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April 27, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Root Beer-Glazed Pork Chops with Bourbon-Mashed Sweet Potatoes & Caramelized Onions

Another selection from the Emeril Lagasse chapter in Food Network Favorites . This one suffers from too much of a good thing -- too many sweet elements, and not enough contrast.

You've got a sweet root beer glaze for the pork chops, the sweetness of caramelized onions, and sweet potatoes, which are naturally sweet (duh) but also enhanced in this recipe with brown sugar and molasses. It's all too much. I think the creole seasoning on the pork chops is supposed to be the counterpoint to all the sugary stuff, but it's not enough. After a while all the elements of this dish blend together into an undistinguishable mish-mash of intense caramel, brown sugar, and root beer flavors.

The pork chops themselves are quite tasty, and I'm always a sucker for caramelized onions. What would vastly improve this dish, I think, is to skip the sweet potatoes and serve the chops, onions, and glaze on a bed of good old mashed russet potatoes. That way the balance between sweet and savory would be better, and the palate wouldn't grow so fatigued. I've given the recipe as it appears in the book, but I strongly recommend trying regular mashed potatoes in place of the sweet potatoes.

I've also reduced the cooking time for the chops; Emeril's recipe says to check the temperature after 10 to 15 minutes, but if your chops aren't super-thick, that's too long. Start checking after 5 minutes in the oven, and don't let the internal temperature get higher than 150 degrees, or the meat will be dry.

Many markets sell double-cut or thick-cut bone-in pork chops. If you can't find them at the grocery store, try a specialty butcher. I don't recommend using regular chops, as they will cook too quickly. A mandoline or vegetable slicer makes short work of the onions. I've modified the ingredients list slightly to allow for fewer onions, since the original 2 pounds makes a ton. One or one and a half pounds should make plenty of caramelized onions for 4 servings.

Another ingredients note; Emeril's restaurant roots show up here, as he calls for "2 cups reduced veal stock." Uh, sure thing, Emeril. Most home kitchens don't have this product lying around. Some specialty markets carry veal stock, either in bottles or in the freezer case. But I have no idea how much you're supposed to reduce it, since Emeril doesn't give any hints. Reduce regular-strength broth by 50%? Or more? No way to know, unfortunately. If you can find veal stock at your market, I recommend buying 4 cups and reducing by half, then proceeding with the glaze recipe. If veal stock is unavailable, use beef stock. The glaze will be less thick, since beef stock doesn't have the same gelatin content as veal stock, but it still works okay.

I've given a link for a recipe to prepare Emeril's Essence, the seasoning for the chops. You can also purchase it at the market. Make sure you get the original Creole variety

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: About 60 to 90 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Caramelized Onions
4 to 8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 to 2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Pork Chops & Glaze
2 cups root beer
2 cups reduced veal stock OR beef stock
4 16-oz. double-cut bone-in pork chops
4 tsp Emeril's Essence
4 tsp olive oil
Parsley leaves, for garnish

Bourbon-Mashed Sweet Potatoes
1 3/4 to 2 pounds sweet potatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp kosher salt

For the onions: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

For the glaze: Combine the root beer and stock in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to about 1 cup of thick syrup, 50 minutes to an hour. Remove from the heat.

For the pork chops: Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Season each chop on both sides with 1 tsp of the Essence. Grill for 3 minutes. Turn 1/4 turn to make a cross-hatch pattern, and cook an additional 2 minutes. Turn chops over and cook on the second side for 5 minutes. Transfer chops to a baking sheet. Drizzle 1 tsp of olive oil on each chop, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 150 degrees, about 5 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness. Set chops aside until ready to serve.

For the sweet potatoes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until tender and starting to ooze syrup, about 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. Cut a slit down the center of each potato and scrape the flesh away from the skin, into a large mixing bowl. Discard the skins. Add the cream, bourbon, brown sugar, molasses, and salt and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Cover to keep warm, or gently reheat before serving.

To serve: Place a large scoop of sweet potatoes on each of 4 plates. Angle the pork chop up against the side of the mashed potatoes, with the grill marks facing up. Place a large spoonful of caramelized onions on top of the chops, then drizzle the root beer glaze over the top. Sprinkle with parsley leaves, and serve.


April 21, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Asian-Style Braised Short Ribs

Whew! We're back to good things from Emeril Lagasse's chapter in Food Network Favorites . These ribs take only a few minutes to prep, then they braise gently in the oven until tender. The flavors are excellent.

