Friday, May 30, 2014

Chicken Gaston Gerard

Last Year's Post: Grilled Shrimp with Cucumber Horseradish Dipping Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Grilled Shrimp Greek Salad

I've been wanting to try this recipe for over a year, ever since The Lawyer and I took a geat trip to France.  While we were in Burgundy I learned about the classic regional dish called "Poulet (poolay) Gaston Gerard", which translates to "Chicken Gaston Gerard".  It was created by the wife of the mayor of Dijon (Madame Gaston Gerard) in 1930 to commemorate a visit by the famous French "Prince of Gastronomy" Curnonsky.  If you're a foodie geek like me, that story alone is enough to get you hooked.  If not, maybe you'll get hooked when I tell you the dish includes a mustard (Dijon, of course) cream sauce with Gruyere cheese.  Now are you interested?  I mean, how could it taste bad?  Cardboard would taste good with that sauce.

I did some research and discovered that although there are some small variations from recipe to recipe, the standard ingredients are chicken, Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese, creme fraiche or heavy cream or half in half, and butter,  Pretty simple.  Many recipes call for bone-in chicken pieces but I prefer to work with boneless skinless chicken just for the ease of cooking and eating.  I found truly giant chicken breasts at the store so I first cut them in half horizontally to form thinner chicken cutlets and then again crosswise to make 8 total pieces that were about 3"x 3" - much easier and faster to cook. Can you believe all this came from two chicken breasts?  The chickens must have been the size of small turkeys.

The recipe is surprising fast and easy.  First you brown the chicken, then place it in a casserole dish and make the sauce in the same saute pan.  I used half and half instead of heavy cream, and the resulting sauce was slightly thickened but probably thinner than you would expect from a sauce that contains cheese. I think it's probably because the sauce contains less cheese than a normal "cheese sauce" so the flavor of the mustard can shine.  (After all, it is from Dijon France.)  That was perfectly OK with me, but if you want your sauce thicker I would use heavy cream and simmer it for a little while longer, or maybe add a little more cheese.  The predominant tastes in the sauce are mustard, cheese, and cream in that order.  It tastes very French. The sauce is then poured over the chicken and quickly browned under the broiler.

It's wonderful served with rice pilaf, mushrooms and peas, or farro with asparagus tips.  I think it's certainly company-worthy and I would call it a special occasion meal if for no other reason than the cheese and cream probably take it out of your weekly rotation.  It would make a great birthday meal, for example.  And the story alone is worth it.  I wonder what that Curnonsky guy thought?

printable recipe
Chicken Gaston Gerard
Serves 4

2 very large or 4 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¾ cup grated Gruyere cheese
¼ cup dry bread crumbs (Panko preferred)

Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make thinner cutlets, then cut in half crosswise (if the breasts are very large) to make relatively thin pieces of chicken that are approximately 3” wide by 2-3” long.  You should have 8 pieces either way.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat a sauté pan to medium-high and melt the butter.  Brown the chicken on the first side (approximately 4-5 minutes), then flip the chicken and reduce the heat to low.  Add bay leaf, thyme and white wine. Cook, covered, until the chicken is browned on the second side and fully cooked through, approximately 6-7 minutes.  Adjust cooking time depending on the thickness of your chicken pieces.  Do not overcook or the chicken may become dry.

Preheat a broiler.  Remove chicken from the sauté pan and place in a shallow casserole dish coated with cooking spray.   Discard bay leaf and thyme from the sauté pan and return to medium-high heat.  Add the cream and cook until it starts bubbling, then remove from the heat and stir in the mustard and all but 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese.  Pour the sauce over the chicken, add the rest of the grated cheese and the bread crumbs to the top, and place under the broiler for 30 seconds or so to brown.  Watch closely so the top doesn’t burn.

Excellent served with rice pilaf, mushrooms and peas, or warm farro with asparagus tips.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Grilled Salmon and Pineapple with Avocado Dressing

Last Year's Post: French Rhubarb Tarts
Two Years Ago:  Pesto Pasta with Edamame, Spinach and Almonds

My favorite recipes are fresh, delicious and good for you.  This one fits the bill on all three accounts - fresh herbs, juicy sweet pineapple, and rich meaty salmon - all grilled up for a fabulous summer dinner.

I was having a little trouble finding fresh pineapple rings and I'm basically too lazy to make my own out of a whole pineapple, so I did a little calling around and found a grocery store that had fresh rings that happened to be on The Lawyer's way home.  The first thing you might want to understand about The Lawyer is his motto - "when in doubt, buy extra".  Over time this has led to various excesses arriving at our house (three types of salsa, four kinds of canned tomatoes, etc.) to the point where I've learned (that's what happens in relationships over time, you learn) to be very specific when he's going to stop at the store.  "One can of whole tomatoes. Just one small can. Not two."

