Thursday, July 26, 2007

Not dead...yet

Long time, no blog.

I know, I know, I suck!! I’ve just been waylaid by too many things lately, which have gotten in the way of blogging, and I apologize profusely!!

The good news is that I have been cooking some, and I’ve tried some new things and revisited an old friend, so to speak.

A few weeks ago on Slashfood, I saw a link to Smitten Kitchen’s version of Ratatouille’s Ratatouille…if you have not seen this movie, STOP right now and go see it. I’ll wait. It’s a wonderful movie, and it really does give you a little glimpse into the craziness that is back of the house. (Horst, the sous chef, has the best line…”I killed a man…with this thumb.” That just sent me and The Man into spasms, and we went around for days pointing our thumbs at each other…you had to be there.)

Anyway, The Man mentioned that he had never had ratatouille before, and if I remember correctly, the Cutest Chiclet and I had made a pretty good one in our Regional Cooking class, so when I saw Smitten’s version, I just had to do it.

(And, I totally agree with her about making a dish that a cartoon rat makes is probably right off the scale on the geek-o-meter, but what the hey! Cooking is all about expanding your horizons…while expanding your waistline, of course. And, come on, don't YOU want to try the lightning-struck mushroom and cheese thingy? What, you haven't seen the movie yet? What am I going to do with you?!)

I don’t think mine was as pretty as hers…need, need, need a mandoline!!…but, I think it was pretty impressive in its own right. I used some cute little Indian eggplants that I got at a farmer’s market, and they were the perfect size for the layering when sliced. The important thing was that The Man liked it…and it was similar to this Italian dish I had attempted to make a few months before, called tiela, which is basically ratatouille with potatoes and cheese. (And, I hated it. The tiela. And, we know how much I love the cheese. Go figure.)

Remy’s ratatouille was a snap to make…the work is in the slicing…and since it has it’s roots with Thomas Keller, I felt a little more “cheffy” while preparing it. (Snort.)

From Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” Department: A bunch of years or so ago (no need to worry about the exact number! especially since I have birthday coming up soon), I used to hang out on a regular basis with some friends who were really starting to get into cooking. We’d hook up on Saturdays, drink wine, and experiment with new and different things. The first real cookbook I remember buying for myself was from the Silver Palate ladies, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, called The New Basics Cookbook . I remember thinking that this cookbook was not like any cookbook I’d ever seen before…it had funky illustrations, a lot of how to’s, no color pictures, and some very strange and exotic sounding ingredients, like Italian (flat-leaf) parsley (remember, this was the early 90s!).

Who knew there was any other type of parsley other than that curly stuff that garnished the fried fish plate at Red Lobster? Much less that you could actually eat the stuff, both the curly and flat-leaf? I think I’ve come a long way, baby, for sure! (Actually, there are references to things way more exotic than Italian parsley, but as I flipped through the book, I was remembering that it was the first place where I had actually ever seen Italian parsley in a recipe.)

Anyway, on our road to becoming sophisticated gourmet cooks, we stumbled across the recipe for Spring Stuffed Chicken Breasts. This recipe involved way more techniques at one time than we’d every done before, including flattening, blanching, and trussing, which had me promptly renaming the dish “Bondage Chicken.” And, it had two “exotic” ingredients—Italian parsley (!) and leeks. Leeks? What the hell were leeks, really? I knew they looked vaguely like giant scallions, but at the time, I had no clue what to do with them. (It's not like they were a staple in our household, and I'm betting that you can ask any member of my extended family that I remember from childhood if they've ever eaten leeks, and I'm betting the answer is no.)

Essentially, you flatten some chicken breasts and blanch some leeks. Then, you layer them, along with some prosciutto (we used ordinary deli ham at the time, because you couldn’t find prosciutto in our neck of the woods), Monterey Jack cheese, and some mushrooms sauteed in butter, along with a little gremolata of Italian parsley and lemon zest, on top of the chicken breasts. You roll up the breasts, truss them with kitchen twine, pop them in a roasting pan, add some marsala, and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And looks pretty, although it is a pain in the patootie to get all that stuff rolled up in a chicken breast, flattened though it may be. I remembered this dish as one of the crowning achievements of our dinner parties, so it was with great anticipation that I whipped out this old chestnut for The Man.

And, it was nothing like I remembered it. It was rather bland and way too much work for the end product. As I made it, I thought the recipe was not really long on seasoning, with the salt content seemingly derived solely from the prosciutto, and pepper was the only other spice addition. I should have tossed in some minced garlic with the lemon zest and parsley, which would have helped immensely I seasoned my chicken well, with both salt and freshly ground black pepper, along with tossing a little seasoning in the mushroom mixture, but it was still pretty damn bland. It was decorative, with the leeks and the lemon zest, but pretty is as pretty does, I guess.

