Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken

Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken

Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken

The pomegranate juice used in the recipe below was kindly sent to me by POM Wonderful. The value of the product received was less than $20 and was a one-time occurrence with the company.

As a chef, one of my favorite things to do is experiment with a new ingredient or use a familiar ingredient in a new way. This was the case with pomegranate juice. Of course I’d tried it before, although always in a drink format (and usually with alcohol), and have used pomegranate molasses in cooking and fresh pomegranates to top salads or desserts, but I’d never tried cooking with pomegranate juice.

So when the people at POM Wonderful offered to send me a few bottles to try, I jumped at the opportunity and looked at it is as a way to experiment. Of course, by the time the juice arrived I was too busy with holiday hoopla to pay it much attention, so there it’s been, sitting in my fridge for weeks just waiting to be opened. And tonight, finally, I used it.

Despite the delay in actually using the juice, the recipe has been brewing in my mind for a while. I’ve always enjoyed chicken marinated in aged balsamic vinegar (and yes, it has to be a high-quality, aged balsamic) with fresh rosemary and thought adding pomegranate juice to the mix just sounded right and would offer a seasonal, festive touch to my standard dish.

The combination worked wonderfully. The pomegranate juice remained the dominant flavor in the marinade but was complimented perfectly by the slightly sweet balsamic vinegar. A touch of Dijon mustard, garlic and rosemary finished off the marinade, resulting in an ever-so-slightly fruity and tangy oven-roasted chicken.

To round out the meal, I served the chicken with simple cauliflower (using garlic, fresh rosemary and lemon juice) and sauteed spinach. It was healthy, easy and delicious, making the meal an across the board winner.

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Happy Holiday (Eating)!

Latkes

Latkes (aka Potato Pancakes)

Wow, I just can’t believe how quickly these last few weeks have flown by. In fact, this whole year has been a bit of a blur. I hope it’s been a good year for you. As for me, let’s just say I’m ending the year in a better place than where I started it and am looking forward to seeing what 2010 will bring.

However, with all the recent activity I’ve sadly neglected my beloved blog. The sad truth remains that it’s been ten days since my last blog post, the longest I’ve ever gone between posts since launching this site more than a year and a half ago. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. I have, just not quite as much as usual.

English Toffee and Tornado Cookies

English Toffee and Tornado Cookies

To recap some of my holiday cooking, let’s start with Hanukkah at my parent’s house. I brought the dessert: English toffee and tornado cookies, my family’s holiday favorite. At the house, I helped my mom make latkes from scratch. There’s no recipe here because we adjusted constantly as we went along, using up a small bag of russet potatoes, an onion, two eggs, a little matzo meal, and a large bottle of vegetable oil. Basically, grate the potatoes and onion (and then pulse a few times in a food processor), add the other ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and fry.

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I have wonderful memories of my mom making latkes when I was younger. Back then we hosted the family Hanukkah party and she would make latkes from scratch and making enough for everyone was practically a day-long project (for those of you not familiar, latkes are fried potato pancakes that can be made from shredded potatoes or from a box mix). The problem was that my dad, sister and I would eat the latkes almost as fast as my mom could make them, sneaking latkes every time she turned away. Eventually, my mom would get fed up and send us to go see a movie so she could finish frying in peace.

Latkes - pan frying Latkes

It’s been a long time since we made latkes, and my mom had the “brilliant” idea of deep-frying them, a technique she saw on the Today Show. Despite her good intentions, it turned out not to be the best idea. For starters, she forgot to tell me advance so I could bring my candy thermometer and/or mini deep fryer, so we had a difficult time regulating the temperature of the oil. Secondly, the few latkes we made were too fluffy and lacked the coveted crispy edge. After a few not-so-good attempts, I finally convinced my mom to return to our traditional method of shallow frying the latkes in a skillet, a job my sister happily took over.

Another big event I cooked for was my sister’s annual holiday brunch where she gets together with her high school friends for their traditional Hanukkah gift exchange. I cooked for them last year and apparently the girls liked the food so much that my sister volunteered me to cook for them again. It’s fun for me, I’ve known these girls almost my entire life and I enjoy the opportunity to catch up with them.

