Chanterelle Mushroom and Chicken Wellington

Chanterelle Mushroom and Chicken WellingtonOn The Chopping Block
Over the weekend, my family held another Chopped competition. We did this once before and it was so much fun that the kids have been asking to do it again. And, since we didn’t have anything else to do, we switched up the teams for another round.

Since there are only four contestants to make up the teams choosing isn’t hard—except that my daughter is the ringer. Any team with her on it is going to have an advantage because she cooks on a regular basis and spends much of her time watching shows on the Food Network. Last time she was paired with her brother and they ended up making a pork bun and stir-fry dinner that took first place. That happened because my son, smartly, just went with what she said and did her bidding.

This time she was paired with her other brother. But, I was adamant that he had to actively contribute to the recipe discussion. No riding her coattails. I was pleasantly surprised at what he brought to the discussion given his penchant for eating whatever is the easiest to prepare. This is why we call him the Cereal Killer.

For this round the ingredients consisted of the following:

One whole chicken
Canterelle mushrooms
Purple sweet potatoes (a.k.a. Ube)
Blood oranges
Frozen puff pastry

Now, as someone who has been cooking for over 30 years, there are a number of recipes I could think of to make with this mix of ingredients. However, the dish that ultimately won the competition was one I never would have thought of—or, at least never would have thought my family would think of. I knew the puff pastry was going to present a challenge. I figured I would get at least one puff pastry empanada, and I was right. What I didn’t think I would get was a Wellington.

Wellington is traditionally made by wrapping puff pastry around a fillet of beef with a little fois gras and baking it. I’m simplifying things, but that’s the basic idea. It is not something I make often. In fact I don’t think I have ever made it. And, I am not entirely sure that my kids have even tasted it. So it came as a big surprise when my daughter made a chicken and mushroom Wellington for her Chopped dish. I can only assume she saw it on one of her favorite shows. Either way I was beyond impressed.

The final dishes were a Blood Orange Braised Chicken with Purple Sweet Potato Purée and Asparagus Mushroom Empanada and a Chicken and Mushroom Wellington with a Blood Orange Purple Sweet Potato Puree and Baby spinach salad with Blood Oranges and Balsamic dressing.

Both dishes were outstanding. We all agreed on that. Everyone upped their game and it was a good night of eating. Ultimately, the Wellington dish was the winner—but it was by a razor thin margin. It was the level of difficulty of making a Wellington that did it.

So, my daughter is now two for two in Chopped challenges. My husband was so closeto getting his first win. But alas, it was not meant to be. Next time, they will be paired together which should be entertaining as all get out.

Since no one used actual recipes, I adapted one from the Food Network if you would like to try making a Wellington.

Chanterelle Mushroom and Chicken Wellington
Adapted from the Food Network
Yields 6 servings Read more…

Gochujang Spare Ribs

Gochujang Spare RibsResolutions
I have never really been a New Year resolution kind of gal. Sure, there have been times where I have decided to make some changes in the year to come. But, I wouldn’t call that a resolution per se. That being said, I have a plan for the new year.

Obviously, I like to eat. There are plenty of dishes that I enjoy but have never thought to try to prepare myself. So, in the new year, I’ve decided to challenge myself to navigate uncharted waters.

During the month of December, I started collecting recipes and acquiring cookbooks related to cuisines and flavors that I liked but wasn’t totally familiar with. The first of these would be the flavors of Korea. Anyone who is interested in food and food trends would know that Korean food has exploded in popularity. Gochujang seems to be everywhere and in everything but is it more than just a spicy sauce? This is what I am looking forward to finding out.

My first foray into this world last week was a recipe that was not a traditional recipe but it was darn tasty none the less. The gochujang ribs recipe listed below is very approachable for those who aren’t ready for the deep dive into Korean cuisine. Full disclosure, I didn’t use baby back ribs as directed in the original recipe. I used regular pork spare ribs out of personal preference. I think they taste better and, because they have more fat content, they don’t dry out. Either choice works well.