Like all ribs, they are somewhat fatty, but not overwhelmingly so. The Asian flavors, with their salty, sweet, and acidic components, are a very good counterpoint to the richness of the meat.

I have rearranged the ingredients list to be somewhat more logical, since I found that the way it was organized in the book was a tad confusing. Similarly, the instructions are slightly modified for clarity, as the original recipe doesn't make it clear that the braising liquid should be reduced in a separate saucepan. I've also given a time estimate for how long it takes to reduce the braising liquid, since it's at least 20 minutes, which is something that Emeril might have wanted to indicate in his recipe.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3 1/2 hours
Yield: 4 servings

5 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4-oz. portions
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 5-inch stalk lemongrass, halved and smashed
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sliced green onions, white part only (save tops for garnish)
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh orange juice, divided
4 cups water

1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp finely grated orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a wide stockpot or Dutch oven, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, brown sugar, onions, red pepper flakes, 2 Tbsp of the orange juice, and water. Add the ribs, making sure that the pot is deep enough so that the ribs are submerged in the liquid. Cover the pot and bake about 3 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bones. Remove the ribs from the braising liquid and cover to keep warm. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.

Skim the fat from the braising liquid and discard. Add the hoisin sauce to the liquid and bring to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce the liquid to about 1 1/4 cups, about 20-25 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp orange juice and the lemon juice and return the liquid and the ribs to the Dutch oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the ribs are heated through and glazed with the sauce. Serve hot over jasmine rice, and garnish with orange zest and sliced green onion tops.

April 20, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Apple Tarte Tatin

Ugh. A disaster from beginning to end. The final results are nowhere near good enough to justify all the difficulties I had with this recipe: the milk solids in the butter burned; the caramel crystallized; the apples stuck to the pan. If you really want a dessert that combines apples and puff pastry, I've got a suggestion that's much better than this mess.

Emeril Lagasse's recipes in Food Network Favorites tend to be a bit casual when it comes to the instructions. This recipe is a perfect, horrible example. Lagasse's instructions for making caramel are: "Melt the butter in a pan over high heat. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar melts and then caramelizes to an amber color, swirling the skillet, if necessary, for even browning. (Do not stir or sugar may crystallize.)" Oy, where to begin? On my first attempt, the milk solids in the butter started browning before the sugar was even halfway melted, which resulted in burnt-tasting caramel. On the second try, the sugar crystallized and couldn't be salvaged, even though I didn't stir it. I was finally able to get an evenly melted, unburnt caramel by melting the butter over low heat, increasing the heat to high, adding the sugar in an even layer in the pan, and vigorously swirling. There's no question of swirling being an "if necessary" step -- it's absolutely essential if you don't want to burn the butter. Emeril's instructions are not nearly detailed enough.

Once I had caramel that I could use, I proceeded with the recipe, which involved cooking halved apples in the caramel for about 15 minutes, then removing them, reducing the caramel to a syrup, adding the apples back to the pan, covering them with a sheet of puff pastry, and baking the whole thing in the oven. Once the pastry is golden, you remove the pan from the oven and invert the tart onto a platter, so that the pastry is on the bottom and the apples are on the top. A traditional tarte tatin is made by carefully layering sliced apples in the pan, arranging them in a pattern that looks pretty when the tart is unmolded. Lagasse's version isn't so pretty, since he uses apple halves, not slices. At least 50% of the apples stuck to the pan when I inverted the tart. They had to be pulled out of the skillet and placed back onto the pastry base. And quite honestly, it was an ugly little tart, with a sad bunch of big apples sort of hanging out on a piece of puff pastry whose edges were randomly sticking up here and there (since the recipe's instructions regarding the pastry say merely to "tuck the edges into the skillet, carefully folding or pushing the overhang down tightly around the apples.") There isn't a photo of the finished tart in the book, and after seeing my own results, I'm not surprised. It was difficult to eat, and didn't taste particularly exciting either. This is not a successful version of this classic dessert.

I've given the recipe below as it's written in the book, since I don't think it's worth bothering to try to improve it. If you'd like to make a dessert with the same basic ingredients, try the galette recipe at the bottom of the page. It's an idea adapted from the quick dessert ideas page in Donna Hay's Off the Shelf . It's much prettier, easier to eat, and simpler to prepare.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 to 60 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

6 to 8 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and halved
Juice of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 8-ounce sheet frozen puff pastry
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl toss the apples with the lemon juice and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 9- or 10 inch oven-safe skillet over high heat. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar melts and then caramelizes to an amber color, swirling the skillet, if necessary, for even browning. (Do not stir or sugar may crystallize.) Remove the skillet from the heat.

