Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daring Cook Challenge - Brunswick Stew!

April is my first challenge month with the cooks at the Daring Kitchen, and I loved it!!  While the techniques weren't new or extensive, making stew certainly was when it was 80 degrees outside!  But today was my cooking day, and goodie for me it turned out to be chilly, so stew sounded good ... and the more it cooked, the better it smelled and the more I looked forward to our evening meal.

The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, the longer and more-detailed recipe, and a shorter, quicker version from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.

Whether this hearty Brunswick Stew originated in Brunswick, Georgia in 1898, or Brunswick County, Virginia,in 1828 has kept cooks arguing and challenging each other for years!!  No matter where it originally comes from, it's a dish full of flavors and designed to feed the multitudes! Stews that combine meat and grain probably originated with ancient agriculturalists, in both the Old and New Worlds. According to the anthropologist Charles Hudson, Southeastern Indians made a stew from hominy and groundhog or squirrel, and also boiled bear and deer meat with fresh corn kernels and squash. Thus we conclude that Brunswick stew belongs to a family of southern stews.

Since I had lots of time to cook today, and I lined up some hearty appetites to finish it off, I chose the longer version to prepare.

1/4 lb / 113.88 grams / 4 oz slab bacon, rough diced
2 Serrano, Thai or other dried red chiles, stems trimmed, sliced, seeded, flattened
1lb / 455.52 grams / 16oz rabbit, quartered, skinned
1 4-5lb / 1822.08- 2277.6 grams / 64-80oz chicken, quartered, skinned, and most of the fat removed (I also cut the breasts into three pieces because they were so big ... I wanted all the meat to cook at the same pace)
1 Tablespoon / 14.235 grams / ½ oz sea salt for seasoning, plus extra to taste
2-3 quarts / 8-12 cups / 64.607-96.9oz  Chicken Broth homemade recipe or packaged is fine
2 Bay leaves
2 large celery stalks
2lbs / 911.04 grams / 32oz Yukon Gold potatoes, or other waxy type potatoes, peeled, rough diced
1 ½ cups / 344.88 grams / 12.114oz carrots (about 5 small carrots), chopped
3 ½ / 804.72 grams / 28.266oz cups onion (about 4 medium onions) chopped
2 cups / 459.84 grams / 16.152oz fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (about 4 ears)
3 cups / 689.76 grams / 24.228oz butterbeans, preferably fresh (1 ¼ lbs) or defrosted frozen
1 35oz can / 996.45 grams / 4 cups whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
¼ cup / 57.48 grams / 2.019 oz red wine vinegar
Juice of 2 lemons
Tabasco sauce to taste

My notes:
1.  I used fresh 2 Serrano peppers.  When I make this again I will probably use 4 peppers because we loved the smokey flavor of these peppers with just a great bite BUT NOT TOO HOT (I don't like hot stuff).

2.  Though I hunted the grocery stores in the area, rabbit just wasn't to be found, either fresh or frozen.  Didn't think to have my brother call in a favor with one of his hunting friends.  So instead I used some boneless pork country spareribs that I cut in small pieces and then shredded.

3.  My confession is that I added two cloves of garlic to the fat/oil when I was browning the chicken.  Why?  Because for the past 35 years I have been unable to cook chicken without using garlic-flavored oil.  A wonderful old southern lady who was a cook in my friend's house used to put some garlic in the fat when she was frying up chicken for the dinner.  We always knew what was coming when we smelled that fat and garlic and it still makes my mouth water when I smell it.  So, I had to put a couple of cloves of garlic in the fat (don't let it get burned as it will then turn the oil bitter).

Other than my garlic transgression, I followed the recipe exactly ...

1-In the largest stockpot you have, which is hopefully larger than the 5 qt ones I have, preferably a 10-12 qt or even a Dutch Oven if you’re lucky enough to have one, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until it just starts to crisp. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Reserve most of the bacon fat in your pan, and with the pan on the burner, add in the chiles. Toast the chiles until they just start to smell good, or make your nose tingle, about a minute tops. Remove to bowl with the bacon.

2- Season liberally both sides of the rabbit and chicken pieces with sea salt and pepper. Place the rabbit pieces in the pot and sear off all sides possible. You just want to brown them, not cook them completely. Remove to bowl with bacon and chiles, add more bacon fat if needed, or olive oil, or other oil of your choice, then add in chicken pieces, again, browning all sides nicely. Remember not to crowd your pieces, especially if you have a narrow bottomed pot. Put the chicken in the bowl with the bacon, chiles and rabbit. Set it aside.

My little puppy Midge kept me company in the kitchen while I cooked.  Here she is taking time out from her supervisor duties :)

3- Add 2 cups of your chicken broth or stock, if you prefer, to the pan and basically deglaze the4 pan, making sure to get all the goodness cooked onto the bottom. The stock will become a nice rich dark color and start smelling good. Bring it up to a boil and let it boil away until reduced by at least half. Add your remaining stock, the bay leaves, celery, potatoes, chicken, rabbit, bacon, chiles and any liquid that may have gathered at the bottom of the bowl they were resting in. Bring the pot back up to a low boil/high simmer, over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover, remember to stir every 15 minutes, give or take, to thoroughly meld the flavors. Simmer, on low, for approximately 1 ½ hours. Supposedly, the stock may become a yellow tinge with pieces of chicken or rabbit floating up, the celery will be very limp, as will the chiles. Taste the stock, according to the recipe, it “should taste like the best chicken soup you’ve ever had”.

4- With a pair of tongs, remove the chicken and rabbit pieces to a colander over the bowl you used earlier. Be careful, as by this time, the meats will be very tender and may start falling apart. Remove the bay leaf, celery, chiles, bacon and discard.5 After you’ve allowed the meat to cool enough to handle, carefully remove all the meat from the bones, shredding it as you go. Return the meat to the pot, throwing away the bones. Add in your carrots, and stir gently, allowing it to come back to a slow simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, for at least 25 minutes, or until the carrots have started to soften.

5- Add in your onion, butterbeans, corn and tomatoes. As you add the tomatoes, crush them up, be careful not to pull a me, and squirt juice straight up into the air, requiring cleaning of the entire stove. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring every so often until the stew has reduced slightly, and onions, corn and butterbeans are tender. Remove from heat and add in vinegar, lemon juice, stir to blend in well. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce if desired.

I did get "thumbs up" from my brother Jimmy and his lovely lady, Karen!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chocolate Mousse

Just the thought of chocolate anything makes me smile, but the ultimate dessert to me is chocolate mousse!  Back in the 1960s when I first started learning to cook (I'm still learning, by the way), chocolate mousse was something I made often and served to many.  Then I moved on to other things, but always loved this dessert best!

In the "old" days, this mousse was made with stiff egg whites, but since we now know not to eat uncooked eggs, I used Knox Gelatin as the stiffener for the chocolate and cream mixture.

In the top of a double boiler, place 3 oz. espresso roast coffee or other strong brew, 1 T of rum, grand marnier, or Kahlua, 4 T unsalted butter, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I really love dark chocolate so I used 1 c of semi-sweet pieces and 1/2 c of bittersweet chocolate pieces.  Doesn't take long to melt all these.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When the chocolate mixture is cool, put 1 t of Knox unflavored gelatin into 1/4 c heavy whipping cream and let it "bloom" which means it forms a bit of solid.  Takes about 10 minutes.  Then over a low burner or low flame, heat the cream/gelatin mixture just until the gelatin is melted.  Then stir it into the chocolate mixture.

Whip 1 1/2c heavy whipping cream until medium stiff peaks form.  Take a quarter of the whipped cream and stir it into the chocolate mixture.  Now, fold in half of what is left until it's incorporated, then fold in the rest.  What is folding?  Softer than stirring, use an over/under turn with your spatula.  Start going from one side of the bowl or pan to the other, then go halfway to from the side to the center.  At the end you still might have a few white streaks, but don't worry about them -- they'll disappear during the setting.

