Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stuffed Chicken for New Year's

For some reason, I never understand why people find such happiness fussing over the New Year's. It's another year, it's getting older, being slower and growing grey hairs. It's not a very happy moment for me, really. One of the good things though, is that I get an excuse to pig out and enjoy copious amounts of alcohol. Except that because I'm ONE year older, my liver is starting to shrivel to the size of a sorrel mushroom and I can't seem to hold my liquor that well anymore.

Which is why I'm spending the night in. Some Amanda alone time with a glass of wine, some Robert Downey Jr. and trying to stop my dog from invading the rubbish bin. I probably won't stay awake till 12am considering the fact that I've had quite a lot of green tea ice cream and a humongous glass of Riesling, but Happy New Year's all the same! I'll be sitting here with my swansong to 2008, typing a recipe that incorporates all my favourite ingredients and listening to The Walkmen sing 'In The New Year'. Tonight I made chicken stuffed with thyme, goat cheese, crème fraîche and prosciutto (those are the things I ALWAYS have in my fridge) and served with an apple, spinach and raisin salad.

There's really nothing else I would rather have. Except maybe a slice of chocolate cake... Happy 2009! Whee!

Goat Cheese and Thyme Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Serves 2

1 piece chicken skinless and boneless chicken breast
2 tablespoons goat cheese (room temperature)
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 slices good quality prosciutto
Fresh black pepper and pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, mix together the goat cheese, crème fraîche, thyme, pepper and salt together.

Make a slit lengthwise in the side of the chicken. Stuff it with the cheese mixture. Prick the surface of the chicken all over with a fork then wrap the chicken with the slices of prosciutto.

Heat a non-stick pan with one tablespoon of olive oil. Sear the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side on medium heat until it is no longer pink and the prosciutto is crispy. Turn the heat up to high for about a minute to reduce any of the juices in the pan. Slice the chicken width-wise and serve with the cheese reduction from the pan.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A date with my cappucino maker

I'm pretty glad the end of the year is coming. There'll be no major celebration for me (the other half is away in blistery Minnesota with the blokes) - just a good night in with the dog and a movie that hopefully doesn't involve love triangles or bad Al Pacino acting. Or decapitated bodies. A nice French movie, perhaps. Or Iron Man. Either way works.

Over Christmas my mum got me the glass Bialetti Mukka Express from Williams-Sonoma. It's a really pretty contraption, but I haven't had quite the Victrola experience with it yet. It bubbles my milk rapidly, then the froth dies away in a very disturbing way. It's like cappucino maker rabies. The video on the Williams-Sonoma website is a fake, I swear. Look at that man and his perfectly frothed cup of cappucino - I want to stab him with my faulty pressure valve...

One of the good things that came out of a half-arsed cappucino maker though, is my desire to be all faux Italian-suave. I made a batch of white-chocolate hazelnut and cranberries biscotti that I conjured from scratch. And while roasting hazelnuts is single-handedly the worse experience rubbing nuts (ahem!) you will ever have, it's well worth it since roasting brings out the smoky and earthy flavour of the nuts.

White chocolate is in itself a little sweet, so I was careful to use less sugar than normal. I know chocolate-connoisseurs will pooh-pooh at the idea of anything less than 65% cacao,but white chocolate really goes well with the hazelnuts and a cup of flat white coffee.

Oh, and while you're at it figuring out the calorie content of my biscotti, have an oogly-eyed moment at my very mischievious and rascally dachshund. He's one of those dogs that "counter-surf" acrobatically and eat chocolate.

White-chocolate, hazelnut and cranberries Biscotti

Makes about 36 biscotti

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto
1/2 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (roasted and skinned, see below)

Heat oven to 275°F and slowly roast shelled raw hazelnuts for about 15 - 20 minutes until the skins start to the flake and the nuts are browned. Remove nuts and place them on a kitchen towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and twist them tightly over the nuts. Allow the nuts to steam for 10 minutes, rubbing the occasionally to remove the skin. After 10 minutes, with the kitchen towel, rub the nuts in between you hands until almost all the skin is removed. Set aside to cool then roughly chop the cooled nuts in a food processor.

Bring the oven temperature up to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

In a medium bowl, combing the flour, baking powder, salt, nuts, chocolate and cranberries.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and amaretto. Slowly add in the flour mixture bit by bit until a dough forms. The dough will be stiff.

Divide the dough into two balls. For each ball, transfer to baking sheet and using a rolling motion, extend the dough into a 12-inch log. Flatten the log into 7/8-inch thickness. You will have two loaves of dough measuring 12-inches long and 7/8-inches thick.

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes until the logs are risen and just beginning to brown. The logs will be slightly soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes. This will allow the chocolate to set and make cutting easier.

Bring oven temperature down to 325°F.

Using a serrated knife, cut the baked logs diagonally into 1/2 inch widths. Place on baking sheet and toast each side of the biscotti for about 5 - 7 minutes until brown.

Cool completely on wire racks.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Baking Part 2: Orange Sable Cookies

The usual driving time from Seattle to Portland is on average 3 and the half hours. Today, it took us almost 8 hours. We almost skidded off the road and into an oncoming truck. It was NOT the best experience. The sound of tires grating over ice is possibly one of the scariest things you will ever encounter on solid land.

Anyway, we came home after the ordeal to a marvelous bowl of stew, some home made bread and lots of Christmas cookies. This recipe comes from Martha Stewart and is a citrus-y take on traditional sable cookies. It's super easy to make and goes well with a hot cup of orange pekoe tea.

