Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stuffing Croquettes

Last night we hosted our monthly poker night for our group of friends. Occasionally this group of friends gives me a hard time because I don't make enough yummy food for them. I'll often just put out some chips or cheese and crackers (food that doesn't take much effort). Well, for a high-end Thanksgiving party that I catered I created Stuffing Croquettes. When I told my friends about them I was told that I had to make them for poker night.

I used box stuffing (because I'm lazy) and prepared it according to the instructions. I also took about 4 ounces of hot Italian sausage and fried it up, breaking it into small pieces. I combined the stuffing and sausage and set it aside to cool.

While it cooled I pulsed 10 slices of white bread in my food processor to create fresh bread crumbs, then set them aside. I put a bit of flour in one bowl and beat a couple of eggs in another.

Using an ice cream scoop I portioned out the stuffing and rolled it into balls about 1" in diameter. I rolled the balls in flour, then the eggs and if I was going to fry the croquettes right away I would have have rolled them in the bread crumbs too. But since I was prepping the croquettes the day before I used a method for breading recommended by Tom Douglas for his crab cakes. With this method I put just a small amount of crumbs in the bottom of a container, then added my stuffing balls (leaving a bit of space between them) then covered the balls with the rest of the bread crumbs. I covered this and put it in the fridge for the night.

When I was ready to fry the croquettes I put about 3" or so of oil in my stockpot and brought it to 350 degrees. I added about six stuffing balls at a time to the oil (using a spider to put them in the oil because third-degree oil burns on you fingers is no fun) and fried them until they were golden brown and delicious. I pulled them out of the oil and put them onto several sheets of paper towels to cool.

I was going to take a photo of the finished croquettes but as soon as each batch was completed they were snatched away by my hungry guests.

How were they? So good. Everybody loved them. This may be the best way ever to have stuffing. Crunchy on the outside, moist and delicious on the inside. Yum.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fettucine with Eggplant and Grilled Chicken

Last night I was in the mood for Italian. I had plenty of time since it's the weekend so I thought a fresh pasta dish was in order.

Here's the ingredients:

for the fresh egg pasta:

10 ounce flour
3 eggs

for the chicken:
2 Tbls lemon juice
2 Tbls Marsala wine
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano

to complete the dish:

1/2 pound fresh egg fettuccine
1 eggplant, chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
1 Tbls kosher salt
2 shallots, sliced

2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup pesto

Technically this dish started over the summer when I had the foresight to take my abundance of fresh basil and make pesto. I put the pesto into ice cube trays and once frozen I popped then out and stuck them in a freezer bag. Now anytime I'm in the mood for a little taste of summer I just pull out a cube (or two or three), let it thaw and use it just like fresh. Now, if you didn't have the foresight to make pesto over the summer, you could always use store bought.

Tonight I started by making my pasta dough. I use the recipe and method for Fresh Egg Pasta found in Italian Classics from Cook's Illustrated. I combined flour and eggs in the food processor until they came together. The dough was pretty sticky so I added flour a bit at a time until it was the right consistency (it's hard to explain just what the right consistency is but the book (and their Web site) has some nice illustrations and explanations). I turned the dough out and kneaded it for just a couple of minutes then wrapped it in plastic to let it rest.

After the dough I started the chicken in a quick marinade (it's amazing what even a 20-minute marinade does to chicken). I combined all the marinade ingredients in a ziploc bag and then tossed in the chicken.

Next I had to deal with the eggplant. I usually like to use Japanese eggplant since they are less seedy and have a better texture. But the box just had a regular old eggplant so that's what I used. I cut the eggplant into 3/4-inch cubes, put them in a colander, sprinkled them with about 1 tablespoon kosher salt, tossed the eggplant to coat it with the salt and then let it sit for 1/2 hour. This draws excess moisture out of the eggplant. Once the 1/2 hour was up I dumped the eggplant onto a kitchen towel and dried it thoroughly, patting off as much of the excess salt as possible.

I used my fancy-schmancy Kitchen-Aid pasta roller to cut my fettuccine, prepped the rest of my ingredients and I was finally ready to cook (because obviously up until now I haven't been cooking at all).