Place the apples, rounded sides down, in one layer in the caramel. Cover the skillet and return to the heat. Cook over medium-low heat until the apples are almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cover and carefully remove the apples with a slotted spoon, leaving the juices behind. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the juices have reduced and are thick and syrupy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then arrange the apples back in the pan, round sides down.

Let puff pastry dough sit at room temperature until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch-diameter round about 3/16 inch thick. Place the dough on top of the hot apples and tuck the edges into the skillet, carefully folding or pushing the overhang down tightly around the apples. Cut several slits in the pastry.

Bake until pastry is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove tart from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the skillet, then place a large platter over the skillet and carefully invert the tart onto the platter, giving the skillet a sharp tap if necessary. Place any apples remaining in the skillet on the tart. Cool slightly and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Apple Galettes , adapted from Off the Shelf
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough (half of a 17.3 oz. package, such as Pepperidge Farm)
About 2 to 3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 or 2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and halved
About 2 Tbsp melted butter
Demerara, turbinado, or other washed raw sugar
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Let the puff pastry sit out until it is pliable but not warm, about 10 minutes. Unfold the sheet and slice it into thirds lengthwise along the creases where it was folded. Slice the 3 pieces in half crosswise, so that you have 6 pieces of puff pastry, each about 4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide. Place the puff pastry pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Slice the apple halves thinly into half-moon shapes. Sprinkle about 1 to 2 tsp of ground almonds on each pastry base. Arrange the apple slices on top of the almonds, overlapping slightly. Carefully brush the apples with melted butter, then sprinkle each galette with about 1 tsp of sugar. Bake until the pastry is golden and apples are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Turn oven off, sprinkle each galette with about 1 tsp additional sugar, and let sit in the warm oven for about 5 minutes, or until sugar is somewhat melted. Remove from oven and cool slightly, then serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Yields 6 galettes.

April 19, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Baby Arugula with Country Ham, Goat Cheese, Dried Cherries & Walnut Vinaigrette

From the Emeril Lagasse chapter in Food Network Favorites comes this delicious salad. The flavor combination is very good, and this dish is an excellent accompaniment to the Mushroom Confit recipe. No quibbles with this one, although I think the ham can be left out without any harm to the final dish. If you've got vegetarians to think about, that's a good option.

Country ham isn't available everywhere, since it's a specialty item most common to the southern United States. If you can't find it, use prosciutto instead, or leave it out entirely. The salad is just as good without it.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

3 to 4 ounces fully cooked, thinly sliced, boneless country ham, OR prosciutto
3/4 cup walnut pieces
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp minced shallots
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
8 cups fresh baby arugula, picked through and washed
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 to 4 ounces fresh goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham slices and cook until golden and crispy, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and julienne. Set aside.

Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and roast until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, honey, and shallots to the warm nuts and let mixture sit 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the greens with the cherries and the desired amount of dressing. Mound some greens in the center of 4 plates. Arrange the crispy ham around the greens and crumble the cheese on top. Garnish the salad with additional cracked pepper.

April 18, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Mushroom Confit with Pasta Rags & Truffle Oil

I'm moving on from Dave Lieberman, and the next chapter to tackle in Food Network Favorites is Emeril Lagasse. This fantastic mushroom recipe gets us off to a very good start. I do think that a rather large question is left hanging, however.

In this confit recipe, 2 pounds of mushrooms are slowly cooked in the oven in 2 quarts of oil, then the mushrooms are drained and a few tablespoons of the oil are used in the final dish. So...what about the nearly 2 quarts of oil that remain? The book gives nary a hint. It's far too valuable a product to simply throw away -- it's practically mushroom-infused gold! I strained it and poured it into a clean glass container, then stored it in the refrigerator. I will be using it to brush on pizza crusts, as an oil for sautéeing mushrooms, as an ingredient in salad dressing, and so forth. It would have been a good idea for Food Network Favorites to make some of these suggestions, I think. Some cooks may simply toss the excess oil, and that would be a shame.

Other than that annoying oversight, the recipe is very good. The technique is straightforward and the results are excellent. If you don't have access to fresh pasta sheets to tear into pieces (the "rags" of the title), feel free to use other fresh pasta, like fettuccine, linguine, or pappardelle.

