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Friday, January 3, 2014

The New Year's Eve family dinner


Lemon, garlic and herb butter roast chicken, cheesy roasted red bell pepper polenta and rosted broccoli with lemon and cheese

The more I cook, the more I realize that for me cooking is a passion because it is a gift. Those of us who believe in Jesus and believe He is truly guiding our lives also believe that He gives us gifts, not just spiritual but also natural ones in the form of talents like cooking or cleaning or singing or crafts, etc. I believe He gives us those things to hopefully make a living with them but also, and more importantly so we can glorify Him with those talents by making others happy with them. The truth is my absolute favorite part of cooking a yummy meal is the reactions I get from the people who eat it. Like this New Year's Eve dinner I made for Ken and I and our girls. Ken told me that when he drives in and can smell the yummy food cooking from the driveway he knows he is home. Hearing that makes me so very happy! And when my daughter Grace can't stop saying "mmm mmm mmm" or when my daughter Faith wants to make a toast to thank me for the delicious food, that also makes me feel very happy and fulfilled. So thank you Lord for the gift of cooking! First, the roast chicken. I mean who doesn't like roast chicken? And who doesn't give it top billing when it comes to comfort foods? And especially when you tweak it and add lots of flavor to it, there really is nothing better.

Roast chicken:

1 5 to 6 lb chicken, organic if possible
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
1/4 C minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lemon, quartered
1 lg red onion, halved and sliced
1 lg sweet onion, halved and sliced
1 C chicken stock
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make sure that the chicken has been out of the fridge and sitting at room temperature for about 30 minutes before you start prepping it for cooking. Remove the entrails and dry the chicken really well on the outside with paper towels. Season the chicken on the inside with salt and pepper and set it aside. To a large bowl add ingredients 2 to 6 and salt and pepper to taste and mash together until very well mixed. Using your clean, jewelry free hands, very gently lift the skin off the breast of the chicken, making sure not to pierce it with your fingers. Using a small, flat spatula take a big dollop of the herbed butter and place it over the breast of the chicken under the skin. Smooth the skin over the butter and using your hands start pushing the butter upwards and to the sides until it is well distributed over the whole breast. You will have to use one or two more dollops of butter to cover the whole breast. OK, now pay attention, because this part gets a little involved… Turn the chicken over on one side. Using a very sharp knife make a 1 to 1 1/2 inches incision on the side of the thigh that is closest to the back of the chicken, following the natural line of the thigh. Using the same small, flat spatula, take another big dollop of the flavored butter and place it over the thigh under the skin. Carefully start pushing the butter upwards until you see it under the skin of the thigh and the drumstick. Smooth it over well so that it covers the meat of the whole leg under the skin. Trust me, this is worth it because the flavored butter will baste and flavor the whole chicken while it roasts. Place the sprigs of rosemary and thyme and the quartered lemon inside the cavity of the chicken. Now, tie the legs of the chicken together at the base of the drumsticks then loop it under the tail, pull it upwards tightly and tie it again around the base of the drumsticks. Take the ends of the wings and tuck them under the chicken. All of this will ensure that the chicken roasts evenly. You should have about half of the flavored butter left. Using your hands, slather the remaining flavored butter all over the outside of the chicken, on the from and the sides and in between the legs and breast. Make sure it is well distributed. Wash your hands and generously season the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Use a roasting pan that has a rack to roast the chicken. Add the sliced onions to the roasting pan and season them with salt and pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil over them the pour the chicken stock in the bottom of the pan. Carefully place the chicken on the rack and place it in the preheated oven. Roast undisturbed for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the breast and a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast registers 170 degrees. Leave the chicken in the roasting pan, cover it tightly with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes.
When the chicken has rested, carve it this way: take off the legs and separate the drumsticks from the thighs. Take off the wings and separate them at the joint. Discard the thin ends of the wings. Take each side of the breast off the bone in one piece and slice it against the grain starting at the thickest end. Arrange the chicken on the platter and serve along side the polenta and roasted broccoli.

Cheesy roasted bell peppers polenta:

1 C quick cooking polenta
2 C chicken stock, warm
2 C milk or half and half, warm
2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeds and membranes removed
2 large garlic cloves, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/2 C minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp butter
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 C freshly grated manchego cheese
1/4 C freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp creme fraiche
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the bell peppers cut side down on a small sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Roast until the outside of the peppers is charred, about 30 minutes. In the meantime, add the chicken stock, milk, lemon zest, thyme, olive oil and some salt and pepper to a large sauce pan with tall sides. Bring to a simmer then add the grated garlic. Simmer for a minute then slowly start to whisk in the polenta. Turn the heat down, cover the pan and let the polenta cook according to the direction on the box. Stir with a wooden spoon a few times after the polenta stops splattering so it doesn't stick. When ready turn the heat down to lowest setting, add the butter and mix in well. Add all the grated cheeses and mix in well. Add the mascarpone and creme fraiche and mix well. Add the lemon juice and fresh parsley and mix well. Serve hot.

