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>Elegant Dinner Party at the Brick House

12 Oct

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An “intimate” (there were 10 of us) dinner party.

The hubbub began around 4 pm when the hostess’s oven broke. She rushed over to my place so that I could cook a huge pot of chicken in my oven for her. Chicken Marbella. The house was filled with the aroma of sweet and savory-prunes and pearl onions, chicken, olives and wine, herbs and spices.

Drumstick, anyone?

I then proceeded to bake a polenta cake with olive oil and rosemary.

8 PM. I arrive at the Brick House with the chicken and the cake. The hostess has arranged a beautiful cheese platter. Olives in a shallow wine glass, dates in a slender glass, walnuts splayed elegantly around the tray. She also skillet-toasted thick slices of levain bread with some butter.


Did I mention the divine white roses?


Yep, us “young folk” (well, some of us) do know how to be classy (sometimes).

Tossin’ the salad.

Pass the wine, s’il vous plaît (please).

Also on the menu was a simple pasta and a cauliflower puree (tasted and looked just like mashed potatoes, but with cauliflower (you would never be able to tell!)).

The cake. With a cute pumpkin keepin’ it company. And…more wine!

Invite friends over for a dinner party. You cook some, they cook some. Go fancy or go casual. One of my greatest enjoyments is sharing a good meal with good company. So just do it.

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French Home Cooking in the Suburbs of Paris

10 Jul

I feel lucky. I feel very lucky. I feel very lucky to have just spent the last week in the suburbs of Paris, France with a lovely French family. A lovely French family who gave me a bed to sleep in at night, a clean shower, and home-cooked meals. Let’s just say that I have eaten well this past week, eaten well with great company (and don’t forget about the wine!!).

Let us start from the beginning, shall we? I have a friend, her name is Alex (pictured below on the right). Alex is from France.


Alex and I worked/lived together last summer (2009). We worked together in Berkeley, California at a cooking camp for children.

This summer (2010) I went on a 3-week Euro-trip where I spend my last week with Alex and her family in Paris, France. Actually, they live right outside Paris in a town called Vincenne. Just before I arrived, Alex was at her family’s country home where she picked fruits and made jams with them: rhubarb, cassis (black currant), groseille (red currants), apricot, apple, raspberry…

Groseille (red currant) jam

Apparently Alex and her family have NEVER had to buy jam before. They always make it in abundance with the summer fruits from their country home. And every morning they eat their jam on a toasted baguette. What a life, eh?

Rhubarb jam 

Speaking of rhubarb, check out this piece of rhubarb:


It is huge! And green! Totally different than the rhubarb that I am familiar with back in the states. I have made rhubarb jam before, it was red. Their jam is green. “C’est la vie.”


Pictured below is Alex’s mom, Catherine. She is making rhubarb jam and she is literally the queen of her kitchen, my taste buds can attest to that:


Alex recently celebrated her 22nd birthday. Bon anniversaire! (that means “happy birthday” in French). Of course we had to celebrate with good food and good drinks. We had a multi-course meal with a bottle or two of wine for each course!

This multi-course meal, however, was as simple as can be. It all started with fresh scallops. During the winter months, Alex’s family buys fresh scallops, shucks them, and freezes them. Her mom defrosted these scallops over-night in milk so that they would not dry out or smell. A sprinkle of oil in a hot pan with a dash of fresh garlic, sauteed two minutes on each side and these babies are done! Accompanied with a fresh baby spinach salad, I found such joy in the hot/cold, soft/crunchy balance of foods. Mmm summer!


Next, we had a little somethin’ called “tarte tatin,” which is sort of like an upside-down tart. Typically, you see a tarte tatin for dessert, made with fruits such as apples. But Catherine prepared a savory tarte tatin with a confit of ratatouille-style vegetables, topped with slivers of fresh Parmesan cheese.


And with every great meal there is always fresh baguette…


Now lets talk dessert. I sat with Catherine as we picked through a big bucket of fresh red currants, separating stem from fruit.


We were adding these currants to a fresh fruit crumble. Rhubarb and red currant crumble. No sugar was added to the fruit. I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? Yes, why add sugar when you can just taste how good the fruits are as is?


Topped with a pastry crust: 200 grams each of flour, ground almonds, sugar, and butter.


Pat it down and Voilà! We added a little special touch to the crumble by making the number “22” out of the pastry.


And after it baked, the currants just exploded over the pastry top and all that was left was this special “22.” Yum-o! I love the tart fruit mixed with the sweet pastry crust. Really just so simple and not too much sugar.


