Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Salads

As I've explained before, I'm not comfortable with salads. Their apparent simplicity intimidates the daylights out of me. I just have no confidence that I can make it taste good -- ridiculous as that may seem. Which is why I was very surprised when I realised I had a craving for one a few days ago. But instead of simply throwing a bunch of greens together and drizzling it with a quick vinaigrette, I had to go and make a project out of it. Tsk. Just like me. I can't just eat something. I have to go and think about it. Higher education at work here, people.

Not that this is a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. I probably should have more greens in my diet anyway, if USDA's new nutrition chart is anything to go by... Tangent: was anyone else completely dumbfounded that they didn't think to use a pie chart in the first place? And their recommendations are still difficult to interpret, since they evidently can't even center the design accurately. Moral of the story: if you need a statistics degree to figure out how to eat, USDA's doing it wrong.

Return from tangent: furthermore, that's the exact kind of meal that you would want to have during summer. Fresh, crisp greens with an acid tang; anything else would add to the lethargy you already experience from the heat. Now, personally, I don't think that a salad by itself it enough to constitute an entire meal. A potato salad or a chicken salad, sure. But just a salad? Isn't that kinda... limited?

A question to be explored at a later date. In order to satisfy my craving and food preferences, I uncovered these two recipes, which have temporarily turned the Salad to an accessible summer meal for me.

Chicken Cherry Salad
Obviously, the best way to make a salad more meaty is to add, well, meat. (Duh.) But this one goes a step further by also adding croutons and cherries. Vegetables, protein, starch, fruit -- boom! Full nutritional value in a single dish. I'm waiting for the government to pat me on the head like a good little drone.

Facetiousness aside, I did continue eating this for several days in a row, jealously hiding it from my roommates. It's not as crisp as I expected (maybe I didn't toast the bread fast enough?), but that didn't bother me. In fact, that would have distracted me from the soft texture of the cherries and chicken. The vinaigrette gives everything a pleasant bite (in nice contrast to the cherries' sweetness), especially if you let it all soak it in for a few minutes.

For the Chicken:
  • 6 (2,1/4 lbs) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
For the Salad:
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbs dill, chopped
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 thick slices rustic bread, crusts removed, torn into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 lb fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted, and lightly crushed
  • 3 heads butter lettuce, cored and turned into pieces
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs chopped chives
Preheat the oven to 475, and heat oil in a large cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12min.

Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13min more. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5min longer. Transfer to a plate; reserve the fat.

Whisk together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, dill, honey, and garlic together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir; set aside. Remove the crispy chicken skin and tear into pieces. Do the same with the chicken meat; discard the bones.

Heat the chicken fat over medium heat. Add bread to skillet and toast, turning frequently, until golden and crisp, about 2min. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper while still hot.

Place chicken meat in a large bowl. Add cherries, lettuce, radishes, and chives and drizzle with vinaigrette; toss to coat. Divide salad among plates and garnish with croutons and chicken skin.

Celery, Grape, and Mushroom Salad
Another good way to add meatiness to a dish (minus the meat)? Mushrooms! This is a doubly good recipe for summer because it calls for a grill -- not only for the mushrooms, mind you, but for the grapes as well. What an awesome way to add smokiness to an otherwise fresh and nutty dish! At least, so I imagine. I don't have a grill, so I rely on my broiler. It still tastes excellent, but I will definitely have to make it again when I have earned that essential step on the path to adulthood. NB: if you happen to have unlocked this life achievement already, please make this in its original form and tell me what it's like!

Also, if you want to prove yourself a dork, place the oyster mushrooms on your face and pretend that you're Cthulu.

(...yes, I do such things.)

  • 2 Tbs white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs olive oil (plus more for brushing)
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup celery leaves
  • 1/4 cup salted roasted almonds, chopped
  • 1 lb king oyster mushrooms, sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 cups (12oz) green grapes
  • 2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated
  • 2 cups very thinly sliced celery
In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the lemon juice, celery seeds, mustard and half of the garlic. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the almond oil until emulsified. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.

In a food processor, combine the remaining garlic with the parsley, celery leaves and almonds and pulse until finely chopped. Add another 1/4 cup of the olive oil and puree to a chunky paste. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.

