Tuesday, September 29, 2009

dinner & dessert: goat cheese and thyme-stuffed chicken breasts with bacon-shallot-sherry vinegar peas and herbed rice, and praline bread pudding

In an effort to improve our cooking skills, a friend and I have started cooking dinner and dessert together once a week. This was our first meal. The stuffed chicken breasts were very pretty, but it turns out that I don't like goat cheese (except served with cranberries as a spread for crackers), so I didn't care for the chicken. The peas, however, were delicious. The rice is my husband's grandfather's recipe, and like all the recipes he has come up with, it is wonderful. The bread pudding is simply the best bread pudding I've ever eaten. I recommend making extra sauce.

breaded stuffed chicken breasts (The Best Chicken Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
4 (5-6 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed with tenderloins removed
salt and ground black pepper
goat cheese and thyme filling
2 C panko
.5 C flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp Dijon mustard

1. Adjust a rack in the oven to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 F.

2. Butterfly each chicken breast and pound between two sheets of plastic wrap to .25" thick, with edges .125" thick.

3. Place stuffing near tapered end of breasts. Roll each chicken breast over filling to form a neat, tight package (roll up the end to completely enclose the stuffing, and then fold in the sides and continue rolling to form a cylinder), pressing on the seam to seal. Refrigerate, seam-side down and uncovered to allow edges to seal further, about 1 hour.

4. Toss panko with salt and pepper and spread over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and dry, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a shallow dish and cool to room temperature. Increase oven temperature to 350 F.

5. Combine flour, .25 tsp salt, and .125 tsp pepper in a second shallow dish and whisk eggs and Dijon together in a third shallow dish. Working with one chicken roll at a time, dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess, then coat with the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Finally, coat with bread crumbs, pressing gently so that crumbs adhere. (Up to this point, the chicken can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. Increase the baking time by 5 to 10 minutes.)

6. Place the chicken rolls at least 1 inch apart on a wire rack set over a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the center of the chicken registers 160 to 165 F on an instant-read thermometer, 35 to 40 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

goat cheese and thyme filling (The Best Chicken Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
1 TB unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed (about .5 tsp.)
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. goat cheese, softened
.125 tsp salt
.125 tsp ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the thyme and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds; set aside to cool.

2. Mix the cooled onion mixture, cream cheese, goat cheese, salt, and pepper together until uniform. Spoon the cheese mixture onto the chicken.

peas with bacon, shallot, and sherry vinegar (The Best Chicken Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
6 oz. bacon, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed (about 1 tsp.)
2 tsp. sugar
1 pound frozen peas (do not thaw)
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
salt and ground black pepper

Fry bacon in nonstick skillet until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate and pour off all but 2 TB of the fat. Add the shallot, garlic, and sugar; cook until softened, about 2 min. Stir in the peas and cook, stirring often, until just heated through, about 2 min. Off the heat, add 2 tsp. sherry vinegar, as well as the bacon and thyme, to the pan.

Jack's herbed rice
6 tbsp butter
2 small onions, chopped
2 cups white rice
2/3 tsp marjoram
2/3 tsp summer savory
1 1/3 tsp rosemary
1 tsp salt
4 chicken bouillon cubes
4 cups water

Melt butter in pan. Saute onions and rice until lightly browned. Add seasonings and water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 min. on low-medium. Cool for ten minutes on warm.

praline bread pudding (Restaurant Favorites at Home, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
12 oz. good-quality French baguette, cut into 1.5" cubes
2 C pecans
6 TB unsalted butter, cut into .5" pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
12 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3 TB vanilla
2 TB hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico (I used Kahlua)
1.5 C sugar
6 C heavy cream

4 large egg yolks
.5 C sugar
.25 C hazelnut liqueur
8 TB unsalted butter

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 250 F. Spread bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until dry, 30 to 40 min. Remove from oven, transfer to large plate, and cool to room temperature. Increase oven temperature to 350 F. Spread nuts on empty baking sheet and toast, shaking the pan once to turn the nuts, until fragrant, 5 to 8 min. Set aside and turn off the oven.