I started a big pot of water boiling, heated up my grill pan and my big-ass saute pan. I started the chicken in the grill pan and in the saute pan I warmed some olive oil then added my garlic, red-pepper flakes and shallots. After about a minute I added my eggplant and started my pasta. When the pasta was ready I added it directly to the saute pan along with about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and the pesto. I tossed all this together (adding a bit more pasta water because the sauce seemed dry) and put it onto my plates. I sliced up my chicken and placed it on top of the pasta then added of dusting of the Parmigiano Reggiano we smuggled from Italy.

How was it? Well, the picky husband said it was good, except for the eggplant, and I think I concur. While I like the flavor of eggplant this just didn't have a great texture. If I made this again I would definitely use japanese eggplant. I think the next time the box preview indicates that it will contain eggplant I may just have them trade it for something else.

P.S. This was a ton of food. Neither of us finished our plate (but the leftovers did make a nice lunch today).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kale and Bean Ragout

Last night I decided to use the Lacinato Kale. I hadn’t ever used this type of kale so I did a little research before I started. I checked Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison for some ideas on how to cook the kale (and a bit of inspiration)

Here’s the ingredients

1 bunch kale, chopped
4 slices bread
2-4 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 clove garlic, minced
red pepper flakes
1/2 cup or so marsala wine
1 can white beans
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (a last minute addition so they're not in the photo)
leftover pork roast
lemon juice*

I started by blanching the kale in a pot of salted water. It took about 4 minutes until it was tender (much less than my reading said it should).

Meanwhile, I sliced my bread into cubes while I warmed up about a half inch of oil in a pan (I added a couple cloves of
garlic to the oil to season it). Once the oil was hot I removed the garlic and added the bread in a single layer. After a few seconds I started tossing the bread with a slotted spoon so that it would brown on all sides. Once brown I removed the bread to a plate lined with paper towels and salted them immediately. A few of them got a little more crispy (read, burned) then I would prefer so I tossed them out, but my husband called the remaining croutons the best he’s had.

Now on to the main part of the dish. I started by cooking my bacon in a large skillet. One it was nice and crispy I took it out of the pan (leaving a bit of the fat) and then tossed in the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and some salt. When the onions were translucent I added a couple of glugs of Marsala wine and my leftover pork roast. Now, obviously not everyone has pork roast just laying around and this could easily be substituted with some cooked chicken or it would make a lovely vegetarian meal (without the bacon of course). I let the wine reduce until it got a little thick than added my beans, tomatoes and blanched kale to heat through. Lastly I added a splash of fresh lemon and some salt and pepper.

To serve, I spooned the ragout into a bowl and topped it with my crispy bacon and a few croutons.

How was it? In one word, yummy. Excellent winter comfort food. Even my greens-hating husband called it tasty. I’d make it again in a heartbeat and I plan to add it to my repertoire for my personal chef clients.

*Last year I made lemoncello which only uses the rind of the lemons. I then juiced the lemons and froze the juice in an ice cube tray. I used one cube of juice (a couple of tablespoons).

What's in the box?

1 pound Purple Potatoes
1 Cucumbers
0.75 pound Green Beans
0.75 pound Baby Bok Choy
1 Eggplant
0.5 pound Shallots
1 Acorn Squash
1 bunch Lacinato Kale
0.75 pound Zucchini
1 pound golden beets
1 pound Jewel Yams
4 Fuji Apples
1 Mangos
3 Fairchild Tangerines
4 Navel Oranges
1 dozen eggs

Welcome to my blog

Recently, in an effort to both conserve money and eat better, I've re-dedicated myself to cooking at home more. You see, when you cook for a living, sometimes the last thing that you want to do at night when you get home is cook dinner.

I keep a well-stocked pantry and have a freezer full of meat but the one thing missing was vegetables. I decided to sign up for the CSA program offered through Full Circle Farm (a local farm just outside of town). Now every two weeks I get a box of delicious, organic fruits and veggies to work with.

I'll try to blog new recipes inspired by the contents of my box a couple of times a week and each time I get a new box I'll blog it's contents. Occasionally I may also blog a random thought or two.

One caveat, I don't fancy myself much of a writer. I have a tendency to ramble and I love parenthesis (I like to explain myself). So, if you can put up with my writing, I hope to provide you with some inspirations for your own kitchen.