Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wintry Olympics

I think one reason so many people have been fascinated with the 2010 Winter Olympics is that this season, more than ever, so many people on the U.S. east coast feel like they're competing in their own personal events: shoveling snow, sledding, and trying to get to work on icy roads after getting walloped by one storm after another. And what else are you going to do when there are snowdrifts up to your window eaves?

We've been luckier than most in the Ohio Valley. Winter has been mostly an aesthetic event with only a couple of messy days and no more than about six inches of snow at a time. Still, this winter has seemed longer, colder, grayer, and snowier than usual, and even though it's late February, it's hard to see that Spring is just around the corner. Today, the snow is gone, but again it's damp, cold, overcast and I've got some Nordic skiing on the t.v. to be followed by the big U.S. vs. Canada hockey final.

My own version of the Olympics has been carried out in the kitchen where I've been experimenting with my French cuisine, courtesy of Julia Child. I've never done much with fish, other than frying it or broiling it in the oven with very mixed results. It just seems like one of those things too hard to get right. So, the last two Saturdays, I've cooked fish poached in white wine. Last week it was Sole Bercy aux champignons -- sole fillets with scallions and mushrooms. Following Julia's recipe precisely, it came out perfectly, even the cream sauce. I was too harried to pause for a picture, but it was a beautiful dish. I served it with salad and buttered peas and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

I hadn't planned to do it again this Saturday, but they had some lovely salmon fillets on sale at Kroger, so I brought one home and tried another recipe. Again, I poached it in white wine with a dice of celery, onion, and carrot for about 12 minutes. After draining off the juices and boiling them down, I whisked in several tablespoons of butter for the voila!

And just because I was in there trying new things, I decided to practice my souffle-ing. For a side, I made one with gruyere cheese. One good thing about souffles is that they are simple from an ingredient standpoint -- flour, butter, milk, eggs with whatever sweet or savory flavor you're adding, in this case, shredded gruyere. The trick of course, is those pesky egg whites and getting them folded into the cooked sauce without deflating the mixture, and of course, the "puff." I had pretty good luck with this one. It was certainly tasty and had a nice, golden brown crust. We (the spouse and I) ate ALL of it, along with the fish and salads, and white Bordeaux. Too much!

A negative side-effect of kitchen Olympics is that if spring doesn't get here soon with warmer temperatures and outdoor activities, I'm going to need to lose about 15 pounds! On tap for tonight: lasagna. There's a real spa entree for you!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chicken Big Mamou

I made this dish the Monday before Mardi Gras. Mamou is one of my favorites from the Paul Prudhomme Louisiana Kitchen Cookbook, along with his jalapeno-cheddar yeast rolls. Both are great for a wintry day at home; fortunately it was a holiday, so I could spend the day watching it snow and puttering around in my kitchen -- this is especially important for bread baking and all the punching, rising, and shaping that goes along with bread from scratch.

Since I had all that time, I also took pictures of the cooking process -- always a great inspiration to get into your own kitchen and cook! The full Mamou recipe is readily available online if you Google it, so I won't include it here. I highly recommend the cookbook if you like Cajun cooking, or you can probably get it from your library.

Assemble all the ingredients for the two spice mixes -- one for the rich tomato sauce and one for the chicken rub.

I assemble the spice mixes in small bowls; as you can see, there are lots of onions, both white and scallions, chopped pretty fine. Oh, and butter. Lots of butter! It already looks good deconstructed.

Heaven on earth is a bunch of onions sauteeing in butter! This is the first step to the sauce -- one cup of white onion and minced garlic.

You add in tomato sauce, Worcestershire, spice mix, chicken stock, half the chopped scallions, tabasco, etc., and simmer for 40 minutes before adding the chicken. It smells so good!

I used about 2lbs. of chicken breast, cubed up. Mix it up with the rub mix (these are heavy on the pepper, as you can see in the first photo -- black, white, and cayenne. Saute in more butter along with the rest of the scallions until it's cooked through. It then goes into the sauce after its 40-minute simmer.

Add the chicken to the sauce. You'll be doing lots of tasting at this point. You may want to lap it straight from the pot but control yourself. It's hot! Cook the pasta and get a plate.

Ooo la la! On the plate with a fresh yeast roll.