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Archive for October, 2008

Afternoon Nosh

Mmm, chicken.

Cooking streak continues, this time an off-the-cuff recipe unvented in response to my grumbling tummy, the cold weather, and my fridge exploding with roasted chicken and mushrooms. I’ve always had an affinity for the Hungarian dish Chicken Paprikash, a goulash filled with stewed onions, sour cream and sweet and smoky paprika. But I couldn’t wait an hour for the dish to stew; besides I wanted something simple to eat with the delicious, seedy whole wheat bread I bought yesterday at the Amish market. So I broke down my favorite recipe for Paprikash into it’s various components: soft, sweet onions, tender chicken, a heady sauce of garlic, sour cream and spices. I had roasted chicken, onion jam and plenty of dairy. I add mushrooms because, well, do mushrooms need a reason?? I love them, they add earthiness and substance to any dish.

Casual Chicken Paprikash

I sauteed a shallot with 4 oz. of mushrooms, then added garlic and deglazed with vermouth and dry chardonnay. I reduced then added chicken stock, sour cream, cream and a spoonful of onion jam. I seasoned with sage, thyme, parsely, salt and pepper, mace and plenty of sweet paprika. Finally, I let the sauce reduce before I served it with a lemon wedge, more fresh parsley (a traditional component of Paprikash), and bread and crackers. The resulting dish is redolent with spices: sweet and heady with mace, earthy and complex with paprika I picked up at The Spice House in Boystown, Chicago. It is bright with the addition of lemon and parsley, and the onion jam made the dish taste slow-cooked. I’m satisfied and have leftovers, which I may chill and fold with cream cheese for an interesting dip.

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Friday Night Dinner

I have been aching to cook, really cook for weeks. And today, my first day off at home in nearly a month, I got to do it. First I went to the store and stock up and some essentials: aromatics, mushrooms, sherry, vermouth, wine, cream, puff pastry, delicious local apples, smoky-sweet bacon and the most beautiful chicken I’ve seen in a long time. But I digress. Tonight I was going to cook!

I settled, after much ruffling of pages, on some internet recipes I’d spied while reading Lindy’s blog: lobstersquad’s marmelada de cebolla with which I would make Lindy’s onion and bacon pizza and serve with her mushroom and corn soup. Keeping with the casual but indulgent French-inspired menu, I got the two (!) things I needed to make Orangette’s Chaussons aux Pommes from the Nov ’08 edition of Bon Appetit. Ingredients in hand, I tied on my favorite apron (which I’ve had since age 13, seriously) and got to chopping.

I started my evening by kneading some dough for my pizza. Lindy used an overnight-style dough that I would’ve had to make, er, yesterday afternoon, which wasn’t going to happen (I had 1.5 hours of downtime between school and work, which I used to eat and take a nap. I have priorities.). Instead, I used, of all things, my favorite naan recipe which involves yoghurt to destabilize the flour’s protein structure, producing a tender yet chewy crumb and a sinfully crisp exterior. It worked wonderfully- the dough had just enough fat in it for a cracker-light crispiness that paired perfectly with the toppings. More on that later.

I turned next to the Onion Marmelade, which took much longer than I expected and produced a LOT of jam. I used large Spanish onions, DeSoto sherry vinegar, and a 2002 Cote de Rhone red. You start by slicing your onions in paper-thin half moons and simmering them in butter, olive oil, salt, pepper and castor sugar. After the onions release their juices and stew you add the vinegar, wine and a few tablespoons of a fortified wine, in my case I used a fino sherry.  You then turn up the heat and boil away the liquid until you have a deep, syrupy marmelade. The resulting jam is a deep burgundy-brown and is complex- carmelized, nutty and savory. It is a perfect expression of onions, and even after all the cooking the onion slices still have a little bit of tooth to them.

I sliced and chopped a couple pounds of mushrooms- shiitake, cepes, button mushrooms, baby bellas (whatever those are), rendered some bacon and sliced another onion. I sauted the onions and mushrooms in a couple tablespoons of bacon fat until they were reduced and carmelized. I then made the soup with most of them, and with about a cup of the mushroom/onion mixture added some vermouth and heavy cream and made a sort-of sauce for the pizzas. I hand tossed some dough into 6-8″ rounds (that’s a liberal description for the wonky circles I tossed), and topped with the mushroom mixture, some sage, bacon and the onion jam. Threw it into a smokin’ hot oven for 20ish minutes while I finished the soup, which was nothing more than adding some corn, wine, stock, herbs and cream. Easy and really, really yummy with the addition of bacon on top.
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Speaking of bacon, I was splitting up a pound of bacon for this meal and my mom was standing by drinking coffee. I asked, “Is this enough bacon for dinner?” She said we need more and I added a few more slices to my tidy pile of pork fat. I got to thinking, this isn’t just a practical question but a philosophical one- when is there enough bacon? I have a bacon barometer built into my person, and I can always tell when a meal needs more pig. When you come to one of life’s great impasses, ask yourself, “Does this situation need bacon?” Thank me later.
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Anyway, back to the meal. The pizza came out dark, smoky, crisp, sweet, and savory. The soup was rich but not overwhelming, bright with the addition of lemon juice and parsley. Finally, I baked my chausson aux pomme (literally “slippers of apple”). I’ll be frank with you, they were a lot of fucking work for mediocre payoff. They basically tasted like apple pie but took about four times as much money, time and dishes to wash (the most infuriating part!) than pie. Don’t get me wrong, they were damned tasty with vanilla ice cream, but I was expecting ethereal pillows of apple-y goodness and I didn’t get it. C’est la vie.

I really enjoyed myself tonight. Yeah, it was a lot of work- I got started around 4 PM with shopping and we didn’t eat until 9 PM- but I love to cook and bake so it was really enjoyable. As a bonus, I roasted some chicken for tomorrow, I have another recipe of dough chilling in the fridge, and I have many servings of soup and chausson to eat over the weekend. It’s stuff like this that make life so sweet.

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