Saturday, July 31, 2010

Peaches Aplenty

It's just not summer without peaches. Lots and lots of peaches. While it's great when you hit on something fabulous to make with them, something you could make over and over with no complaints, it's also fun to mix things up a bit and try something new. The repeat favorites around here are of course the recent Peaches & Herbs Shortcake and last summer's Peach Crostata. If I made nothing else but those two recipes with each and every fresh peach that came my way, I would be a happy happy girl. But when I look around and see so many other wonderful ways to prepare and feature this luscious summer fruit... well, I start to cave. I wonder if maybe I might be missing out on something great. And after all, I have the crostata and shortcake in my back pocket (in a manner of speaking), and can make them at any time knowing they'll be wonderful. Why not venture out a little. See if there is a new favorite waiting to be discovered.

Here is a list of peach-centric recipes for breakfast-time, snack-time, dessert-time, and even cocktail-time. They all sound just peachy to me...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Colonel Mustard, In The Pan, With The Chicken

While trying to come up with a use for my extra super zippy homemade mustard, I remembered this recipe that I made a few months back. It got two very enthusiastic thumbs up from the Hubs which is always a good thing. I used a store-bought Dijon mustard that, as I recall, was too hot for us to eat straight out of the jar. Simmering it with the cream is what mellows the mustard a bit in this wonderful dish.

This chicken tasted just as good when reheated as leftovers. We even had extra sauce left over that we poured over everything on our plates the next few nights. It was that good. We loved it over green beans and potatoes especially, but it would taste wonderful over virtually any vegetable: asparagus, broccoli, carrots, spinach... it's all good.

So, can I call it Chicken Dijon if I don't use Dijon mustard in it? I'm sure it wouldn't be allowed by the EU, but calling it Extra Super Zippy Trippy Homemade Guinness Mustard Chicken doesn't exactly slide off the tongue. You might say that it doesn't quite cut the mustard.*
Chicken "Dijon"
(Serves: 4)

4 Tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
10-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic, smashed or pressed
2 large shallots (or 4 small), diced
3/4 cup vermouth
1 1/2 cups low-sodium (or homemade) chicken stock
1 Tblsp fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (or other zippy mustard of your choice)
1/2 cup cream

Pat chicken pieces dry with a paper towel, then sprinkle them all over with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a wide heavy pan over med-high heat. When oil is hot (but not smoking), sear the chicken on both sides until golden brown. Do not crowd the chicken. If you have to brown it in two or three batches, that's o.k. Remove browned chicken pieces to a plate.

Turn heat down to low. Carefully pour out any olive oil left in the pan and replace with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Let it warm up briefly, then add in the shallot. About a minute or so later, add in the garlic. Sauté for a minute or so, or until translucent.

Add the vermouth to the pan with the shallots and garlic. Raise heat back to med-high. Reduce the liquid by about half, while scraping up any cooked on bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and the thyme and give it a couple stirs. Place the chicken back into the pan in a single layer. Let the liquid come to a boil, then simmer with the cover on for about 30 minutes.

Remove the lid from the pan and continue simmering for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and move the chicken onto a plate. Whisk the cream and mustard into the pan sauce until it is completely blended in. Strain the sauce through a sieve and toss the chicken thighs in the sauce. Serve the chicken with something that will sop up any extra sauce (potatoes, brown rice, or good rustic bread). You will want to get every last drip of mustard sauce on your plate.

*Definition: To measure up to a standard, or do the job adequately. Origin is under dispute. You can read a bit more about it here.
Dinner & A Movie?... rent Clue - The Movie and delight in the comic genius that was Madeline Kahn (along with Tim Curry and Eileen Brennan, etc. etc. etc.).  Fantastic ensemble cast, thoroughly campy mystery romp, and way more fun than the board game that inspired it...
"I'm merely a humble butler." 
"And what exactly do you do?" 
"I butle, sir."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Like It Hot

...and some, well, some do not. I fall into the latter category at least when it comes to food. Why then am I so intrigued with making my own mustard? Well for one thing... we ran out. Yep, currently mustard-less. Now, while mustard is not something that we put on a lot of the foods we eat, when we do use it, it's generally crucial to the outcome of the dish we're making. Like grilled cheese sandwiches for example. O.K. maybe Chicken Dijon* is a better example. But a smear of spicy mustard inside a grilled cheese can be pretty dang fabulous.
"I'm not headlined in the bills, but I'm the mustard in the salad dressing just the same." [O.Henry, "Cabbages and Kings," 1904]
Also entering into the equation is my ongoing pursuit of saving a buck, learning new things and avoiding excess packaging. Etcetera. As such, I attempted to wade into the shallow end of home mustard making, looking to splash around a little and get my feet wet. Instead, I suddenly found myself pushed into the deep end, street clothes and all. Now, to an experienced swimmer, that might be amusing, but to those more comfortable on terra firma... sheer panic.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peaches And Herbs

The Lemon Herb Biscuits I made on a whim the other day, brought on a true "food and brain pairing" moment. My synapses fired in sequence long enough for me to realize that those biscuits were just a few tweaks away from an outstanding shortcake. The light bulb over my head was all aglow and my tummy said "Do it! And do it soon!".

