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Cook Books – Use ’em or Lose ’em!

We have a ton of cook books. Cook books always play a major role as Christmas gifts too. Each year we probably add half a dozen to our library. In general, we look at the book immediately after unwrapping it and make these great plans on all the new things we’ll make, then fail to execute.  When we either have a dinner party or a free weekend, we’ll often pull a cook book and find something new to cook, then the book goes right back to the shelf.

Our cook book shelf is overflowing…

So many cook books and so little time!

I decided that I’d be meat free in January (also chose to be booze free). I needed to expand my meatless repertoire, so I pulled A Year in a Vegetarian’s Kitchen – grabbed some post it notes and went to marking interesting recipes. We found about a dozen that really spoke to us and since they were vegetarian it fit my nutritional changes for the month.

We made these recipes throughout the month and we’re really pleased with our selections. We tried so many great things in January, we decided to pick another cook book for February and will try this experiment again. While I’m not going to be meatless in February, I do plan to remain as mindful about my food as I was in January. It might be a bit tougher considering we chose Tommy Bahamas Flavors of the Southern Coast as our February book. We found another dozen or so recipes, but these recipes all require more work than our January selections, so adding these to our week night rotation will be tough.

It felt great trying so many new recipes in January and I can’t wait to work our way through this new book. How often do you use your cook books?  Seriously, how often?  Do you dig getting a new cook book as much as I do?  I love to give cook books just as much – it often means that someone will be thanking me for the gift by making something amazing out of their new book too.  Now that’s a win-win!

Vietnamese Roasted Chicken

A few years ago we took a two week trip to southeast Asia – spending a good portion of our time in Vietnam.  I fell in love with Hanoi – the people, the food, the Old Quarter.  I can’t wait to return.  Since a return trip to Hanoi isn’t on the short list (so many places to see and so few vacation days), I like to bring the flavors of Vietnam into our home as frequently as possible.

Since I’m in control of the kitchen this weekend, I pulled out a couple Vietnamese cookbooks and decided to do a simple roasted chicken with Vietnamese flavorings.  When I was single I use to roast a whole chicken and make several meals out of the meat throughout the week.  I haven’t roasted a chicken in a while.

I decided to make  a flavored oil to put under the skin and use as a basting liquid during the roasting process.

Here are the ingredients for my tweaked recipe:

  • One 3.5 pound chicken (for two people, which is enough for two entrees and leftovers for a small soup the following day)
  • 1 tablespoon dried diced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (the most quintessential Vietnamese ingredient)
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of honey (I used orange honey)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups of water

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.  Rinse your chicken in cold water in the sink.  I like to start with a nice, cold, fresh, clean bird.  Some cooks recommend against this, but I’ve been doing this for years and can’t see stopping anytime soon.

In a medium bowl, whisk the garlic, lemon juice, fish sauce, pepper, honey and olive oil until combined.  Divide this mixture in half – one portion is used right now and the rest is the glaze, used throughout the cooking process.

Flavorful marinate / glaze for my Vietnamese Roasted Chicken

Flavorful marinate / glaze for my Vietnamese Roasted Chicken

GENTLY slide your fingers under the chicken skin on the breast – being ever so careful not to tear the skin.  Once a nice deep pocket has been made around the breast, spoon in a few tablespoons of the seasoning and rub it all over the breast meat (again, under the skin).  Flip the chicken over and make an ever so slight slit through the skin on the chicken thigh.  Slide your finger through the little slit and make another pocket of space on the thigh and the drum stick.  Spoon in a couple tablespoons of the flavorings and ensure the entire thigh/drumstick is covered.  Repeat on the other thigh/drumstick.

If your chicken was like mine – and I’m sure it is – you’ll need to truss the legs together so they don’t flop to the side.  If they do, they’ll end up cooking faster and being very dried out.  Just Google the best way to truss a chicken.  I will admit that chicken and I danced a bit in the kitchen sink. He just didn’t want to be bound.  I eventually figured it out and the only thing that was bruised was my ego.

Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Fill the bottom of the pan with water – make sure the chicken itself isn’t touching the water.  You aren’t cooking the chicken in the water, mind you, the water will slowly evaporate while the chicken roasts, keeping it more moist.

Flavors packed under the skin and all trussed up. Let's hop in the oven!

Flavors packed under the skin and all trussed up. Let’s hop in the oven!

Before you throw the birdie in the oven, use the marinade to glaze the chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks (the skin this time, since you’ve already flavored the area between the meat and the skin).  Place the chicken on the center rack of your preheated oven.