I thought, being as how I have so much more experience than I had way back then, that if anything, I would have improved upon the original, so it was a crushing blow of sorts when it wasn’t the best damn thing I’d ever made. It wasn’t inedible by any means, but it was just so blah for all the work that went into it. Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a whirl yourself, and let me know if you have better results…and confirm that I really do suck!!

Spring-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (with my comments and paraphrasing)

6 whole boneless chicken breasts
4 leeks (white part and 1 inch green), halved lengthwise and well rinsed
7 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh white mushrooms, sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup coarsley chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 2 teaspoons crumbled dried
Grated zest of 2 lemons
12 thin slices prosciutto
12 thin slices (~2.5x1 inches) Monterey Jack cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup Madeira or dry sherry (or chicken or vegetable stock)
Kitchen string and shears

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

1. Rinse chicken pieces and trim away any excess fat. Pat dry. Place breasts on cutting surface, skin side down (where the skin used to be attached). Remove fillets (that weird little finger-size piece on the underside) and reserve for another use. Place a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap over each breast, and pound with a mallet until thin. Set chicken aside.

2. Bring saucepan of water to boil, add leeks, and simmer for 1 minute. Drain, separate, and pat dry. Set aside.

3. Melt 4 Tbs butter in a skillet and saute mushrooms over medium heat until just tender; about 5 minutes. Drain well, and set aside.

4. Combine parsley, rosemary, and lemon zest in a bowl; mix well.

5. To assemble rolls, lay chicken breasts flat, skin side down. Place 2 slices of prosciutto lengthwise on each side of the breast (NOTE: the actual directions seem to want you to put a piece of prosciutto on each side of the chicken; tried that, bad results when trying to roll and truss.) Divide leeks evenly among the breasts, laying the leaves lengthwise. Arrange mushrooms down the center of each breast. Sprinkle gremolata over all and top with 2 slices of cheese, lengthwise. Sprinkle with pepper.

6. Starting on one long side (I did it from the end because my breasts weren't big enough, I guess...first time I've ever had that problem!), roll breasts carefully, making about 3 turns, to form a tight roll. Tie roll together with kitchen string.

7. Line a shallow roasting pan with aluminum foil, and place chicken rolls in pan, seam side down. Sprinkle chicken with pepper, and place 1 1/2 teaspoons of remaining butter on top of each roll. Pour Madeira into pan.

8. Bake, basting frequently, until golden, about 35-45 minutes.

9. To serve, slice rolls into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Arrange decoratively on dinner plates and spoon some of the pan juices over them.

Makes 6 portions

(See, doesn't it sound like it should be good for all the work you put into it? Maybe it's just probably is me, so that's why I'm letting you judge for yourself.) As I entered the recipe and looked at the book again, I kept thinking that a lot of the recipes were awfully labor-intensive and maybe a little pretentious...this was from the late 80s-early 90s, so I guess that's to be expected. However, as I mentioned earlier, there's a ton of extremely helpful hints, some not so crazy menu ideas, and instructions/illustrations of techniques. And, then there's things like Turnip and Pear Saute. Enough said. If you see this book at a garage sale or in a used book store, it might be fun to pick it up on the cheap.

Oh, on the cooking class horizon, I’ve signed up to take a seafood workshop at Fine Technical College in August, which should be great fun…and probably chock full of bloggable events!

See you next post!

1 comment:

Lin said...

Hooray! Poodle-blog is back!

Love the chick-in-bondage. And you actually tied it into the post! I have a copy of the original Silver Palate cookbook (which I hesitate to announce turns 25 years old this year). I love to read it, but I don't cook much out of it. Never did. You are way more adventurous with cooking than I'm willing to bother with.

But I have made ratatouille, long before The French Laundry. Mostly as a way to use up too many summer zucchini. Good stuff! I shall have to try this recipe. (I think the one I've done is out of Joy of Cooking. I know it's not in my old red plaid Betty Crocker ring-binder cookbook.)

Bought a wonderful Pillsbury Bake Off cookbook circa 1968 at a junk shop last Saturday. It smells of mothballs, but the recipes are a hoot. Lots of color pictures. Lots of recipes for quick upside-down fruit cakes of all sorts. Lots of references to a Pillsbury frosting mix that's no longer available. I love old cookbooks -- they represent a historical era of food.