Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category

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Sombreros, the Super Bowl, and Sugar and Lard: the Road to Chicken Flautas!

January 30, 2007

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There are so many reasons to love Mexican/Southwestern food. The generous portions. The fact that refried beans come standard. The toppings: fresh salsa, sour cream, cheese. Guacamole (a reason unto itself). Pulled and stewed meats, cheese sauces, hot spices and fried things. The list goes on…

So when my husband declared that he was going to make flautas — my go-to order at all Mexican/Southwestern restaurants, I pulled on my sombrero, tucked in my napkin and readied my utensils.

Flautas are delicious. They combine the best of so many cooking methods: Slow cooked, pulled meat nestled inside a crispy, crunchy deep fried tortilla. You get that satisfying crunch and then a moist mouthful of well-cooked, juicy, shredded meat. Heaven. I like my flautas mounded with fresh ingredients like homemade salsa and guacamole, sour cream and cheese. All those fresh veggies have to make the fried object they’re obscuring healthy, right? Of course I’m right.

But could my husband pull this off? Were his culinary skills up to the task? My sombrero and I waited in breathless anticipation.

Not to worry… the flautas were more than edible; they were delicious. The technique is a bit tricky, only because the hot oil can easily dry the meat that you’ve worked so hard to season and stew. (I should know, being a flauta connisseur.) But after a few flauta soldiers perished (being merciful, I helped to finish them off), golden and delicious flautas began exiting the cook top.

Yes, you can have good Mexican food at home… now all that’s missing is the refried beans.

Click here to download the recipe for Chicken Flautas.

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Potstickers: Crowd-pleasers, hunger-appeasers

January 17, 2007

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Like my husband, my parents love to cook. (Hence my, ahem, well-fed appearance.) And my parents love to cook for their parties. Nearly all of their dishes are a success, but there are, of course, a few standouts. Potstickers are one of them. Inevitably as the partygoers would wend their way around the buffet table, a bottleneck would result in front of the plate of delicious, artfully-wrapped beauties.

The result? More manual (and dirt cheap) labor on the part of my siblings and I to produce still more potstickers to satiate our ravenous guests.

My dear husband was a fixture at these parties, and could often be seen planted in front of the potstickers on the buffet table. He’d skillfully take a polite and restrained number of the delicious meat dumplings … and then swoop back in for seconds. Or thirds. Or fourths.

It was only a matter of time before the potsticker-lover (and soon to be family member) was drafted into the process of making them, too. Being an impassioned cook and eater, he quickly caught on and adapted the family recipe as his own. And now that he’s taken command of the kitchen, I’ve been released from my duties as potsticker wench (though I can still make a mean decorative ruffle in that wrapper). But one thing that hasn’t changed: The unabashed success of beef potstickers at parties. Or, frankly, their success at any event where satisfying hunger is the order of the day.

So, if you have a party — or just an empty belly — consider potstickers. They’re guaranteed to satisfy.

Click here to download the recipe for Potstickers.

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Pretty maids all in a row: Pistachio Madelines with meyer lemon glaze

January 7, 2007

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Madelines. Sure, they’re beautiful: Allluring golden exterior, perfectly molded scalloped shape… they even have a seductive feminine name. But are they tasty?

Yes, indeed.

At least the Madelines that my husband makes are. Continuing his pistachio theme — as evidenced by the handful of dead pistachio soldiers I’ve been sweeping up from our kitchen floor — he thought to include those yummy green nuts in his first foray into Madeline-baking. Brilliant!

The pistachio flavor here is subtle; the green nuts add most of their punch in the texture of the cake. As you sink your teeth into the delightfully fluffly Madeline, you get a taste of the green flecks of pistachio laced throughout. Meanwhile, your nostrils are filled with the breath of meyer lemon zest that the cakes contain. It was quite an experience for my wittle tongue, but my intrepid taste buds can handle it.

Can yours?

Click here to download the recipe for Pistachio Madelines w/Meyer Lemon Glaze

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Take that, Col. Sanders: Pistachio fried chicken

January 5, 2007

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There is some truth in advertising. Fried chicken really is finger lickin’ good.

But it is also extremely hard to prepare well at home, at least in our experience — which is why Col. Sanders is wearing that stupid grin on KFC’s ubiqutous sign. The colonel knows that when a fried chicken urge overtakes you, you’re more likely to grab a red-and-white bucket of his crispy fried breasts and thighs than attempt to make your own.

Until now.

That’s right. It was while flipping through TV channels over the holidays that my husband and I had our hopes rekindled for the possiblity of tasty home-fried chicken. A stroke of luck (or my husband’s overactive clicker finger) landed us on the Food Network just as Paula Dean, soaked in her Southern charm, was showing viewers how to make some alluring fried chicken. Not only did it look outstanding, she made it seem so simple.

This was in contrast to our past encounters with frying chicken at home. Those results had been less than appetizing: greasy bird parts, soggy coating that slipped off and failed to deliver a crunch, and a generally unappetizing fried oil smell that lingered for too long. Col. Sanders was not only grinning at us… he was taunting us.

