Sunday, February 27, 2011

Charcutepalooza Pancetta Challenge: Lazy Girl's Coq au Vin

In deference to Tom Colicchio, this should be called Red Wine Chicken Stew, not Coq au Vin, which we all know must be prepared with an old rooster and nothing, I say, I say nothing else. (Anyone else get the Top Chef and Foghorn Leghorn references? See how I did that? Awesome.)

I started Charcutepalozza bit late, and thus, my pancetta is a bit late. But no worries, I'm right on track for the brining challenge. Hello brisket!

But I digress...

So here's the thing: you do the challenge and then, once you're done, you say to yourself, "Holy crap, I've got a lot of pancetta! What the heck am I gonna do with it all?"

So you cut off great slabs and hand it out to friends, with explicit instructions to cook it thoroughly, less you be down one friend due to poisoning, which I'm seriously trying to avoid.

Then, supposing you had just taught a class on making Coq au Vin, you might also say to yourself, "Maybe I'll make a really lazy version of Coq au Vin, because I don't feel like going all in today and I'll just use the stuff I have on hand. HEY! I've got pancetta!"

So you see how I ended up here.

First of all, look at this gorgeousness:

I know, right?!

Even though I wanted to leave it whole forever, partially because I love being able to say that I've got meat hanging in the basement (it makes me feel a little badass) I sliced it, thickly, so that I would be able to get lardon-esque pieces out of it to replicate the bacon needed in the recipe:

FYI - pancetta is essentially unsmoked bacon, so though it adds the fat and the meatiness, it doesn't lend any of that bacon-smokiness to the party.

Funny...I seemed to get someone else's attention at this point...

No Munchie. No pancetta for you!

I just bought a gorgeous red, enamel coated cast-iron Dutch oven at Sam's Club for $40 (Yes, I know they're the evil empire, but man, I love this pot, and it was really reasonably priced!) and thought I'd give it a whirl with this dish. So I jacked the heat up to high and tossed in my pancetta.

Just to prove that even professional cooks occasionally get it wrong, I'll let you know that medium heat would have been much more appropriate. I wanted to render out the fat, not kill it and burn my pancetta. So I turned the heat down a bit, saving me from myself, and let it do it's magic. Just look at that:

Once the fat had rendered, I pulled out the browned, tasty pancetta pieces and put them into a bowl. This was a major mistake, simply because apparently, my 14 year-old son just looooves pancetta. Or as we were calling them, bacon bites (which I know isn't technically true, but cut me some slack here).

I added the chicken parts to the pan to brown in the fat. Full disclosure: I did not have a whole chicken on hand, so even though that totally would have been my preference (bones rule!), I went with semi-frozen chicken breasts (do as I say, not as I do).

Once they were browned and beautiful, and not cooked through, I removed them from the pan and set them aside.

I left the remaining fat in the pan and added my mirepoix (fancy way to say carrots, celery, and onion), cooking until it was soft, about 5 minutes or so on medium heat.

At this point I added about 1/4 cup flour, stirring it around a bit to get rid of that raw flour taste and to make a pale roux. (Interesting fact: The longer you cook a roux and the more color you get in it, the less thickening power it has. You're welcome :)

I also made myself a little bouquet garni, which in this case was essentially parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth. It save a lot of time fishing things out of your finished stew.

I added the equivalent of a bottle of wine to the pot, starting with just a bit and whisking until it was a little pasty, being mixed with the roux and all, then a bit more, all the while whisking, until it was all in the pot. I tossed in my bouqet garni, and added the chicken back to the pot. I also added a couple of fresh thyme sprigs, because I love thyme.

I turned the heat to high, brought it just to the boil, then immediately turned it down, way down, as in off and put it into a 325-degree oven for about an hour, hour and a half (I started reading and lost track of time).

This is where I tell you that if I was making real Coq au Vin, I would have then removed the chicken from the pot, drained the sauce to get all of the veggies out and leave a nice, smooth, sauce, squished the well-cooked veggies into submission to extract all of their juices and flavors, and then added a garnish of button mushrooms and pearl onions that had also been browned in the fat from the pancetta, leaving me with silky sauce, perfectly cooked chicken, and a delightful, flavorful bit of veggie with the mushrooms and onions.

