Wednesday, December 22, 2010

stay tuned folks...

Hi everyone! I know I'm late with this week's post but I promise I haven't given up for good.

I've been cooking up a storm all week, but for various reasons I decided the results weren't blog worthy. I baked a batch of highly-touted low-fat cookies that I found disappointing. I made homemade caramels (requested by my grandmother) that were delicious but not unique or photogenic. I did bake a killer whiskey-soaked cake but  didn't get good photos so I'll revisit that later. Today it was chewy molasses cookies, which are really good but again, not unusual. So - once the holidays are over and I'm home again I'll get back on track and will hopefully deliver more inspired recipes. This week has been about cookies and confections destined for far-flung relatives. I imagine all you cooks out there know what I'm talkin' about.

Anyway - unless I post sooner, I wish you all happy holidays and fun cooking adventures in the coming week!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

margaritas and grilled chicken with smoked chiles & orange

First, and most importantly, the margaritas. After buying Grand Marnier for margaritas for many years, I recently noticed an orange flavored liqueur by Patron on the same shelf and couldn't resist taking it for a spin. I wish I could have done a side by side taste comparison with Grand Marnier,  but since I didn't have any Grand Marnier at home I could only judge by how my usual margarita mix was affected by this newcomer. It seemed to me the Patron Citronge was less syrupy, and I felt I needed more to attain the same level of sweetness as the Grand Marnier. (Keep in mind, I aim to use as little orange liqueur as possible - just enough to temper the lime while still affording a good pucker.) Overall, I think Citronge is a decent, less costly substitute for Grand Marnier and is probably preferable to triple sec.

As far as tequila goes, I have had an opportunity to taste test many across the price spectrum, and I'm astonished by how well Jose Cuervo Tradicional holds its own against much costlier reposados. I don't see any reason to spend more for a cocktail tequila.

While I'm on the subject of cocktails here, I must put in a plug for the wonderful silicone ice cube tray pictured above. We're all aware of the sorry state of ice cubes today right? Those wimpy, refrigerator-dispensed half moons, or worse, the hollow tubes sold commercially. I remember when ice cubes had substance; you plunked them into a drink and you knew you were good to go for a while. Well, lament no more; these trays make huge rocks! The ice cubes are a little tricky to release at first, but once you get the hang of it it's easy. Just one will get you where you wanna go with the finer beverages.

Margaritas for 4:

1 cup tequila
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 cup Patron Citronge
large pinch kosher salt (or salt rims of glasses)

Mix and imbibe.

Now, onto dinner. Throughout my college years until today, I have much enjoyed a classic Mexican pork offering at Sol Azteca restaurant in Boston called Puerco en Adobo: pork marinated in smoked chiles (chipotles) and orange. I hardly ever eat pork, but I have always ordered it there because the smoky orange treatment is so compelling.

I have tried to recreate the marinade at home, guided by recipes online and various cookbooks, but the results have always disappointed. Most call for fresh citrus juices, which sounds good but were ultimately overwhelmed by the smoke and heat of the chipotles. I needed a punch of orange flavor that could stand up for itself, and I finally found it in frozen orange juice concentrate.

Really, my best approximation of  the marinade at Sol Azteca was the simplest, consisting of canned chipotle chilis, orange juice concentrate and salt.

Once I found a marinade/ sauce I was happy with, I was curious to see if it would work with chicken instead of pork. I marinated chicken paillards (chicken breasts pounded very thinly) in the chipotle mixture, grilled them, and served them atop a bed of smashed  garlicky black beans with a bit of reserved marinade drizzled over the top.

Finally, I garnished with an avocado, pineapple, mango and banana salsa. In the end, I have to say, there was not much resemblance between the original muse and my Mexican/ Caribbean creation, but there was something else goin' on here, and it was good.

Chicken and Marinade/ Sauce:

1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 can orange juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 3/8 of an inch thickness

Combine chipotles, OJ concentrate and salt in blender. Blend well.

Season pounded chicken breasts with salt. Smear both sides of breasts with about 1/2 cup marinade, reserving extra marinade and being careful to not contaminate reserved portion with raw chicken juices.

Cover chicken and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours if possible.

Smashed Garlicky Black Beans:

2 cans black beans, in their juices
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in saucepan; simmer slowly for 1 hour until garlic flavor is mellowed and beans are very soft. Mash beans with potato masher until well thickened but chunky.

Fruit Salsa:

1 ripe Hass avocado, cubed
1 mango, cubed
1/2 cup fresh pineapple, cubed
1 banana, cubed
juice of 1 lime
fresh cilanto, chopped, to taste
salt to taste

Mix salsa ingredients about an hour before serving time and refrigerate.

Grill chicken paillards over high heat a minute or two per side until done. (If they are properly pounded they cook very quickly.) Serve on a bed of black beans, drizzled with some reserved chipotle sauce, with a dollop of fruit salsa on the side.


Note: If your chicken paillard approaches the shape above, you may seize the opportunity to provide the little ones with a geography lesson: yes, Junior, Africa is indeed a continent.

You will have extra chipotle orange sauce. I sometimes freeze it in an ice cube tray, transfer to a zip lock bag, then add it to anything that could use a sweet & spicy kick. Try it as a glaze for ham or ribs.

You can also use it as you would a sweet barbeque sauce, brushing it over chicken towards the end of cooking time to avoid burning. (In this recipe, since the chicken is pounded thinly it cooks very quickly so the marinade doesn't have time to scorch.)