Put your mousse in serving dishes.  Makes good servings for 8 people.  Or you can put it all in one lovely serving dish.  Chill for at least a few hours.  Topped with real whipped cream -- I don't wanna hear no whooshing from the can!!

Roast Leg of Lamb

Another favorite of mine is lamb -- I've never met a piece of lamb that I didn't like!  When I lived in Greece, my friends learned early on that a dinner out for me meant lamb, lamb, lamb!  Heavy on the garlic and fragrant Greek oregano, the smells make me think of sunshine and warmth and friends.

It's not tricky to cook this to perfection ... you need a leg of lamb (you can get a great semi-boneless one at this time of year relatively inexpensively).  Rinse it off and bring it to room temperature.  For this 6 lb. roast I used 6 cloves of peeled, sliced garlic.  Make small slits under the fat of the piece and slip in the garlic cloves.  Drizzle some olive oil over the whole leg.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and oregano (do try to use Greek oregano if you have it -- the taste is so different!).  Put it in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes and then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and cook for about 12 minutes per pound.  Be sure to check with a meat thermometer that your meat is over 140 degrees.  But be careful that you don't overcook this beautiful piece of meat -- lamb should be served medium rare at most -- well done lamb is a NO NO!  I prefer it on the rarer side, so I often cut off a few slabs and pop them back in the oven to the medium side for hubby.

Asparagus and Gruyere Tart

Nothing hollers SPRING to me like fresh asparagus!!  And the grocery store agrees with me because it's such a great price right now!!  To make the tart you need a package of frozen puff pastry sheets (thaw one and rewrap the other one for another time), about 1 3/4 cups of grated gruyere cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Begin with your thawed pastry sheet.  Open it out on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or your wonderfully seasoned Pampered Chef stoneware .  I made a little lip around it cuz the cheese might melt over the edge.  Prick it all over so it doesn't puff this round and pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes.  I'm prebaking the pastry so it won't take so long at the end.

Next I blanched the asparagus -- again to give it a head start on cooking.  This way the asparagus and the pastry will both be cooked at the same time.  Arrange about 1 1/2 cups of the cheese across the pastry.  Layout the asparagus across the pastry -- I actually used a whole pound on this one!  Sprinkle the remaining cheese across the top and drizzle with some really good olive oil.

Bake your tart for about 30 more minutes until puffed and browned and the cheese is bubble and browning.

Serve to your guests!!

Happy Easter!

It's the end of a lovely Easter Sunday.  I hope all of you had a pleasant day!  Ours was especially wonderful as my brother, Jimmy, and his lovely lady, Karen, joined us for dinner,

Haven't cooked a holiday meal in a while, so it was great fun for me.  And of course, I have the most wonderful husband in the world who pitched in to do whatever needed to be done.

The weather was wonderful -- warm and sunny, and even Midge took advantage of the sunshine for a little sunbath. 

Some of my recipes follow if you'd like to try them. Asparagus and gruyere tart, roasted leg of lamb and chocolate mousse for dessert.  My tummy was happy!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Mediterranean Inspired Chicken Dish

The packages of chicken breasts that we buy usually contain two breasts, which is too many for a single meal for the two of us.  So the first one was used for the Chicken Paprikash I posted the other day,  Last night I used the second one, making a stuffed chicken breast, cherry tomatoes roasted with a little salt and olive oil, and pan roasted potatoes.

I started by cutting the chicken breast crossways, but not all the way through, so I could open it up and then flattened it between waxed paper sheets to about 1/4" maybe even a bit less.  Try to flatten it evenly as it makes rolling up easier.

First I spread a layer of goat cheese over the breast. I fried a couple of slices of Pancetta (Italian bacon) until crispy and crumbled that on top,  Added a couple of sundried tomatoes chopped and wonderful Kalamata olives.

