Monday, June 29, 2009

Make the South Proud Chicken and Grits

Wow. That's all I can say about this one. Imagine the lush texture of roasted peaches and sweetly caramelized red onions sitting alongside a perfectly roasted chicken breast that has bathed in a red pepper and garlic olive oil bath - skin crisped and crackled with a tender, moist center - all piled on top of a soft and cushy mound of goat cheese grits.

I hear you - maybe a little sweet for your taste? I worried about that too - but a teaspoon of red pepper flakes might change your perspective. Salty sweet may have met its new match - sweet and hot. Plus peppery cilantro rounds it all out at the end with its signature clean bite.

I have to admit I altered this recipe (Ring of Fire Chicken) from the food network cookbook, Get Grilling - a darn good little book for the novice griller. I made mine indoors but I don't think Johnny Cash would have minded.

One final note - I have been making grits for years the same way - starting with some sauteed chopped shallots and adding stock - but have FINALLY learned the trick to perfect grits. You have to salt the stock before you add the grits. If you wait until the end - you'll never be able to catch up. And nothing is more disappointing than under-salted grits. It's like buying a new dress only to realize there's a hole in the crotch once you've already cut off the tags.

Ring of Fire Chicken (Garlic and Red Pepper Chicken with Roasted Peaches and Red Onions over Goat Cheese Grits)
Serves 4.

4 fat cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil

2 chicken bone in and skin on chicken breasts (about 2 pounds of chicken - you could also use thighs or a whole cut up chicken)

1/2 cup vermouth or dry white wine
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock

2 ripe peaches, rinsed, halved and pitted
1 small to medium red onion, cut into 8 slivers

3/4 cup instant grits
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
fresh cracked pepper

4 oz goat cheese
1 teaspoon butter

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Set your oven to convection setting on 375 (mine is a Gaggenau and only sets at 10 degree intervals so I put mine on 380...) If you don't have a convection setting, set it to 400.

Get out your largest rimmed glass baking dish - sizeable enough to hold all of the chicken, peaches, and onion. Spray with non stick spray and set aside.

Peel and smash your garlic cloves on your cutting board. Sprinkle over the teaspoon of your kosher salt, then smash and smear with the side of your knife blade to create a crude paste (it's okay if you still have bits of garlic chunks - it doesn't need to be perfectly smooth.) Scrape off this goop into a bowl, then whisk in the balsamic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil. When all is well combined, pour half of this mixture into another small bowl and have two pastry or basting brushes at the ready - one per bowl.

Place your chicken breasts in a large rimmed glass baking dish, skin side up. Brush them with the first batch of garlic and red pepper olive oil, making sure you clomp as much of the garlic shards and red pepper flakes onto the pale skin as possible. You want to anoint every bit of the exposed chicken including the sides with the oil, but DO NOT just pour it over - depending on the size of the breast you might not need all of it and you don't want extra oil weighing down your lovely juices later.

Add the 1/2 cup vermouth or white wine and 1/2 cup stock to the bottom of the dish, then carefully transfer to your heated oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add your 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large lidded pot. Heat over medium heat until the butter is melted, then add the shallots. Season with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, then saute for 4-5 minutes until softened and opaque. Add the 3 cups stock and bring to a boil over high heat with the lid. When boiling, gently stir in the last teaspoon of kosher salt, then the grits, whisking or stirring rapidly to encourage them to absorb the stock. Lower the heat to low, stir another minute, then replace the lid and let simmer, about 5 minutes. The lid may bounce around if the heat gets too high again - don't panic, just slide the pot onto a cool burner and stir making sure the bottom of the grits haven't stuck or burnt onto the pan, and return the lid. If they haven't thickened yet and are still liquidy, slide them back onto the burner, even turning it off if necessary. Instant grit are hard to mess up with a little babysitting. When they are still stirable but no longer soupy (and look like grits versus granules of shaved corn swimming in stock), add the butter and goat cheese, stirring to meld. It helps to put them back on the burner they heated on to let the residual heat speed this along.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the oven and add the peach halves and red onion slivers, spreading about evenly through the pan. Using your second bowl of garlic and red pepper oil, brush the tops of the peaches and onions with the mixture, being sure to touch each bit. You can give the tops just the tiniest dusting of kosher or sea salt as well to help them along, though it's not mandatory. Carefully cover the chicken breasts (whose skin should already be a little brown) with a sheet of aluminum foil while letting the rest of the pan retain access to air.

Return the pan to the oven and bake another 15 minutes. At this point, remove the foil from the chicken and turn on your broiler to 450 to finalize the crisping of the chicken skin. Depending on your oven, this may take anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes, so keep an eye on it. At this point, your grits should be ready and on standby, happily sitting still warm on the stove.

