Sunday, December 27, 2009

A proper Italian.

I've grown up to believe that Italians are supposed to be full of passion when it comes to most things - including cooking.  A dash of this, a handful of that, lots of garlic and gusto and a hot steamy kitchen should result in something both impromptu and inventive...and most of all delicious.

I've been trying for a while now to become one of those chefs who can just throw things together with amazing results.  I envy friends and relatives who can just make up recipes - to me it demonstrates their superior knowledge of how certain foods and flavors go together...something I know that I have deep down.  But I get caught up in relying on recipes.  I think it comes from being a complete and total perfectionist - I follow the rules, and whatever I'm making comes out perfectly.  It's satisfying, but admittedly a little boring and I'm setting out on a course to start making up my own rules.

A great friend of mine who is an excellent chef is trying to help, and for Christmas bought me Michael Ruhlman's Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.  It looks pretty amazing - full of helpful advice and insight on the relationships between many types of ingredients, and what makes them work together, or not.  I'll review it here once I'm finished reading - I think it's a great place to start for me!  And that's kind of what this blog is all about - my adventures in taking my culinary skills to the next level...and I'm excited to share!

I took a stab at cooking dangerously (ha!) on a recent evening before Christmas was in full swing - the calm before the holiday storm.  Lucia Ristorante, a favorite Italian spot in Boston's North End, serves up a wicked chicken piccata with mushrooms and fried artichoke hearts.  I've been dying to try and replicate it, so I took a basic recipe I had and doctored it up beyond recognition...with surprisingly accurate results!  I felt like a proper Italian for sure.

Chicken Piccata with Mushrooms and Fried Artichoke Hearts 
(serves 2)

4 skinless boneless chicken cutlets (pounded out to your desired thickness)
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
extra flour (for dredging chicken and artichoke hearts)
1 egg
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 artichoke hearts (marinated and jarred work best)
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup capers (*please, please drain them)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Mix 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour in a small dish.  Put aside. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then dredge in flour.  Put aside.

Beat egg in a small dish.  Wipe excess oil from artichoke hearts, dredge in flour then dip in egg.  Put aside on a sheet of tin foil.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet.  Add sliced mushrooms and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over med-high in a large (preferably cast iron) skillet.  Add chicken cutlets and cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side.  When cooking cutlets on the second side, add a bit more olive oil and saute the artichoke hearts with the chicken until golden - this should only take 1-2 minutes.  Add artichoke hearts to warm pan with mushrooms.  Transfer chicken to platter when done - tent with foil.

Bring wine, lemon juice and stock to boil in the large skillet over med-high heat.  Whisk in butter/flour mixture and boil until sauce thickens slightly, without burning.  This will take about 1-2 minutes.  Stir in capers, parsley and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add sliced mushrooms and artichoke hearts, stirring to warm and coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, pour over chicken and enjoy :)

*Caper juice will not add extra delightful flavor to anything.  It is briny and bitter - take a little swig if you don't believe me...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blizzard of ’09 Fish Chowder

I’m patiently awaiting the Blizzard of ’09, in all of its predicted spectacular glory. It hasn’t quite started yet, but the wind is gusting, and my personal stretch of coastline in southeastern MA is supposed to get walloped. The National Weather Service has issued a warning that going outside during the height of the storm could cause one to become “lost and disoriented”. “Thundersnow” is also predicted, which seems to be a new phenomenon. All in all I’m expecting Jake Gyllenhaal and the random wolf pack from The Day After Tomorrow to be knocking at my door at some point this evening, seeking provisions. We shall see.
I’m Beth. And this is my new blog, Effing Delicious, so named for my customary bleep-out-able reaction to the very most delicious of delicious foods. This tardy blizzard has cancelled plans with some beloved friends in the city this evening, and I’m very disappointed. So I am turning to my most favorite comforts: my husband, a big bottle of wine, Lost (Season 5, playing catch up!), and of course a tasty dinner.
I decided on a slightly doctored version of Martha Stewart’s Manhattan Fish Chowder for this evening. Fish chowder seemed appropriate for the wintry nor’easter about to rip through. Manhattan-style seemed right because with all the holiday treats lurking around, creaminess and extra butter could be happily omitted.
I like Martha, especially her simpler recipes, because I can either follow her sage instruction, or branch out in another direction entirely. Between Martha, my Mom, and my French and Italian intuition, I somehow learned how to cook. And she’s got mad rapping style, check it.
Anyway, below is my slightly doctored version of her recipe. I wanted it a little spicier to counteract this chilly, blustery night, so I added some paprika and red pepper flakes. The bacon and paprika team up for a double punch of lovely smokiness. My mouth is still pleasantly burning, so don’t get too liberal with the red pepper flakes if you’re not going for tingly. She suggests tilapia, which is a nice choice because it’s firm and mild, and won’t bother your wallet too much, but you could easily use cod or haddock, and just adjust the cooking time a bit.
This storm better hurry up. If it doesn’t come at all (impossible, right?) Mum Nature and the NWS will have some explaining to do…
Manhattan Fish Chowder (slightly hacked from Martha Stewart’s recipe)
4 slices of bacon (I like apple wood smoked) cut in ½ inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced, crosswise
1 can (28 oz) plum tomatoes in juice
2 bottles (8 oz each) clam juice (sounds gross, but do NOT be afraid…it’s vital)
1 ½ cups of water
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon of your favorite paprika
a good shake of red pepper flakes
1 lb skinless tilapia, cut into 2 inch chunks
coarse salt and ground pepper
In a large Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Spoon off and discard all but about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat. Add onion and carrots – cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, clam juice, and water. Break tomatoes up with spoon and bring to a boil.
Add potatoes, thyme, paprika and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Add tilapia, cover, and cook until white and flaky, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve!