Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Lessons of Cheryl's Kitchen - Don't Be a Chicken

To say that my brother Kurt and I were picky eaters is probably the best example I know of an understatement. I'm sure, then, that it came as quite the shock when my mother discovered just how much I loved her chicken cacciatore.

To the mother of 2 sons who's idea of exotic food was to order black olives on their tacos, it would seem rather odd that one of them had a terrible habit of stealing bites of such a complex, vegetable laden dish from the slow-cooker. But from the moment I first tasted my mom's chicken cacciatore, I knew that I had at least 2 true loves: butter and wine.

Now, it may have been unbeknownst to me that these were the subtle flavors underpinning this rare dish which were drawing me back to the crock with a big spoon over and over again, but that's precisely what they were. I knew there was tomato sauce, chicken some vegetables, olives and that you ate it over rice. Little did I know that that "different taste" that I was getting was the savory taste of the butter and the headiness of the wine.

Over the years I've come to know quite a few savory dishes prepared with wine and brandy. The subtle yet profound taste that these ingredients offer to a recipe never ceases to amaze me. I can even recall on one occasion eating my own body weight of a particularly good Boeuf Bourguignon that my friend and self-proclaimed sous chef Rina, (even though she is FAR more advanced than I in the kitchen) had made.

What I've come to love the most about this recipe though (other than it's downright irresistible taste) is the story of how my mom developed the recipe. It is a prime example of the truly inquisitive, experimental and headstrong nature I get from my mother. Although I'm not certain of the specific details, I do know that the recipe is the result of her resolve to recreate a dish she had while out to dinner with friends. Although I don't know how accurate the recipe is in taste to the one she had that night, I do know that because of it, the smell of this wonderful Italian stew still has me headed for the crock pot with a big spoon over and over again.

I'm fairly certain this is a recipe my mother made from memory, and so the details on this one are a bit fuzzy. Nonetheless, if you were within a few hundred yards of my house growing up and could smell this stew in the crockpot, chances are I wasn't too far behind with a spoon.

Mom's Chicken Cacciatore

3 Large chicken breasts Cut into medium chunks and dredged in flour
2T Butter.
a Large container of Mushrooms (halved or sliced)
Olive Oil (for sauteeing)
2 Green peppers, seeded and sliced
1 medium yellow onion chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 small can black olives
1/3c Tomato sauce
1/2c Dry White wine.
1 1/2t oregano
1/2t basil
1/4t kosher salt
(Although it's not a part of the original, I add 2T capers)

Melt the butter in a pan over med-high heat and sautee the dredged chicken until brown, set aside in a waiting slow cooker. Into the pan add the olive oil garlic and mushrooms and sautee until the mushrooms are cooked but firm and brown (and "Don't crowd the pan!"). Add these to the slow cooker. Next add the onions to the Pan and sautee in more olive oil until lightly brown. Next, add the wine and salt to deglaze the pan and remove from the heat.
Add the onion mix to the chicken in the slow cooker and add the remaining ingredients and stir. Allow to cook on medium heat for at least an hour. Serve this over steamed rice and as you can see I love it with a bit of thymed broccoli.

Viola! there you have it, a delicious stew that you can make ahead that everyone will love. Trust me, if a kid as picky as I was would eat it... so will yours.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Let it Flow

Summer is the perfect time for many things; Vacations, swimming, picnics, and the like. To me though, summer represents an opportunity to take advantage of some of the freshest produce you can get your hands on. Sometimes this is a necessity to escape the heat, while others it's the perfect excuse to heat up your gatherings.

Case in point: Sangria, one of my favorite adult beverages. Why? Well, because with many of my other favorites, it's easy to make ahead, looks amazing, and is always a huge hit with friends. When you pair all of this with some incredibly fresh fruit, you've got the makings of quite the crowd-pleasing cocktail. Be it a Traditional sangria or something more inventive (Read: try making a spiced sangria with sliced pears, etc) people never seem to lose the intrigue that comes along with such a beautiful drink.

Now as you may already know, Sangria is a Spanish word meaning bleeding. This is because traditionally, sangria is made with red wine and citrus fruits. Nowadays though, it has come to mean any wine based drink that is infused by soaking pieces of fruit in it. I always encourage breaking with tradition and so, you can see that the end result is not deep red, but rather a nice pale yellow. In this version, I've used a decent but not overly complex white wine. Try to pick something that lends itself nicely to the flavors of the fruit you're using. White wine is almost synonymous with summertime because of it's clean, crisp flavors and often the fact that it's served chilled. It's for this reason that it was the obvious choice for my end of summer soirée.