Now, last year when Alex came to Berkeley, she made this cake that I have since dreamed about all year long. This cake is of the chocolate variety. It is called Fondant au Chocolat and is the best darn chocolate cake I have ever tasted. It only works if you use very good chocolate. There is only about 2 tablespoons of flour in the whole cake. So easy to whip up and so quick to bake. The key is timing and temperature of the oven. Oh how I adore this cake.


Alex’s mom probably could have prepared the cake with a blind-fold on and one hand tied behind her back. It was like a little dance watching her bake with such easy and joy.


Let us meet dad now, yes? Everyone, meet Emmanuel. The wine connoisseur, the grill master, the cheese aficionado, the jokester. This man knows everything and more about French wine. We even tasted a very special red wine that is supposed to be eaten ONLY with really good chocolate (yes, we drank this wine with our fondant au chocolat). Below, Emmanuel grills pork and lamb on the rooftop of their flat.


What a beautiful summer evening, the perfect night for another perfect meal…


Roasted potatoes, perfectly browned…



Special French salt called “fleur de sel.” It’s great for sprinkling as a final touch to any dish…


On my last night in France, Alex hosted a barbecue for friends. On the menu was a simple tabouleh salad: cucumbers, tomatoes, couscous, lemon juice, olive oil. There was also a salad with fresh sliced tomatoes, hericot vert (French green beans), and feta cheese.

Prepping the tabouleh
Tabouleh Salad
Hericot vert, tomato, and feta cheese salad

Alex made a lovely fruity rum cocktail with fresh orange slices and vanilla beans:


And then the meat…chicken and ribs. Dude.

Poulet (chicken)
Alex at the grill
Meeeeeaaaaaat!


Wow, what a week. I really admire Alex’s family for not having “snack” foods around. Not even cereal or oats or crackers. Everything was fresh. Lots of yogurts, fruits, cheeses, and everyday more baguettes appear. After every meal, I would “cleanse” my palate with strong French cheeses. I miss those cheeses already!

Until next time, Paris!

>I Ate my Final Project: Cooking up Change Competition 2010

19 Mar

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One of the perks of being a nutritional science-dietetics major is…well, food. Finally, after suffering through chemistry and biology and biochemistry and physiology…finally I get to take classes that are more “fun.”

Food Science, Food Systems Organization and Management, Human Food Practices, Nutrition in the Community…

For my final project in my food management class, I teamed up with my classmates Julia and Maggie to cook up a storm so that we can enter the Cooking up Change Competition 2010.



Cooking up Change is a contest in which teams of college students from across the nation compete to design a healthy school lunch.

We had to submit a recipe, a report on the nutritional content of that recipe, and photos of the team during various stages of the process. A judging panel of culinary professionals will evaluate our recipe on format and clarity, originality of the dish, and cohesiveness of the ingredients. We were instructed to present one entree and two accompanying side dishes that follow their strict ingredient list and nutritional requirements. And if we win, we get to go to Detroit to compete in round 2!

So, what’s on the menu?

Entree: Rainbow Rotini: multi-grain rotini pasta, fresh spinach, tomato, summer squash ribbons, basil ribbons, and chicken

Side #1: Cheesy Basil and Garlic Toasts: rustic whole grain bread loaves, broiled until bubbly with cheese, topped with basil ribbons and garlic

Side #2: Fresh Fruit Salad: chopped apples, sliced bananas, raisins, cinnamon, and fresh squeezed lemon juice

Our recipes had to have six steps or less and our meal had to meet certain nutritional requirements:

Calories 750-850 calories

Fat Less than 35% of calories from fat

Less than 10% of calories from saturated fat

Zero trans fat

Protein 2.0 oz – 2.4 oz protein

Fiber 10.7 grams or more

Grains 2.4 oz – 2.6 oz grains

At least half must be whole grains

Fruits and Vegetables 1 cup vegetables, 1⁄2 of which must be either dark green or orange

vegetables.

1 cup of fruit (not juice)

No starchy vegetables (i.e., potatoes, corn or peas)

Sodium Less than 1000 mg

After futzing around and thinking out load, we were able to adjust our meal to meet the requirements.

My team entered the competition because, firstly, cooking is WAY better than, well, anything. Second, we wanted to find a way to incorporate local ingredients and fresh, tasty, colorful meals for (college) student lunches.

Here are some photos documenting our adventures in the kitchen…



Fresh tomatoes, diced


Fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade



Julia is so happy surrounded by colorful veggies!


Stir stir stir!



Chop that chicken, Maggie!



Ah, the finished product!



And now…LET’S EAT!