2. Grease 13 x 9" baking dish with butter. Spread dried bread cubes evenly in baking dish. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, hazelnut liqueur, and sugar together in a large bowl. Whisk in the cream. Pour three quarters of the custard over the bread and sprinkle the toasted pecans over the top. Using a rubber spatula, press the bread into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 min. Pour remaining custard evenly over the top, replace plastic wrap, and refrigerate until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 1 hour.

3. Return the oven temperature to 350 F. Remove plastic wrap and dot the top of the pudding evenly with the remaining 6 TB butter. Bake until the top is a deep golden brown, the center is slightly puffed, and the custard begins to climb up the sides of the baking dish, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool until set, about 20 min.

4. For the sauce: While the pudding is cooling, place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. heat the sugar and hazelnut liqueur in another medium bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 min. Slowly stir the warm liqueur mixture into the egg yolks. Place the bowl of yolk mixture over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is fluffy, pale yellow, and the whisk leaves distinct trails, about 2 min.

5. Melt the butter. Slowly drizzle the hot melted butter into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, until all of the butter is incorporated and the sauce is thick and creamy.

6. To serve: Cut the pudding into 12 squares. Transfer to plates and top with 2 TB of the hot hazelnut sauce each. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I love minestrone. It has a nice, rich flavor, and it always feels like a healthy thing to eat. Whenever I've had too much junk and need some vegetables, I find myself craving minestrone.

I've made some rather fantastic failures in trying to get a good minestrone. Undercooked cabbage, flavorless broth. And then I got a copy of The Best Italian Classics, which has you cook a parmesan rind in the broth and finish it with pesto. And that made all the difference. This is a great soup.
Because I'm utterly incapable of cooking a meal for two people, I can't take seriously directions that include 3/4 C carrots to make soup for six to eight people. I always add a little more of this and a little more of that until suddenly I have a cauldron of food for forty. So be warned--my directions below make a ridiculous amount of soup.

minestrone (adapted from The Best Italian Classics, editors of Cooks Illustrated)
1 small green cabbage, chopped small
2-2.5 lbs baby carrots, chopped
2 lbs green beans, chopped
3 cans stewed tomatoes
6 cans cannellini beans
2 onions, chopped
half bundle of celery, chopped
2 medium zucchinis, chopped
2 bundles spinach leaves, stemmed and cut into strips
24 C water, more as needed
1 wedge parmesan, plus any extra rind available
2 C rice
1 small jar pesto
salt and pepper

Bring water and cheese rind to a boil in a very large pot. Add vegetables and cook till tender. (Because I never prepare mise en place, I heat the water and then just start chopping things and throwing them in, beginning with the vegetables that need to cook longest, such as cabbage and carrots.) Twenty minutes before finishing, add rice. (Wild rice should be added sooner; check directions on the package.) Five minutes before finishing, add beans. Remove pot from heat. Add pesto. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, September 4, 2009

chicken breasts with duxelles stuffing and supreme sauce

A while ago, when I was feeling ambitious, I sat down with B and a stack of my cookbooks to make a list of dinner recipes to try. I've never been much of a cook when it comes to dinner. Dinner, unlike dessert, is something I don't crave. So it never occurs to me to cook it until I'm starving and then I don't feel like waiting. So I usually just eat cereal or a sandwich. Given the dearth of dinner posts here in the last several months, you can see how long my cooking resolution lasted. Anyway, this is the one thing on the list that I did make.

This was probably the most complicated dinner I've ever made, what with the packet of spices and the mirepoix and sauce and the stuffing. The mirepoix was the first I'd made, which was fun, even though it wasn't very appetizing. I cheated and used bouillion for the chicken broth. I also used a bag of those microwave steamed vegetables.

