Monday, March 29, 2010

Fennel-Dusted Chicken

Fennel Dust
This chicken dish was so fast, easy and elegant (not to mention quite tasty too)—it's definitely going to become a regular player around here. Complex flavors from very few ingredients... and did I mention that I didn't have to run to the store for any of it? That always makes me happy.

It's pretty darned impressive for a "pantry dinner". Quick weeknight dinner for two? Check. Fancy weekend dinner party for 8? Check. Unexpected dinner guests at anytime? Check. This recipe has got it covered.

Fennel-Dusted Chicken with Browned Butter and Capers over at Serious Eats 
    My Notes: We used boneless/skinless chicken breasts we had in the freezer and they worked just fine. Around 6 minutes per side. Pound the meat to an even thickness and it will cook even faster. We don't have a spice grinder, but we did our best... can't really call what we ended up with "dust" though. Doubled the orange juice in the pan sauce. 

    The chicken ended up a bit too salty for me, but not overwhelmingly so. Next time, will rinse the capers and use less salt. Also add some fresh ground black pepper to the rub. Maybe even add a bit of orange zest to the sauce? I think substituting lemon juice and lemon zest might taste good too.

    Might have to try the same recipe using this DIY blend... DIY Fennel Spice Rub from NapaStyle.com

    Saturday, March 27, 2010

    Fungus For... Like You Know... Ever!


    These things are true...
    1. I love cooking with mushrooms. Their earthiness ups the flavor in savory dishes exponentially.
    2. We buy the bulk of our groceries at Costco (pun intended).
    3. Sometimes we can't use up all the mushrooms we buy at Costco before they go bad. It makes me sad, but the alternative is paying more for less (which makes me mad).
    Now I can feel happy, empowered and thrifty all at the same time... and never throw another mushroom in the compost bucket again, even though it might actually be pretty happy there, come to think of it. In that case, how about "...and never throw money away on mushrooms that go bad before you can use them all". That's the beauty of dried mushrooms: they will keep indefinitely... forever in other words.

    How To Dry Mushrooms In The Oven at The Kitchn
      Ding! Next dilemma, please: wash vs. don't wash vs. damp wipe. The main arguments seemed to be that by washing, the mushrooms would get soggy and ruin whatever you were making, and/or that they would lose some of their flavor. Well, after handling them for a little while today... let's just say they smelled like what the mushrooms had been growing in. The Creminis especially so. I wouldn't mind if they lost a little of that flavor. And since I was going to dry them, getting them wetter first seemed illogical. So I chose to damp wipe them.

      Faced with a total of 3 pounds of the things, I turned to my trusty salad spinner for assistance. I lined the basket with a wrung-out damp dish towel, dumped a bunch of the mushrooms in and started spinning. It worked moderately well and was a heck of a lot faster and easier than wiping them off one at a time.

      Apparently some people actually peel their mushrooms. Now, there are things I'm willing to devote hours, even days to; things so detailed as to drive the average person screaming and running up a tree. Peeling mushrooms? That ain't one of 'em.

      My Notes: After 5+ hours, I finally had to take them out of the oven. It was very late and I needed the oven for resting my bread dough in overnight. The hubs thought the mushrooms looked "cooked". They are quite a bit darker than dried white mushrooms from the store, but I rationalized it by saying that the store-bought ones are "dehydrated with cool air" and that's why they look different. But I don't really know what the heck I'm talking about and frankly, he could be right. All I know is that in 5 hours or so, I turned a pound and a half of plump fresh mushrooms into about 10 oz of little brown chips. 

      The Creminis I covered with paper towels, stacked the two pans and put them on the lower rack of the oven overnight (bread bowls above). In the a.m. I started them off at 170° (my lowest setting) with the door cracked open to allow more steam to escape. Swapped and rotated the pans every hour until it was time to preheat for the bread. When these were finished drying, they looked a little better than the white mushrooms did. I think they worked better partly because I did a better job of slicing them in the food processor (pack them tightly on their sides and push the plunger fast!).

      Lessons for next time:
      ...Start early in the morning on a day when you know you won't need to leave the house.
      ...Find a friend who has a dehydrator and borrow it.
      ...Get over throwing a few slimy 'shrooms into the compost bin every now and then.
      ...Go to a movie: it'll cost less than the electric bill incurred by 5+ hours of oven time, and will likely be more fun.
      ...Buy the dang things already dried.
      ...Try some of these other tips and methods for DIY dried mushrooms...

      Quoting... Willa Cather


      "It was full of little brown chips that looked like the shavings of some root. They were as light as feathers, and the most noticeable thing about them was their penetrating earthy odor... I bit off a corner of one of the chips I held in my hand, and chewed it tentatively. I never forgot the strange taste; though it was many years before I knew that those little brown shavings... were mushrooms."

      -My √Āntonia by Willa Cather, 1918

      Monday, March 15, 2010

      Lemon Love

      Oh, how do I love lemons? Here are but a few more ways...
      • Two of my favorite flavors together: Lavender Lemon Bundt Cake from williams-sonoma.com. It may be a little early for fresh lavender, but I always keep a jar of dried in the pantry.
      • A Lemon Crostata (my favorite form of pie) from gourmet.com featuring a toasted almond lattice crust.
      • Lemony Angel Food Cake from marthastewart.com (originally published in the May 2009/MSL magazine, this version has been updated). Lemon cream frosting on top... yes, please.
      • Little Lemon Hazelnut Cakes at JoyTheBaker.com
      Many of these recipes call for cake flour which usually brings me down real fast, since, just like buttermilk, I don't usually have any in the house. I know I can just go to the store and get some, but I tend to be a spontaneous baker: When I get the urge to make something, I want to jump right in and get started. If I don't have a crucial ingredient and can't immediately substitute something, I move on.

      Well, now I never have to pass over one of those recipes again while lamenting my lack of cake flour. Joy The Baker has busted up the mystery of cake flour and shows us how to make it at home from regular all-purpose flour (which I always have in the cupboard)... how very cool!