Recommended ice cube trays:

Monday, December 6, 2010

homemade cheese ravioli with simple tomato sauce

The first time I saw fresh pasta made, I must have been very impressed. I say this because even though I don't remember the precise moment, I do recall suddenly morphing into a pasta-making fool in my sophomore year of college. I must have made pasta three times a week in those days, and considering my kitchen's limitations, that was true dedication.

I lived in a tiny, one-room apartment off campus (Yay! A place of my own!) with no counter space and about six feet separating the electric range and my bed. This proximity turned out to be a good thing, when I found myself circling in place looking for somewhere to deposit the pasta draped over my arms so I could continue to roll out more. My bed was typically inundated with odd plates and pans brimming with kitchen overflow (sexy, I know).

I don't know how I strayed so far from making my own pasta, but when I recently found myself  reaching for commercially-made "fresh" pasta in a mega-grocery store, I knew it was time for self-intervention. In the past, my unspoken rule had been, if you're not willing to make your own pasta, eat dried. Quality dried pasta is delicious in its own right, and it has integrity. Brand name "fresh" pasta seems contemptible to me because it's trying to be something it's not - and it fails.

Obviously, if I really wanted fresh pasta I was going to have to dust off the old Atlas machine and get cranking.

This time around, I substituted my usual standby of all-purpose white flour with a semolina and durum flour specially blended for pasta. 

And since I had recently purchased a metal ravioli form I was dying to test, I decided to make basic - but classic - cheese raviolis. 

Finally, in order to allow the ravioli to shine, I opted for a very light tomato sauce using gently cooked home-canned tomatoes.

I began with making the pasta dough so it would have plenty of resting time while I prepared the sauce and ravioli filling.

The following "recipe," from Michael Ruhlman's "Ratio - The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking," is in fact, a ratio: a fail-proof one of 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg that is easily adjusted for any number of servings. The ratio is based on weight, so if you lack a  kitchen scale this is but one of many good reasons to buy one. Otherwise, go by the volumetric quantity of flour provided below.

Basic Pasta Dough (serves 3 to 6)   *This quantity makes 40 large ravioli

9 ounces flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces eggs (3 large eggs)

Combine flour and eggs in a food processor until they just come together.

Turn contents out onto a floured counter and knead 5 - 10 minutes, until very smooth and springy.

Wrap dough in plastic and set aside for at least 10 minutes and up to an hour. (Dough can be refrigerated up to a day before rolling out.)

Very Simple Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 -3 garlic cloves, finely minced or put through a press
2 pints home-canned tomatoes, or equivalent commercially canned, pulsed in food processor to a rough puree
5 big basil leaves, torn in two
1 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in large saucepan; add garlic and cook over medium low heat for about 5 minutes, slowly heating it through and infusing the oil without browning.

Add tomatoes and basil leaves. Simmer gently, covered, for about 30 minutes. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper.

Makes enough for 4 servings of  ravioli.

Two Cheese Ravioli Filling

16 ounces ricotta
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 eggs
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients well in a bowl; transfer to a zip-lock bag and place in refrigerator until needed.

Rolling out pasta dough:

Before rolling out pasta, sprinkle corn meal over a large sheet pan and set aside.

Cut pasta dough into 4 equal sized pieces; re-wrap 3 in plastic wrap while you work with first piece.

Set rollers on manual pasta machine to the widest setting (# 1 on my Atlas machine). Flatten dough slightly between palms, then feed between rollers to flatten more. Fold dough into thirds and run through rollers again. Repeat this process 6 times, dusting dough with flour if it sticks or catches at all. 


Adjust rollers to next setting (gradually getting narrower) and run pasta through once, without folding. Adjust roller to next setting and repeat running pasta through without folding; continue this way until you have run the dough through the finest setting and you have a long thin sheet of pasta. Place pasta sheet on sheet pan and continue.

You could probably roll out all portions of dough before forming ravioli, but I was concerned the sheets would get too dry in the process so I assembled ravioli with each sheet before moving on to the next portion of dough. (If you aren't living with dry heat and cramped kitchen space, go for it.)

To assemble ravioli:

Spray metal ravioli form with non-stick spray of choice. Cut pasta sheet into segments slightly longer than ravioli form (width should be just right if dough reached maximum width on machine as it was rolled.) 

Place a pasta sheet on metal form, being sure it just overlaps all edges. If necessary, gently stretch dough to edges and apply pressure with fingertips to hold dough in place). Place plastic form over the top and press down very gently to create indentations for filling. Remove plastic form and fill indentations with cheese filling. *** This is very easily done by snipping a corner off the zip-lock bag and squeezing filling through the hole, as with a pastry bag.


Place a second pasta sheet on top of the first, being sure to line up edges again. Roll over form with a rolling pin, pressing down forcefully and rolling back and forth until all the edges have sealed and the raviolis are mostly separated in the form.


Turn form over onto counter to allow raviolis to slip out; give a light nudge if needed to remove them all. Separate raviolis and place on sheet pan.

Repeat process with each portion of pasta dough.

Allow raviolis to sit for 30 minutes before cooking. If you won't be eating all right away, freeze the rest on a sheet pan; then transfer to a plastic freezer bag.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes, or until the edges are al dente. (Remove a ravioli from water and slice a small portion off an edge to test.)

Drain ravioli and top with sauce. If desired, drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over all, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Do not thaw frozen ravioli before cooking. Increase boiling time a few minutes as needed.