Even moreso here than with my other recipes, sangria can be tweaked to meet the specific needs of your party. Therefore, I'm generalizing on some of the specific portions in the recipe.

Summer Sangria:

1.5L of Semi-dry White Wine.
2c Sliced fruit (Take free license here, but I used: White Grapes, Nectarines, Strawberries, and Mango)
3T Fresh Lemon Juice
3T Triple Sec
1/3c St. Germain (if unavailable, use 1/4c more Triple Sec)
1/4c sugar (optional)

Preparation couldn't be simpler. In a large airtight container, mix the wine, sugar, triple sec, st. germain and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved. Add the fruit and seal the container. Allow to sit in the fridge overnight, at least 3 hours to allow all the flavors to infuse.

When it's time to serve, use your favorite punch bowl or pitcher, and just watch how fast it disappears.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Lessons of Cheryl's Kitchen - Dessert Comes First

[UPDATED: Added my Mother's Comments Below.]

I've always considered my mom to be more of a baker. The list of cakes, pies, cookies, breads, and other goodies from the oven are far more prevalent in my mind than the other things she makes. Within these recipes, the highest order of them are the sweets. My mom is definitely a force to be reckoned with when it comes to dessert recipes. From the simple covered dish-style desserts, to rather complex cakes and pies, she's a whiz with things of the sweeter persuasion. Which, I'm sure is why I have such an insatiable sweet tooth.

Now, although I'm sure I'll write about a few of these different desserts over the course of this series, one recipe sticks out as the first one due to its flexibility, simplicity, and irresistibility. Not to mention that I made it just the other day for a picnic, in lieu of my mom making it, and saw exactly how popular it is. (we'll get into this in more detail a bit later.) If you've ever been part of the equation: Cheryl Coalmer + Fruit + Summer|Fall + Oven = _____, you'll know that the best answer is her Cobbler. Not only that, but my brother and I knew it too. If she left one on the counter too long, I'm sure she knew to expect that it would be gone by days end.

For a single mom raising two (often challenging) boys, cobbler was always a good option. It's simple to make, tastes AMAZING, is downright heavenly with Ice Cream, transports well, and is always a crowd pleaser. Because there are so many traditions surrounding food in my family, the opportunity to make this one often presents itself. Thus was the case this summer at my Aunt's annual summer picnic. The only problem was, my mom wasn't able to attend. I guess this meant I was going to need to fill that void.

Although I'm not certain where the origins for my mom's affinity for making cobbler lie, I am certain that it's only grown steadily in popularity. From The blueberry cobbler I made here in the summer, to peach cobbler right before fall, it always seems to be a perfect fit no matter what produce is in season. The simplicity inherent to the batter is perfect for letting the best produce shine through. To top this one off, it's got a crunchy sugar crust that makes you want to break through the beautiful browned goodness.

Cheryl Coalmer's Fruit Cobbler:
[note: to simplify, I'm giving the recipe for blueberry cobbler (mine and my Uncle Keith's favorite.) feel free to change up the fruit, but there are certain alterations you'll want to make to the recipe for various fruits.]

To start, prepare a pan for the cobbler.
You'll need:
An 8"x8" pan, medium casserole, or a deep pie pan.
1 to 1 1/2 quart(s) of fresh blueberries washed, dried, and stems removed.
2T fresh lemon juice
2T flour
1T sugar

Place the blueberries in the baking dish and add lemon juice. Coat the blueberries with the juice using your hands. Next sprinkle the flour and sugar evenly over the blueberries and again mix with your hands to coat the blueberries. Set aside.

Next prepare the cobbler batter.
You'll need:
1/2c unsalted butter, melted.
1/2c 2% milk
1 1/2t pure vanilla extract
1/4t kosher salt
1 1/4c all purpose flour
1/2c sugar
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder.

Mix butter, milk, vanilla, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl stir flour, sugar, and baking soda together. While stirring add flour mixture to the butter mixture. Continue to stir batter until the flour begins to agglutinate (my mother's recipe card reads: for a few minutes longer than it takes to mix, until the batter gets stretchy)

Next prepare the cobbler for baking.
You'll need:
1c sugar
1/4c water

Take the batter and spread it over the blueberries until all the batter meets he edges of the pan and covers all the blueberries. Next, in a pourable cup, mix the sugar and the water thoroughly. Pour this mixture evenly over the top of the batter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50-60 mins or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clear. Allow to cool and serve while warm (over vanilla ice cream, yum! Or, allow to completely cool before covering. (note: it's the sugar crust that makes this cobbler so wonderful, and if you cover the cobbler while it's warm, it won't be so crunchy/delicious.)