Rolled up the chicken breast and let it sit in the refrigerator for about a half hour to get it to sort of hold it's shape.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In one bowl, put a little flour; in a second bowl beat one egg and in a third bowl put a layer of Panko for the coatings.

Haven't used PANKO before?  Run, don't walk, to your local specialty store and try them.  You will never go back to breadcrumbs again!! (except homemade, of course!)  Anyway, Panko is Japanese bread crumbs and very light and airy and crisps up soooo great!!  Love this product!

Back to our chicken breast.  First roll the breast in the flour, then in the egg (flour first gives the egg something to hold onto!), and finally in the Panko,.  Place in  a small baking dish and cook aout 1/2 hour until chicken measures around 160 degrees.

I made a  buerre blanc sauce and added the last bit of goat cheese to it as a topping.  It was really good!  All we needed was to be sitting on the Mediterranean seaside.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Plan for Easter Dinner!

We are so excited that my brother and his lady, Karen, are coming to dinner for Easter!  I finalized the menu this morning:

Asparagus and gruyere tart to begin
Roast leg of lamb with garlic and fresh rosemary.  Mint jelly or aoli sauce to accompany.
Mashed yukon gold potatoes (did you ever boil them in cream?  DO IT!!)
Some green vegetable that looks good to me when I shop
Chocolate mousse and chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert

Yummm ... now I'm hungry.

Some years ago when my brother and I lived together in Virginia Beach, I had cooked a leg of lamb for dinner and it was sitting on the counter while I went off to the store.  When I returned, I thought the animals had attacked the roast!!  Turns out that Jimmy and his friend Eric had come in and thought they needed a snack.  Well, it was one slice followed by another and then it looked like they just gnawed the bone lol!!!  Every time I cook a leg of lamb I can see that pan again!!

What's on your menu?

Planning for Flowers

We live on a very wooded lot here in Hampton, which means there is a LOT of shade!  Last year I put in a couple of shady "woodland" gardens, but I really miss seeing bright spots of color.  This year I've marked a few areas that really are full sun and some partial sun spots, and even dedicated part of my raised beds to flowers!

Today I'm going through catalogs and online places to decide on some cutting flowers that will work in my small spaces.  I've already planted some Gebera Daisies (love those!!) and a couple of rose bushes are ready to be planted today.  Now to decide on some others. My list of possibles includes Ageratum, Snapdragons, Zinnias, Salvia, Ammi Mojus (the "tamed" version of wildflower Queen Anne's Lace), Dahlias, Cosmos, and maybe even a Peony (though it may be too hot down here for those).

Love flowers?  What do you have growing in your garden?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

April 2 is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day!!  wooohoooo!!  What red-blooded American  doesn't instantly smile at peanut butter and jelly?  (I confess, it's still one of my favorite "run to" sandwiches when I'm hungry and in a hurry!)  Here's an updated, "sophisticated" treat using these staple foods!

Make cupcakes using white, yellow or chocolate cupcakes.  When they are cool, cut out the middle of the cakes sort of like an inverted cone.  Fill the insert with your favorite jam or jelly, then replace the cone.

For the wonderful topping, here comes the peanut butter frosting:

1 c confectioner's sugar
1 c creamy peanut butter
6 T unsalted butter at room temperature
pinch of salt
1 t pure vanilla extract

On medium speed in an electric mixer, beat these ingredients until smooth and creamy. Be sure to incorporate everything from the sides of the bowl.  Gradually add about 1/3 c heavy cream until the frosting is your desired consistency for spreading or piping onto your cupcakes.

What a great dessert or after-school treat!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Looks like spring to me!

Several colorful robins have been hanging out in the backyard this week ... good pickins I do believe!  Just another sign of spring -- woohooooo!!  We are supposed to hit 80 by the weekend.  These old bones are ready for a little warmth!

Today is gardening day ... well, gardening hours I think!  Spring clean-up has started, inside and out :)