While I was thrilled they enjoyed last year’s meal of baked challah French toast and savory frittata so much (a few of them even made the French toast on their own), I was worried I wouldn’t find a way top it. These girls love brunch food, which is a meal I don’t often cook, so I stuck with the general concept of an egg and vegetable dish, along with something starchy, and instructed my sister to provide fresh fruit.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

The starch was the easiest decision: Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls from my new favorite cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (see Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls). I’m not going to post another recipe from the book because I think everyone should buy it, but I will say that these rolls were amazing with just the right proportion of dough to the sugary sweet topping that seeped its way all around the rolls.

The egg dish was a bit more challenging. I wanted something that could be prepared in advance so I wasn’t cooking to order, and had a nice presentation. Somehow, while searching the Internet for ideas, I came across a number of blogs with posts about Gale Gand’s torta rustica (here’s the post at Pastry Heaven that I based my torta off of), essentially an egg and vegetable layered casserole baked inside puff pastry.

Torta Rustica

Torta Rustica

I didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but did use it as a guide. The most significant changes were adding a layer of halved cherry tomatoes, sauteing shallots with fresh spinach, omitting the ham, and using fontina cheese in place on mozzarella. Although it was a little fussy, the torta succeeded as a delicious showstopper, and you can see that I had some fun decorating the top with a star using pastry scraps (it was a Hanukkah party, after all) but you could easily add whatever decoration you liked.

Marci's Brunch - sticky roll and torta rustica

Marci's Brunch: Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls and Torta Rustica

Those are just a few of the things I’ve been busy cooking these past two weeks and I promise to bring you new recipes soon.

Also, in January I’ll be taking part in the Ten in ’10 Challenge as a way to start eating and living a bit healthier. Not that I’ll be giving up sweets or obsessing about weight loss, but I do want to make more of an effort to eat better and get my butt moving, both challenges for me to do in the winter months. It’s not a New Years resolution (I don’t make those), but rather an idle thoughts whose time has come.

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English Toffee for a Homemade Holiday Gift

English Toffee

English Toffee

Last year was the first time I passed out homemade gifts. I was a bit hesitant at first: Did it make me look cheap? Would giving gifts to people I don’t usually exchange with be uncomfortable? And what if whatever I made wasn’t impressive enough?

English Toffee

Luckily, my doubts were unfounded and completely ridiculous. I discovered that most people appreciate a homemade gift, especially if you package it with a pretty bow. Sounds a little silly, I know, but it’s what I believe.

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The loaded fortune cookies I made last year were a huge hit. Not only did the giant cookies make for a striking presentation, but they also tasted great. Unfortunately, they also took forever to make.

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So this year I decided to try something new, something I’ve been wanting to make for years but was always just a little afraid: English toffee. It’s a favorite table snack at events like weddings and holiday get-togethers, but I wanted to try a homemade version.

English Toffee10 English Toffee11 English Toffee12

Now that I’d finally worked up the courage to make English toffee (and purchased a much needed candy thermometer), I needed a recipe. After scouring the Internet and taking recommendations on Twitter, I wound up combining the two that looked most promising: Busy Cooks and Paula Deen (afterall, the woman knows butter). My favorite thing about the Busy Cooks recipe was that it called for chocolate and nuts on both sides, something every good English toffee should have. Also, I noticed that many recipes used walnuts or almonds and usually instructed to mix them into the toffee itself, but I’ve always known it with pecans so that’s what I stuck with and used them only on the outside of the toffee.

English Toffee

Here’s the recipe for rich, buttery, sweet and super crunchy homemade English toffee. Oh, and did I mention that it’s really easy?

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Afraid of Baking Bread? “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” to the Rescue

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls

The time has come to be brutally honest with you, my dear readers. The fact remains that even though I’m a chef, there are still recipes or cooking methods that intimidate me. The obvious is anything that has to do with molecular gastronomy. I’m completely befuzzled by those techniques. Another is less obvious: baking bread.

Shocking but true. And this is after I spent half a session in culinary school baking bread in a very controlled environment, which I think gave me a false sense of bread security so that when I attempted it on my own I failed miserably. I’ve been to embarrassed to share most of these sobs stories with you.