Light a grill (or heat your broiler). Brush the mushrooms with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat, turning once, until tender and browned, about 5min. In a bowl, toss the grapes with the remaining 1 Tbs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until the skins begin to blacken in spots, about 3min; line the grill with perforated foil if the grapes will fall through. Transfer the grapes and mushrooms to a large bowl and toss with the pesto.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter and drizzle with half of the dressing. Spoon the mushroom-and-grape salad onto the lettuce. Toss the celery with the remaining dressing, spoon it on top and serve.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I Hate Ice Cream.

There, do I have your attention now?

Ok, so it's not entirely true. It's not ice cream itself that I hate; it's the recipes that annoy me. Or, more specifically, the need for extra, unwieldy equipment that I don't have. I've lost count of the number of interesting flavours I've come across, only to be foiled by that last accursed step: "Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions." Argh! Couldn't you have told me that, I don't know, before I carefully reviewed the ingredients list and examined the other steps to ensure they were feasible. Or before I visualized spending a hot summer afternoon cooling off by having delicious ice cream and drinks while lounging on the roof of my building?

Yes, Falko, I'm talking to you. Why must you taunt me so with your divine-looking experiments? Your obsession is a bane to my culinary existence. I will be coming to your door soon, and you will rue the years of twarted anticipation you have caused me! Do you hear me? RUUUUUUE!

For all {Humans} \ {Falko}, this dear friend of mine is a frequent contributor to Serious Eats, and you should give serious thought to reading all his contributions. But I warn you: get an ice cream maker first. Otherwise, you'll be prone to outbursts like the above.

Ok, rant over. The reason I bring up this subject is -- as a result of somebody's quests into ice cream creation -- I have long wanted to find homemade ice cream alternatives that don't require any special equipment. Unfortunately, a lot of scoopable/hand-held frozen desserts are lost if you can neither a) churn the mixture, nor b) mold it. The good news is that the weather in Chicago is finally warming up -- for instance, the net increase in temperature this past week has been around 40 degrees (50 degrees 3 days ago, 90 degrees today). That isn't great in and of itself, but it does mean that the various foodie magazines I read have adopted a focus on cool desserts.

Like this one from Bon Appettit, a Mango-Chile Ice. The ingredient list caught my eye immediately; there are so few, yet each offers a distinctly noticeable influence on the finished dish: ripe mangoes for their fruity sweetness, lime for the acidic citrus tang, topped with red pepper to give it a memorable afterburn. In fact, I happily added a lot more lime zest and red pepper than was called for, and I never regretted it for an instant. The preparation time sucks, though: you have to crush and refreeze it three times, and be sure not to forget it in the freezer, lest you have to deal with a solid plate of ice, rather than gradually hardening slush. More research is definitely required on that front. But the taste of this dessert is the perfect thing for the soon-to-be sweltering summer days: cool and refreshing, with a bite that will keep your attention.

Mango-Chile Ice
  • 6 large mangoes (about 5,1/3 lb) halved, pitted, peeled, diced (about 7,1/2 cups)
  • 1,3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chile powder, plus more for serving
Set a strainer in a 13*9*2-inch glass baking dish. Combine half of all ingredients with 5 Tbsp water in a processor and purée until smooth. Strain mango mixture into dish. Repeat for second half of ingredients. Freeze until mixture is slushy, about 2 hours.

Working in 2 batches, purée in processor again. Return mango ice to same dish. Freeze 2 hours.

Repeat 2 more times.

Serving suggestions: let stand at room temperature for 20min. Scoop into dishes, sprinkle with chile powder, and serve.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Supporting local food production, getting high quality ingredients, being challenged with new and unusual foodstuffs, learning what happens to the things you eventually put in your body... there are so many reasons to love farmer's markets, I don't think I could list them all if I tried. My local market just reopened from the winter hiatus. It's a little thing, hosting no more than a handful of stalls any given week, but compared to the goods at the grocery store ("America's Most European Supermarket!" - gag me) it's well worth the weekly pilgrimages to quality food. But since I would do my little market a great injustice by singing its praises insufficiently, I think I'm going to stop while I'm ahead. Instead, I'm going to talk about one thing about it that has me jumping up and down. And that thing is...


Since moving to Chicago, I have encountered many interesting diets. Some are borne out of necessity (allergies, diabetes), and some of personal choice. With the exception of Zuckerberg's new diet, I can't think of any that are so overtly bizarre as to throw me for a loop. A little odd, sure. But friends who are vegetarian, vegan, kosher, allergic, or adherents to a particular culinary denomination are all welcome in my kitchen. In the meantime, however, I will remain happily omnivorous; I'll eat anything. Except licorice. Y'all can keep that shit to yourselves.

