Thursday, November 26, 2009

Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper & Chèvre Stuffed Chicken Breast

I recently discovered the wickedly delicious flavor combination of goat's milk cheese or chèvre, roasted red pepper and spinach. And the best part is, it is so simple to make, you can whip up a delicious meal in less than 30 minutes. All you need are those 3 ingredients I mentioned above and a chicken breast cutlet to make a meal that may look complex but is really super easy to prep and cook.

Start off by sauteing some spinach. Now, spinach is very delicate and can shrivel down to almost nothing when heated. So, always cook more than you think you need. For 2 servings, I used 2 big bunches of spinach, which is simply saute with salt and pepper. This process takes not even 2 -3 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is. After that is done, remove the spinach from the pan and chill it in your fridge. This is a restaurant trick, which will prevent the spinach from cooking further even when it is out of the pan.

As for the roasted red pepper, you can buy them from any grocery store and they usually come in a glass bottle jar. As they are already cooked, the only prep you need to do is simply dicing them. As for the goat's milk cheese or chèvre, just make sure that they are somewhat soft and pliable before adding the other 2 ingredients. When you add the spinach and roasted red pepper, make sure that you gently fold them into the cheese so as not to turn them into cheese mush. When all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, set it aside in the fridge as you prepare the chicken breast cutlet for stuffing.

Try to remove as much fat from the cutlet and cut a slit down the middle. Spread out the cutlet and drape a piece of saran wrap on top and pound it with the back of a frying pan to flatten it for easier cooking. The next thing you do is stuff the chicken with the cheese stuffing that you just made and bake it in the oven. Oh, remember to season the chicken first with salt and pepper and if you want, brush it with some melted butter as well. And that's it really. Super easy to make and trust me, even more delicious to partake.

As for the sauce, I usually make a chicken velouté (one of the French mother sauces). Start off by melting 2 tablespoons of butter and sweating some shallots and garlic in it. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and incorporate with the rest of the ingredients and saute until it becomes lightly brown. Next, add about 1.5 cups of chicken stock (I make my own but you can buy them off the shelf) and start stirring. At this point I also add some fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Bring the sauce to a boil and you'll notice that it starts to thicken up. Turn down the heat and simmer. Continue stirring until it comes to the right consistency for a sauce (not too thick or thin like a soup). If it is too thick, add more chicken stock. Too thin and you need to reduce it slightly by continuing to simmer the sauce. Next, season it to your taste with salt and pepper and you are done.

Silver Pomfret/Dollarfish 2 Ways - Steamed and Miso-glazed

There have been plenty of misrepresentations about the butterfish. I've heard many people mistakenly refer to sablefish, Chilean seabass or black cod as butterfish even though they don't look remotely alike. Searching through Google's vast internet search would confuse you even more. One article states that the butterfish is also known as skipjack or dollarfish and is flat in appearance like flounder but swims vertically like a regular fish and another has it connected to cod. Huh?!

I recently spotted some fresh diamond-shaped fish that was labeled as "butterfish", for the first time at my local grocery store. I highly doubt that they were butterfish; they look more like the Chinese silver pomfret or even dollarfish. First of all, they are quite small in size, maybe 4-5 oz. each (with the head, tail and fins intact). Having not prepared this type of fish before, I decided to try cooking them using 2 methods, steamed and baked in the oven with a miso-sake glaze. Mind you, the pomfret is such a delicate fish, the meat will fall apart on you easily if not handled properly. Considering that the fish is relatively quite small, there is hardly much meat to begin with.

First, let's talk about the steamed pomfret dish. I started by marinating the fish in a mix of fish sauce and yuzu for about an hour or so, letting the tart flavors seep ever so slightly into the fish. Before steaming, I added a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil and scallions to the dish together with about 1/2 a cup of water to lessen the saltiness from the fish sauce. Steam it in the wok for approximately 20 - 30 minutes. It doesn't take long to cook as the fish is small and delicate.