The closest I think my mom ever got to making biscuits was when she would make strawberry shortcake (shortcakes are essentially sweet biscuits), a dessert she made often and one that I've always loved. She always used fresh strawberries when they were in season and always always made real whipped cream. I called to ask her what recipe she used for her shortcakes, and the answer was what I pretty much expected to hear: "It was on the box of Bisquick". Well, that was the era (at least she never used Cool Whip). Never one to leave things alone though, she would always add orange zest to the baking mix which took it from ordinary to extraordinary. Sometimes all it takes is that little something extra.

This dessert that I made has ever so many little somethings extra. Too many? Nah. Sometimes more is more. I think this is one of those times (or should I say "thymes"?). So here is my peachy-herbal twist on that quintessential summer dessert...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sipping On Sunshine

Monday morning was drizzly gray and I was a moody blue. I needed instant sunshine. I needed an influx of happiness. But how can you generate that from within a foggy funk? Fresh fruit (and a little alliteration) always perks me up. Maybe it was time to do something with the mangoes I got at the market the other day (2 for $1.00!). It's as good a starting point as any, and frankly, a lot better than some.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tender Sweet Apricots

I always have some sort of dried fruit in my pantry. Always. Dried fruits keep practically forever and are endlessly versatile. One of my very favorite dried fruits is the dried apricot. Soft and sweet with a honeyed-tang. They are amazing in everything from oatmeal at breakfast to turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving. Dipped in dark chocolate, well then  they've dried and gone to heaven.*

In summer though, my thoughts always turn to fresh fruit, and the little fragrant fresh apricots often get overlooked as I bee-line to the berries, peaches, plums and melons. They even get overshadowed by their own genetic offshoots: pluots, apriums, etc. Whats next? Grapricots? Aprinanas? It's time I took another look at the subtle and classic blushing beauty that is the fresh apricot... 
These desserts all look so very tempting, my problem now is to pick one:
  • A yummy Apricot Cake and Apricot Fold Over Pie both from Serious Eats
  • Tea-Steamed Apricots & Blackberries on page 20 of Healthy Desserts  (Williams-Sonoma Collection, 1995 )
  • This gorgeous Walnut Apricot Bread also over at Serious Eats uses one of my favorite flavor combinations
  • Apricot Slice, a tasty looking thing that would be equally at home either for breakfast or dessert (I just love those). Found on page 23 of Best Of Baking (Wolter and Teubner, 1980) 
  • The Martha Stewart Cookbook (1995) has Apricots Baked With Vanilla Sugar (pg 422) and two kinds of Apricot Tart on page 453 (one with Grand Marnier and the other with rum... yum!). 
  • Also from Martha are two apricot-almond recipes: a Fresh Apricot Tart and a simple dish of Baked Apricots with Almond Topping..
* I really have to apologize for that cheesy awful joke.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Summer Thyme Biscuits

    I just received the ultimate compliment: "OMG! These biscuits are wonderful!"  And this was from a man who grew up eating biscuits as a regular feature at dinner time. To say I was pleased as punch would be an understatement.  I thought they were pretty darned great also, it's just that I don't have a lot to compare them with.

    Saturday, July 3, 2010

    On An Especially Clear Day

    A couple of weeks ago during a break while doing more canning, I laid down on a bench in the backyard (I thought it would feel good on my back, and I was right). No sooner did I open my eyes when I very nearly gasped out loud, my breath caught in my throat. The sky overhead was so clear and blue and there was a patterned veil of little clouds draped across the middle distance. It looked like lacy white bubble-wrap (the kind with the big bubbles). It's probably futile to even attempt to describe the sensation I experienced, but I have to try, if only to remind myself of it later. The sky seemed... endless. It pretty much is endless, infinite and all, but everything was so clear... it actually felt endless... and I could see all of it with a clarity that my near-sighted eyes could only dream of.*

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    Sandwich Bread

    Newly empowered by making my own mayonnaise, I was now faced with a need to find ways of using it up. We normally don't consume a lot of mayo but the recipe made 2 cups of it, so we racked our little brains to come up with all the different uses we could think of. One of those was: sandwiches. Yeah, I know, stop the presses. Since we stopped buying bread and started making it, I haven't been able to wander too far away from sourdough. So I don't. But faced with a mayo surplus, a nice sandwich loaf seems to be in order.