Have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Orange Sable Cookies
From Martha Stewart Living
Makes 5 dozen

1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds
1 cup confectioners' sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (2 to 3 oranges)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sanding or granulated sugar, for rolling

Place almonds and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; set aside.

Place butter and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. On low, add almond mixture; beat until combined, 10 to 15 seconds. Add egg and orange juice; combine. Add flour; combine.

Place two 12-by-16-inch pieces of parchment on a clean work surface. Divide dough in half. Form a rough log with each half; place on parchment. Fold parchment over dough; use a ruler to roll and press dough into 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Spread sanding sugar in a baking pan. Unwrap logs; roll in sugar to coat. Cut into scant 1/4-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake until edges turn golden, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Baking Part 1: Linzer Cookies

First off, let me apologize for the lack of posts of late - I haven't entirely given up on cooking, I've just been having my term finals, been in San Francisco for a conference and chilling out (literally) in front of the heater and drinking hot cocoa. It's been snowing here for the past couple of days, and in Seattle, anything below 38F is considered madness.

When it's snowing, there's always the danger of ballooning up to 300 pounds because
a)You can never (or don't ever want to) leave the house
b)You're hungry ALL the time
c)You get addicted to hot chocolate and marshmallows with a dollop of creme fraiche

I decided to put to use my time moping around the house by doing some holiday baking. I trudged out last night in the snow to haul back one pound of blanched almonds since both cookies I've decided to make this year are based around almonds.

The first of the baking craze is the Austrian favourite - linzer cookies. I've been wanting to make these cute little things since I picked up a linzer cookie cutter set from Crate and Barrel just for the heck of wasting some hard-earned money. I used my favourite Bonne Maman raspberry preserves, but you can also use any other kind of good quality fruit preserves (a good alternative would be Stonewall Kitchen's Cranberry Orange Marmalade for a festive twist).

Linzer Cookies
Makes 30 2" sandwiches
Adapted from Joy of Baking, Tuesdays with Dorie and Barefoot Contessa

1 cup blanched or sliced almonds, toasted and ground
2 cups (280 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners' (Icing or Powdered) Sugar for dusting
1/2 cup Raspberry Preserves

Toast the almonds (or pecans) on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for about 8-10 minutes (or until lightly browned and fragrant). Once the nuts have cooled, place in a food processor and process with 1/4 cup of the sugar from the recipe until finely ground. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Beat in the ground nuts. Add the flour mixture beating just until incorporated. Divide the dough in half and shape into two rectangles about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick. Wrap the two rectangles of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least one hour and up to several days).

Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one rectangle of dough from the refrigerator. (Amanda's note, the dough will be crumbly, it would work better if you leave it out at room temperature for 10 minutes). On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a 2 to 3 inch (5 to 7.5 cm) cookie cutter (round, square, heart, etc.) cut out the dough. Place the cookies about 1 inch (2.54 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheet. Use a smaller cookie cutter (3/4 - 1 inch (2.54 cm)) to cut out the centers of half of the cookies on the baking sheet. (You will be sandwiching two cookies together and there will be a small 'window or cut out' in the top cookie so you can see the jam underneath.)

Re-roll any scraps and cut out the cookies. Remove the other half of the dough from the refrigerator and roll and cut out the rest of the cookies. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes or until they are very lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

To Assemble Cookies: Place the cookies with the cut-outs on a wire rack and lightly dust the tops with the confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar.

On the bottom surface of the full cookie (top of cookie will face out) spread with about a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of jam. Place the cut-out cookie on top and gently sandwich them together, making sure not to smug the confectioners' sugar. Using a small spoon, fill the cut-out with a little more jam.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Heads up: Apartment Therapy Giveaways

This is just a quick post to let U.S. residents know that Apartment Therapy is doing a series of really great giveaways for the holiday season.

is where it's at. Have fun!

P/S: Crazy holiday baking in pipeline, including linzer cookies and lots of chocolatey fun.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Thanksgiving blubber riddance: Salade Niçoise

Hello! I hope your Thanksgiving was as enjoyable as mine. We had an 18lb. turkey which we ate for three straight meals and a gigantic bowl of the best mashed potatoes I've ever had that does not involve dairy. Hurrah! Heading back from Portland to Seattle, I swear my seat belt buckle was almost breaking under my gargantuan mashed potato, pumpkin pie, turkey stuffed self.

While in Portland, I manage to score a copy of Williams-Sonoma's "Savoring Provence" from Borders for almost 75% off. I love French food, and I think it's my New Year's resolution to try every single thing from that book, including frog legs, rabbit saddles and baby fish.

My first choice from the book is the Niçoise salad which basically just translates to a salad from Nice. As always, Niçoise salads MUST have green beans, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, anchovies and olives. The recipe called for artichoke hearts but I skipped it because we don't live in an artichoke friendly household.

Salade Niçoise
Serves 4
(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's cooking series:'Savoring Provence')

4 small new potatoes, unpeeled
20 baby green beans, trimmed
1 can tuna chunk in olive oil
1 head or 1 bag baby romain lettuce
10 small cherry tomatoes (or 2 large roma tomatoes)
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
8 slices olive oil packed anchovy fillets, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Nicoise or kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 small shallot, minced fine
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook potatoes until tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Drain, and set under running water until cool. Cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.

Blanch the green beans in a pot of salted water for 2-3 minutes. Drain, and set under running water until cool.

Drain the tuna and separate into large flakes. Make the vinaigrette by whisking the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl.

Line a large salad bowl with lettuce leaves. Lightly toss the remaining ingredients except for the eggs in a separate bowl with the vinaigrette. Spoon over the lettuce and arrange the quartered hard-boiled eggs on top.