Next is the baked miso-sake-glazed pomfret. Normally, a miso-sake-glazed fish should be grilled but at the time that I was preparing this dish, it was too late (and much too dark) to get the outdoor grill going. Also, this fish is so delicate and might fasll apart easily, I was afraid that grilling might not be the best cooking method for it. To prepare the glaze, you need:

3 TBP red/yellow miso
2 TBP sugar
3 TBP sake
2 TBP mirin

All the above ingredients together in a pot, bring to a boil and immediately take it off the heat and stir. Let it cool and glaze both sides of the fish with it. Turn on the oven to 350F and line your sheet pan with aluminium foil before laying the fish on it. Let it cook for approximately 30 minutes. Check often to make sure that the surface of the fish do not start to burn because of the sugar in the glaze. When it is ready, serve the fish with a side of white rice and stir-fried vegetables.

And there you have it, 2 preparations for pomfret. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Braised Pork Spare Ribs

Pork spare ribs is a very delicious cut of meat when braised until it turns fall-off-the-bone tender. There is just simply nothing better than the melt-in-your-mouth sensation of chewing into a mouthful of juicy and tender spare ribs (except maybe juicy and tender short ribs!). And the best thing is, it's really not that complicated to make.

Here's what you need:
Bone-in spare ribs - 1-1.5 lbs
Tomato paste - 2 tablespoons
Korean chili paste (gochujang) - 1 tablespoon
Red wine (Merlot) - 2 cups (or enough liquid to barely cover the spare ribs in your pot)
Mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots - rough dice) - 2 cups onions, 1 cup each celery & carrots
Bouquet garni - bay leaf, parsley stems and fresh thyme
Beef/veal stock - 2 cups
Coriander, Salt & pepper

First, clean the spare ribs by removing some of the fat (not all). Season with some oil, salt, pepper and coriander powder. Heat up a pot with 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and start searing the spare ribs until they turn slightly brown on all sides. Now, remove the ribs and set aside for now. Add the mirepoix vegetables and saute them for a minute or two. Then deglaze the pot with the stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to remove the delicious bits and pieces of the ribs that were left behind from the earlier searing. Put the seared spare ribs back into the pot, arranging them above the mirepoix. Add tomato paste, gochujang and the red wine, together with the bouquet garni. At this point, fill up the pot until it barely covers the ribs.

Now, you can just let the pot simmer, bubbling a little bit but not boiling. Cover the pot with a lid but not entirely. It should take about 2-3 hours of low simmering for the braise to complete. Check the ribs for tenderness after 90 minutes to 2 hours. When it turns fall-off-the-bone tender, it is done. Add some stock or water if the level of the liquid gets too low. Now, remove the ribs gently, careful not to have the meat fall apart on you as you transfer it to a plate. Strain the braising liquid to remove the mirepoix. Pour the braising liquid back into the pot and season with salt and pepper. If it is not of a saucy consistency, reduce the liquid by turning the heat back on. Check the final seasoning and you are done.

Nothing to it, right?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chicken Penne Alfredo - Made Easy

Fettuccine alfredo is a mainstay of most Italian restaurants. The secret to this dish is of course, the alfredo sauce, a delicious mix of cream, butter and cheese. According to legend, it was created by Italian restaurateur, Alfredo di Lelio, at his restaurant in Rome in the early part of the last century. The dish eventually gained fame when legendary actors, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had it at di Lelio's restaurant and because they liked it so much, brought it home to serve to their own friends. Word quickly spread about this extraordinary pasta dish and the fettuccine alfredo was born.

Of course, in the original version, the pasta used is fettuccine but nowadays, any type of pasta is acceptable. For my version, I am using penne, a cylindrically-shaped pasta. As always, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, undercooking it just a little bit. Remember that pasta can go from undercooked to overcooked very quickly. As soon as you think it is done, strain it out of the boiling water and run cold water over it immediately, which will help to stop the carryover cooking process. Do the same thing with the broccoli, boiling it quickly to just soften it up just a little. Overcooking will result in unappetizing and mushy broccoli. Yuck! As for the chicken, cut it into small slices. You can use either dark or white chicken meat for this application. Now, you can cook it in two ways. You can either season and then bake it in the oven or you can saute it when you are making the sauce. Either way is fine but I chose the former.

