February 8, 2016 – February 14, 2016
Monday: Vegetable Soup, Avocado Toasts
Tuesday: Epilepsy Foundation Dinner
Wednesday: Vegan Chili with fixings
Thursday: Massimo Bottura’s “Family Meal” Chicken Cutlets w/ wilted spinach
Friday: Filet of Sole Riviera with Pico de Gallo
Saturday: Chinese New Year at the Wangs
Sunday: Brunch – Omelet with Asparagus and Mushrooms
Dinner – Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Avocado Fatoush Toast
Curried Pretzels (from Rosebud’s in Aspinwall)
(Note: there are two keepers and two “extras” this week. You will also note that there are odd, flippant, irreverent and, sometimes, downright strange references throughout the blog, even in the midst of ingredient lists. I’m convinced that smiling helps with digestion.)
I implore you to try the two keepers we found this week – “Family Meal” Chicken and Sole Riviera. If you don’t, you’ll regret it. Oh, maybe not today. And maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life. . . .
Sorry – got carried away there. I recently watched “Casablanca” for the 317th time.
And Beez and I were carried away by our cooking this week (a lame, but inevitable segué) – great vegetable soup, which we have already written about, and very good Vegan Chili about which we may tell you some day. Then there was the lobster, bass, chicken, dumplings, pork with Bok Choy and other dishes at the Wangs on Saturday, and a great brunch and dinner on Sunday. But the “Family Meal” Chicken and the Sole were spectacular and a bit spare – which is what food during the first week of Lent should be.
It would be best for me to be quiet now and let the cooks who invented them introduce you to the “keepers” from last week:
Family Meal Chicken with Sauteed Spinach – Massimo Bottura (His restaurant is Osteria Francescana in Modena Italy. You can learn more about him from Chef’s Table, a Netflix series in one episode of which he is featured.)
[A “family meal” is the meal to which a restaurant staff sits down each night before service.] “Staff meal is incredibly important. That’s when you see a mix of technique, culture, memory and feelings from the guys.” As for this particular meal: “With all these flavors, it’s like being between Modena and Japan.” (many of his cooks are Japanese) – WSJ story and interview.
Fillet of Sole Riviera with Pico de Gallo – Jacques Pépin (Pepin and his wife own a sea-side house in Mexico)
“On the Yucatán Riviera in Mexico, Gloria and I always [keep] Pico de Gallo, also called salsa fresca on hand. We could buy it fresh at the supermarket, but it is easy to make your own. One night I used it to create this simple fish recipe, with superlative results.” – p. 152 Jacques Pépin’s Heat & Soul in the Kitchen.
Well, Beez and I are the staff at Chez Stewart, so on Thursday we treated ourselves to Bottura’s Chicken. Billy also had some of the chicken, in take-out fashion, making a drive-by on his way to a soccer game. I think it’s time to start charging him for the food. $300 a month sounds about right.
And we very much want to have a home on a beach – so on Friday we treated ourselves to Pèpin’s Sole Riviera, drank Tequila with beer chasers and danced around a green hat we had picked up at the Epilepsy Foundation dinner until it was time to go to bed. (We are trying to set a good example for the children in the neighborhood.)
The recipes for both dishes, with some suggestions on the supplies required, are below:
Family-Meal Chicken with Wilted Spinach – Massimo Bottura
Supplies (serves 4)
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts (halves)
¼ cup Olive Oil plus a separate Tablespoon
1 tablespoon mirin rice wine (we used rice wine vinegar as a substitute)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon of water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cloves of garlic, skin on
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings (use a vegetable peeler for these)
8 cups fresh spinach (we had a ton of arugula and substituted that for the spinach)
Aged balsamic vinegar (get the good stuff – it’s expensive but you won’t use much – the cheap stuff is just vinegar with some added sugar, bad for your taste buds and the rest of your body)
Lemon wedges for serving
Preheat oven to 450.
In a small pot bring mirin (or vinegar), honey, soy sauce, ginger and water to a boil and simmer for 15 seconds. Set aside to cool – you will use this as a marinade.
Now halve the chicken breasts (horizontally – place one hand on top of the breast to hold it firmly to the cutting board and slice along the plane of the cutting board) and pound (carefully, so as not to tear) to about ¼ inch thickness.
Put flour into a shallow bowl and dip breasts to coat, then shake off excess.
Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high, add chicken and fry about 3 minutes on one side, then add 1 of the skin-on garlic cloves, flip chicken and fry for 2 minutes more. (Note: the pounded-out cutlets may be quite large – you might need two skillets, or you might need to cook them in batches. You should never crowd the pan – they won’t brown properly.)
Transfer chicken to a baking dish or casserole and brush with the marinade (generously – use all of it). Cover the chicken with the parmigiana shavings and bake on top rack of oven about 7 minutes. The cheese will melt and brown in spots.
Wipe out the skillet and set over high heat. Add remaining tablespoon of oil and the other skin-on clove of garlic and, when the pan is hot, add the spinach and sauté until just wilted (1 minute? 2? – the arugula we used took about 2 minutes). Season with salt.
Serve the chicken with the spinach and drizzle both with the aged balsamic and garnish with lemon wedges.
(Note: If you are really serving this to your kitchen staff, hold the wine and beer. Drunk cooks are not good cooks and inedible things – corks, bottle-caps, paring knives – can get into the food)
Fillet of Sole Riviera with Pico de Gallo – Jacques Pépin
Supplies (serves 4)
4 skinless lemon sole fillets (between 1.5 and 2 lbs. total) – Note: American Plaice
is a perfect substitute)
½ cup white wine (dry, obviously)
1/3 cup pico de gallo (see below for recipe)
1 cup diced ((1/2 inch) peeled, seeded cucumber (if using hothouse cucumbers, just peel)
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons chopped chives
For Pico de Gallo, combine the following ingredients in a bowl (simple):
1 cup diced (1/2 inch) plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped onion (sweet)
1 tablespoon spoon finely chopped jalapeño
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Place fillets in a large skillet in one layer and add wine, salt, pico de gallo, and cucumber. Shake the pan, perhaps put a spatula under the fish, to loosen everything. Cover, bring to a boil and boil for 30 seconds (a little bit longer, if you have thicker fillets). Transfer fillets, carefully as they tear easily, to warm plates.
Bring the liquid back to a boil, add the cream and bring back to a boil again, and boil over high heat 20 seconds to reduce the liquid a bit. Do not cook longer. Pour any juice that has seeped from the fillets into the pan.
Coat the fish generously with the sauce, sprinkle with chives and serve.
Note: This is a fine Lenten meal by itself – you’ve got your protein, your vegetables, your dairy. A crusty baguette or a small green salad would work as an accompaniment if you’re not into deprivation.
2 Extras: Truffles Rosebud’s
Mini Chocolate Truffles
I know, I know. You’re not into dessert, you have a theological objection to pastry and, in general, you’d rather have a night-cap than a sweet. Still – special occasions (Sunday was Valentine’s Day, Romeo) call for special effort and the following dessert takes so little effort and brings so much pleasure that you should lay dogma aside and make it. Oh – and it pairs well with Scotch or Bourbon.
These are Jacques Pépin’s Mini Chocolate Truffles with Cognac and they are superb:
Microwave 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate morsels and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream for 45 seconds, then add 1 tablespoon of cognac and mix with a rubber spatula until very smooth and consistent. After this cools, refrigerate for 1 hour to harden. (It gets firm, not rock-hard). Using a small spoon, scoop out truffles the size of an olive and drop onto a piece of plastic wrap (you’ll need about 15 or 16 pieces of plastic wrap). If you are quick at this, move on to the next step, if not, refrigerate again for 5 or 10 minutes – the chocolate heats up and begins to melt as you manipulate it. When ready, use your fingers and the plastic to press each piece of chocolate into a rough, irregular ball (to resemble an actual truffle – the fungus we eat as a delicacy). Sprinkle or roll the truffles in unsweetened cocoa powder. Refrigerate (also store in a single layer) until ready to serve.
Everybody in Pittsburgh (and our kids in Connecticut and the Slavish children in New York and Chicago, and people from all over the world) know that Rosebud’s on First Street in Aspinwall is the best gift shop on earth. But did you know about the wonderful foodstuff Rosie carries (salsas, jellies, pretzel’s, etc.) Above all, she carries a wonderful snack/ hors d’oeuvre known as ‘Twirly Girl Pretzels.’ Billy and Julia have been known to inhale a bag of the Curried Pretzels within minutes of their presentation. Last night, we opened some of the Rosemary Pretzels and witnessed the same devastation. And I bought a bracelet from Rosie for Beez that made her look like Hedy Lamar in the classic “Samson and Delilah.” Alas, that is as far as we got in acting out the movie, but that’s not Rosie’s fault, and I’m working on it.