Roasted broccoli:

2 1/2 lb broccoli florets, washed and patted dried
1/4 to 1/2 C olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 C grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Lay the broccoli florets on a large sheet pan, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the florets very well.
Toss everything together and roast in a 400 degree oven until golden brown, about 45 minutes, tossing again once during cooking. About 5 minutes before they are ready, sprinkle half of the grated cheese and the juice of half of lemon over the broccoli and put back in the oven. When ready take them out put them on a platter and sprinkle the rest of the cheese and the juice of the remaining half of lemon over the broccoli. Serve.
I gotta say, this was the most awesomely delicious New Year's Eve meal ever! The chicken was moist and very flavorful, the polenta was creamy and yummy and the broccoli was anything but boring! Make the whole meal or just a part of it but either way your family will love you for you! Pofta buna!

Laura    

Monday, October 14, 2013

Greek style... Sorta...

Turkey bratwurst sausage and ground pork stuffed bell peppers with lemon parsley Israeli couscous

The Greek cuisine has given us many wonderful dishes. From the phyllo spanakopita triangles filled with spinach and feta cheese to moussaka to that most famous Greek desert baklava, the Greeks have helped all of us fill our tables with all kinds of deliciously satisfying foods that always leave you asking for more. But one of the funny things about Greek cuisine is that there are some dishes which many people believe to be Greek that are not actually, well, Greek. Stuffed bell peppers are a great example of this. Thought by many to be of Greek origin, stuffed bell peppers are actually part of the traditional Spanish cuisine. Pimientos rellenos as they are called, they're usually filled with all kinds of things, from Manchego cheese to beef and vegetables or, one of the most popular fillings, cod cooked in Béchamel sauce. But, although the Spaniards are to be thanked for this yummy concoction, that doesn't mean that the Greeks or the rest of the world will be undone. There are many versions of this dish all over the world, including my country of origin, Romania, where they are called ardei umpluti and they are usually filled with a mixture of ground pork and rice. Greece has a version of this dish called Yemista which consists of bell peppers, tomatoes and even other vegetables stuffed with a mixture of rice and herbs. But no matter who's version is made or what filling is used, stuffed bell peppers are always a delicious dinner choice. Here's my version.   
For the stuffed bell peppers

1 lb ground pork
5 turkey bratwurst sausage links
4 large bell peppers, one green, one yellow, one orange and one red
Juice of one lemon, divided
Zest of one lemon
1 C minced fresh parsley, divided + 2 tbsp
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp minced fresh dill
1 & 1/2 large red onions
1 large leek, white and light green parts only
3 large garlic cloves, grated
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 C panko bread crumbs + 2 tbsp 
2/3 C half and half or cream
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes, with the juice
2 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour the Panko breadcrumbs into the half and half, mix well and let it sit. The breadcrumbs will absorb the cream and become soft.
Place a medium sized sauté pan on med-high heat and add 3 tbsp of olive oil. While the oil heats up, dice 1 red onion and the leek in small cubes and add them to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until softened and translucent. Set aside to cool.
Take the sausages out of the casings and place them in a large plastic or glass bowl.
Add the ground pork, lemon zest and grated garlic.
Add the minced thyme and dill, beaten egg and season with about 2 tsp of pepper and only one tsp of salt, as the sausage is already salty.
Add the cream and breadcrumb mixture and 1/2 C of the minced parsley.
Add the cooked and cooled onion and leeks and half of the amount of lemon juice (about 2 tbsp) and, using your hands start mixing everything gently until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Add 1 C of Parmesan cheese and 2 tbsp of olive oil and mix again until everything is well mixed. Set the mixture aside.
While the meat mixture rests, dice the remaining 1/2 of red onion into small cubes. Add 2 tbsp olive oil to the same sauté pan used to cook the onion and leek earlier and allow the oil to heat. Add the diced onion, season with a little salt and pepper and sauté until slightly browned.
Puree the San Marzano tomatoes into a food processor until smooth then add them to the onions in the sauté pan.
Season with salt and pepper then add the remaining lemon juice and the remaining 1/2 C of the minced parsley. Mix in and allow the tomato sauce to simmer 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
Slice each bell pepper in half from top to bottom. Clean the inside of the peppers and run them under cold water. Dry them with some paper towels and set them aside. Add half of the prepared tomato sauce to a baking pan large enough to fit all the bell peppers halves and swirl the sauce around to cover the bottom of the pan evenly.
Season the bell pepper halves on the inside with a little salt and pepper. Using a spoon start filling the bells with meat mixture prepared earlier, making sure to push the meat into all the nooks and crannies of the inside of the peppers.
Fill the peppers enough to form rounded mounds then arrange them inside the baking pan.
Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the tops of the stuffed bell peppers.
Mix the remaining cup of Parmesan cheese with 2 tbsp breadcrumbs and 2 tbsp minced parsley. Sprinkle about 1/2 of this mixture a little over each of the stuffed bell pepper halves. Place the baking pan in the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for another 50 minutes. In the meantime, make the lemon parsley Israeli couscous.