I set my timer for 60 minutes (our oven is a bit temperamental).  I also set another timer for 10 minutes – at which time I’d reglaze the chicken.  Until the bird was done, every 10 minutes I reapplied the glaze.  Popping the oven door open every 10 minutes definitely delayed the cooking time, but it made the skin so flavorful – it was totally worth it to me.

About 50 minutes into the cooking process, the breast and thighs were getting a bit dark, so I covered them with aluminium foil – this allows the bird to continue to cook, but keeps the direct heat off the skin so it doesn’t char.

I mentioned a few days ago the importance of using a instant read thermometer when checking the temperature of your steak – you must do the same thing with your chicken, moreso actually.  After 60 minutes check your check in the thigh and the meaty part of the breast – though don’t touch the bone or the empty cavity with the thermometer as it will give a false reading.  The temperature the first time I checked came in at 130F.  I cook chicken to 160F then remove from the oven, and let the carryover heat finish the cooking process.  I reglazed (this was the sixth and final reglazing time) and closed the door.  I waited another 15 minutes and checked the bird again – he had reached 163F.  I removed him from the oven and let him cool for a bit.  The water in the roasting pan had all evaporated at this point too.

I moved the bird from the roasting pan to a cutting board and after about 10 minutes of him just hanging out, I carved  both breasts and both thighs/drumsticks and plated them.  I was concerned that my goal of using the leftover chicken for a Phở the next day wouldn’t happen, but luckily after the bird cooled more (and after we ate our lovely dinner) I was able to pick off another 3/4 cups of meat (breast, thigh, the oysters and whatever other little bits I could find).  This should work perfectly for our quick Phở lunch on Sunday.

Back to the roasted bird.  The meat was so moist and tender, even I was shocked.  The flavors of the bird were there, but still quite subtle.  I think I was expecting a bit more of an intense flavor.  Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing.  I will definitely make this again – and when I do, I may try to accompany it with a spicy Vietnamese inspired dipping sauce.

As I said before, I fell in love with Hanoi, much more so than Saigon.  The flavors in Northern Vietnam (to me) seem much more blended.  Fewer spices and peppers are used and there is a much greater depth of flavor.  This dish reminded me of a quick appetizer we had one evening while biking outside of Hanoi.

I paired this with some asparagus and broccolini.  I threw some butter, olive oil and some shallots in a frying pan on medium high heat until the shallots were soft and fragrant.  I removed the butter/shallots and tossed in the veggies, covering tightly with a lid.  The hot pan on direct heat added a little crunchiness to the asparagus and broccolini, while the lid kept in their moisture allowing them to cook quicker.  After about 6 minutes they were tender  – but still with a nice crunch.  I plated them, drizzled the butter/shallots over top and sprinkled some sesame seeds and crushed peanuts as a condiment.  We use the sesame seed/peanut mixture quite a bit with veggies – and as a separate condiment when we make homemade curries – the crunch and saltiness is quite nice.

Final Product - carved, plated. It was delicious - and very easy to make.

Final Product – carved, plated. It was delicious – and very easy to make.

Do you have a Vietnamese go-to recipe you’d like to share?  Do you prefer the food of Northern or Southern Vietnam more?

Portuguese Seafood and Sausage Stew

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve commandeered the kitchen this weekend, since MS is sick.  I’ve reviewed some new cookbooks that I’ve never tried before (gifts from prior Christmases) and found some great foundation recipes.  I’ve tweaked these recipes a bit before I tried them out.

For lunch on Saturday I made a Portuguese Seafood and Sausage Stew.  The ingredients I used – which made a perfectly sized lunch for two – are as follows:

  • Olive Oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan)
  • 6 ounces (or so) of cured Chorizo (I was lucky enough to use Olympia Provisions Chorizo)
  • 1 half yellow onion – diced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine – I used a vinho verde from Portugal
  • 1/2 cup rustic cut tomatoes (from tetra pak – not garden fresh, unfortunately)
  • 1/2 pound peeled and de-veined fresh shrimp
  • 10 little neck clams
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

I had never cooked clams before.  So I asked the guy at the fish counter at my local grocery is there was anything special I needed to do here and he said I should put some ice water in a bowl with a lot of salt and soak the clams for about an hour.  After an hour rinse several times with cold water and use a clean town to scrub the shells – you want to make sure they are clean before they go into your pot.  No one wants some sandy/dirt in the stew.