When the chicken skin is crisped to your liking, remove the pan once again from the oven and carefully transfer the chicken to a resting plate. Gently stir the peaches and onions, then return them to the broiler for another 5 minutes, until the tops of the peaches are a deep dark brown and the onions have begun to carmelize and shrink to a lovely pinky purple. Again - keep a watchful eye - the broiler can quickly become your worst nightmare if you don't babysit it.

I like to serve this dish family style - it's LOVELY this way. So I heap the grits into a wide serving bowl, then top with the chicken breasts. Carefully transfer the peaches and red onions piling them around the chicken, then spoon over some of the juices from the pan. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and admire the beauty of it all before you hack into the chicken, separating them in half to make 4 servings.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Happiness in a Glass

You know those times when you really want a cocktail but nothing sounds right?

This happened to me last Saturday night. Margaritas seemed too citrusy for my mood and my usual alternative - a martini - seemed too dull and somber, like the rain falling outside. It was day 22 in a row or something of solid rain in New York and I was officially becoming affected by it. I needed perking up.

I quickly went to work with a mix of fruits and juices I had on hand (partially inspired by Sarabeth's 'Five Flowers' breakfast beverage.) When all was pulverized and chilled by the blender, you couldn't even make out one particular flavor. Not too sharp, not too sweet, just right.

A few sips later things seemed to look up. I'm not peddling alcohol by any means here - I really think the brightness of the juice orgy perked up my neurons as much or more as the vodka - but I decided right then and there to name the drink Happiness.

I mean, if someone offered you a glass of Happiness, would you really turn them down?

Happiness, in a Glass

Makes 1 pitcher full, about 4 drinks

juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup of best quality orange juice
1 cup of apple juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup vodka (or to taste)
1 1/2-2 cups of ice

In a blender, mix all of the juices with the honey to break it down for a few seconds. Add the vodka and ice and pulse again until all is well blended.

Serve nice and cold (you can throw the leftovers in the freezer until you're ready for them.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Grilled Oregano Lemon Chicken with Feta and Roasted Tomatillos

This is the kind of recipe that makes me want to yell, in a thick southern accent that can only be brought out with copious amounts of tequila or Bud Light, "Well - hush my mouth!"

Much to talk about tonight, loves. For one thing - this was my first foray into cooking with tomatillos - something I feared for some reason (their papery 'husks' do look kind of sci fi-ish...) but am now going to be addicted to, no doubt. Bright and bursting with a tart/almost citrusy flavor, I'd be tempted to call them 'lemotillos'.

Let me step back for a moment and ponder the inspiration for this recipe. Years ago when we lived in San Francisco in the picturesque neighborhood of Russian Hill (we actually lived at the top of Lombard - the famous windy street), we ordered takeout at least twice a week from Polker's, an incredible low key burger joint.

My favorite burger of theirs wasn't technically a burger at all - but rather a grilled chicken sandwich topped with a roasted green chili and slab of melted feta. The true gilding of the lilly was their signature Ranch dressing that I would dip it in (thankfully over time, I weaned myself off of that part.)

I tucked that little flavor combo away for years, always intending to re-create it, and lo and behold - a good 6 years later - I finally did so tonight. It was our first time to use our grill and eat on our new roof deck overlooking the Hitchcock-esque view of the city. We had one of those sundowns that colored the jagged buildings before us hot pink, to the point where we felt like we were sitting in a Hollywood back lot.

But enough about the city and back to the recipe.

The marinade is quick to put together and pretty intense but you need it to be that way as the chicken is only going to be sitting in it for half an hour or so, so all is well with the world. And tomatillos, if you've never cooked with them, are fascinating little creatures. The first time I actually picked them up, I thought they were some sort of fake Pottery Barn display version - they feel like they're made of rubber. But please don't be as judgmental as I was - they're delicious. Just remember to pick the smaller ones (avoid the golf ball sized ones if possible, just like when picking out Brussels Sprouts) and to remove their papery husks which can actually make you sick if ingested.

As far as the feta - I think the everyday kind you find in the grocery store is best here. A fancy, $11 a pound feta will just go to waste in light of all that's going on, and to be honest the fancy ones don't always measure up to the sharp brininess of the low rent ones, at least in my book.

Now go fire up your grill and make the neighbors jealous.

Chicken in Quick and Zippy Marinade with Feta and Roasted Tomatillos:

Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 small to medium shallot, minced
1 fat or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch red pepper flakes, or more if you like a lot of spice

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

8 small tomatillos
tablespoon olive oil
pinch salt and pepper

2 thick slices of feta cheese

Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl or pie plate, add the chicken turning to coat, and let marinate for 45 minutes at room temperature in a cool place.

Meanwhile, remove the papery husks from your tomatillos, rinse with tap water, and dry. Season with olive oil and a hefty pinch each salt and pepper. Set aside.

Turn your grill onto medium heat. Once it's ready add the tomatillos - right onto the grates, letting them get nice and charred on the one side - about 6 minutes. Turn them carefully, using tongs, to roast the other side. Meanwhile, remove your chicken from the marinade, gently patting dry with a paper towel. Season well with salt and a little pepper on both side, then add to the free area of your grill, getting a nice sear.