Anyway, I thought I was fairly specific about pineapple rings but apparently not specific enough.  He arrived home without said pineapple rings ("they were wrapped too tight and had been squished into ovals") but with a package of pineapple slabs ("they look pretty") and a whole pineapple that had been peeled and cored.  OK, I could make the whole pineapple work - it's easy to slice - but we now have pineapple for the next month.  He definitely covers all the bases.

The pineapple rings get brushed with fresh herb oil and grilled right along side the salmon.  If you've never had grilled pineapple, it's a real treat - slightly smoky and warm while still firm and sweet.  After grilling you simply spoon the avocado herb dressing (note:  make at least 15 minutes in advance) over everything and serve.  It tastes fresh, light and very gourmet.

If you have any leftovers (doubtful), chop and mix them with any remaining dressing and some couscous or rice for a great salad the next day.

printable recipe
Grilled Salmon and Pineapple with Avocado Dressing
Serves 4

Avocado Dressing:
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/8 teaspoon anchovy paste, optional
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small clove garlic, smashed
½ avocado, diced

For the salmon and pineapple:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh basil, plus sprigs for garnish
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus sprig for garnish
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Four 4-ounce skinless salmon fillets, about 1” thick
Four ½” thick round slices (rings) of fresh pineapple

Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor.  Add 2 tablespoons of water and process until smooth.  Cover the dressing and let stand for 15 minutes to 1 hour for the flavors to blend.

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.

Whisk the oil, basil, chives, tarragon, salt and pepper in a small bowl to blend.  Brush the salmon and pineapple slices with the herb oil mixture.

Cook the salmon until barely cooked through and still pink inside, about 4 minutes per side.  Cook the pineapple until it has nice grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

To serve, place one pineapple ring on each plate and top with salmon.  Spoon avocado dressing over the salmon.  Garnish with basil and tarragon sprigs. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Edamame Spread

Last Year's Post: Sausage Sliders with Broccoli Rabe Pesto
Two Years Ago:  Scandinavian Muesli

In my favorite la-la land where nothing has fat or calories, I would eat chips and queso all the time.  Unfortunately even though Reality isn't the most fun place, we all have to live there at least some of the time.  Along the way I discovered that pita chips and hummus are also very good and fit well into a Mediterranean diet.  I was even happier to discover this particular spread because it's a nice change from hummus and even better for you with all the goodness of edamame, yogurt, and olive oil.  It's always a joy to me to discover something that's not only delicious, it's actually very good for you.  It feels like there really is some good karma floating around out there somewhere.  This is an easy way to make a substitution for your family's favorite dip that will significantly improve the nutrition factor without them even knowing.

This spread is not only delicious, it's also easy to make and very versatile - it makes a great sandwich filling as well as a dip for crackers, chips, vegetables or pita bread.  I can even see it spread on a toasted English muffin as my friend Terry likes to do with hummus. The taste is surprisingly light and airy, probably due to the lemon and yogurt.  The garlic is also a light flavor because it's briefly cooked along with the edamame prior to blending, which eliminates the harshness.  Try it for your next gathering and let people guess what the primary ingredient is just for fun.

printable recipe
Edamame Spread
Makes about 2 cups

Note:  this spread is excellent served with crackers, chips, fresh vegetables, or pita bread.  It may also be used as a filling for sandwiches.

2 cups frozen shelled edamame
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind (plus more for garnish if desired)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine edamame and garlic in a saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above edamame.  Bring to a boil; cook 2-3 minutes or until edamame is tender.  Drain well and let cool somewhat.

Combine edamame, garlic, basil, pine nuts, and yogurt in a food processor; pulse 10 times until coarsely ground.  Add ¼ water and remaining ingredients; process until almost smooth.  Add a small amount of additional water, lemon juice or olive oil if necessary to achieve the right consistency.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with optional garnishes of freshly cracked pepper, lemon zest, and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pan-Seared Tuna with Capers and Red Wine Sauce

Last Year's Post:  Orzo and Radicchio Salad
Two Years Ago:   Pan Bagnat

We try to eat seafood once or twice per week because it's light, healthy and a good change of pace.  The whole key is to find whatever is fresh and fabulous at the store.  This week we found some beautiful wild-caught fresh tuna; I was particularly excited to find small thick steaks rather than larger thinner steaks because they're much easier to cook without over-cooking.  I learned that lesson many years ago from an avid Vermont fisherman who told me never to cook tuna any more than medium-rare because it gets dry and tough.  I'm still not a sushi person but I do like tuna with a very pink center.

It's a good idea to ask the person at the fish counter whether the fish you're looking at was previously frozen - the label doesn't always say, and freezing/thawing does affect both texture and taste.  Always go for fresh when you can.

Although I love most foods grilled, I prefer meaty fish steaks such as tuna and swordfish pan-seared because that's the only way to get a uniformly caramelized crust.  A cast-iron skillet is your tool of choice for getting that beautiful crust without sticking - just be sure to let the fish cook for the first two minutes over high heat without touching it.  Then carefully try to lift it with tongs, and if it's ready it should release without any problems.  If not, let it cook for 30 seconds or so and try again. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet use a regular skillet instead - just don't use a non-stick pan because the browning will never happen.