Moxie, on the other hand, is a locavore when it comes to meat. Make no mistake: she loves the stuff, but doesn't want to eat faceless-industry-processed muck. A fair opinion to have for an old farmhand. The issue is, what is local (and accessible) during a Chicago winter, when we live down in the south side? The answer: not much. Stray cat, maybe. Or the odd fattened rodent, if you care to catch it yourself (Zuckerberg?)

The result is that we've been eating mostly vegetarian during cold months. It hasn't been an issue: I have the odd meat dish when she's not around, and it's not difficult for either of us to get enough protein. But occasionally, that's not enough. There's a craving that arises. And sometimes, we heathen flesh-eaters - must - have - MEAT.

And now we can! Hallelujah and bless the farmer's market! To celebrate its reopening, we probably bought enough meat to last us a month, plus some other goodies (because, y'know, why not?). And to further mark the occasion, we planned to make a dish that I've been eyeing for a long time now -- to be precise, since I first got a copy of The Silver Palate, when Neen marked "Duck with Forty Cloves of Garlic" with 4.5 stars and the comment "use chicken!" Ultimately, we used two Cornish hens. Then joined forces with another apartment couple to have a spontaneous dinner party feast.

You may still be reeling from the title of this dish, in which case, further mention will probably throw you back into a frenzy. Yes, it actually does use 40 cloves of garlic. And it's delicious.

I'll wait for you to recover. Better? Good. 40 cloves of garlic! Blücher!

In all seriousness (hah), this dish deserves every bit of those 4.5 stars. Don't worry - since you roast the fowl with the cloves still in their skins, you won't be overwhelming the meat with a super-intense astringency. Instead, you enrich the moist bird with a faint je-ne-sais-quoi, giving it depth and flavour. The garlic is then added to the vinegary gravy, whose creaminess (coming from a stick of butter) is enough to tame it. As a whole, this recipe is a study in how to take disparate and pucker-worthy tastes and combine them to form a rich and satisfying meal. Definitely a celebratory meal.

"Duck" with Forty Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 duck, 4.5-5 lbs, fresh or thoroughly defrosted // or equivalent in other fowl
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1,1/2 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 parsley sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 40 large garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbs sherry vinegar
  • 1 Tbs Crème de Cassis (black currant liqueur) // I skipped this
  • 8 Tbs (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
  • chopped parsley (garnish)
Remove neck and giblets from the duck; save the liver for another use. Chop neck, heart, and gizzard. Cut off wing tips. Remove all possible fat from the duck's cavity and prick the skin all over with a fork. Salt the inside and outside of the duck and set it in a shallow baking pan just large enough to hold it comfortably. Set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan, add chopped giblets and wing tips, and brown over high heat. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat, and add the onions and carrots. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly colored, about 20min.

Add the chicken stock, thyme, parsley and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer while the duck roasts.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Separate the heads of garlic into cloves, discarding the papery skin from the heads; do not peel the cloves. Select about 6 of the largest cloves and stuff them into the duck. Arrange the rest of the garlic around the duck.

Set the pan on the middle level of the oven. After 15min turn the temperature down to 375 degrees and roast the bird for another 35min for medium; 5 to 10 for juicy and still slightly pink. Transfer duck to a platter, cover with foil, and keep warm.

Strain the broth, discard the solids (aside: don't you dare. Keep them to make the gravy chunky later, or eat them as is), and measure the broth. You should have 1/2 cup. If you have less, don't worry. If you have more, return it to the saucepan and cook briskly for 5min or so to reduce it.

Lift the garlic cloves from the cooking fat with a slotted spoon and force them through the medium disc of a food mill. Reserve the puréed garlic and discard the skins.

When the broth is properly reduced, add the vinegar and Cassis, bring to a boil, and reduce the mixture by one third. Whisk in the garlic purée and remove the pan from the heat.

Cut the chilled butter into 10 pieces and whisk the butter, piece by piece, into the hot sauce, always adding another piece of butter before the previous one is entirely absorbed. The sauce will begin to look creamy and thicken slightly. Cover the saucepan and set it in a warm (not hot) place.

Carve the duck and divide the serving pieces among multiple plates. Spoon some sauce over the duck and transfer the rest to a sauceboat. Retrieve the garlic cloves remaining inside the carcass and use them to garnish the sauced duck. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.