Friday, May 26, 2017

Byerly's Chicken Cherry Pasta Salad

Last Year's Post: The Best Crisp Waffles
Two Years Ago:   Crab Fried Rice

I love salads in the summer whether they're lettuce or pasta based, just as long as they're cold.  I had some really fun pasta I wanted to use in a salad this week and was doing some web surfing when I stopped at this recipe.  Byerlys!  The best grocery store in the universe!  And they actually published the recipe for one of their most popular deli salads!  If you're not familiar with Byerlys I feel sorry for you but at least you don't know what you're missing.  It's a high-end grocery store chain in Minnesota that reminds me of a cross between Whole Foods and your local grocery store, only better.  They have the best seafood, meats, sushi, etc.etc.etc.  I so miss Byerlys.

Anyway, the salads in their deli case are very popular and the chicken cherry pasta salad is maybe their number one seller.  That's why I was so excited to see the recipe.  The reason why the salad is so popular is the great combination of flavors and textures, and in particular the salad dressing which is creamy and ever-so-slightly sweet.  It goes very well with the cherries and chicken while the celery and walnuts add crunch.  Everybody likes this salad.  Really.

The only things I changed from the original recipe are that I used my fun pasta shape, and I used rotisserie chicken breast rather than cooking chicken from scratch.  If you want to cook chicken breasts that would be perfectly fine, it was just really easy to use rotisserie chicken breast meat from the deli.  One of the interesting things about the recipe is that you make it in advance, using only some of the dressing, then refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.  The dressing gets absorbed by the other ingredients during this time, which is why you add the rest of the dressing along with the fresh spinach and toasted walnuts right before serving.  So, it's a great make-ahead salad as well.

One thing to know about Byerly's - they don't skimp.  As in, this salad has a LOT of chicken in it compared to most deli salads.  That makes it really good, but you could get by perfectly fine with less chicken.  Also, they garnish their salads in the deli case with extra stuff so to honor them I included an optional garnish of a few cherries and walnuts on top.  Make a big bowl of salad for your next gathering (be sure to garnish!) and watch it disappear.

Chicken Cherry Pasta Salad
Serves 4

1 pound rotisserie chicken meat, cubed
8 ounces medium-sized pasta such as shells or bow ties
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
½ cup chopped red onion
2.5 ounces dried cherries
¾ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup creamy poppyseed dressing
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups baby spinach, stems removed
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to directions.  Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.  In a large bowl, combine chicken, pasta, celery, onion and cherries (reserve a few cherries for garnish, optional).  In a smaller bowl, combine mayonnaise, poppyseed dressing, salt and pepper.  Fold 1 cup of dressing into the salad, reserving the remaining ½ cup.  Refrigerate the salad and reserved dressing separately, covered, several hours or overnight.

Just before serving, fold in spinach and walnuts (reserve a few walnuts for garnish, optional); add remaining dressing as needed.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Spoon into serving bowl and top with reserved cherries and walnuts, optional.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Zucchini, Goat Cheese and Lemon Tart

Last Year's Post: Cold Pasta Salad with Smoked Salmon, Peas and Asparagus
Two Years Ago:   Melon Ribbon Bowls

This beautiful and delicious tart originated with Maria Sinskey of Sinskey Vineyards, home of Ina Garten's favorite rose wine.  Ina was so impressed she included it in her new book, "Cooking for Jeffrey".  It tastes as good as it looks - maybe even better, because the picture doesn't tell you about the lemon and goat cheese under all that zucchini.  It's a perfect light summer meal with a glass of cold, bone-dry rose and would be equally impressive on a buffet table cut into thin slices.  I fiddled with the recipe only a little bit by cutting out the salt in the goat cheese mixture since the zucchini already has plenty of salt, and by upping the amount of lemon because it really tastes fabulous.  Be sure your goat cheese is at room temperature before you start, otherwise it will be too stiff to spread.

The homemade pastry crust is easy to work with and very light and flaky, but you could easily substitute a premade pie crust if you want. A great tip I recently learned for making a nice round crust - roll the dough out slightly larger than you need, then fold it in fourths and trim around the outside edge to make it even.

 It's going to be difficult (and time-consuming not to mention frustrating) to cut the zucchini slices thin enough and uniform enough without a mandoline so if you don't have one already I would suggest you buy one before trying this recipe -they're not expensive.  It's very useful for slicing all kinds of foods to a uniform thickness - it's invaluable for au gratin potatoes, for example.  Some mandolines have their own stand, but it stores more compactly without one.  The important part is to make sure it comes with different types of blades and that the slicing thickness is adjustable.