The other benefit to cooking indoors  (in the height of summer) is air conditioning - it's never attractive to bring in a plate of grilled food when you're dripping with sweat. My rule of thumb is cook outdoors when it's nice (60-90d-ish) and cook indoors at other times.  The Lawyer has been known to grill in weather as cold as -25d or as hot as 110d; proof that intelligence and common sense don't always go hand in hand.

Plating is a matter of stacking/assemblage.  You could put everything side by side on the plate but that wouldn't be nearly as cool.

This recipe is very Italian and would go beautifully with a soft red wine such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot.  Interesting fact of the day - tannic red wines can make fish taste metallic or fishy.  Who knew?

printable recipe
Pan-Seared Tuna with Capers and Red Wine Sauce
Serves 4

¼ cup capers, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 small shallot, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Four small tuna steaks, 1 ½ inches thick
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
4 cups packed baby arugula
Hot mashed potatoes

In a bowl, mix the capers with the oregano, shallot and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Start cooking the mashed potatoes.  Pat the tuna steaks dry and season with salt and pepper on both sides.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron, but not non-stick) over medium-high heat.  When the pan is good and hot, add one tablespoon of olive oil and quickly swirl the pan to coat.  Add the tuna steaks and let cook undisturbed for approximately two minutes, until the bottom is nicely browned and releases easily from the pan.  Flip the tuna steaks and cook for approximately 2 minutes more, until rare to medium-rare (cook time will vary with the thickness of the steaks.)  Remove and let rest.  (Note: there will be some carry-over cooking while the tuna rests; do not overcook in the pan.  The inside should still be red when they’re taken out.)

Add the anchovy paste to the same skillet over medium heat and mash around with the back of a wooden spoon for approximately 30 seconds.  Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, about 4 minutes.  Remove the skillet from heat and swirl in the butter, one piece at a time, until smooth.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, toss the arugula with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt.  Finish the mashed potatoes.

To plate:  divide hot mashed potatoes between plates.  Place arugula on top of potatoes, then add a tuna steak on top.  Sprinkle caper mixture on top of tuna steak and drizzle red wine sauce around the side of the plate.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Flax Seed Crackers

Last Year's Post: Venetian Shrimp and Scallops
Two Years Ago:  Chicken Salad with Fruits and Peppadews

I have to smile.  Whenever I make something readily available in a store, I always see my mother giving me that concerned "where-did-I-go-wrong" look and asking me "Why would you ever make something you can simply buy at the store?"  Because it's more interesting and much cheaper than buying a box of crackers at the store.  Because I will customize the recipe and make it mine. And because it's a fun project for a rainy or snowy day to do with someone else, maybe even a child.  The more children get involved in cooking, the more foods they're willing to try.

Have you ever thought of making crackers?  It's really easy and they keep fresh in a zip top bag for weeks.  This particular version has flax seeds which we all know are really good for you, but you could use literally any seeds you want. The flax seeds have a nutty taste and crunchy texture.

Sesame and poppy seeds are also a great combination.  Besides varying the seeds, you can add a topping of coarse salt or not.  You can also create big, dramatic broken crackers like a restaurant, or you can score the dough to make smaller rectangles or squares - I made one batch of each to show you the difference.  Choices, choices.

The key is to roll the dough as thin and as evenly as possible to make the crispiest crackers.  Although you could bake both batches in the oven at once and rotate them between the upper and lower thirds of the oven halfway through, I've found that never works very well in practice which is why I prefer baking each batch separately in the middle of the oven.

unscored batch

unscored batch after baking

scored into squares
after baking
However you decide to make your crackers, it's a fun and delicious little project.

printable recipe
Flax Seed Crackers
Makes approximately 40 – 60 crackers depending on size

Note: flax seeds are available in health food stores and some grocery store bulk aisles

½ cup flax seeds
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons butter, softened
½ cup low-fat milk
Coarse kosher or sea salt for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350d with the rack in the middle of the oven.

Put flax seeds, flour, baking powder, salt and butter into a large bowl.  Using a hand or stand mixer, mix on low until the butter resembles coarse meal.  (Alternately, mix by hand.)  Add the milk and mix until dough comes together.  Set the mixer aside and use your (clean!) hands  to completely incorporate all the flour and seeds (this just takes a few seconds, you’re not kneading the dough) and form into a ball.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the piece of dough to a rough rectangle as thin as possible without tearing, about 1/16-in thick.  (If you own a pasta machine you can use it to roll the dough.  Lightly flour the pasta roller and flatten the dough until it will pass through the first setting.  Go to the highest number your roller will allow without tearing the dough.  Cut in half to fit your baking sheet if necessary.)

Optional:  sprinkle the dough lightly with coarse salt and roll over lightly with the rolling pin to adhere the salt to the dough.  Transfer to a large baking sheet.  If desired, score the dough into square or rectangular cracker shapes.    Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until crisp and golden.  Remove and let cool before breaking apart.

Repeat with the other portion of dough.