Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Waldorf Salad by Any Other Name

As I joked about in the video, a fruit salad has to be pretty damn good to actually get a name, and the venerable Waldorf salad is certainly worthy. 

I realize that there are a small group of you who won’t be able to wrap your heads around mayonnaise with fruit, and that’s a shame, since it means you won’t get to enjoy one of the great combinations of all time. By the way, if you are one of the aforementioned people, but like mayo slathered all over your sandwich, containing slices of sweet, ripe tomato, and caramelized onions, then you have some explaining to do. Also, coleslaw. I rest my case.

Embellish this as you see fit, but I really like it best with just the four ingredients seen here. Things like dried cranberries can add a nice seasonal touch, but for me, the chewy fruit gets in the way of that addictive crunchy/crisp texture. I really hope you give this old-school, but timeless Waldorf salad a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 1 cup dressing (enough for 2 Waldorf salads below):
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream (I used CF)
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon

For 2 large or 4 appetizer sized Waldorf salads:
2 large crisp, sweet apples, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup small cubed celery root
1 cup quartered seedless grapes
1/2 cup toasted walnuts pieces

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts – Less Time, More Skin = Better Breasts

Cooking up a few chicken breasts should be a fast, easy, and delicious experience, but for many people it’s actually a slow, hard, and disappointing one. There are several reasons for this, and hopefully this demo for how to pan-roast chicken will eliminate them.

The most important factor is doneness. By “pan-roasting,” you can easily monitor the internal temp, and as I recommend in the video, start the pan sauce when the meat reaches about 150 F. By the time your sauce is done, and the chicken is covered in its hot, buttery goodness, it should have reached 155-160 F., which is what I shoot for.

At this temp, the chicken will be perfectly safe, while remaining moist and tender. I know many recipes, and reference sites, call for longer cooking times, and internal temps of 165-175 F., but that’s just crazy. Unless, you want tough, dry meat; in which case, that works wonderfully.

Also, I think it’s very important we leave the skin on. Not only does this add a lot of flavor, but also much-needed moisture. Even if you’ve been brain-washed into thinking the skin is “bad” for you, which it isn’t, you can peel it off before you eat it, but I recommend leaving it on during the cooking process.

And yes, we’d be getting even more flavor and moisture if we just left the breasts on the bone, but the whole point is for this to be fast to make, and effortless to eat. Otherwise, we might as well roast a whole chicken.

If you’re not into creating your own boneless, skin-on breasts, like we did in the video, you can have the butcher at the market do this for you. You’ll have to go to a larger store where they cut up their own chicken parts, and tell them exactly what you want, but they’ll hook you up at no extra charge. I really hope you give this easy, and very effective technique a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 portions:
4 boneless, but skin-on chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs, optional
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup *vinegar
4 tbsp cold butter, cut in smaller pieces
a splash of chicken broth or water, if needed to thin sauce

*I used apple cider here, but literally any vinegar will work. Some of my favorites are sherry, balsamic, rice, and champagne vinegar.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Shakshuka – Say It With Me Now

This Shakshuka, or Shakshouka if you prefer, is why I’m so glad the show/blog/channel is called, “Food Wishes.” This North African one-dish-meal is so fast, easy, and delicious, but it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to do a video for it, unless someone sent me a request. 

I always appreciate these types of reminders, and seeing "Shakshuka" in a subject line does catch your attention, but now I have a little problem. I can’t stop saying it. It has basically replaced using profanity for me. Yes, now when I stub my toe, I yell "shakshuka!"

I know we did an Italian-inspired version of this idea, served in individual ramekins, but this is supposedly the original. The sauce is quite different, and I think more interesting. The peppers and mushrooms add another layer of flavor, and the spicing is much more complex. Not to mention, a large pan of this is much more of a showstopper.

Just be sure to cook your sauce until the veggies are nice and soft and sweet. I don’t think you want crunchy onions and peppers in this, so take a little time building the base. You will also have to monitor the liquid level as it simmers, but that’s very easy to adjust by adding a splash of water or broth.

Once the eggs go in, you can finish covered on the stove, or just pop the pan into a hot oven until they cook to your liking. I go for just barely set, and the advantage of that system is, if you do want them cooked more, you just need to stir the egg into that hot sauce, and it will firm-up instantly.

No matter how you like your yolks cooked, this makes for an impressive breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. And if you’re serving a large group, you can scale this up to any size pan or baking dish. I really hope you “shakshuka!” very soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 small portions:
(one egg per portion as appetizer - double for a main course)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
large handful of sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 cup diced red bell peppers
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
28-oz can (about 3 cups) crushed San Marzano tomatoes, or other high-quality plum tomatoes. Of course you can use fresh tomatoes in season.
1/2 cup water or broth, or as needed
6 large eggs (or as many as you can fit in you pan)
crumbled feta cheese and fresh parsley to finish

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Creamy Pork Stew – Easy Does It

I didn’t want to end my vacation by filming anything too strenuous, so I went with this creamy pork stew, which is one of my favorite cold weather dishes of all time. This comforting stew is very delicious, quite easy, and ready to accept all sorts of seasonal produce.

As usual, I kept the ingredient list to a minimum, as not to get in the way of demonstrating this simple procedure, but things like squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mushrooms, and root vegetables, would all be wonderful swimming around in the subtly sweet, just-rich-enough sauce.

As I mention in the video, you always want to buy a nice hunk of pork shoulder, and cut your own chunks. If you want to save five minutes of work buying the pre-cut stuff in the package, go ahead, but please know you’re paying more money for a lower quality product. Not to mention, you can’t control the size and shape of the cut.