For the couscous:

1 1/2 C Israeli couscous
2 C chicken stock
1/2 large red onion
2 large minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp butter
1/4 C cream
1/2 C minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Place a tall medium sized sauce pan on med-high heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and allow it to heat up. Slice the onion in a small dice and add it to the heated oil in the pan. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until softened and translucent.
Add the minced garlic and lemon zest to the pan and sauté about a minute. 
Add the chicken broth to the pan, season it with a little salt and pepper and bring it to a slow boil. Add the couscous, bring it back to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 6-7 minutes, stirring from time to time. 
After that time, add the cream, lemon juice and parsley, mix well and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed but the couscous is still moist, about 1-2 minutes. Cover and set aside. When the peppers have baked for 50 minutes, take them out of the oven and take off the foil. Sprinkle the tops of the peppers with the remaining Parmesan cheese, breadcrumb and parsley mixture, place them back in the oven and bake them for another 5 to 7 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. 
Take the peppers out of the oven then turn the broiler to high. When ready, place the peppers back in the oven about 3-4 inches directly under the broiler and brown them for 1-2 minutes. Watch them closely so the cheese does not burn. Take them out of the oven, cover them with aluminum foil and let them rest for 10 minutes.
Serve the peppers with the prepared couscous and, if you're like my husband, sprinkled with copious amounts of cayenne pepper. 

I loved the way this dish came out. The turkey bratwurst sausage added great complexity to the flavor of the meat mixture which was moist and delicious. The peppers were soft but somewhat al dente and definitely not mushy and the cheesy top was crusty and nutty tasting. And the couscous paired very well with the flavor of the stuffed bells. Make this for your family and I am sure they will love it and love you for making it. Pofta buna!

Laura 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Other White Meat 2.0

Pork cutlet with smashed roasted potatoes

When you're in the mood for something fast but fabulously satisfying there is nothing easier than breading a cutlet and smashing some potatoes. And since the meat is crispy and crunchy on the outside kind of resembling fried chicken strips your kids will love it too! Bonus!

2 1 inch thick pork loin chops
5-6 large Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 C flour
1/2 C Panko bread crumbs
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 eggs
1 large garlic clove, grated 
1 1/2 C milk
1/2 C half and half
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp mascarpone cheese, room temp
2 tbsp creme fraiche
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 C minced fresh parsley
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes in small cubes, place them on a sheet pan and season them with salt and pepper. Drizzle them with 2-3 tbsp olive oil, toss well and place them in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes.
Trim some of the fat from the pork chops and pat them dry with paper towels.
With a very sharp knife carefully cut each chop through the middle.
You should have 4 pieces of pork chops, about 1/2 inch thick.
Place one piece of pork chop between sheets of parchment paper.
Using a meat mallet or a rolling pin, start gently pounding the meat from the middle out, making sure to pound evenly so the thickness is the same all over.
When you're finished pounding your chop should be about twice the size you started with.
Add the Panko and parmesan cheese to a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Place your flour, panko/cheese mixture and eggs in 3 different bowls, in an assembly line.
Season your chops with salt and pepper and start by dredging them first in flour.
Shake the excess flour off, dredge them through the egg and then through the bread crumb/cheese mixture.
When all the chops are breaded, allow them to rest about a minute so that the breading adheres well and hardens just a little bit.
Add 3 tbsp of olive oil to a large sauté pan and allow the oil to heat up. Add the breaded chops to the pan and brown them for 3 minutes on each side.
When browned place them in the preheated oven and bake them for 10 to 12 minutes.
Place the milk and half and half and butter in a glass measuring cup and microwave for 2 minutes. In the meantime take the potatoes out of the oven and add place them into a large glass bowl.
Mash them gently with a potato masher.
Add half of the milk/butter mixture, the grated garlic, the mascarpone cheese and creme fraiche and mix well.
Add the lemon juice, parsley and some extra black pepper and mix well.
Add the rest of the milk/butter mixture and mix to incorporate. Set aside. *Note - you will need all the milk and cream to make the potatoes moist and creamy because roasting dries a lot of the potato's natural moisture out. 
Slice the chops against the grain on the bias and serve next to a heaping serving of steaming, creamy smashed potatoes. 

You will love this! Easy to make and very delicious. The chops were crunchy on the outside and soft inside and the potatoes were creamy and rich with a hint of garlic and lots of freshness from the parsley and lemon. Pofta Buna!