Grill the chicken about for 5-6 minutes, about which point the tomatillos should be ready. They will be ready when they look a little 'sunken' and have lost their firm roundness. Remove them and set aside while you finish cooking the chicken.

Flip the chicken and cook another 5 minutes per second side, just until cooked through. Remember that really big breasts might take a little longer.

Plate the chicken by covering each breast with a thick slab of feta. Top with the still warm tomatillos and serve.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pan Seared Pork Chops on a bed of Sauteed Shallots and Lemon

Shocker, I know, another recipe that involves goat cheese...

But that's besides the point as you could easily sub the goat cheese with a thick, milky slice of fresh Mozzarella, or even skip the cheese all together if you happen to be completely insane.

I know it sounds a little extreme to eat sauteed lemon slices, but as long as you slice them VERY thinly and discard the pith filled hind end, they are quite tasty and bright against the buttery sweetness of the shallots. Add pork + cheese + oregano, and you are in business.

Pan Seared Pork Chops on a Bed of Sauteed Shallots and Lemon with Herbed Goat Cheese

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 lemon, end sliced off and remainder sliced into paper thin (or as near as you can get) slices
1 teaspoon on sugar
3 shallots, sliced thinly crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch fresh cracked pepper

1/2 cup white wine or vermouth

2 boneless pork chops
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 oz goat cheese, divided and patted into little oval shaped patties
pinch salt

You will need two pans for this. One large and rimmed, nonstick for the sauteed 'sauce' and another to sear the pork in.

Remove the pork from the fridge to get some of the chill out while you prepare the sauce (it takes longer to cook than the chops.)

Heat your large nonstick pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter, and let melt through coating the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon slices, sprinkling over the teaspoon of sugar, and saute, stirring every so often until they've begun to carmelize and become golden brown around the edges - about 5 minutes. It's worth mentioning that while you're waiting for this to happen, it's good to fish out any lemon seeds with your wooden spoon and discard.

Add the tablespoon of olive oil, then the shallots and season with the salt and pepper (I know it seems like a lot of salt, but it's necessary (use half the amount if all you have on hand is table salt.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots have become transluscent - about 8 minutes. Add the white wine, bring to a boil, and simmer until the liquid has been reduced to 2 tablespoons. Stir in the final tablespoon of butter (you can use less if desired) and reduce the heat to low to keep it warm.

Meanwhile, season both sides of your pork with salt and pepper. In your second pan, heat up the final tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat, letting it heat through for a minute. Add the pork, getting a nice sear, and cook 4 minutes. Flip to the other side and top the seared side with your goat cheese ovals, sprinkling over the dried oregano and a touch more salt, if desired. Cook the pork an additional 4 minutes, just until cooked through. Remove from heat to not dry them out.

To serve, add a couple spoonfuls of the sauteed shallot and lemon sauce to your plate to form a bed, then top with the goat cheese covered pork chops. Bon Appetit!

Spicy Pork Burgers with White Cheddar, Avocado and Green Onions

Bon Appetit featured a recipe for pork burgers this month. I was intrigued - I have made turkey burgers and chicken burgers, but never pork. My enthusiasm quickly waned however, when I realized the additional ingredients were simply garlic and chipotle chilies in adobo - basically only a quarter of the ingredients I use in my turkey burgers, which I will post this summer.

I knew I would have to fiddle...

This is what came out. If you can get yourself a hold of freshly ground pork, do so. It is LOVELY. And if not, no matter, all these spices will perk up the even the most ordinary, cellophane wrapped pack of ground pork plucked off the grocery fridge shelf.

Spicy Pork Burgers with White Cheddar, Avocado and Green Onions


1 pound ground pork (not lean, preferably fresh ground from the butcher)
2 teaspoons minced chipotle in adobo plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 teaspoon half and half
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup panko

1 tablespoon plain flavored oil such as canola or vegetable

4-5 thick slices white cheddar
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup minced cilantro
4-5 English muffins, halved and toasted


Mix all of the dry burger ingredients together first in a large bowl - the dry spices, the sugar, salt, pepper, and panko. Add the half and half and green onions, chipotle and adobo sauce, minced garlic, and mix until well incorporated. Finally, add the pork and mix JUST until all the various ingredients have melded into the pork. DO NOT over work or you'll have tough burgers. Form into 4 large patties, or 5 smaller ones, depending on what size you like.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add the burgers to the pan, getting a nice sear - spacing them apart to cook evenly. Do not move them once they hit the pan or you won't get a nice crust. Cook for 4-5 minutes (little longer if doing really big burgers), then flip once and cook another 5 minutes, until cooked through. Add the slices of cheese over during the last few minutes of cook time so that they can meld and melt into the patty.

Serve on toasted English muffins with the avocado slices, cilantro and additional green onions, if desired.