A side note in the book suggests using these mushrooms as a topping for pizza or risotto, so if you don't want to make pasta, you could always use the confit in a different preparation. I've added a bit of additional cooking time (up to 2 hours, instead of the book's 1 1/2 hours); depending on your oven and the mushrooms you use, you may need to cook the confit from 1 to 2 hours for tender, fragrant mushrooms. If you have leftover mushrooms, you can store them in the refrigerator for about 3 days. Store them in their cooking oil, or keep the mushrooms and oil separate, depending on your needs.

Prep Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 to 2 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds assorted wild and exotic mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, chanterelles, and creminis, cleaned and stemmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp salt
2 quarts safflower oil or other light, non-flavored oil
1 pound fresh pasta sheets, torn into pieces, OR other fresh pasta, such as fettuccine
1 teaspoon truffle oil
1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 Tbsp chopped chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a large colander, toss the mushrooms with salt and black pepper to taste. Set colander aside in the sink or over a bowl, and let sit for about 1 hour so that mushrooms will release some of their liquid. Drain well after 1 hour.

In a 1-gallon baking or roasting pan, combine the mushrooms, bay leaves, garlic, thyme, rosemary, 2 Tbsp salt, and vegetable oil. Stir well, making sure that the mushrooms are completely covered by the oil. Cover the pan with its lid or aluminum foil and roast for 1 to 2 hours, or until the mushrooms are tender and the oil smells fragrant. Remove from the oven and drain the mushrooms, reserving the oil.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, or until al dente. Drain, and immediately toss with 2 to 3 Tbsp of the reserved mushroom oil. Add the mushrooms, truffle oil, cheese, and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Strain leftover mushroom oil into a clean container and store in the refrigerator.

April 14, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Spicy Coconut Shrimp with Mango-Basil Salsa & Lime Jasmine Rice

From Food Network Favorites , a tasty entry from Dave Lieberman. This Thai-inspired treatment for shrimp can be made in stages, and tastes fantastic. As usual, my only quibble with Mr. Lieberman is proportions.

It's not the yield that's off this time, but the proportions of the marinade. As written, it's a sufficient amount for marinating the shrimp, but it's also supposed to serve as a sauce for the dish, and in that capacity, it's not enough. After bringing the marinade to a boil, I had enough sauce for about half the shrimp. Which was a shame, because it's very good -- sort of a Thai-style barbecue sauce.

In my revised recipe, I've doubled the recipe for the marinade. That way there's enough for all the shrimp. As a sauce, it's full of chunky bits that you're not intended to eat; this is very common practice in Thai cuisine, where soups and curries often have whole lime leaves or garlic cloves in them for flavor. You should eat around the jalapeño and garlic slices in this recipe. If you prefer, you can strain them out of the sauce before serving.

I've also changed the mango specification; in the original recipe, Lieberman merely says "1 mango," but you need a pretty large one to make a decent amount of salsa. I've specified 1 large or 2 medium mangoes in the recipe below.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings

1 large or 2 medium mangoes, peeled, pitted, and finely diced
3 scallions, sliced
5 basil leaves, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

2 or 3 fresh jalapeños, sliced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 Tbsp dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp soy sauce
Zest from 1/2 lime
1/2 cup coconut milk
Small handful basil leaves, torn
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
About 20 grinds fresh black pepper
1 pound peeled deveined large shrimp

Lime Jasmine Rice
1 cup jasmine rice
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup water
Pinch salt
Zest from 1/2 lime

For the salsa: Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Make up to 1 day in advance. Keep tightly covered in refrigerator.

For the shrimp: In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for shrimp. Add shrimp to the marinade mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat. When hot, use tongs to remove shrimp from marinade and place in an even layer in the pan, reserving marinade. Cook shrimp until well browned on each side, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes total. Remove shrimp and reserve on a plate. Add marinade mixture to the pan and bring to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the rice: Combine rice, coconut milk, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and gently simmer until tender and liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in the lime zest.

To serve: Place lime jasmine rice in serving bowls or plates. Place shrimp on top, then pour the sauce over (pour through a strainer if desired). Serve with mango salsa.

April 13, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Bow Ties with Pesto, Feta & Cherry Tomatoes

A quick and easy pasta salad from Dave Lieberman. The yield seemed a bit squirrelly, again, but other than that, there's not much to say about this recipe.

I do have to wonder if an entire 2-page spread devoted to this dish was really the best use of space in Food Network Favorites. Perhaps I'm not the audience that this book is aimed at, but I think it's kind of overkill. Is pasta salad so exotic that people need detailed instructions for it? Especially one as simple as this one? In a book like Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way , this pasta salad idea would be part of the quick recipe ideas that are listed in a couple of pages at the beginning of the book, and would read something like, "Cook about 1 pound dry farfalle. Drain well, then toss with fresh pesto, feta cheese, and halved cherry tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature." A detailed step-by-step recipe is...not really necessary, is all I'm saying. But here it is, nevertheless...

