Thursday, April 26, 2012

Arugula tossed in a Truffle Oil & Sherry Vinaigrette – a 5 Star French Salad

If you’re looking for something fancy to serve with a special dinner, this sexy little arugula salad might just be it. The arugula is gently tossed with a truffle oil and sherry vinaigrette and finished with a dusting of rich Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for just the right amount of saltiness. The sophisticated, earthy flavors of the truffle oil mixed with the rich tartness of the sherry vinegar pair well with rich meats such as a filet mignon or beefy prime rib.

The word truffle conjures up thoughts of wintertime in Provence with pigs sniffing for truffles followed by old men in heavy coats adhering to ancient rituals and secret destinations passed down through the centuries from their ancestors. Today you can go on guided truffle hunting trips in France while living in luxurious accommodations and dining at the best local restaurants that specialize in truffles. If you would like to know more, my friend Christine of Fresh Local & Best wrote about her truffle hunting excursion in the Luberon region of Provence that I know you will enjoy reading. It’s a fantastic foodie experience and will provide great hunting stories you can pass on to your grandchildren.  

The first time I tasted a black truffle was in a little olive oil tasting shop in the south of France on the boulevard Victor Hugo in the small village of Saint-Remy-de-Provence. The truffle’s strong earthy flavor reminded me of exotic mushrooms and it smelled of heady perfume. We purchased a bottle of black truffle oil that day, carefully wrapped it in bubble wrap, and tucked it in our suitcase to bring home. Since then I’ve found that truffle oil is easy to find in gourmet shops and some supermarkets in the US and you don’t have to lug it home from Provence. Although if you’re looking for an excuse to go to Provence, please don’t let me stop you from using, “I need some good truffle oil” as the reason.

There are three star ingredients in this salad – infused black truffle oil, Spanish sherry vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Italy.

Infused black truffle oil begins with pressed oil. The brand I purchased, La Tourangelle, uses organic sunflower oil so its flavor won’t interfere with the aroma like olive oil may do. The oil is slowly infused with the black truffle aroma following a 150 year old French method. Black truffles originate in Provence in France and are one of the most precious ingredients in Mediterranean cooking. The strong earthy flavor of this oil will bring a deep aroma to your dishes and is heavenly drizzled in mashed potatoes with chives. After opening it  should be stored in the refrigerator to retain its flavor.

Sherry vinegar comes from Spain. The brand I’ve chosen, Columela, is aged for 30 years in oak barrels (just like wine) until it mellows. It’s made from the same grapes that are used to produce Spain’s famous sherries. I always have a bottle on my shelf because it’s wonderful tossed with equal parts walnut oil and a neutral tasting oil such as grapeseed oil to make a fantastic robust vinaigrette for green salads that I’ve topped with Roquefort cheese and toasted walnuts. I also use sherry vinegar in French lentil salads.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, often called Parmesan cheese, is aged for at least two years and its depth of flavor is the result of the long aging process. This is a special salad and uses expensive ingredients. Don’t be tempted to buy the pre-grated Parmesan cheese from the deli in plastic containers. It’s not worth the money and tastes a bit on the sawdust side. Honestly, it doesn’t even come close to the flavor of freshly grated cheese. Buy a wedge of the real stuff from Italy. The words Parmigiano-Reggianos will be stenciled on the rind and it mean you are buying the finest, which is produced in the areas of Bologna, Mantua, Modena, or Parma (from which the name of this cheese originated). Martha Stewart recommends removing the cheese from its plastic wrap and store, covered first with parchment paper or wax paper, then covered again with aluminum foil, in the cheese section of your refrigerator for maximum preservation of flavor.

5 Star French Arugula Salad with Truffle Oil and Sherry Vinaigrette
Adapted slightly from You Can Trust a Skinny Cook by Allison Fishman

1 ½ tablespoons black truffle oil
2 teaspoons Spanish sherry vinegar

1 5-ounce box of arugula
¼ cup roasted salted sunflower seeds
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, grated freshly from a wedge of real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste

In a glass jar with a screw top lid, combine the truffle oil with the sherry vinegar and shake well to mix. Set the vinaigrette aside while you assemble the salad.

In a large bowl, combine the arugula, sunflower seeds, and Parmesan cheese and toss well. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Season the greens with freshly ground black pepper, then taste to see if the salad needs salt. If so, add sea salt to taste.

Cook's notes:
For best results with the Parmesan cheese, grate with a microplane grater to achieve "snow-like" light  and fluffy cheese.