But for real? Forget it.Since this was for my family, I left the mirepoix in because any way I can get veggies on that plate, I'm gonna take it. I also didn't have mushrooms on hand and knew I'd be the only one to eat the pearl onions, so I skipped those too.

And you know what? It was still pretty darn good.

That's a close to a beauty shot as you're going to get (ha!), but I'll tell you what, they ate every bit of it, not just for dinner, but as soon as they all got home from school yesterday too.

So lazy girl's Coq au Vin with homemade pancetta? Win! Charcutepalooza 1: CVB 1.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Service Matters

When I go to a restaurant I expect two things: good food, and good service.

I may be having someone else do the cooking so that I can enjoy something wonderful that they prepared, or I may be out because I'm celebrating something or just want some time away from the kitchen. You never know.

But last night, well, last night...

My dad died not quite 4 months ago, and yesterday would have been my parents 45th wedding anniversary. Mom has been handling things remarkably well, and it didn't seem like we should let the occasion pass without recognition. So I invited mom down to take her out for a meal she would enjoy.

Mom loves seafood, so I choose a popular seafood restaurant in town that seemed right up her alley. With a reputation for good fish and good service, I planned what I hoped would be an enjoyable evening for all of us.

I planned ahead (not something I usually do) and made a reservation very easily. We even bumped up the reservation a tiny bit earlier in the day with no issues at all. So far, so good.

After arriving on time, we were shown to our table and had a seat. I had heard the the prices were steep (and they were), but my husband and I have always been willing to pay for good food and a good night out, and I was hoping that it would be great for mom. That's all I wanted: Mom to have a great time.

Our server was irritated right off the bat, when we decided to skip the alcohol (8 bucks for a glass of Ecco Domani? No thanks, and mom doesn't drink). Without going into painful, irritatingly long detail (the food glued to the side of my glass, the server snatching it out of my hand without a word and all but stomping from the table, forgotten food, and so on) I'll just say that the service? Not what I'd hoped.

When I go to Black Hog, I know what I'm getting. Good food, friendly service, and a tasty meal. When I go to Nola, I also know what I'm getting: delicious coffee et al, and friendly service that's a tiny bit slow, but I'm prepared for that. Acacia or The Tasting Room? Usually primo service and food, which I love.

When I go to an expensive seafood restaurant, I want the server to be nice to us, and especially nice to my mom, and anything less, well, is unacceptable. I don't mind spending almost $300 for a meal on a special occasion, but I do expect that we'll be treated well. Because service can make or break the experience. And last night, it broke it. A special occasion, ruined, because someone had a bad day. I can forgive a dirty glass and forgotten food (hey, I've waitressed), but I can't forgive a brusque attitude and being made to feel like our table just didn't matter.

I sound a bit whiny - I know. A little petulant and maybe just irritating. Sorry 'bout that. But fancyish seafood restaurant? Never again. Great downtown Frederick restaurants? Yes please!

Even if your food is good, if you don't have good service, you don't really have anything.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Charcutepalooza 1: CVB 0

That's right - I've already missed my first challenge. Dagnabit.

But truth be told, I thought I probably would. I didn't learn about the (still) fab Charcutepalooza until January 30, just a little more than 2 short weeks before the first deadline.

No problem I thought, I'll just speed things up.

I just gonna say that I don't really recommend speeding up charcuterie. Even though I probably could on the pancetta, simply because it's cooked before it's used.

That said, I actually did start it as soon as I could procure my ingredients (thus far the most challenging part of the whole shindig):

It's all rubbed in its cure, starting its 7 day settle in the fridge. Just a bit of rubbing and flipping, waiting for it to dry out a bit.

Then, after rinsing, doing a bit more trimming (my bad), I wrapped that sucker as tight as I could and hung it to dry.

Isn't that pretty?

It's supposed to hang for a week or two, which definitely puts me over the deadline. However, I will throw caution to the wind and use it in something fab-u-lous this weekend. Another post soon to come, hopefully minus food poisoning. :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Love Liver: Easy Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Red Onions

I have a total thing for organ meat. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Ever since cooking school when my friend Drew and I vowed to someday open "The Organ Meat Cafe", I've loved liver. Thinking back, it may even go beyond that the whole way back to when I was a kid.

Mom would pull the innards out of the chicken before grilling it, give them a quick rinse, then throw the guts on the grill too. Dad was all about the hearts and gizzards, while mom and I would split the liver. I probably started eating the livers because mom liked them, and I liked mom.