Vintage Label - Olympic Provisions Chorizo

Vintage Label – Olympic Provisions Chorizo

Here’s my technique on this recipe:

Heat the olive oil, over medium high heat, in a medium stock pot.  Toss in the chorizo and cook until it is browned around the edges – don’t worry, if you use a cured chorizo (which I recommend) you don’t have to cook it through, you are just giving it a browned edge and a warming it up.  By the time this dish is done, the chorizo will be warmed throughout.  Don’t overcook it – which is easy to do in this step.

Olive Oil and Olympic(a) Provisions Chorizo - saute for X minutes

Olive Oil and Olympic(a) Provisions Chorizo – saute for a couple minutes until browned

Once chorizo is browned (about 3-5 minutes) toss in the onions, garlic, bay leaf and red pepper flakes.  Cook uncovered until the onions are soft – around 5-7 minutes.  When the onions are soft add the wine and let reduce to about half the volume (about 2 minutes), then add in the tomatoes and stir while cooking for about 3-4 minutes.

Add in the diced onions, garlic, bay leaf and red pepper flake - cook until onions are tender.

Add in the diced onions, garlic, bay leaf and red pepper flake – cook until onions are tender.

 

After you've added the wine and it cooks down, add in the tomatoes.

After you’ve added the wine and it cooks down, add in the tomatoes.

Add in the clams and cover with a tight fitting lid.  We want to keep the steam from these ingredients in the pot.  Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.  At this point you should see the clams opening up.

Soaked, cleaned and scrubbed clams are then dumped into the tomato mixture.

Soaked, cleaned and scrubbed clams are then dumped into the tomato mixture.

 

The clams open quite quickly when the lid is secured - trapping in the steam.

The clams open quite quickly when the lid is secured – trapping in the steam.

Place the shrimp in the pot (on top of the clam shells).  Replace the lid and cook until the shrimp is done.  My shrimp took about 4 minutes to turn a translucent pink color.  Keep the lid on the pot!  Keep all that steam in – it’ll keep the shrimp tender while cooking it through.

Toss in the peeled, de-veined shrimp onto the clam shells and cover with a tight fitting lid.

Toss in the peeled, de-veined shrimp onto the clam shells and cover with a tight fitting lid.

 

Shake the pan a few times to make sure everything is getting proper heat/steam.

Shake the pan a few times to make sure everything is getting proper heat/steam.

Divide this recipe up between two bowls – each bowl should have the same number of clams and shrimp.  If you have any clams that didn’t open, trash those.  You don’t want to try to eat these – it’ll make for a truly awful day.  Finish it off with the chopped cilantro – and while you’re at it, pour a couple glasses of that vinho verde you used earlier.

Voila -- a blurry reveal unfortunately. I was just too excited to eat this to check the quality of my final pic.

Voila — a blurry reveal unfortunately. I was just too excited to eat this to check the quality of my final pic.

There isn’t a ton of sauce with this dish, but I wish I had a small baguette to mop of the bit of sauce that was left over.  Live and learn.  This recipe took me right at 30 minutes from kick off until first plated bite.  While the clams are soaking you can prep everything else and just start tossing them into the pot at go time.

Other than the 60 minute clam soak time, this is a recipe that could easily be used as a week night meal but also flavorful and elegant enough to serve to guests.

How would you tweak this recipe to make it your own?  Personally, next time, I’d add more tomatoes and a baguette as a side utensil to sop up the extra tomato sauce. If I doubled the tomato sauce, I’d like add 50% more red pepper flake and a touch of salt and pepper. You’ll notice I didn’t use salt in this recipe (other than in the clam bath) – the cured chorizo had a bit of salt that carried through nicely.  As always, taste as you go and built flavors!

Filet Mignon Surf and Turf with Chilled Lobster Salad – Recipe

We were planning on attending Diner en Blanc Chicago on Friday night, but MS had an awful cold and we couldn’t attend.  I had purchased all the items for our planned picnic dinner the prior night (before he got sick), so I had all this food to use.  We may not be attending Diner en Blanc, but nothing is stopping us from having a fabulous dinner at home.

I only made one minor change to the menu at home from the picnic menu – instead of serving the Filet cold, I decided to serve it hot off the grill.  I made the Lobster Salad earlier in the day so it could properly chill and the flavors could fully meld.

