Monthly Archives: May 2013

abi’s chicken with peppers

This dish is what chicken parmesan would be if it grew up, ate mostly salad, and got a personal trainer, but still yielded to the occasional urge to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy. Is it perfectly healthy? No. But it’s trying, and it comes close.

Maybe this dish deserves a catchier name. But let’s be honest. Abi – Xavier’s daughter – is the one who requests this dinner most frequently. She calls it “the chicken with the peppers.” Then I wonder if it was the stir-fried chicken, where bell peppers were accompanied by a handful of broccoli? Or perhaps the curried chicken with caramelized onions and strips of pepper almost melting into the sauce? As it turns out, none of the above. Why not just call it “Abi’s Chicken with Peppers?”

Abi’s Chicken with Peppers was born by accident. Don’t you love when you throw together a random meal and it turns out to be a huge hit? The kind of meal that is requested again and again? That was how this happened. It was the end of the week and the fridge was looking bare. I had chicken breasts, some leftover tomato sauce, and a smattering of vegetables. What to make?

My first thought: chicken parm. Now, our household loves chicken parmesan. I mean, really, really, really loves it. Nobody is Italian, or even close to it – we’re a mixture of Eastern European and Ecuadorian – but somehow that dish has made its way into our hearts and souls. The only issue is, we feel guilty eating it. The chicken is breaded, fried, and smothered with mozzarella. Obviously we love our indulgences, but generally we try to stay active and eat healthy foods.

I decided to skip the breading stage, and just saute chicken breasts to give them a quick sear. Then I’d smother the cutlets in sauteed bell pepper. Crunch is great, especially when it comes from crispy veggies and not breaded chicken coating! The chicken is placed in a baking dish, just like chicken parmesan, where it receives a healthy splash of tomato sauce and a moderate sprinkling of cheese. Sure, you can skip that if you’re really going for the low-calorie version. But as I tell myself, our brains need fat to stay healthy and continue to think of healthy modifications to recipes!

abis_chicken_peppers

Abi’s Chicken with Peppers

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pint tomato sauce, warm (my favorite)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing
1 bell pepper, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, grated, to taste (I use about 1/2 cup)

First, prepare the chicken breasts. Using a very sharp knife, slice the breasts in half lengthwise so you end up with four thin cutlets. Pound the cutlets (between two pieces of plastic wrap, or inside a plastic bag) until they are thin and somewhat even. I do this with whatever heavy object I have laying around, be it a wine bottle, a can of tomatoes, or sometimes my fist.

Right about now, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 425F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken breasts in the mixture. Pre-heat a large saute pan over medium-high. Add a tiny bit of olive oil and saute the chicken breasts until browned on each side. You may need to do this in batches. The chicken is thin so this won’t take long, maybe 2-3 minutes per side. The idea is just to brown them. It’s okay if they’re still a little underdone inside, because they’ll be spending time in the oven, and you want to keep them moist! When the chicken is done, place the cutlets in one layer on a baking sheet that fits them comfortably.

Add just a splash more olive oil to the still-hot pan, and saute the bell peppers for just a minute. You want them to cook just a bit, but keep them crispy.

When the peppers are finished, layer them on top of the chicken cutlets. Ladle sauce on top, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese on top melts and begins to brown.

With pasta and salad, this will serve four people… or two to three hungry ones.

Notes: I have been known to add onion and mushroom to the pepper mixture. You could definitely experiment here.

If you make Chiffonade’s sauce, you’ll end up with much more than you need for the chicken. Serve some with the side pasta, and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

herb-parmesan dutch baby recipe

herb-parmesan-dutch-baby-slice

Brunch on Sunday is my favorite meal of the week. Unless someone is craving dim sum, we rarely go out. Instead, I scour the fridge for anything edible and create a gleeful explosion of pots and pans in our own kitchen.

This morning, I was inspired by my Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which features a recipe for a gingerbread dutch baby. That was an adventure in itself. We’re not really sweet-breakfast people. Sometimes we eat pancakes, but mostly our brunches are eggs and bacon and toast. But I pulled out my cookbook, which hasn’t yet failed to impress us, and 25 minutes later my oven gave birth to a gingerbread dutch baby.

Gingerbread Dutch Baby

Gingerbread Dutch Baby

As promised, it was tasty. We loved the texture – a little crispy, a little custardy – and it was a perfect cross between a pancake and crepe. Not bad. But I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I took that sweet little baby and made it savory. There are so many options because it’s spring. Just last night while walking my dog, I swiped a few branches of rosemary from a neighbor’s giant front-yard bush. Fresh herbs would be the perfect addition to the dutch baby. Parmesan would help it grow up a little.