Lieberman says this recipe yields 4 to 6 servings. Those are pretty hearty servings, given that you're starting off with a pound of dry pasta. I'd say the yield is closer to 8 servings.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 to 15 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 pound bow tie pasta (farfalle)
3/4 cup Pesto (recipe below)
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, as needed

5 big handfuls basil leaves (about 2 hefty bunches)
1/2 cup pine nuts or 3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
About 20 grinds black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
(Yields about 1 1/2 cups)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, then drain well and run under cool water until it stops steaming. Shake to remove as much water as possible.

Dump the pasta into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the 3/4 cup pesto until the pasta is well coated. Add the tomatoes and feta and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If making ahead, cover and keep at room temperature for up to 1 hour, or in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours. Bring salad up to room temperature before serving. If it looks dry, toss with a bit of olive oil before serving.

For the pesto: Combine basil, nuts, cheese, lemon juice, garlic, and pepper in a blender with 1/2 cup of olive oil. Blend well. With motor running, drizzle in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil until pesto is thick and smooth. Leftover pesto should be stored in a container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

April 11, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Curried Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups

A fresh, light-tasting salad from Dave Lieberman. The preparation is extremely simple and the results are very good. My only quibble is with the yield.

According to Lieberman, this recipe yields 4 to 6 servings. Only if you're serving it as part of a luncheon, I say. Maybe at a bridal shower where there are also canapés and fruit and dessert; otherwise, not even close. My husband and I finished off the entire recipe between us for lunch.

The issue may be with the vague ingredients specifications. "4 whole chicken thighs" is what's given in the book, but that could vary quite a bit. Packages of 6 chicken thighs at my market ranged from 2 1/4 to almost 4 pounds. I used a package of 6 thighs at 2 1/2 pounds, which worked well for the amount of dressing, but would definitely not feed 4 to 6 people. Lieberman should have specified a weight; that way the home cook doesn't have to try to puzzle out exactly how much chicken is really needed. I've specified 2 1/2 to 3 pounds in the recipe below; that will make 2 generous servings. If you need a higher yield, use more chicken, and increase the dressing amounts accordingly. The dressing is flexible; it's not going to make a huge difference if you add 1 1/2 or 2 teaspoons of curry powder, and you can always make adjustments on the fly.

Food Network Favorites has a note about the superiority of chicken thighs for this recipe, talking up their "rich meatiness." I do think that thighs are a better choice, but breasts will certainly work as well. As noted in the book, if you used breasts, reduce the poaching time to 10 to 12 minutes.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 to 45 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings

2 1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 lemon, quartered
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon or lime juice
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3/4 cup red seedless grapes, halved (quartered if grapes are large)
1 head butter lettuce, for serving

Put the chicken thighs, lemon, and cilantro in a skillet or saucepan. Fill with water just to cover the chicken and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered until meat is tender and cooked through, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove chicken from the poaching liquid and let cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin, fat, and bones and discard. Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces.

In a mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, curry powder, and honey. Stir in the scallions, celery, grapes, and chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separate the lettuce leaves. Rinse and dry well. Serve the chicken salad heaped onto lettuce leaves.

April 10, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie

From the Food Network's own kitchens, this recipe from Food Network Favorites is decadent and delicious. The instructions, however, contain one very large oversight.

I didn't have any trouble with the recipe, (although I have modified it for clarity and I did have to make a very important change, see below) and the pie came out looking almost exactly like the photo in the book. The top layer of chocolate whipped cream was a bit different from the picture: in the book, the whipped cream still looks white, with flecks of chocolate in it. My whipped cream and chocolate blended together a bit too well, perhaps, since it was a uniform brown chocolate color. Next time, I'll cool the chocolate a bit more before folding it into the whipped cream. That may lead to a more flecked appearance. There definitely will be a next time; this is an outstanding dessert that peanut-butter-and-chocolate lovers will really enjoy.

For clarity, I have modified the way the ingredients list is set up, separating out the ganache which covers the crust into its own category instead of leaving it with the crust ingredients, as it appears in the book. In a really egregious oversight, the original recipe merely says to melt the chocolate together with the heavy cream in the microwave. Adding a small amount of cold liquid to melting chocolate can cause the chocolate to seize. This would be an extremely frustrating turn of events, and could even cause the cook at home to have to throw out an expensive 6 ounces of chocolate. Preheating the cream eliminates this risk, and is such a simple step, I can't believe that the Food Network's recipe wasn't written to avoid a potential big problem. I have made the necessary changes in the recipe below.