If pork isn’t your thing, this would be lovely with veal, beef, or chicken thighs. No matter which meat you use, simmer it until tender, and this simple, cider-spiked, cream sauce will turn it into a big bowl of autumn goodness. I really hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 large portions:
2 tbsp vegetable oil for browning meat
2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp horseradish
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chicken broth, or as needed
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 cup sliced carrots
a few sage leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 small sprigs rosemary
*Fresh herb note: I just tossed mine in whole, but if you don’t like that texture, you can simply pick and chop herbs before adding.
1 dry bay leaf
pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
fresh apple strips and fresh chive to garnish
- Serve on steamed rice, mashed potatoes, or noodles.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Chef John is on Vacation!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be on vacation this week, so you'll have to rely on re-runs for your Food Wishes fix. I'm looking forward to a short, but relaxing break, where I do as little as humanly possible. We’ll continue to publish your comments and questions, but I won’t be around to respond to the small fraction I usually do. That means, as usual, you’ll have to rely on each others expertise. That should work out just fine. Thank you for understanding, and we’ll see you next week!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pumpkin Zeppole – You “Can” Do It

It may sound strange, but the only way to mess up this pumpkin zeppole, is by using a fresh pumpkin. Like virtually every other pumpkin dessert, I think using pure canned pumpkin will give you the best results. That really is the trick to this Halloween treat.

If you take a pumpkin, roast it, and scoop out the flesh, it may look similar to the canned stuff, but you’ll be surprised at how little sweetness and flavor it actually has. It sounds like a great way to go, but in reality, it is not. And what about “sugar pumpkins;” that smaller variety of pumpkin specially grown for cooking? They are definitely better, but still, it’s been my experience that even those don’t have as concentrated a flavor.

Like all things cooking, people will vehemently disagree with me, and claim they can achieve results that are just as good using fresh, but even so, that’s a lot of work for something that’s basically the same. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide.

By the way, if you can't get canned pumpkin, roasted butternut squash (just like we did for this soup) will work very nicely!

Special thanks to my old friend, Jennifer Perillo, for this recipe was adapted from one of hers. I’m not above stealing a recipe from total stranger, but it’s nice knowing the foundation for a recipe is coming from someone who actually knows what they’re doing. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 24-30 depending on the size:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (8 ounces) fresh ricotta cheese, well-drained
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons pumpkin puree (or roasted butternut squash)
1/4 cup white sugars
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Canola oil for frying

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Crab Rangoon – Rhymes with Swoon

Many people are surprised when they find out that crab rangoons are about as Asian as Buffalo chicken wings, but it’s true. Even though they’re commonly found on Chinese and Thai menus, they were actually invented in San Francisco, at Trader Vic’s, in 1956.

While not “authentic,” these crispy crab and cream cheese wontons are one of the most addictive, delicious, and crowd-pleasing appetizers ever created. That is, if the filling has enough crab in it. Most of the restaurant versions I’ve had are probably 3 or 4 parts cream cheese, to 1 part crab, but here we’re using a 1 to 1 ratio, and the results are amazing.

Besides being generous with the crab (or lobster, or chicken), the other critical factor is the “warhead” fold. Even though you can fold these over once to make a simple triangle, I highly recommend using the method shown herein.

The “turnover” fold is easier, but you don’t get nearly as much crispy goodness, and that’s what makes these so great. It’s that contrast between the warm creamy center, and those four crunchy edges that makes this such a magical bite I really hope you give them a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 60 Crab Rangoons:
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces crab meat, drained well
1 clove crushed garlic
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch cayenne
60 square wonton wrappers
canola oil for deep-frying

For the sauce:
(Note: I only made a half batch in the video. This should easily be enough for 60 rangoons)
1 cup ketchup
1/4 rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sriracha hot sauce, or to taste

Friday, October 2, 2015

Easy English Muffins – A Model of Buttery Deliciousness

I don’t watch a lot of food television, but every once and a while I’ll catch a show where celebrity chefs sit around describing the best things they ever ate, and this English muffin was inspired by one served at the Model Bakery, in Napa, CA.

These muffins were fried in clarified butter, and looked (and sounded) absolutely amazing. I didn’t actually use their recipe, since I wanted to experiment with a simpler, faster method; but if it makes you feel any better, I did cook them in clarified butter.

Speaking of which, I’ve never done a video for clarified butter, but you don’t need one, since all we do is melt some unsalted butter (the only kind I ever use), and once it’s melted, take a spoon and skim off the white, foamy milk solids from the top. That’s it. Once clarified, you can use it without fear of the butter burning from high temps, or long cooking times.

If you want, you could just briefly brown each side and finish these in an oven until cooked through, but I did mine all the way in the pan, a la Model Bakery, and it worked out fine. They took about 7 to 8 minutes per side, and really took on a great buttery flavor.

Over the years, I’ve tried several different methods, including the traditional batter cooked in ring molds system, but I think this technique is much easier, and produces something very close to a classic English muffin. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Makes 6 English Muffins (recipe can easily be doubled):

- First mix:
1 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
- Wait 15 minutes to see if yeast is alive, then add:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg white
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup warm water
- Mix dough and let double
- Form 6 seamless balls of dough, press on to a lined baking pan, coating both sides  with non-hipster corn meal.
- Allow to double in size and fry in clarified butter for about 7-8 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Let cool before splitting!