The original recipe uses only zucchini, but I added in some summer squash for a little color variation just for fun. The dough needs to chill for 30 minutes and the zucchini slices drain for 30 minutes so it takes a while to assemble plus it bakes for 40 to 50 minutes.  The good news is that I assembled the tart and put it in the refrigerator for 45 minutes while I ran an errand before baking without anything bad happening, so I assume you could assemble the tart an hour or so in advance.  In addition, it's just as good warm or at room temperature so you could bake it a few hours in advance of serving.  The next day the leftovers were equally good cold and the tart crust was still crisp and flaky.

Zucchini, Goat Cheese and Lemon Tart
Makes 1 (11”) tart; 6 main dish servings or 12 buffet servings

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons ice water
1 ½ pounds zucchini (can substitute some yellow summer squash)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces plain creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Zest from one small lemon

Place the flour, ¾ teaspoon salt, and the butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 12 to 14 times, until the butter is the size of peas.  With the processor running, pour the vinegar and ice water through the feed tube and continue to process and pulse until the dough just comes together.  Dump out onto a floured board, form into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the zucchini (and summer squash, if using) to 1/8” thick on a mandoline.  Place the slices in a colander set over a plate and gently toss with 2 teaspoons of salt (the salt will draw out some of the moisture).  Set aside for 30 minutes to drain.  Spread the slices out on a clean dish towel, cover with a second clean towel and gently pat to remove some of the moisture.  Place the slices in a bowl and gently toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

With a fork, mash together the goat cheese, thyme, lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400d.

Roll the dough out on a floured board to an 11” circle (tip:  roll the circle slightly larger, then fold the dough into quarters and trim the outside edge to make a smooth circle).  Place the dough on a sheet pan line with parchment.  Spread the goat cheese mixture evenly on the dough leaving a ½” boarder.  Lay the zucchini slices in tightly overlapping circles, starting at the very edge of the dough (the zucchini will shrink as it bakes).  Continue overlapping circles of zucchini until the whole tart is covered.  Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the dough is golden brown.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Homemade Chicken Stock

Last Year's Post: Spring Vegetable Ramen
Two Years Ago:   Chicken with Shallots

There are a few things that I tend to think that only crazy people and professional chefs make and have not tried personally:  homemade pasta, homemade croissants, and homemade chicken stock to name a few.  But I've read over and over how much good homemade chicken stock can really elevate your cooking so I decided to make it a project.  Ina Garten is known for her excellent chicken stock recipe so that's what I used.  She describes it as an easy recipe and I must agree, it's very easy IF you have the right tools.  All you do is throw some chickens, vegetables and herbs in a big pot and let them simmer for 4 hours.  Done.  You don't even have to monitor the pot except for once in a while to make sure it's still simmering, so you can make stock on a day when you'll be home for 4 hours but have other things to do like laundry or yard work.

You probably won't save money by making your own stock - you're doing it for quality rather than cost savings.  Having said that, you still want to minimize cost where possible.  I found the best deal on chicken at Costco - 4 small fresh chickens for a total weight of almost 15 pounds cost $14.50  The recipe calls for 3 (5-pound) chickens but 4 smaller chickens work equally well.  Some people may be dismayed because you use whole chickens only to throw them away afterwards, but all the flavor from the chicken goes into the stock and the meat becomes tasteless.   I tasted the meat at the end of the cooking time and can confirm this is true.

About the tools:  this is a bulky project so your normal pots and pans aren't going to work.  You need a 20-quart stockpot, which I bought at my local restaurant supply store for around $25.  You want a light pot to make it easier to move around, and one that's tall rather than wide so it will fit on your home burner.  They're actually not as big as you think.

You also need an 8-to-10 quart pot or bowl to hold the stock after it's done if you want to refrigerate it overnight and then skim off the surface fat.  If you want to skip that step, you don't need the smaller pot.  You need a colander to strain the solids, but you probably already have one. And finally, you need a spider/skimmer to remove the solids from the pot.  If you don't know what that is, this is what one looks like.  You can find them at Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc.  If you don't want to buy one, tongs would probably work also.

Here's a tip:  move the pot to the stove before adding the water.  (It reminds me of the time when our vet had to anesthetize our dog to take an x-ray of his hip.  The only problem was that after they put him under they realized the x-ray machine was across the room and our dog was an Irish Wolfhound who weighed 160 pounds.  Heh.  That must have been an interesting transfer to watch.)