Now lets work on the sauce. At the basic level, you need heavy cream, unsalted butter and shredded parmesan cheese. Start off by melting 3-4 TBPs of butter and sauteing julienned onions and garlic in it until they are soft and lightly brown. Deglaze the pan with heavy cream, about 1 - 1.5 cups, and add the shredded parmesan cheese. Keep stirring to melt the cheese. Parmesan is a very hardy cheese and will melt well when cooked. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. I also like to add half a teaspoon of coriander powder and some fresh thyme to add an extra dimension to the sauce. Reduce the sauce a little so that it will thicken up. The cheese will also help with the thickening process. When you've gotten the sauce to the right taste and consistency, add the chicken, pasta, the broccoli and also some chopped roasted red pepper for color and taste. You can even add mushrooms and other types of vegetables.

And that's it. All done! Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Wrap

A staple of most bars and other fine drinking establishments, the ubiquitous buffalo wing appetizer basket is as common as dollar beers during happy hour. Featuring deep fried chicken wing drummettes that are seasoned with a hot sauce and butter concoction, it is traditionally served with raw celery and carrot sticks and a blue cheese dipping sauce. As the name reveals, buffalo-style chicken first originated from Buffalo, New York. There are several versions of how it was created but everyone agreed on the fact that it first appeared at the Anchor Bar back in 1964. While the original is made from chicken wings, there are other variants made with shrimp or chicken breast cutlets but all with the same sauce.

Speaking of the sauce, it's as easy as buying a bottle of hot sauce (preferably Frank's), some vinegar (if the hot sauce is not already laden with it) and butter and mixing them all together. However, if you want to get fancy, then you can certainly make the taste of the sauce more intricate by adding honey, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, lime/lemon juice, onions and garlic. As you can see, the sauce can be as complicated as you want it to be. But the base should be the 3 ingredients I mentioned earlier. Everything else is just extra gravy for taste. If you are adding onions and garlic, do saute them first.

As for the poultry, the traditionalist would do chicken wings, which usually comes in 3 connected pieces of meat. Cut the tip off and discard (or save it later for making chicken stock) and separate the other 2 drummette pieces as well with a cleaver. Prepare some egg wash and flour and get ready to deep fry. You can choose to season the flour but I think that the sauce is pretty intense and salty enough that you don't need extra seasoning in your flour. Egg wash first and the flour and right into your pot of hot oil. Fry for about 5 minutes or so or until it starts to turn slightly brown. Remove the drummettes at this time because it will continue to cook as it sits on a paper towel-lined plate.

If you are making buffalo chicken for a wrap, a drummette with bones will definitely not do. So for this particular application, I used chicken breast cutlets, cut into thin and small pieces. and perform the same process with the egg wash and flour. Now it is just a matter of tossing the fried chicken with the sauce that you prepared earlier. I would use a deep dish mixing bowl big enough to hold all the chicken and the sauce.

As for the dipping sauce, I mixed equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise together with crumbled Gorgonzola blue cheese and a touch of white wine vinegar and lemon juice. To assemble the wrap (I used sun-dried tomato wraps), warm them up first. Spread the blue cheese sauce on half of the wrap, add lettuce, small diced celery and tomatoes and the buffalo chicken breasts.

As my daughters are still quite averse to spicy food, I also prepared some honey BBQ wings for them, together with the buffalo wings. The sauce is as simple as taking off the shelf smoked BBQ sauce and adding honey to it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ginger & Lemongrass Salmon with Sweet Potato Hash

This dish is a meld of East and West flavors: a Western sweet potato hash is paired with distinctly Asian flavors of ginger and lemongrass and unified by a delicious fillet of pan-fried Atlantic salmon.

