Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Soba Chicken

Look! No garlic!

This is an excellent, fast, and light meal that we like to cleanse ourselves with after a week of heavy, greasy eating. What's nice about it is the freshness conveyed while filling you up. While some of the ingredients may not be household staples (mirin), they last a long time in the fridge.

You can grill the chicken breasts (preferred) or sear on a hot skillet.

Also, as this dish is served at room temperature (!) there's no need to rush any of the steps. As such, this is also a great meal on a hot day.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 bunch green onions
10 oz baby spinach leaves
1 medium cucumber
1 TBS toasted sesame seeds
2 TBS mirin
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TSP sesame oil
1 TSP chili oil

Bring a large pot of water - about 4 quarts - to boil.

Cut the tenderloin off the chicken breasts and then filet the breasts length wise.

Finely chop the white ends of the green onions halfway up into the green part and save. Reserve the green parts too.

Peel and quarter the cumber, remove the seeds, and then filet each quarter. Julienne the cucumber into 2 inch, very thin strips.

In a medium bowl mix all the liquid ingredients along with the green ends of the green onions. Remove half the mixture and reserve for later. Marinate the the chicken in the bowl for 5 minutes and then immediately grill or sear. Do not overcook the chicken; once it begins to turn opaque half way around the edge, flip, and cook for an equal amount of time on the other side. Total cook time is about 4 - 5 minutes, pending the thickness of the chicken.

Put the spinach in a large strainer. Boil the noodles for 5 minutes in lightly salted water (about 1 TBS). Slowly pour the noodles over the spinach thereby lightly blanching the spinach. Immediately run cold water over the noodles for about 1 minute to cool them down.

Add the remaining sauce - minus the green onion strips - into a large bowl and toss in the noodles. Dish up noodles (a large soup bowl works best). Slice the chicken into thin strips against the grain and set on top of the noodles. Add as much cucumber and chopped green onions as desired and finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Voila....

A nice addition to this dish is Sriracha chili sauce too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Cucumber Gin & Tonic

Gin and tonic is that drink that your drunk aunt on your dads side would always get. As the evenings would wear on, the more she asked for them, the more they got diluted down by her daughter-in-law.

No need for a snarky remark about how dirty the house or misbehaved the kids are, right?

Here's an update to the G&T. I was inspired by this from Hendrick's gin : they suggest you garnish the G&T with a cucumber slice.

Why not add the cucumber into it?

Try it: you'll like it. A lot. It becomes our drink of the summer when it's just too damned hot.

2 English (seedless) cucumbers, coarsely peeled, quartered and chopped*
Soda water

In a blender or food processor, add the cucumber, ½ cup of cold water, and a big pinch of salt. Liquify for about 1½ - 2 minutes. Strain the pulp through a mesh strainer and reserve the juice; discard the pulp. Do not force the pulp through the strainer as you just want the juice.

In you favorite G&T glass fill to the top with ice. Follow these ratios:

1 part gin
1 part cucumber juice
1 part tonic
1 part soda

Stir to mix and serve. The juice will also keep in the fridge for about 3 days. Dot experiment with these ratios too; I find that 2 parts tonic gives that extra fizz but then adds more tonic flavor hence why I add soda. Get the flavor you like and have fun doing it.

*Figure about 1 cucumber for 2 -3 drinks, pending how big you make them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Pan Seared Ravioli

While in Whole Foods I called my wife. Putting on a slight exasperated voice, "Honey, I am totally uninspired to cook tonight."

Hoping she'd get the hint and suggest, "Well, why don't we go out and grab some sushi or something?" she then started throwing out ideas. "Nah....doesn't jump at me.....ehhhhhh...." She wasn't giving in.

Foiled, again.

I had some chicken thawing at home that was grill-bound but we needed something else to go with it. Wandering around all the veggies, up and down the packaged and canned sides, nothing was hitting me. Except pasta. I love pasta and Judy does too.

But I needed some kind side to go with it and a big steaming plate of veggies or salad wasn't doing it. Let's combine the pasta and veggies. You know, primavera-ish.

At the end this maybe took less than 20 minutes to make (once I had the water boiling). Two hours prior I was totally uninspired. That evening Judy said, "I'm exhibiting immense self control to not eat more of this."

10 ounce package of fresh four cheese ravioli
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut lengthwise
4 ounce jar of Italian marinated artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped; 2 TBS of juice reserved
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Cook the raviolis according to the manufacturers directions minus 20% of the time (i.e. if it says cook for 2 minutes cook for only about 90 seconds. Drain and quickly add to a large pot of cold water to "cold shock" the pasta. This stops it from cooking so you can continue on later. Leave in the water until ready for use.

In a large non-stick skillet add about 2 TBS of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sizzle for 30 seconds then add the raviolis. Continue to saute the raviolis until they're lightly browned on each side, about 3 - 4 minutes per side. Add another 2 TBS of olive oil and turn the heat up to medium high, add the artichokes + juice and tomatoes. Saute an additional 2 minutes gently tossing constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

In the future, if I had more time, I'd peel the tomatoes (just quick saute them in hot olive oil - the skins peel off easy) as I'm not much a tomato skin fan. A sprinkling of basil and a little feta might complement well too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Food Facts: Balsamic Vinegar

It might be surprising, but balsamic vinegar comes from white grapes. Some common grapes used are the Trebbiano, Sauvignon, Spergola, and Lambrusco.

Balsamic vinegar ("BV") originates from both Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. Both are protected by the Italian DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) and the EU Protected Designation of Origin.

According to the EU PDO, BV of Modena or Reggio Emilia must have the following characteristics:

In producing BV, a "mother" starter is added to get the fermentation going. This starter may have originated from strains of yeast and bacteria dating back to the origin of BV itself.

To make things more confusing, there are "matured" balsamics and "aged" balsamics. Matured versions have a minimum storage in wooden barrels of 2 months up to 3 years. Aged versions exceed 3 years. Some aged balsamics exceed 100 years in age, if not more. Their price tag reflects that too.

Matured BV's are best suited for salads while Aged BV's work best alone or as a main enhancer to fresh dishes. If using an aged in a salad it's best to use it alone.

BV is aged in multiple barrels of multiple types. This process of going from one type of wood to another over a period of years are some of the most closely held tradesecrets in the food business with master fermenters staying their entire lives with the distillery. Woods used include chestnut, cherry, ash, juniper, mulberry, walnut, acacia and oak. For a traditional BV to be tradizionale it must be aged in at least five of these woods.

As the aging process is performed, the size of the barrels shrink use in size since bout 10% of the fermentation is lost yearly due to evaporation.

Unlike wine, the aging of BV benefits from fluctuations in temperature. Many producers age their products in their buildings attics to get the full effect of seasonal temperature variations.

Traditional BV's were not available in the US until the mid 1970's due to import restrictions.