But my husband must have gotten fried chicken on his brain anyway, because not a week after seeing this episode he declared that he was going to attempt pistachio fried chicken… a nuttier variation of Paula Dean’s recipe. Despite the TV evidence that this recipe could work, I was somewhat skeptical.

Skeptical, that is, until I saw those beautiful chicken quarters exiting our cast iron pan. Golden brown and delicious they were, with meat that was tender and moist. And when I pulled away a delightfully crispy piece of skin and was met with a satisfying and terrific crunch, I knew that we had vanquished the colonel.

Yes, folks, you can make good fried chicken at home. And if you have a taste for a nutty, crunchy skin on your fried chicken… try my husband’s pistachio fried chicken. You won’t be sorry, and — bonus — the colonel just might be!

Click here to download the recipe for Pistachio Fried Chicken


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The way to avoid those pesky shells: Pistachio crunch ice cream.

January 3, 2007

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There’s hardly a happier sound than the sweet song of an ice cream maker churning.

That song was playing in my house last night. Its delectable finish? Sweet, creamy pistachio ice cream.

Yes, folks, my husband has done it again. There must be something about homemade ice cream that makes it that much more addictive than ordinary store-bought ice cream. How do I know this? Because I am tempted by flavors whose siren song I rarely hear in the heady bright lights of an ice cream parlor. When I amble up to that counter, I almost always ask for mint chocolate chip. At home, though, I’ve learned to love ginger ice cream and now pistachio ice cream with almost equal fervor.

I think I have a problem… and it doesn’t bode well for my waist line.

It’s OK. I’m cool with elastic-waisted pants as long as they’re accompanied by steady scoops of this pistachio ice cream. The creamy custard itself is delicious — almost achingly sweet and buttery — but it’s the ice cream’s texture that seals the deal. The nutty aroma of pistachio is laced throughout, and better still, so are nibbles of the nut itself. So amid your sweet creamy experience comes a wonderful and unexpected crunch. Trust me — and my clown pants — it’s good. Oh yes, it’s good.

Click here to download the recipe for Pistachio Crunch Ice Cream

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The food pyramid commands you: Roast chicken and quince and sausage stuffing

December 1, 2006

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Stuffing is one of the more perfect side dishes. Think about it. Not only is it hot and delicious, but the best stuffings also have representatives from the major food groups: Bread, vegetable, meat, and in this case, fruit. Translation: Stuffing is totally good for you.

So when you’ve grown more than a little uncomfortably full and the zipper on your pants is starting to show its teeth — and yet you’re still contemplating that second helping of grandma’s stuffing … don’t hesitate. Remember your food pyramid, and fork up that stuffing, soldier. After all, our government says it’s good for you.

So now that I’ve convinced you that you not only like stuffing, but that you need stuffing, let me tell you about my husband’s latest grand design (featuring all four major food groups): Sausage and quince stuffing. Yessir.

Baked in that warm, fatty crevice that is the inside of a beautifully brined chicken, the stuffing’s many flavors — sweet and savory — mingle to create a stuffing piece de resistance. I’m a savory stuffing kind of gal, so I enjoyed the aroma and earthiness of the fresh herbs and sweet Italian sausage. But the nuggets of quince were wonderful players in this ouevre, and added their sweet song to its soaring medley. It was like a stuffing symphony arranged on the molars of my gaping maw.

Am I waxing poetic (and silly) about stuffing? Sue me. If you’d had it, you’d be spouting verse, too. And if stuffing can be a muse, I think you’ll agree, it must be damn good stuffing. (Not to mention the chicken. Oh, the chicken…. But that’s enough swooning for one post, don’t you think?)

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Cookies soft like a cloud… crème fraîche clouds

November 19, 2006

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Mmmm….. Cookies.

I’m all about a cookie’s taste. I don’t care for those fussy, frosting-laden creations, even if the resultant cookie is beautiful enough to merit hanging on our bathroom’s walls. Give me a humble, tasty cookie any day.

Well, these cookies fill the bill. They’re humble… little dollops of drop cookie that take abstract shape depending on the shape of your spoon and the tilt of your oven rack. Their only attempt to fit in at a fancy-dress party is an optional sprinkling of colored sugar over their uneven, pillowy tops. And they’re tasty; they have a wonderful, springy, cake-like texture and subdued sweetness that is complemented by a breath of nutmeg. They’re beautiful, moist and slightly spicy cookies that can be devoured by the fistful.

My mom always made these sour cream sugar cookies around Christmas time (they were then sprinkled with the obligatory red and green colored sugar), using a recipe drawn from a much dog-earred and crumbling, hand-written local cookbook. Once my husband tasted these cookies, he became a huge fan and would demand that I make them whenever we had sour cream, sugar, eggs, flour and nutmeg on hand. Which is not an infrequent occurrence.

Now my husband has found a way to expand that ingredient list to include crème fraîche, meaning that cookies can be in his future on an even more frequent basis. Bonus: He’s learned to make them himself. Not that I’m complaining… I may like these cookies even more than he does. You will, too, if you try them! Read the rest of this entry ?

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