I hope mom isn't upset at me for sharing her famous cobbler recipe, but I doubt she is. My mother always seems more than happy to share all of her best. Hopefully this will be the case with her stories about this fantastic dessert. (She might be for the photos, though)

Mom's Official Response:
"Firstly,did you get the blog I sent last tues??  
I would just like to comment that your dad loved cobbler, so I was always on the lookout for a good cobbler recipe... though I never could get it exactly right for him. He would say "that's really good but I just want you to drop the batter on top and I want it to be firm"  So I think he would have loved this recipe, but unfortunately I found it after he passed in a cookbook that grandma alice bought for me from the Methodist Church (church people can sure cook and eat) so they always have the best recipes
Also, at Thanksgiving time I would like you to post my Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe that I won the Review cookbook contest with back in 1985 or 1986. I won $25, but spent at least that much making it because eggnog was a seasonal item and was not out in the stores yet. So, I had to make my own Eggnog too!!!!! I have a copy of the paper with my picture holding the pie that you can scan and put on blog also.
Talk soon. Love ya

So... perhaps we'll have a photo of my mom from the paper in the 80's soon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Plaisirs Simples

Lately, French cooking seems to be on a huge upswing in popularity. This is a trend that seems to periodically crop up from time to time in American food culture. This time around the popularity is likely attributed to pop culture, specifically movies like Julie and Julia. Although, I believe the reason it keeps making it's comeback is because, as a general rule, French cooking is steadfastly rooted in classic methods that are cornerstone to cooking.

Now, when someone mentions French cooking, one almost invariably thinks of complicated soufflés or odd main ingredients (escargot, anyone?). But as with any style of cooking, these are extreme elements of the style, and should not discourage you from making the easier, more mainstream stuff.

These little chocolate truffles are such a great example of one such dish. Simple to prepare, but as I found out, one that can still present it's own unique challenges. This was definitely the case this time around, because I know that chocolate can be a wildcard ingredient.

So undaunted, I set about making my homage to Julia Child's chocolate truffles.

It's not often that I will suck up my pride and write about mistakes that I make cooking, so this is a very special blog entry. Turns out that even though I preach about using the best ingredients when making food, sometimes I fail to heed my own advice. In this case, using run-of-the-mill chocolate yielded a result that was overly bitter and had an oddly soured taste. I guess this is why I always say to treat your cooking as an experiment, and learn from the results that are yielded by the various things you try. In this case, always the best chocolate for chocolate candies.

The recipe is based on the recipe from the 2nd volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and Simone Beck. However, since I had just acquired a bottle of Port wine, I decided to substitute this in place of the orange liqueur. Keep in mind the following recipe is the one where I've corrected my mistakes, so you'll also see that I've omitted the coffee as well.

Start by preparing for melting the chocolate. You'll need two saucepans; one smaller than the other so that it can fit into the larger pan. If possible use a pan with an unclad (thin) bottom.
Fill the larger pan 1/4 full with water and bring to a simmer over med-low heat.

Next prepare the chocolate.
You'll need
1/3c Chambord
1T honey
9oz semisweet chocolate broken into small pieces.
In the smaller saucepan stir the chambord and honey together and simmer over medium heat. Allow to reduce to 1/4c. Stir chocolate into the reduction and remove from heat. Cover and place into larger saucepan and allow a few minutes for the chocolate to soften.

Now prepare the ganache:
You'll need:
1/4c + 2T chilled Unsalted butter cut into about 20 thin squares.
1/4c port wine with 1t honey stirred in.
Remove the smaller pan from the larger and using a whisk or an electric mixer beat until smooth and all the chocolate is melted. Next add butter 1 slice at a time and beat rapidly adding the next slice just before the previous one is melted. Once all the butter is incorporated, beat in the port wine mixture a couple of drops at a time.

Next chill the ganache for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours until firm.

Last form the truffles and enrobe in cocoa powder.
You'll need:
1/3c cocoa powder
2T confectioners sugar
2t kosher salt ground into a fine powder in a mortar.
In a small bowl, mix the cocoa, confectioners sugar, and salt. When the mixture has become thoroughly firm, use a melon baller to scoop small balls out of the pan and enrobe in the cocoa mixture. Place each ball into a small muffin cup.
Place and keep in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container.

Again, play with the ingredients, but mostly, make sure you have someone to pass them off on, or you'll eat them all yourself. (unless they turn out like my first batch)

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