Prep Time: 45 minutes, plus about 4 hours cooling time
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

1 1/4 cups dry-roasted salted peanuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch ground cloves
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate

1 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%; do not use skim)
2 large eggs
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Pinch fine salt
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp confectioner's sugar

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the peanuts, granulated sugar, and cloves in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse sand. Pulse in the butter. Press the nut mixture evenly over the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake until set, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

For the ganache: Heat the heavy cream in the microwave until it is hot to the touch but not boiling. Add the chocolate and melt at low power, stopping every 30 seconds and stirring well, until smooth. Smooth the ganache over the peanut crust. Freeze the crust while making the filling.

For the filling: Whisk the milk, eggs, confectioner's sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Once boiling, the pudding should thicken almost instantly. As soon as the texture is like mayonnaise, remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the cream cheese, peanut butter, and vanilla. Spread evenly over the ganache and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours, or overnight.

For the topping: Melt the chocolate in the microwave on low power, stopping every 30 seconds to stir, until smooth. Cool the chocolate until just barely warm. Whip the cream with the confectioner's sugar until it holds soft peaks (do not overwhip; folding the chocolate into the cream and spreading the cream onto the pie will help to stiffen the cream). Stir a large spoonful of the cream into the melted chocolate, then fold all of the chocolate into the cream. Remove the sides of the pan from the pie (run a knife around the sides first if the pie looks like it is sticking) and spread the topping onto the pie with an offset spatula. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.

Food Network Favorites: Black Bean Soup

From the Dave Lieberman chapter in Food Network Favorites comes this simple recipe for black bean soup, using canned beans. It's very tasty, but I'd change the presentation a bit.

Lieberman has the cook sauté finely chopped bacon and onions, then add the beans and other seasonings. After a brief simmer, the soup is apparently ready. I found, however, that even very finely minced bacon looked pale and unattractive in the soup. Along with the whole beans and pieces of tomatoes, I thought that the soup was unpleasantly chunky, so I pureed it. This made the soup much more visually appealing, since there weren't little white bits of bacon fat floating around in it. If you have an immersion blender, puréeing the soup is very easy, and you can make it as chunky or smooth as you desire. If the bacon bits don't bother you and you prefer a chunky-style soup, puréeing is unnecessary.

I've modified the recipe slightly; I found that the chili powder was a bit harsh-tasting when added to the simmering liquid, so I took a page from Indian cuisine and sautéed the chili powder with the bacon and onions. This method helps to tame the harshness of the spices and brings out the flavor. Whether you purée the soup or serve it chunky-style, it's quite thick. You may need to add additional chicken broth to achieve a smoother consistency. I've also added a few additional ideas for garnish, beyond the ones given in the book.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6 to 10 servings

10 slices bacon, finely chopped (if you are going to purée the soup, a rough chop is sufficient)
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 Tbsp chili powder
6 cloves garlic, pressed
1 14.5-oz. can chicken broth (more may be necessary, see note above)
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 15-oz. cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lime
For garnish: thinly sliced scallions, sour cream, cheddar cheese, cilantro leaves, lime wedges, tortilla chips, queso fresco

Put the bacon into a large heavy pot and place over medium heat. Cook until it starts to give up its fat, about 3 minutes. Add the onions and chili powder and cook, stirring, until they are fragrant and onions have softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the 2 cans broth, tomatoes, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the beans, turn heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a gentle simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir the cilantro into the soup. Cook about 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. If necessary, add more broth to achieve desired consistency. Purée soup, if desired, then stir in lime juice. Serve with whatever garnishes strike your fancy.

I'm Back!

My hand is recovering well from carpal tunnel surgery, and I'm ready to head back into the kitchen. Thanks to everyone who sent well-wishes; I really appreciate it!

I'm picking up right where I left off, with Food Network Favorites: Recipes From Our All-Star Chefs . I'll be finishing the Dave Lieberman chapter this week, and next week I'll tackle Emeril Lagasse. As I work my way through the various chef's chapters, I'll also be tossing in tests from the last chapter of the book: recipes from the Food Network kitchens. I've already tested one recipe from this chapter and it was quite good, so we'll see how the rest of the Food Network's own recipes stack up against those from their "star" chefs.




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