Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Grilled Cheese, Bacon & Tomatillo Sandwich

Grilled Cheese, Bacon & Tomatillo Sandwich
Serves 4 - 6
Grilled Cheese, Bacon & Tomatillo Sandwich 
I love a great sandwich with a salad and/or soup. It’s a classic homey food and a “best childhood memory meal”. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches, we loved mac-and-cheese, but all I wanted was Kraft. With this long, wet winter, this seems as good a time as any to start making my own because these recipes are keepers. I take issue with the banality of most sandwich recipes.  I will actually change the channel if I see a food program that walks viewers through making a grilled cheese sandwich. I mean, is this how low the bar has dropped for “cooking”? But it’s not the shows that are to blame, it's the sandwiches because they are dull. Some sliced stuff and schmeer between two uninspired slices of bread. Who wants to stay around for that?  Not me, so I bring you not one but two twists on the classic grilled cheese. This week – augmented with my hubby’s favorite food, BACON!, and kicked-up with a tart tomatillo. Watch for the second, Upscale Grilled Ham & Cheese, which will be posted in the near future. For another great sandwich idea, see http://cookingwithlarue.blogspot.com/2012/02/best-sandwicheverblt-fried-egg-and.html.

Tomatillos are considered a staple in Mexican cooking and are members of the nightshade family. It now grows everywhere in the Western Hemisphere. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green color and tart flavor are the main culinary contributions of the fruit. Peel the husk by hand and wash them thoroughly in cold water to remove sticky residue from the surface. Fresh tomatillos can be used raw and cooked in recipes.  See previous post for more on tomatillos, “Fried Egg with Squash and Tomatillo” (http://cookingwithlarue.blogspot.com/2012/10/fried-egg-with-squash-and-tomatillo.html) for other uses of tomatillos.
Tomatillos....remove the husk!
  • 12 slices (½ inch thick) ciabatta bread
  • 2-3 Tb softened butter
  • 4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
  • 4 tomatillos (6 oz), husks removed, rinsed and cut into ¼ inch thick slices
  • 8-12 slices cooked bacon, broken into thirds
  • ¼ C cilantro sprigs
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into thin slices, or panela cheese

Spread a side of each bread slice with butter. Turn 6 slices over; top with cheddar cheese, then tomatillo slices, bacon, cilantro sprigs and mozzarella. Top with remaining bread, buttered side up.
Ciabatta bread. You can remove some of the interior to make it less "bready".
What goes into the sandwich....including bacon, nature's most perfect food!
Cook sandwiches in a large nonstick frying pan – working in batches or use two pans – over medium-low heat until golden brown on both sides and the cheese melts, about 8 – 10 minutes total. Or, use a panini grill if you have one. 

Simple, right?  You know it is. So it give a try – great for guests as well as a quick and tasty family meal.

Bon Appetit


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Roasted Potato, Leek and Arugula Soup

Roasted Potato, Leek and Arugula Soup

Serves: 6-8
Roasted Potato, Leek and Arugula Soup
Every year around this time – well into the winter season, but long after we found it charmingly brisk – we get some sort of cold snap. Yes, a cold snap even in sunny Southern California. This year is no different. I was listening to the weather report when they were amused by the fact that it was 40 degrees colder in San Diego on this January day than it was in Chicago! That day, that chilly chilly frosty day, when I walk outside on that first 30-degree day, hear the Chicago weather report, and utter in disbelief, “WHAT THE WHAT?”

Weeks like this require ones own family-friendly elixir comfort food. Its soup – hands down!  Not a thin runny soup but one you can really roll around in your mouth and even gives it a bit of a chew. This soup is hearty and intense and absolutely the best remedy for a brittle, cold winter day – a meal in a bowl that also leaves your home smelling amazing.
  • 2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & cut into ¾ inch chunks
  • 4 C chopped leeks, white & light green parts, cleaned of all dirt (about 4 leeks)
  • ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 C baby arugula, lightly packed
  • ½ C dry white wine, plus extra for serving
  • 6-7 C chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ - ¾ C heavy cream
  • 8 ounces crème fraiche
  • ¼ C freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
  • Crispy Shallots, recipe follows, optional garnish

Chopping the leeks
Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Combine the potatoes and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40-45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Add the arugula and toss to combine. Roast for 4-5 more minutes, until the arugula is wilted. Remove the pan from the oven and place over 2 burners. Stir in the wine and 1 C of the chicken stock and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits that stick to the pan.
Adding the potatoes
Roasted leeks and potatoes

Now with the arugula
In batches, transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor or blender, adding the pan liquid and about 5 C of the chicken or vegetable stock to make a puree. Pour the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Continue to puree the vegetables in batches until they’re all done and combined in the large pot. Add enough of the remaining 1-2 C stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream, cream fraiche, 2-3 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper and check for seasoning.

When ready to serve, reheat gently and whisk in 2 Tb white wine and ¼ C Parmesan.  Serve hot with an extra grating of Parmesan and crispy shallots, if using.

Crispy Shallots
  • 1½ C olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 3 Tb unsalted butter
  • 6 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings
Heat the oil and butter in a pan over medium-high heat until it reaches 220-degree F on a candy thermometer. Reduce the heat to low, add the shallots, and cook for 30 minutes, until they are a rich golden brown. The temperature should stay below 260-degree F. Stir the shallots occasionally to make sure they brown evenly. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain well, and spread out to cool on paper towels. Once they have dried and crisped, they can be stored at room temperature, covered, for several days.