My plan is to take all of you on this journey with me over the next few weeks. Hopefully, I can inspire you to take up a challenge of your own or at the very least, give something different to try for dinner.

Gochujang Spare Ribs recipe
Adapted from 177 Milk Street
Yields 4 to 6 servings Read more…

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with Lemon

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with LemonCookin’ Up Christmas
I think it’s safe to say that we all have all been doing more cooking than ever this year. Some of it born out of necessity and some of it just out of mind-numbing boredom. On the positive side, maybe you learned a new skill. Or, even better, found a new passion for preparing your own food. To do it right though, you need the right tools.

I have always loved to cook—and I have an embarrassing collection of tools in which I create my favorite flavors. However, there are certain pieces that I use day in and day out. The workhorses if you will. These are my “stuck on a desert island” tools and there are a variety. But, if I had to choose the single most useful thing I have in my cooking arsenal it would be my 12-inch cast iron skillet.

I am fortunate to have collected a number of Le Creuset enameled pieces over the years. Their Dutch ovens are hands down the best investment you can make. But, that’s the thing, they are a rather expensive investment.

My Lodge cast iron skillet however is $25 at Target for the 12-inch. (Or you can check out the Lodge Cast Iron website for the whole line.) If you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who has just discovered cooking, this is the one. And, even better, the price is right. What if your recipient already has one? It’s never a bad idea to have two of the same or another one in a different size.

Cast iron skillets heat evenly and they hold the heat well. You can take the skillet from the stove top to the oven and not have to worry about ruining the pan. They are basically nonstick once you get a good “season” on it. They last forever if you take care of them correctly . More than any other benefit I have found is that you get much better browning with a cast iron pan than with any other.

One of my favorite recipes I use my skillet for is this one for These Canal House Style Chicken Thighs. If you already have a cast iron pan, pull it out and make this for dinner tonight. I promise it will become your new favorite. I admit I leave the preserved lemon out more often than not. Sometimes less is more. The real star of this dish is the crispy skin.

If you like the idea of cast iron as a gift, include a card with this recipe on the pan and maybe a few other favorite recipes for your recipient to try out.

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with Lemon
Recipe adapted from Food 52 Read more…

Pasta Alla Vodka

Pasta Alla VodkaHittin’ The Sauce
There are a number of reasons to use alcohol when cooking. The most obvious one is to add flavor, and some ingredients just scream for a shot of something. Adding some white wine to garlic sautéed in butter and olive oil makes for a fast and fabulous weeknight pasta dinner. And is there a better combination than peaches, pecans, and bourbon? (Or is that just my inner Southerner?)

Using alcohol in recipes can serve another purpose. Adding a small amount of alcohol to your food can enhance and bring out the flavors of the ingredients you are using. The Italians are the masters of this. There is a reason that they use wine in their sauces and it’s not just because they enjoy a nice glass of Sangiovese. Besides adding great flavor to your dish, adding a small amount of wine to, say, a red sauce, actually gives the sauce a bigger tomato flavor than if you left it out. Even if you are using the good San Marzanos. The same principal applies when using the harder stuff—but with a little twist.

Pasta Alla Vodka can be found on the menus of Italian restaurants everywhere. And, while it may seem strange that you would use vodka, a basically flavorless alcohol, to improve your pasta sauce, the fact is that you aren’t using it to add more flavor per se but to make the other flavors better. While vodka does add a hint of peppery flavor, its main purpose is to release the flavors that are hidden in the tomatoes and other ingredients. This is where we get all scienc-y. You may want to try Gatter Top Drinks, a delicious infused vodka.

The trick is not to use too much. Full strength vodka will overpower the natural flavors in your sauce because it traps the other molecules. Smaller amounts of vodka will actually release new flavors as the alcohol is cooked off during a slow simmer. It sounds like witchcraft but the results are so so good.

This weekend looks like we might have lower temperatures which should make it feel more like Fall. (Hallelujer!) It’s a great opportunity to fire up a big batch of this pasta sauce for your Sunday dinner with a little left over to save for later in your freezer.

Pasta Alla Vodka
Yields 4 to 6 servings Read more…