Chilled Lobster Salad

Ingredients (for two servings as a co-entree)

  • Two 5.5 ounce lobster tails – in shell
  • 1 tablespoon of minced shallot
  • ~3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Mayonaise
  • 2 teaspoons thinly sliced tarragon
  • Salt and fresh pepper to taste

I ended up purchasing two 5.5 ounce lobster tails at the local grocery store.  These tails were previously frozen but were completely thawed when I purchased them.  I filled a pot with enough water to cover the lobster tails – with about 1.5 inches more water than I needed.  While the water was coming to temperature, I rinsed the tails under cold water for about 30 seconds.  Once the water came to a roaring boil, I dropped the lobster tails in and boiled them for about 5 minutes – in general I cook lobster about 1 minute per ounce.  I usually am just cooking small tails, so I can’t confirm if this time works for whole lobsters though.  The tails will curl, so if you want them to remain flat/straight, you should stick a wooden skewer through the tail (towards the top of the shell) – this will hinder the curling.  Since I was planning on chopping the meat for a salad, I didn’t care if it curled up.

Two Lobster tails boiling away - 1 minute per ounce usually does it for me!

Two Lobster tails boiling away – 1 minute per ounce usually does it for me!

After about 5 minutes, I drained the water and tails into a colander and rinsed the now cooked tails with cool water.  Once the tails were cool to the touch, I used kitchen shears to slice down both the top and bottom of the shells releasing the meat.  Cut the tail meat into 1/2-1 inch cubes.  Put these in the fridge and let them chill for a couple hours.

Cooked tails cooling in the sink. Cool just long enough so you can handle the tails and snip the shells off.

Cooked tails cooling in the sink. Cool just long enough so you can handle the tails and snip the shells off.

An hour or two before you want to serve this chilled salad, put the shallot and lemon juice into a small dish and let the flavors meld for 20-30 minutes.  Whisk a dollop of mayo into this mixture and then mix this thinned out mayo mixture over the cubed chilled lobster meat.   Mix in the tarragon.

Depending on how much you love mayo, you can either add more dollops of mayo into the mixture until it comes to the consistency that you like or you can leave it as is.  I added another two tablespoons of mayo – purely personal preference.

Finally I mixed in some lemon pepper and kosher salt to taste.  You can use fresh cracked black pepper too – but I really dig lemon pepper and don’t get a a chance to use it all that frequently.

When it comes to the Filet Mignon, I’m a traditionalist.  With good quality meat (I picked up two 4 ounce Filets from the butcher counter) a little salt and pepper is all you need to make a great meal.  I turned the gas (propane, not natural – I prefer the heat of propane vs natural gas) on high, dropped the lid and let the grill heat up to 500F.  Once at temperature, I reduced the heat from high to medium high and placed the small steaks on direct heat.  After about 2 minutes I turned the steaks 90 degress (so I could get the lovely grill marks).  After another 90 seconds I flipped the meat.

You can’t cook a steak based on time – there are so many variables (starting temperature of the steak, temperature of the grill, thickness of the steaks).  The only way to really know when the steaks are done is with an instant read digital thermometer.  I pulled our steaks off before they hit 140F and let them rest for about 10 minutes on the cutting board before plating them.

I paired the steak and lobster with some grilled asparagus and some boiled new potatoes.

Plated dinner - paired with a mediocre Pinot from the Okanagan Valley

Plated dinner – paired with a mediocre Pinot from the Okanagan Valley

The lobster was quite tasty.  This isn’t a meal I would cook every day, but it was a nice little treat for us.  I would definitely cook this lobster again – it would be great on a long sandwich roll.  I can’t enough enough of a refreshing lobster roll.

Do you do a surf and turf at home?  Do you dig chilled lobster salads as much as I do?  How do you cook lobster?

Taking Control of the Kitchen this Weekend

We love to cook at home.  More often than not, we spend the weekend evenings at home – cooking a meal for ourselves or hosting a couple of friends.  I find I cook less frequently than MS.  I’m more of a “let me cook a meal and stay out of my way” type of guy.  That doesn’t necessarily work on a traditional weekend in our house, so I yield the kitchen to him and fill in on an as needed basis (more of a sous chef role).

MS has an awful cold this weekend – he’s got a fever, a sore throat and he’s almost completely hoarse.  I am using this time to take control of our kitchen and cook Cook COOK.  My plans for the weekend are:

I spent a good portion of Saturday morning researching these recipes and making notes on how to make them my own.  I’ll be sharing my tweaked recipes, photos and my impressions of these dishes.  I hope you enjoy my gluttonous food journey.

What are you cooking this weekend?