This recipe will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please join me there for more great recipes and menu ideas.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Baked Chicken with Lemons and Olives – A Party-Worthy Dish

Baked chicken with lemons and olives has become my newest go-to dish for dinner parties. I can put the entire dish together in about 10 minutes and then pop it in the oven when my guests arrive and let it cook for about an hour while we enjoy cocktails and chit-chat.

I’ve prepared this dish on several occasions and each time I learn a little something new. The chicken should marinate for a least an hour in the refrigerator, but if you leave it up to 24 hours, the dish has a lot more flavor. I’ve also learned that if you cook it in advance and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator and then gently reheat it the day of your dinner party, it’s even better. If you love garlic, don’t be shy with it if you want it to sing with the sweetness of baked garlic. Feel free to substitute any fresh or dried herb for the oregano such as fresh rosemary, thyme or even basil.

The cut of the chicken you use is up to you. For a dinner party I prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they make a pretty presentation.  But you could also use a whole chicken cut into pieces, or 6 thighs with bones and skin. My friend Lea Ann posted a similar recipe of braised chicken with lemons, potatoes and green olives that I know you would also like at Cooking on the Ranch.

The chicken can be served over rice or a quinoa pilaf, but, again for presentation, I like to use watercress and drizzle the sauce over the chicken.  I’ve paired the dish with wedges of red potatoes, parboiled, then sautéed in a flavorful olive oil. A few grape tomato halves bring a bit of color to the plate. Our guests have all raved over this one. I’m sure your guests and family will too.

Chicken with Lemons and Olives
Adapted slightly from The Lazy Gourmet – serves 4 

Grated zest of one lemon
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons of olive oil*
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ to ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon capers, with some of the juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano (see cook’s notes other herbs)
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, excess fat removed
½ to ¾ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in quarters

In a large plastic zip lock bag, combine the lemon zest and juice, wine, olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper, capers, oregano, and garlic. Add the chicken and gently shake to coat. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, remove the bag of chicken from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the chicken in a baking dish in a single layer and pour the lemon juice mixture over it. Scatter olives over and round the chicken pieces. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is browned on top and cooked through to 160 – 165 degrees.

Serve chicken over watercress and drizzle with the sauce. Serve with crispy baked  small red or white potatoes that have been tossed in a bit of olive oil, seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and (optionally) tossed with chopped fresh rosemary & baked along with the chicken in a 400 degree F oven for about an hour. Garnish the plate with a few grape tomato halves if you wish.

Cook’s notes:

- If the sauce is to thin, thicken with a cornstarch and water slurry.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about 45 minutes before cooking to allow the chicken to come to room temperature.
- If using chicken with bones, it may take a bit longer to cook. Check at 45 minutes and if not cooked through, continue to cook until it reaches 160 to 165 degrees.

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This recipe will be linked to: Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please join me there for fabulous recipes and menu ideas.

* When this post was originally published, I left the olive oil off of the list of ingredients. Thanks to a friend who pointed this out to me, I have since corrected my error. My sincere apologies to all of you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tomato & Crispy Prosciutto Bruschetta – a Small Plate Lunch or a Filling Appetizer

Using briefly cooked tomatoes and crispy prosciutto as a base for toasted bread, the additions to this recipe are only limited by your imagination.  I added sliced Kalamata olives to give them a little “oomph,” but you could also top them with fresh mozzarella that you pop under the broiler to melt. Capers or finely chopped red onions would be a nice addition in the tomato mixture as well.

These little tomato and crispy prosciutto bruschetta bites make a nice light lunch which I call “small plates” or a filling appetizer. I caution you to go easy on the salt. The first time I made them I thought they were much too salty and I am a salt lover. Prosciutto and Parmesan cheese are salty all by themselves. In addition I salted the tomatoes as I sautéed them and then, as the recipe suggested, salted the bread before it went under the broiler. The instructions I’ve given below suggest that you salt the tomatoes lightly and I’ve eliminated salting the bread.

Have fun with this one and let your imagination be your guide. You don't have to wait for summer tomatoes. When cooked, plum tomatoes have a nice sweetness to them no matter what time of the year it is.

