Monday, June 27, 2011

Spanish chicken fricassee

This recipe hails from one of those Fine Cooking anthologies I keep buying even though I already have all the recipies tucked away in back issues somewhere -- they sure seem handy when you flip through them at the grocery store. This one (77 easy recipes for every night -- not the best subtitle I've ever seen, but whatever) has a couple of nice dishes in it. My favourite by a country mile is this one (it goes by the name garlicky chicken thighs in red pepper sauce, but I like my name way better.)

A fricassee is half way between a saute (which has no sauce added during cooking) and a stew (which is sauce city all the way) -- this is Julia's definition anyway, and I'll take it as gosphel. I love the name since it makes me think back to those heady days of childhood when every Saturday morning some character or other was threatened with being fricasseed on Looney Tunes. (It also makes for great cooking!)

For this recipe you'll need 8 bone in chicken thighs with the skin on (important!). 6 cloves of garlic (I planted all but one yesterday, so I went with one), a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried, it works too), about a cup of chicken stock, 3 jarred roasted red peppers (I go for Bulgarian, Hungarian, or Polish -- people who know their red peppers!), 1 or 2 medium potatoes, and a tablespoon of sherry vinegar.

Get some salt and pepper on the skin side of the thighs -- you can season the other sides when they hit the pan.

Heat some olive oil over medium-high for a bit, then add the thighs skin-side down. Do this in two batches so they can brown properly. Turn the heat down to medium, and let them sizzle away for about 3 minutes undisturbed.

While that's going on you can chop your garlic, potatoe(s), and peppers. Go for two spuds if you want to make a heartier meal, and stick with one if you aren't so hungry. Dice them fairly small so they can cook through fast enough.

Flip them over (SO AWESOME!) and sizzle the other side for a minute. Move them to a plate and then do the second batch.

While all this is going on crank your oven up to 425 F, and heat your chicken stock if you happen to keep it in the freezer like me.

Once the thighs are all done, toss the thyme and garlic in the pan and let them sizzle away for a minute or two. (There are people out there who would remove some of the oil at this point -- I'm not one of them, but it's your call.) You can spend a century trying to separate the leaves from the thyme stalks before they go in the pan, or you can do it after everything is cooked like me. Personally, I find it FAR easier to fish them out at the end of cooking, since all the leaves pretty much fall off on their own.

Now you have to get the spuds and peppers and chicken in there. You can do this in one of two ways: put the chicken in and then nestle the other stuff around it, or put the other stuff in a nestle the chicken down into it. I've tried both ways and neither is all that fun -- you will make a mess here no matter how gentle you are with all that nestling.

ANYWAY, get it all in the pan somehow, and fill the empty spaces with chicken stock. Add the tablespoon of vinegar too. Stop pouring when the stock gets to the skin -- you want to keep this out of the liquid so it gets nice and crispy in the oven (and by nice and crispy, I mean delectable beyond belief!).

I should have warned you to use an oven proof pan by now. I went for my 10 inch de Buyer which fits 8 chicken thighs perfectly. Just remember to pop-out the cool little "B" before it goes in the oven -- maybe it can take the heat, but I'm not taking any chances. Another advantage of this cool pan is that it is supposed to help keep your iron levels topped up -- who knew?!

Pop the whole mess in the oven and let it braise away for 30 minutes. Take your creation out of the oven and say "Oh yeah!" I like to serve this over a bed of egg noodles, but it would also be great with rice, or even just some chunks of great bread. (Don't forget to fish out your thyme stalks!)

¡buen provecho!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Garlic, the squash saga, &c...

Hey there! It's been a while! That gumbo pretty much did me in from its awesomeness, but I'm baaaaack!

This post is a garden one. I hope to post a great chicken fricasee recipe tomorrow if I can squeak it in. But for now, lets hang out with the plants!

The inspiration for this post is this MASSIVE head of garlic I picked up the other day at Natural Food Pantry. It's some kind of French purple garlic (from France, no less), and once I set eyes upon it I knew it must be bought, used for cooking a little, and then planted!

Traditionally, garlic is harvested AND planted on the longest day of the year (or thereabouts, for both). I therefore figured I could plant this one before I ate the rest of it. The first job is to separate the head into cloves. Pick nice solid ones (i.e. un-smushed) that are still covered in paper (I don't know if you have to do this, but I figure the extra layer of protection can only help.)

Then head out in your garden and make a bunch of holes a few inches deep with your rake handle.

Pop the cloves in root side down.

Then cover them up and wait! By October, you should have little shoots poking out of the ground. The trick is remembering where they are. I can't advise you here because I always forget. I put mine in a place that will be over-run with squash soon, but that should be clear once the frosts of fall arrive. Prime time to go -- oh yeah! that's where I planted the garlic!

About a year from now they should look like this. (I know some people remove the curly flowering heads from the top of their garlic stalks, but I'm a devil-may-care kind of guy and just wait to see what happens -- I would also suck as a farmer for this very reason.) Once the tops die down you can dig them up and let them dry for a while before you stick them in your pantry for the winter. Incidentally, the French one I just planted is a soft-neck type -- i.e. crappy for storage -- so I expect I'll have to use it up in the weeks immediately after harvest rather than through the winter as I would with the hard neck types that are shown above. Could be worse though!

On the potimarron squash front (it's day 120 or so) the plants are starting to hit the exponential stage of growth.

Here you can see a shot of the flowers. Squashes have male and female flowers: the male ones (on the left) are on longish stalks (no comment) and the female ones (on the right with the yellow bottom) can be distinguished by the little baby squash shapes they have at the base (these are the ovaries that will develop into the fruit and seeds). Once some bees move pollen from the boy flowers to the girl flowers, we'll be off to the races!

I also decided to harvest a bunch of herbs today: thyme, oregano, and sage -- the main ones I use dried through the winter. They were flowering or on the verge of flowering, so I gave them a haircut to encourage more leaves. I'll wash them up and then take them to work tomorrow to dry on my desk. My office has a level of humidity equivalent to the Gobi Desert, so they dry pretty quick. If you find your herbs go all black before they dry, then they are in an environment that is too humid -- they are fermenting (oxidising) before they dry and basically turning into tea leaves. I've you're not sure, test a couple of stalks to see and go for a drier place if you need to. (I am not a big fan of microwaves or ovens for this job, so you'll have to look elsewhere for advice if you don't have a Gobi Desert office like me!)

Here's a shot of the seeds of my chervil. The winter crop has run to seed, but some of the spring crop is still going. I pull the seedy ones up by the roots and let them dry for seeding again in the fall -- these seeds don't last too long so you have to keep them in rotation. They sure are pretty though!

Finally a look at the lovage flower heads. The plant is too huge to fit in any photograph in its entirety (remember, you can never have not enough lovage!). I like to keep it around because it attracts these little wasps that help keep the nasties out of your garden. It also makes my garden look like a Dr. Seuss book.

Peace through biodiversity!! Take care folks -- pop in tomorrow (I hope!) for a cooooool recipe!