Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chicken Piccata for Summer and Chili Dusted Roasted Potatoes

A few years ago when Kris and I were visiting my family in Austin, we watched my mom whip up a simple chicken dish that we all flipped over. That dish was chicken piccata and for some unknown reason it took me about two years to remember to make myself.

The recipe varies oh so slightly from chef to chef but I promise that whichever one you choose - the homemade version is one billion times lighter and fresher than what you remember ordering at Olive Garden. (Not that I'm ripping Olive Garden - that was tres chic when I was in high school, as were, ever so briefly, Rocky Mountain jeans. Thankfully my taste buds and sense of fashion have moved on.)

Anyway, I made my chicken piccata from Giada's Everyday Italian cookbook and to make it even fresher for summer, I dumped in a pint of cherry tomatoes along with the capers. They simmer in the liquid as the chicken finishes cooking, getting plumper and sweeter by the minute. Kris HATES cherry tomatoes, yet I didn't notice him picking them out...

Chicken Piccata, adapted from Giada:

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, flattened to 1/4 inch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
all purpose flour (about 1/3 cup, for dredging)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup rinsed and drained capers
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour to coat lightly. In a large saute pan, melt two tablespoons of the butter with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until just brown, about 3 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate.

Add the broth, lemon juice, capers and tomatoes to the same pan. Bring the mixture up to a boil over medium high heat, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer until cooked through and tomatoes have begun to wrinkle and burst, about 5 minutes. using tongs, carefully transfer the chicken to plates or to a serving platter. Whisk the remaining tablespoon of butter (Giada uses two - I think one is plenty) into the sauce, then the chopped parsley. Serve with cumin dusted potatoes, as follows, or noodles or thick wedges of garlic bread.

Grilled Cheese and Pea Mozarella Soup - The Cure for what Ails You

There are few things I love more than this pea soup. It's easy, it's healthy, and it's just the sort of thing I want to eat after a long day, sitting with a bowl on the couch with remote in hand. In fact, it would be the PERFECT soup, if it weren't for the unique (to be polite) scent of peas which prevents me from taking leftovers to work. I don't want to be known as the girl who eats the soup that smells like feet. I'm sorry peas, but it's true.

If you've tried pea soup before and are less than thrilled at trying it again, be brave and try again. I didn't even know I liked peas before I made this for the first time, as the only other pea soups I'd had were made heavy and thick and overly salty by either bacon or ham, raping the little veggies of their natural sweetness. It should also be noted that leftovers of this soup can be made even better when you add leftover rice (particularly if you've cooked it with parsley and/or lemon zest.) In fact, that's the other thing about peas - they get along well with everybody, which is why you see them on so many English menus as an accompaniment with everything from fried haddock to lamb, possibly as some sort of karmic retribution for their smell.

Speaking of English, this is Nigella Lawson's recipe, with just the slightest adjustments on my part. Oh and if you're Kris, you don't understand the point of having soup without a sandwich, and the one below is made for dipping in the kelly green, mozzerella flecked swamp.

Pea Soup

4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 green onions (can sub fresh basil, parsley, mint or whatever herb you have on hand)
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 (10 oz) packages frozen peas
1 large ball fresh mozzarella, broken into small pieces

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil, allowing to warm though, then the shallots. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 5-6 minutes until softened. Add green onions and chicken stock, cover and bring to boil. When boiling, add the peas and lower the heat, allowing to cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to cool for twenty minutes before blending. Discard the green onions and transfer the peas and shallots using a slotted spoon to a blender. Add half of the chicken stock, and carefully blend (CAREFUL WHEN BLENDING HOT LIQUID - PULL OUT THE PLASTIC CENTER FROM THE TOP TO ALLOW STEAM TO ESCAPE AND COVER LOOSELY WITH A KITCHEN TOWEL OR ELSE YOU'LL WIND UP WITH PEAS SOUP ON YOUR CEILING. TRUST ME - I'VE DONE IT.) Add as much of the leftover stock as you'd like to reach the constistancy you're happy with, then add in half of the mozzarella pieces blending in to incorporate. When happy, put back in the large pot and cook over low heat, until warmed through. Serve with extra mozzarella pieces sprinkled on top.

Mozzarella Grilled Cheese (This sandwich is baked, actually, making it less fussy than other grilled cheeses.)

French Baguette
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
olive oil
salt and pepper
Basil pesto (either purchased or home made)

Preheat oven to 350. Slice your baguette into the size sandwiches you desire, then halve them. Place the halves on an aluminum lined baking sheet sprayed with Pam. Layer your mozzarella slices on the bottom halves, then drizzle the slices as well as the underside of the tops with a light amount of olive oil (use a light hand - you don't want to make the bread heavy or soggy.) Sprinkle all with sea salt and pepper and place in the oven, baking for about 15 minutes or until cheese has begun to melt off the sides and bread is toasted.

Spread the underside of the tops with pesto, assemble the sandwiches, and serve with extra peso on the side.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Murray's Pasta

I am so glad the carb and pasta bashing seems to have faded a little. As a food lover, I couldn't go more than a couple of days without eating it; as a cook, I couldn't think of anything faster or easier to whip up on the nights I'm too tired to cook but too mentally worn to read a take out menu (not to mention phoning in the order to have someone who inevitably speaks every language BUT English answer.)

This pasta recipe was inspired by the world famous Murray's Cheese Shop. After stopping there one night after work and scooping up some of their fresh homemade pasta and a velvety log of goat cheese, I created it with what I had in my fridge. I probably make it once a week and it yields the only leftovers that are guaranteed to exit my refrigerator in less than 24 hours. If you can't get fresh pasta from Murray's or an Italian market, you could sub the fresh kind in regular grocery stores (I think Bertolli makes a good one) or even use dried. If you are using fresh, watch it carefully and remove it after just a couple of minutes or else you'll have flacid, limp pasta and a dissapointing consistency to the dish. As the gentile gay neighbors said in American Beauty - "You just drop it in the water and it's done!"

Murray's Pasta

1 (16 oz) package fresh spiral pasta (can sub bow ties or penne)
zest of one lemon
1 bunch fresh basil, rinsed and stems removed
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and halved PLUS three tablespoons of the oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
pinch red pepper flakes
1 (4.5 oz) log fresh goat cheese (I prefer Vermont Butter and Cheese brand)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
extra virgin olive oil, optional

Prepare the pasta according to package directions, being careful not to overcook. Drain and place into a large serving bowl. Add the sundried tomatoes, sundried tomato oil, lemon zest, pepper flakes, sea salt, and basil and toss well.

Carefully break up the goat cheese into fat crumbles and add to the pasta with the pine nuts. Gently toss together (overtossing will cause the goat cheese to disappear into the pasta rather than stay in chunks which I prefer.)

Serve immediately, with a small splash of extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top, if desired.