European Peasant Bread01 European Peasant Bread02 European Peasant Bread03 European Peasant Bread04

It took a while, but I finally mustered the courage to try again. The saga started at BlogHer Food in September when during a photography session the woman sitting next to me stood up to ask a question. She said her name and the whole room gasped; I felt like I’d been sitting next to a celebrity for the past 45 minutes and had no idea.

It turned out this “celebrity” was Zoë Francois, and I quickly learned that she had co-authored an amazing book titled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Throughout the weekend people kept telling me I just had to check out this book and that it could cure my Achilles heel.

European Peasant Bread before rise European Peasant Bread after rise European Peasant Bread09 European Peasant Bread11

Back at home I purchased the book but was still afraid to cook from it. If this book couldn’t cure me then I would be a seriously hopeless case. It was a lot of pressure to put on one book, and on me. And then, when I finally did decide to cook from it, I realized that nearly every recipe required a steam tray set on a lower oven rack.

PROBLEM! Sadly, I only have one oven rack in an oven that is probably older than me, thus impossible to find a replacement part. Aside from this one major flaw, it’s actually a pretty good oven: heats quickly, keeps accurate temperature, and has an old-school rotating clock that kept my young cousins entertained for a good five minutes. But, there was nowhere for me to place that essential steaming tray.

European Peasant Bread12 European Peasant Bread13

Luckily, Zoë is an active tweeter and sent me a link with tips on baking without steam. Now, there was nothing stopping me.

I chose a recipe – Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls – which required the dough from a different recipe – European Peasant Bread. And I have to say the bread turned out great! I made six dinner rolls and one loaf of bread from half a recipe of dough. And it was easy.

European Peasant Bread

European Peasant Bread

Turns out word on the street – or blogosphere – was right, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simplified bread baking so that even I was successful. If you’re in any way inclined to bake your own bread, this book is a must-have!

European Peasant Bread

European Peasant Bread

Here are the recipes, which have not been adapted:

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Rosemary Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

Rosemary Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

Rosemary Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

The current temperature is 8°F with a frigid windchill of -11°F. Not to get all weather-person on you, but it’s freaking cold here, the type of cold you feel in your bones even indoors with the heat on, wrapped in a blanket, wearing heavy-duty socks you may or may not have had for 11 years.

The point being, tonight I needed to warm up from the inside out. While a bottle of wine would’ve been an easier solution, what I really wanted was a hearty, filling dinner, one that wouldn’t require too much fuss because, let’s face it, I wasn’t giving up the blanket.

Yukon Gold Mashed Yukon Gold Mashed02

And that’s why I love making mashed potatoes out of yukon golds. They’re a very rich, yellow-colored potato that I’ve always felt was more forgiving than the typical russet, at least where mashing is concerned. For starters, yukon golds don’t dry out as easily and therefore don’t need as much butter or cream (yay for being a little healthier). Also, the texture is so silky that I prefer using a hand-held potato masher rather than a ricer (a MUST in my book for russet mashed potatoes) and leaving the potatoes just slightly chunky.

Originally I’d planned on adding roasted garlic to the rosemary, butter, sour cream and potatoes, but somehow didn’t realize I’d run out. I was kicking myself until I tasted the result without the roasted garlic which is when it hit me that these potatoes didn’t need it.

Yukon Gold Mashed05

In fact, I later found some garlic, roasted it in the oven and mixed it into the leftovers and still felt the dish was better without. Who knew? (Of course this didn’t stop me from eating half the head of roasted garlic on it’s own — you saw that coming, right?)

And the rest of the meal was just as good. I served the yukon gold mashed potatoes with roasted turkey and broccolini. The turkey was actually a leg/thigh piece I found for a great price at the grocery store. I roasted it very simply with salt and pepper at 400°F for about 50 minutes (until an over thermometer read 165°F), and added the broccolini to the pan for the last 15 minutes.

Yukon Gold Mashed03 Yukon Gold Mashed04

Oh, that broccolini, I could go on about it for days. Just like the fingerling potatoes I roast in the same pan as a whole chicken, the broccolini was amazingly crisp and salty from the turkey fat and so addictive that I ate all of it. Sometimes it just doesn’t get any better than a vegetable roasted in poultry fat…

Here’s the recipe for rosemary yukon gold mashed potatoes: Read more of this >>

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