So I riffed on the book recipe. I omitted the molasses, brown sugar, and spices. Instead, I used herbs and grated Parmesan cheese. And during the butter-melting stage, during which the pan and its sides are coated in the stuff, I sauteed a little minced shallot for flavor and texture. The pancake came out of the oven puffy, with high crispy edges.

puffy_herb_parmesan_dutch_baby

Almost immediately, though, it sank into submission on the plate. I sprinkled it with a little bit of grated cheese and minced herb.

whole_herb_parmesan_dutch_baby

Then we dug in. It was everything that I’d dreamed of. That perfect crunchy-custardy texture was enhanced by little nuggets of crispy shallot. And the flavor was everything I’d hoped it would be: bright from the herbs, deep from the cheese. I will absolutely be making this again and I hope you give it a shot, too.

herb_parmesan_dutch_baby_bite

Herb-Parmesan Dutch Baby

(adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman)

2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup milk
40 grams flour
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) or 1 tablespoon dried herbs
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat your oven to 400.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Add the salt, pepper, Parmesan, milk, and flour. Whisk until well-combined, then stir in the herbs. (Alternatively, you can do this in a blender).

In a 9-inch sauté pan, melt the butter over high heat. While it’s melting, add the shallot. Be sure to brush the sides of the pan with melted butter. When the butter is fully liquid and the shallot is beginning to sizzle, add the batter.

Pop the whole thing in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with fresh herb and a little more Parmesan. I thought the pancake was custardy enough that it didn’t need sauce, but you could also serve it with a little bit of whipped cream cheese or creme fraiche.

jalapeno tortillas recipe

 jalapeno_tortillas

Okay, okay, it’s another Sciabica recipe. I can’t help it. This is seriously good oil. I received their product through 37 Cooks, and it was free. But I’m just about to go for broke buying more of their products. I’ve never been so obsessed with olive oil before, but I truly feel like this stuff has been making my recipes taste better.

While the bottle of Mission Spring Harvest oil is long gone after being used in muffins, ice cream, and artichokes, I still have jalapeno oil remaining. This is no insult to the flavored oil. It’s just that a little goes a long way. The stuff is so packed with heat and jalapeno flavor that I’ve been using just a tablespoon or so per recipe.

Taco night is a huge hit in our house, and these were a welcome substitution from the typical bagged flour tortillas. They were surprisingly easy to throw together. There’s enough jalapeno flavor that you taste a little heat, but not so much that the spice is overwhelming.

IMG_4095 - Version 2

Jalapeño Tortillas (adapted from http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/2007/03/and-end-to-my-quest-flour-tortillas.html)

9 ounces flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Sciabica Jalapeno Olive Oil
3/4 cup warm milk

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and jalapeno oil. Add the warm milk and stir until the mixture forms a shaggy ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the ball comes together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes have passed, divide the dough into eight equal balls. Place them on a lightly floured or greased surface (I just use the cutting board) and cover. Let them rest for another 10 minutes. This resting time is important because is allows the dough to soften. If you don’t let it rest, they won’t want to flatten out! Meanwhile, preheat a skillet over medium-high.

Using a rolling pin, stretch each ball into a disc as flat and wide as you can make it. Cook them on high for no more than one minute on each side. The tortillas will develop brown spots when they’re done. Try to keep warm, and serve them as soon as possible.

olive-oil ice cream recipe

Olive-Oil Ice Cream

Olive-Oil Ice Cream

You may have noticed that most of my recipes lately have featured olive oil. This is thanks to Sciabica Oil Of the Olive. They sponsored my cooking group, 37 Cooks, and I can’t get enough of their product. Seriously, it is so tasty that I want to put it in everything. The last time I was this obsessed with something, I ended up moving to the geographical armpit known as Florida to live with him. True story.

Anyway, this recipe was inspired by a dessert that I tried at a restaurant called Ecco, here in Atlanta. I’d heard of olive oil gelato before. When I saw it on a dessert menu, I didn’t know what to do. The obvious answer would be to order it. However, we had just plowed through more wine and more food than I’d care to admit eating in one meal. There was no room for dessert.

But it was one of those evenings. My dad was in town, we were out with my boyfriend, things were good, and there were three of us to share the sweet burden. So I told our server that I’d like olive oil ice cream and three spoons. The guys were skeptical. “Olive oil? In gelato?” they wondered. “Well, I guess I’ll try a bite…”

It was one of those times when one bite turned quickly into seven, and with spoons flying the whole dish of ice cream had disappeared almost before we could wonder what happened to it.  You see, olive oil gelato is really, really, really good. It’s just one of those things. You have to try it for yourself.