Rainbow Rotini



This recipe has so much great color and texture to it! Mmm



Ingredients

1 lb. Multigrain Rotini Pasta

5 cups fresh spinach, chopped

3 yellow summer squash, peeled into ribbons

3 fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 bunch of fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons

1 Tablespoon canola oil

1 lb chicken breast, cubed

salt, black pepper, garlic powder

Directions

  1. Boil a large pot of water. Add the pasta.
  2. When pasta is almost done, add the spinach and squash ribbons. Let cook until all components are cooked (about 2-3 minutes more).
  3. Drain the pasta/vegetable mixture.
  4. Sauté chicken in 1 Tablespoon of oil until no longer pink inside.
  5. Add the cooked chicken, tomato, and basil to the pasta. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.



Cheesy Basil and Garlic Toasts



Note: Having a broiler made this go very fast and it browned our toasts to perfection. If you do not own a broiler, you can use a toaster oven or just a normal oven at high temp.



Ingredients

1 loaf of whole grain bread, cut into slices

3 Tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons black pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

12 slices jack cheese

1 bunch fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons

Directions:

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Brush bread with oil.
  3. Sprinkle with black pepper and garlic powder.
  4. Place one slice of cheese on each slice of bread.
  5. Place bread on a sheet tray and broil for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.
  6. Take the toasts out of the broiler and sprinkle with fresh basil ribbons.




Fresh Fruit Salad



Ingredients

1 apple, chopped

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup raisins

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Combine fruit and raisins in a bowl.
  2. Pour the lemon juice over the fruit.
  3. Add the cinnamon.

>Fried Chicken and Waffles

1 Feb

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Fried chicken and waffles. I never really thought much of the combination, but wow, after enjoying a tasty meal at Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland’s Jack London Square, I now realize what all the hype is about.

First of all, you just can’t go wrong with a good homemade waffle. The ridges and grooves are made for the syrup that slips inside. And fried chicken is just so freakin’ delicious. The chicken should definitely be eaten with the syrupy waffle all in one bite. Genius, just a genius combination.

With a side of some real buttery mac and cheese, I was set.

Ok so this may be a major artery-clogging meal, but it was so darn good that it did not even matter. With every bite, my friends and I could not stop talking about how good everything tasted.

For another finger-lickin’ fried chicken find, check out Bakesale Betty’s fried chicken sandwich in Oakland’s Temescal district.

Chicken Marbella

4 Jan

Chicken Marbella. A classic dish from the Silver Palate Cookbook, definitely one of my favorite go-to references for a good ol’ American meal.

Whether you are a chicken novice or a chicken expert, you simply cannot go wrong with Chicken Marbella. Marinated overnight (or for a few hours) with olives, prunes, capers, oregano, Bay leaves, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, the chicken soaks up all of the sweet, salty, herby flavors. And the best part? Right before you bake the chicken, you sprinkle with brown sugar and pour a dry white wine all over and around the bird. Bellissimo!

My mom is the queen of making dry chicken, so it will always be my goal to NOT make dry chicken. Whatever it takes, as long as the bird is under my watch, it must not be dry.

One trick that I learned to prevent drying out the chicken is to first pound out your breasts. This helps to tenderize the meat and also keeps the pieces the same width all around so they cook evenly. Another key to prevent your chicken from being dry is to find a good marinade and to marinate overnight. Your chicken and your marinade must get to know each other very well if you want them to cooperate.

I like to serve this chicken with a nice grain–rice, couscous, risotto, quinoa, barely…, some sort of roasted veggie assortment or sauteed spinach, and fresh bread (check out my challah bread!). This chicken also goes very well with my hearty grain soup with beans and greens.

I just love this marinade, and you can often spot me dipping my bread in the juices, sopping up as much of the sweet but savory and winey juices as I can! And substitutions are definitely a-okay here: think artichoke hearts instead of capers, figs instead of prunes, basil and parsley instead of oregano…I have also made a vegan/vegetarian version using tofu instead of chicken. With tofu, it is especially important to marinade overnight to bring out the best flavor possible.

Chicken Marbella
from the Silver Palate Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs each, quartered, bone-in, skin-on (If you are lazy like my fam., just buy the individual pieces: breasts, thighs, whatever you like. Or, you can be way cooler and more economical than me and butcher your chicken.)
  • 1/2 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed (sometimes I just mince the garlic)
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives
  • 1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped

Method

1 (Optional: Pound your chicken breasts to a nice even consistency) In a large bowl combine garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with caper juice, and bay leaves. Add the chicken pieces and coat completely with the marinade. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, several hours or overnight.

2 Preheat oven to 350°F.

3 Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

4 Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with the pan juices (I check it about every 20 minutes). The chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest point, yield clear yellow juice (not pink).

5 With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Add some of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Serve remaining juice in a gravy boat.

Serves 5.