Now, it seems like everyone is starting to get into offal. Almost everyone knows what foie gras is (fattened duck or goose liver), even if they don't agree with how it's developed. Think of it like this though, fois gras is the Rolls Royce of liver, and chicken livers, well, they're a bit more like a Kia.

But I like liver. Specifically, poultry liver. I've never been a liver and onion fan, but wave a chicken liver in front of me and I'm yours forever.

Restaurants have added much more liver to their menus, in terrines, or even little pots of chicken liver pate. Mmmmm. The best is when it's served with tangy-sweet onions on the side, a bit of grainy mustard, and a toasty crostini.

So yesterday, even though my Steelers-loving brother said it makes me Un-American, I made a little bit of chicken liver pate to snack on during the game. I bought some buffalo wings too (no worries), but me, I'm about the liver. One of the very best parts of liver-loving is that they're cheap and they're quick to cook.

Be not afraid, and try this recipe. It's delicious.

Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Red Onions
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced (I like Gala)
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 pound chicken livers (big, nasty veins and yellow stuff removed)
  • salt
  • pepper (black or white)
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
Place a large saute pan on the stove over medium heat. Add 4 T. butter to the pan and allow to melt. Add diced apple and shallots to the pan and saute until softened and light brown, 5-6 minutes. Add cleaned chicken livers and 2 more T. of butter to the pan and cook livers on both sides until browned slightly on the outside and just a tiny bit pink in the middle, 2 minutes or so per side (be careful not to overcook here or the livers will get hard and nasty).

Take liver mixture and place into the bowl of a food processor. Add remaining 2 T. butter and grind until smoothish. Add 2-3 tablespoons of heavy cream to the mix and grind a bit more to give it a nice texture. Salt and pepper to taste, but don't be shy.

Place liver mixture into a large ramekin and cover with plastic wrap touching the top of the pate. Chill for 2-3 hours. Serve with Pickled Red Onions.

Pickled Red Onions
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large red onion, cut in half through the root, then sliced into thin half rings
Place cider vinegar, water, peppercorns, bay leaf, and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Immediately after mixture comes to a boil, remove from the heat and set aside.

Place sliced red onions into a container (I like canning jars). Pour hot vinegar mixture over the red onions. Allow to cool for one hour, then place lid on container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. I think these are best used within a week or so, but hey, that's up to you.

Got it? Good. Now go make yourself some pate and feel a little fancy and like you're king (or queen) of the liver. :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Charcutepalooza-The Challenge Begins

I started the year looking for a challenge. Not just the challenge of living my life, but something more...foodish.

Then I stumbled upon Charcutepalooza.

I was taking a quick breeze through Michael Ruhlman's blog, and read his post on Charcutepalooza. Ruhlman actually wrote the book on charcuterie (no really, he did!), defined by the fine folks at Epicurious as meaning " ... "cooker of meat," charcuterie has been considered a French culinary art at least since the 15th century. It refers to the products, particularly (but not limited to) pork specialties such as PÂTÉS, RILLETTES, GALANTINES, CRÉPINETTES, etc., which are made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie."


Finally, a set challenge to test my skills as a cook. A task to advance my knowledge in an area that fascinates me. Folks...we have a winner!


The challenge is this: On the 15th of each month, a charcuterie challenge will be posted on the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen. The post will kick off the project and offer some tips for success. Participants have one month to complete our take on the challenge.

Kim from The Yummy Mummy will post her take on the monthly challenge on the 15th, also. She’ll be addressing the charcuterie from a "never-done-it-before" point of view.

The ladies are letting us slide a bit with the January challenge, Duck Prosciutto, which just has to be made and posted about at some point during the year. I have a few duck breasts from my friend Chan's fall hunting trip in my freezer, so I'll probably get started with those, even though wild duck is much, much leaner than farm-raised Pekins.

And that's how it goes.

Right now, I'm getting to work on my pancetta. I need to post by the 15th of February, which means I'll need to figure out a way to speed up the 3 week process to just over a week. problem (fingers crossed!). I am a bit giddy about the very thought of hanging pancetta, prosciutto, sausages and the like in my basement from the rafters. So stay tuned. A fabulous quick pancetta recipe is just around the corner...