After that, I had to make it. Homemade ice cream is one of my favorite things, after all. My only concern was how to develop the recipe. Gelato is great, but it depends on milk and lots of egg yolks. I prefer my frozen treats made with heavy cream, thankyouverymuch. So I made an ice cream out of it. If you’ve made ice cream before, you know the drill: infuse sweetened cream with your base flavor. Here we use vanilla because it’s freakin’ awesome with olive oil. Beat in the tempered egg yolks and cook it until it becomes a custard. The only difference here is that you’ll add the olive oil right before churning. I want to protect its delicate flavor by keeping it away from the heat!

This recipe takes two days. On the first day, you’ll make the custard. It will need to chill overnight (or at least for a good six hours until it’s truly cold) before you add olive oil to the mixture and churn it to delicious ice cream. This ice cream is rich, incredibly creamy, and best enjoyed in small portions. The recipe will make about a pint, but that pint will go a long way.

Olive Oil Ice Cream

Special equipment:
Ice cream machine

3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used paste but you can use extract)
1/4 cup Sciabica Mission Spring Harvest olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Stir together the heavy cream, water, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over low-medium until well-incorporated and very hot, but not yet bubbling.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat together the egg yolks.

When the cream mixture is nice and hot, ladle a few spoonfuls into the bowl containing egg yolks. Stir them together. Then, whisking the cream mixture constantly, pour the warm yolks into the saucepan. Add the vanilla. Now you’re making custard. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture has thickened. It will look like a loose pudding, and it should definitely coat the back of a spoon. Depending on your stovetop settings, this could take anywhere between 5-15 minutes.

Strain the custard into a clean container. Refrigerate overnight, or at least until it’s very cold.

When you’re ready for ice cream, stir the olive oil into the chilled custard. When well-incorporated, churn in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer instructions.

Note: Obviously you can use olive oil besides Sciabica’s if you’d like. Be sure to use the best-quality extra-virgin oil you can find, though!

artichokes francaise recipe

As a college senior, I waitressed at an Italian restaurant and gained ten pounds almost instantly. It was hard not to: the food was great. I lived for the staff meal at the end of each shift, a small dish of pasta with gravy and a single meatball. And more often than not, servers would order additional food from the kitchen. We spent hours around those delicious plates. Cravings would build up over the course of an evening, usually to be satisfied in the darkened side dining room towards the end of a shift.

My first few months at this restaurant were an educational experience. I learned how to tie a tie, to uncork wine with grace, to reel off ten cuts of pasta from memory. And there was always something new to try. One night, another server had ordered Artichokes French after her shift. She was enjoying them in the darkened side dining room when I wandered in to chat.

“How are those?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re amazing,” she told me around a mouthful of artichoke.

“I’ve been serving them a lot, so I was wondering,” I replied. “I’ve never even had artichokes.”

“Well, you’ve got to try these,” she insisted, holding out a forkful.

I chewed. Wow. The artichokes were a little crispy at first bite. They had been battered in egg before a quick pan-frying. Within, they were tender and delicious. Their flavor was great by itself, but I loved the buttery sauce they were doused in. There was definitely lemon in there, and some white wine, but it was perfectly balanced. The artichokes were phenomenal.

(Side note: this took place in 2007, and I’d just met that girl. I didn’t know it then, but she would eventually become a very good friend. And if you try these, you’ll understand just how generous she was to share: if I had ordered these, I’d want every bite for myself).

Artichokes French became one of my favorite dishes when I worked at that restaurant, but the chef refused to give away his recipe. Since I’ve left, I’ve tried to figure it out on my own. I’m not sure how these would compare to the original, which I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since. But you know what? They’re pretty good on their own.

I call my recipe Artichokes Francaise in the original spirit of the dish. (I suspect that restaurant went with “french” to ease pronunciation difficulties; their patrons had enough difficulty ordering “pasta pollo”).

artichokes_francaise

Artichokes Francaise

2 cans whole artichoke hearts, drained and halved
1/4 cup Sciabica Mission Spring Harvest olive oil, or extra virgin oil of your choice
3/4 cup flour
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Splash of chicken stock (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper

First, you’ll prepare the artichokes for pan-frying by battering them. In a medium bowl, mix the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan, 1 tablespoon of parsley, and a few pinches of salt and pepper.

Roll the artichoke halves into the flour, then dip them in egg.

Next, cook them. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium. Pan-fry the artichoke halves, flipping once, until crispy and golden brown on each side. Do this in batches if necessary so you don’t crowd the pan. Let them drain on a paper towel.

When the artichokes are done and the saute pan is empty, you’ll make the sauce. Deglaze the pan with white wine. When almost all of it has bubbled away, add the lemon juice, and chicken stock (if using). Stir everything together and let it cook down to almost nothing. At that point, add the butter bit by bit, then parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.

Place the artichokes in a serving platter, pour the sauce on top, and serve as a side dish or appetizer.