People who make chicken broth regularly have suggested buying the type of plastic quart containers you get from the deli, which I did online but you could also buy them at a restaurant supply store.  You can use any type of container to freeze your stock but these are convenient, re-usable, and are cheap enough to give away with leftovers from your next big dinner.

As I said this is Ina Garten's recipe, with a few tweaks: I described how to move the big pot around to make it easier to handle and easier to get the solids out.  She says to strain the entire contents of the big pot through a colander, but I can't imagine trying to tip over that entire thing without making a huge mess and who has a colander that big anyway? I also made the salt optional:  I've found Ina's recipes are often too salty and I always use unsalted chicken stock anyway.  She originally called for 2 tablespoons of kosher salt; I lowered it to 1 tablespoon and made it optional.

This was actually a pretty fun afternoon project.  The Lawyer provided the muscle for moving the large pot and tipping it over; you may want to have someone else around to help you just in case (unless you've been doing your crossfit regiment faithfully).  The resulting stock is miles ahead of anything you can buy at the store in terms of flavor and well worth the effort.  One last note - the recipe says it makes 6 quarts but I actually ended up with 6 1/2.  How can you only lose 2 cups of liquid volume after simmering uncovered for 4 hours?  It's a mystery.

Have fun.

Homemade Chicken Stock
Makes 6 quarts

3 (5-pound) roasting chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, washed, unpeeled and halved crosswise
4 celery stalks with leaves, washed and cut into thirds crosswise
4 parsnips, washed, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt, optional

Special equipment: 20 quart stockpot, an 8-10 quart pot or bowl, a colander and a spider/skimmer

Place all ingredients in the 20 quart stockpot and place on the stove.  Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure you maintain a simmer.

Remove the stockpot from the stove and place next to the sink (you may want help to move the pot).  Place a colander in the 8-10 quart pot or bowl, and place the smaller pot in the sink.  Use a spider (skimmer) or other large slotted spoon to remove the solids and place in the colander to drain (you may need to discard the solids and repeat).  After getting rid of all the solids, remove the colander from the smaller pot.  Allow the chicken stock to cool somewhat for easier handling before pouring it into the smaller pot.  Cool to room temperature (this could take several hours), then place in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day remove the surface fat.

Pour into containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Spinach Puff Pastry Tarts

Last Year's Post: Persian Grilled Chicken with Saffron
Two Years Ago:   Toasted Couscous Salad

The filling for these tarts is very similar to Greek spanakopita, but puff pastry is substituted for phyllo dough which makes them much easier and faster to prepare.  You could cut them into small pieces for an appetizer, or serve them as a vegetarian entree with a tomato and cucumber salad on the side.  They're savory, crisp and light with the airy puff pastry and some crunch from the sesame seeds and pine nuts.

Valbreso sheep's milk feta from France is one of my recent discoveries.  I prefer it to normal chunk or crumbled feta that you find in the grocery store deli section, which I think is quite sharp and very salty.  The Valbreso feta is less salty and more creamy than other varieties, so it's worth looking for.  I've found it in upscale grocers, natural food stores and Costco (of course).

Puff pastry needs to thaw for about 40 minutes before unfolding, which gives you time to thaw the spinach and prepare the filling.  After rolling, cutting and assembling the tarts they bake for about 20 minutes, so start to finish the recipe takes a little over an hour.

Spinach Puff Pastry Tarts
Yields 2 - 6” square tarts

1 sheet of Puff Pastry (thawed according to instructions on the packet)
1¼ cups frozen spinach
¼ yellow onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup ricotta
½ cup feta, crumbled
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Salt and pepper, according to taste
1 egg + 1/2 tbsp water for egg wash
Sesame seeds for garnish

Preheat oven to 425d.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Thaw spinach in the microwave and drain well.  Place in a clean dishtowel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.  Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat and sauté the onion until it turns soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, then add the spinach.  Stir to combine, then place the pan off the heat to cool.

 While the spinach mixture is cooling, season the ricotta cheese generously with salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Add the cooled spinach mixture to the ricotta and mix thoroughly with a fork. Add the feta and optional pine nuts and mix gently to combine.

Whisk the egg and water together in a small bowl and set aside.

When ready to assemble, unfold the puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll to form a roughly 12”x12” square.  Cut in half horizontally and vertically to form four 6”x6” squares.  Divide the filling equally between two squares and spread evenly to within ½” of the edge on all sides.   Place another sheet on top of the spinach mixture and use your fingers to press down and seal the edges around the spinach, then use a fork to crimp the edges.  Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds. Make three small slits in the top of each tart with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape while baking.

Transfer the tarts to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20-22 minutes until golden and puffed.  Cut in half to serve.