First, let's talk about the hash. A hash is a simple side dish that can easily be made on the fly. I used regular Russert and also sweet potatoes for my hash. Dice them up small together with onions, garlic and mushrooms. Start off by sweating the onions and then cook the garlic. Next, add both kinds of potatoes and keep frying them until they soften. To add some Asian flavors to the hash, I sprinkle some coriander and cumin and instead of salt, I used soy sauce instead. Add pepper and the mushrooms and cook for another minute and set aside. Have some scallions and parsley chopped and ready to fold into the hash when you are ready to serve. Do not add them now as they will soften with the heat and turn to mush.

Now let's get on to the salmon. Before cooking it, finely chop onions, garlic and ginger. I used lemongrass to add a citrus flavor. As you can't eat the lemongrass, cut the stalk into about an inch in length (so that they can be easily removed later) and crush them with the side of your knife to release its flavors. Remove the skin from the salmon and season both sides with salt and pepper. Get a pan of oil hot and pan fry the salmon, starting with the skin side up. You can also sprinkle some flour onto the salmon if you so choose before frying. As soon as the frying side of the fish turns a little crispy, turn it over to fry the other side. Depending on the thickness of the fillet, the fish may not be cooked all the way through even though the external flesh is slightly crispy. If this is the case, turn on your oven to 400F and bake the salmon for 5 - 10 minutes or until it is cooked. Remember not to overcook the salmon or it will dry out.

Let's move to making the sauce. When the salmon is out of the pan, pour some of the excess oil out and saute the onions, lemongrass, ginger and garlic (in that order), all the while scraping the pan to get the delicious bits and pieces of the salmon to mix in with the other ingredients. Deglaze the pan with 1 tablespoon each of fish sauce and kicap manis. Add 1 cup of water and continue to simmer in order to concentrate the flavors. When you get the flavors to your liking, remove the stalks of lemongrass before serving. At this point, reheat your hash and fold in the chopped scallions and parsley. Leave some scallions to garnish the salmon with. Plate it up like you see in the pictures and you have yourself a delicious salmon dinner with sweet potato hash.

Baked Butterscotch Pear Anise

Here's a delicious and simple dessert that you can try at home. It is oven-baked butterscotch pears with a star anise, cinnamon and molasses cream sauce, finished with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. There are literally 3000+ varieties of pears grown all over the world. The biggest producers of pears in the U.S. are Oregon and Washington state, growing 4 of the most common varieties of pears: Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc and Comice. For this application, I used Bosc pears, which are perfect for baking.

Start off by peeling the skins off the pears, halving them and removing the core and the seeds. Melt a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter and brush it onto the pears. Then sprinkle some sugar onto the buttered pears halves. At this point, you should have your oven pre-heated to 375F. As soon as it is ready, arrange the pear halves onto a buttered baking sheet and pop them into the oven. Depending on how ripe the pears are, baking should take between 30 -90 minutes. Test to see if the pears are soft to the touch. You can also use a toothpick to prick the pears. If it goes in easily, then they are done.

Remove the pears from the baking sheet and set aside. You should notice some caramelized sugar together with some melted butter on the bottom of the baking sheet. Heat up the baking sheet a little to loosen up the butter and sugar and pour it into a small pot. Add 1 stick of cinnamon and a star anise into the pot. Next, pour in about 1 cup of heavy cream and 2- 3 tablespoons of molasses and bring the pot to a simmer. Molasses is a byproduct in the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. It is sweet like honey but imparts a distinct smoky flavor. It can also be used as a sauce for savory meat dishes.

Let the pot simmer to draw the flavor of the cinnamon and star anise out. If need be, add more cream if it becomes too thick. The taste of the sauce should not be too sweet with a liquorice-like flavor (from the star anise). To plate it, spoon the sauce onto the bottom of a shallow bowl, and arrange 2 pear halves as you see in the pictures. Add a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle chocolate sprinkles and top it off with a fresh sprig of mint. To add originality to the overall presentation of this dessert, you can also arrange the star anise and cinnamon on the plate as you see in the pictures.