Frying the shallots

Crispy shallots

Try this warm soup for a quick weeknight meal with bread and salad, or dress it up for company with crisp bacon or cheesy croutons. I am serving it here with crispy shallots, which adds a whollop of flavor as well as crunch to your bite.  No matter what you serve with this hearty soup, you and your family will love it and ask for more.

Bon Appetit!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lemon Chicken Braise with Prunes & Olives

Lemon Chicken Braise with Prunes & Olives

Serves: 4
Lemon Chicken Braise with Prunes & Olives 
This is a terrific easy chicken braise which simmers on top of the stove for about 35 minutes, making it ideal for a quick weeknight dinner. You will love the winning combination of sweet prunes and green olives in a lemony braising liquid, which makes it distinctive enough for an impressive dinner party.

The best cuts of chicken for braising are the dark-meat cuts, thighs and drumsticks. Because successful braising is all about the exchange of flavor between the braising liquid with the meat juices, the juicier the meat, the better tasting the braise. Since thighs and drumsticks contain more fat and collagen than the white-meat breasts, they are tastier when braised. Another important aspect in this recipe is the use of bone-in chicken. As much as it may speed things up in the kitchen to cook chicken off the bone, what you gain in time, you lose in flavor. Bone-in chicken, like all meat cooked on the bone, will retain more of its flavorful juices. As for the skin, it protects the meat from drying out during braising, especially during the browning step. The layer of fat beneath the skin also adds richness and flavor.

One of the biggest challenges when braising chicken and other poultry is preventing the skin from becoming flabby and unappetizing in the moist heat of a closed pot. The best solution is to be especially patient and thorough when browning chicken before braising.  Another detail to watch is the amount of braising liquid. Avoid submerging the pieces completely in the liquid as it can leave the skin soggy. Ideally, there will be just enough liquid to come to where the skin meets the flesh.
  • ½ C brined green olives – such as Picholine, Lucques or Calif. Green
  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 6 skin-on chicken drumsticks
  • Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper
  • ½C all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 C dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • ¼ C white wine vinegar
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled & smashed
  • 1 preserved lemon, rinsed, pulp removed and finely chopped (For instructions on preserved lemons, see recipe for Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash, posted 9/24/12)
  • 6 strips lemon zest (about 2½ inches x ¾ inch) if preserved lemon unavailable
  • 2 whole cloves
  • ¾ C plump-pitted prunes
  • ½ C chicken broth, optional 
If the olives are not pitted, remove the pits by smashing the olives one at a time with side of a large knife, the slipping the pits out. If any flesh remains on the pit slice it off with the knife. If the only prunes you can find are dry and leathery, you will want to soak them overnight in room-temperature or slightly warm water to plum them up. Place them in a small bowl and pour water over to cover. Let the prunes sit until they are moist and plump, 8-12 hours if needed.
Prunes for the braise
Rinse the 4 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs and 6 skin-on chicken drumsticks in cool water, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Generously season all over with salt and pepper. Spread ½ C all purpose flour in a pie plate, and dredge half the chicken pieces one at a time, placing each one in the flour, turning to coat both sides, and then lifting it out and patting lightly to shake off any excess.
Floured chicken
 Heat 2 TB olive oil in a large deep skillet or shallow braising pan over medium high heat until is shimmers. Place the dredged chicken pieces skin side down in the pan and sear, without disturbing, until a nut-brown crust forms on the first side, about 4 minutes. Turn the chicken with tongs and brown on the other side, another 3-4 minutes. While the chicken is browning, pat the remaining dry again and dredge them in flour. Transfer the seared chicken to a plate to catch the juices, while browning the remaining pieces. Once the second batch is done, set them aside with the firsts and discard the flour.
Browned chicken
Pour off the fat from the pan and quickly wipe out any black specks with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any browned bits. Add 1 C dry wine, ¼ C white wine vinegar, 1 smashed garlic clove, chopped lemon preserve or 6 strips lemon zest and 2 whole cloves to the skillet and sir with a wooden spoon to scape up those prized bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. As soon as all combined, return the chicken pieces to the skillet, arranging them so they fit in a snug single layer. Pour any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Scatter over the ¾ C plumped pitted prunes and ½ C pitted green olives. Cover tightly, and reduce heat to low. Braise at a gentle simmer, basting occasionally and turning the pieces with thongs halfway through, until the chicken is tender and pulls easily from the bone, about 30-40 minutes. When you lift the lid to baste, check to see that the liquid is simmering quietly; if it is simmering too vigorously, reduce the heat or place a heat diffuser under the skillet.

Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If you wish to crisp up the chicken skin, place the pieces in a hot, 475 degree F oven for about 5 min. Meanwhile, skim any visible surface fat from the sauce with a metal spoon. Raise the heat under the skillet to high, and reduce the pan juices for 2-3 minutes to concentrate their flavor. Adjust sauce consistency with reduction or thinning with additional water or chicken broth as discussed below pending accompaniments. Taste for salt and pepper. Retrieve and discard the cloves and zest. Pour juices over the chicken and serve.

This entrée can be served with mashed potatoes, a potato gratin, or, as I have done, on buttered egg noodles. The sauce is thick and flavorful so it could easily standalone with some green vegetables alongside. It is easy to thin the sauce with the addition of chicken broth if you wanted more to drape over mashed potatoes. This would pair well with a medium body wine with youthful fruit and a touch of mineral flavor such as an Alsace Pinot Gris, or Pinot Blanc or Oregon Pinot Gris. If red wines are your preference try a light Chianti or an Oregon Pinot Noir.

If you wanted a more rustic look, you could substitute red wine and red wine vinegar for their white counterparts and use orange or tangerine zest in place of lemon and black olives in place of green. (Nicoise for example)  Try them both and see which you prefer!

Bon Appetit!