplant, Olive and Arugula Pizza

Monday, November 07, 2011

Fall Golden Beet & Apple Salad

Fall Beets with Fennel, Apple, Orange and Arugula
It's definitely fall now with shorter days and cooler nights; with that we eat foods that reflect the new season. Tonight I put together a simple salad using roasted golden beets with baby arugula, thin shaved fennel bulb and apple. Next I removed the segments of an orange and tossed that in with the vegetables. To dress this salad I made a vinaigrette using orange juice, extra virgin olive oil and micro-planed orange zest. Simple, colorful and very good.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Monterey Bay Seafood Watch list

Sometimes I think about the amount of food that I have processed and cooked in my professional life; the numbers are staggering and I am just one out of many. It really gets me thinking of how much we are consuming and that some of the world's wild food supplies are in serious danger of vanishing for good. A great resource in helping consumers and professional cooks make good choices is the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch list. This list has been compiled using scientific information to help provide consumers with the best choices in buying seafood and which fish to avoid. My love and respect for the ocean helps keep me focused on doing my part to help this good and important cause. The seafood watch list is gaining popularity here on the West coast and spreading rapidly across the US and beyond. I like it when I go to local restaurants and see that they follow the list, it's a step in the right direction. I encourage you to read the list and use it when selecting seafood to eat. There is a free app available for IPhone too.

Seafood Watch best choice, Wild Alaskan Halibut

Parma Ham Wrapped Halibut, Chick pea stew

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sausage Stuffed Chicken Leg

Sausage Stuffed Chicken Leg

Cooking for my daughter tonight I was inspired by a dish that I cooked many years ago while working at Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco. The dish was a boneless chicken leg stuffed with locally made Bruce Aidell's sausage. Bruce is the husband of Boulevard's Chef/owner Nancy Oakes, so it made perfect sense for a winning combination.

Tonight I started my version by using a locally-farmed organic chicken leg that I completely boned out while still leaving the meat and skin intact; the chicken leg becomes almost like a sausage casing. The next step is using raw chicken sausage for the filling because of it's flavor and reduced fat. Pork sausage is a good alternative if you choose. Next is to truss the chicken leg closed after filling the cavity with sausage by using toothpicks and butchers string. To cook the leg I simply season it with sea salt and cracked pepper then into a hot pan with a splash of olive oil for a quick sear on all sides, giving it a nice brown color.  The pan then goes into a preheated 400F oven, and after maybe 20-30 minutes it's done (180F internal.) Remove toothpicks and string before serving. I sauteed shaved Brussel sprouts and sliced Yukon gold potatoes to go with it. It was good chicken with a good memory of a past cooking experience.