The recipe was easy enough to follow; it just took forever on account of chopping and slicing a million tons of mushrooms. The only trouble I ran into was that, being tired after the mushrooms, I neglected to pound my chicken (breasts rather than supremes), so I had to finish my chicken in the oven after frying it. I won't skip that step next time. There's nothing as disheartening as spending four hours in the kitchen to produce a meal and then taking a bite and realizing it's still basically raw.

I hate mushrooms, so I made this one entirely for B's benefit. By the time I was done, I hated mushrooms even more. The kitchen stank of mushrooms, and they ruined the sauce for me. But B enjoyed the meal, so I suppose it counts as a success.

breast of chicken with duxelles stuffing and supreme sauce (The Professional Chef, 8th ed., Culinary Institute of America)
10 (7-8 oz) chicken supremes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 lb duxelles stuffing
5 oz all-purpose flour, or as needed
6 fl oz. egg wash, or as needed
12 oz bread crumbs, or as needed
24 oz clarified butter or oil, or as needed
20 fl oz supreme sauce

1-Trim the chicken supremes and remove the skin, if desired. Butterfly each breast portion and pound between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap to even thickness.

2-At the time of service or up to 3 hours in advance, blot dry the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Fill each breast with a portion of the duxelles stuffing and roll the breast around the stuffing. Overlap the edges to form a seam.

3-Apply a standard breading: Dredge the chicken in flour, dip in egg wash, and roll in abread crumbs. (Refrigerate seam side down if breaded in advance.)

4-Heat .5" of the butter or oil to about 350 F over medium heat. Add the chicken to the hot oil seam side down first and pan fry for 2-3 min, or until golden brown and crisp. Turn once, and finish apan frying on the second side, 3 minutes more or until it reaches an internal temperature of 170 F. (Finish cooking in a 350 F oven once the ccrust is properly browned, if preferred.)

5-Blot the chicken on absorbent paper towels briefly before serving with the heated supreme sauce.

supreme sauce
2 oz clarified butter or vegetable oil
8 oz small-dice white mirepoix
12 oz blond roux
1 gal chicken stock
1 sachet d'epices
salt, as needed
ground white pepper, as needed
32 oz heavy cream
2 lb sliced mushrooms

Heat the butter or oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the mirepoix and stock, stirringa occasionally, until onions are limp and have begun to release their juices, about 15 min. They may take on a light golden color but should not be allowed to brown.

Add the roux to the mirepoix and cook until the roux is very hot, about 2 mi.

Add the stock to the pan gradually, stirring or whisking to work out any lumps. Bring to a full boil, then lower the heat to establish a simmer. (Use a heat diffuser, if desired, to avoid scorching.) Add the sachet and continue to simmer, skimming as necessary, until a good flavor and consistency develop and the starchy feel and taste of the flour have cooked away, 45 min. to 1 hr.

Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve. Strain a second time through a double thickness of rinsed cheesecloth, if desired, for the finest texture.

Return the sauce to a simmer. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add cream and mushrooms. Simmer, stirring and skimming the surface frequently, until it coats the back of a spoon. If desired, the sauce may be finished with 6 oz butter.

white mirepoix
2 parts onion or the white of leeks
1 part celery root or hearts
1 part parsnips

blond roux
3 parts flour
2 parts fat

Heat fat over medium heat and add the flour, stirring to combine. Cook to a golden straw color with a nutty aroma.

duxelles stuffing
6 oz minced shallots
2 oz butter
2 alb small-dice mushrooms
1 TB salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
8 fl oz heavy cream, reduced
8 oz fresh bread crumbs
1 TB achopped parsley
2 oz abutter, melted
20 fl oz supreme sauce

Sweat the shallots in the butter over medium-high heat until translucent, 2-3 min. Add the mushrooms and saute them until dry to create a duxelles. Season the duxelles with some of the salt and pepper.

Add the cream, bread crumbs, and parsley and mix well. If desired, the duxelles can be chilled and reserved for later use.