Tomato & Crispy Prosciutto Bruschetta
Adapted slightly from Tana’s Kitchen Secrets by Tana Ramsay- serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a light lunch

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
4 to 5 small plum tomatoes, sliced lengthwise into strips
½ tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, (or half that amount dried) or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons or more pitted and sliced Kalamata olives (optional)
1 tablespoon Italian balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 slices good prosciutto
1 garlic clove, halved
2 ciabatta rolls
¼ cup finely grated imported Parmesan cheese (not the stuff in the can)

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet and toss in the tomatoes to warm through and break down slightly. Add the oregano, Kalamata olives, balsamic vinegar, a small pinch of salt, and a few cranks of freshly ground black pepper. (Take care not to over-salt the tomatoes because the prosciutto and Parmesan are salty.) Stir to combine, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Fry the prosciutto in a dry nonstick pan over a high heat until crispy and golden, then place on paper towels to blot off the excess oil.

Preheat the broiler to its highest setting. Slice the ciabatta rolls in half lengthwise. Drizzle a little olive oil over the ciabatta rolls and place under the broiler until golden brown. Remove from the oven and rub with the garlic. Crumble the prosciutto over the ciabatta, then spoon on the tomato mixture and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and some more black pepper. Serve hot. Serves four as an appetizer or two as a light lunch.

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This recipe will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms (who is having a fabulous give-away), Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Not Your Ordinary Recipes Foodie Friday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please stop by and visit these foodie get-togethers.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Oh So Good Dutch Baby with Lemon Sugar – Lemony Goodness for a Spring Time Breakfast

Some people call this oven baked pancake/popover a Bismark, while others call it a Dutch Baby. Both are baked in a cast iron skilled in a hot oven where they puff up dramatically and make an impressive breakfast dish. The Bismark was one of the most popular recipes in the original Silver Palate Cookbook, one of the best selling cookbooks of all times. Normally it’s served with powdered sugar and fresh lemon wedges, or it can be gussied up with fresh fruit as I did in a previous post several years ago. Click to see my Bismark with fresh raspberries and blueberries. It’s also delicious with sautéed apples and cinnamon.

That particular post with the Bismark topped with fresh seasonal fruit was very popular and I thought you might enjoy reading some of the reader’s comments on how they like to serve this delicious treat:

- “Sometimes we serve it for Sunday morning breakfast, other times as a dessert.”
- “We call is a German baked pancake. It’s my daughter’s favorite and I’ve acquired 4 small cast iron skillets and the next time they visit it will be individual small ones instead of big ones.”
- “Dutch Baby is becoming my easy / fancy weeknight meal – nothing to it, but I’ve also found a savory recipe that uses diced ham and gruyere cheese – delicious!”
- “I’ve been looking for fancy recipes to make while camping. This could easily be adapted to campfire oven cooking.”

This comment was perhaps my favorite: “If every morning started out with one of these, I’d never have a bad time.”

I recently found this recipe in a Gourmet publication Gourmet Comfort and fell head of heels in love with their picture and the lemon sugar. As you can see, it rises up dramatically in the oven, but deflates somewhat after it’s removed. I like to show it off as if comes out of the oven and then I don’t worry about it when it deflates. It tastes so good no one will notice.

Two tips to pass on. Most of the recipes for Dutch Babies and Bismarks call for using somewhere between a half stick of butter to a full stick. If you shutter at that much butter (I do), I assure I’ve made these many times using only 2 tablespoons of butter and you would never know the difference. I also like to grate the nutmeg myself (it’s so much better than the powdered stuff) and it’s super easy if you have a microplane rasp (the same one you use to zest a lemon). Just grab a nutmeg nut and scrape it along the rasp. Voila, freshly grated nutmeg. Now you can throw the powdered stuff way.

If you have house guests for Easter or if it’s just the two of you, pop a Dutch Baby in the oven and “start your day off right.”

Dutch Baby with Lemon Sugar
Gourmet Comfort & Epicurious – serves 4 (or 2 hungry ones)

Lemon Sugar:
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

For Dutch Baby:
3 large eggs, warmed in their shells in very warm water for 5 minutes
2/3 cup whole milk brought to room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon good quality pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces (if you are watching your calories, 2 tablespoons works perfectly fine)
Garnishes: Lemon sugar, lemon wedges, your favorite jam, whatever you like

Stir the sugar and lemon zest together in a small bowl and set aside. Put a 10” skillet (preferably cast iron), on the middle rack of an oven and pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Beat the eggs with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and frothy, then beat in the milk, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Continue to beat together one minute more (batter will be thin). Set aside.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven and add the butter pieces and melt, swirling to coat. Add batter and immediately return the skillet to the oven. Bake the Dutch baby until puffed and golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately. Top the Dutch baby with a sprinkle of the lemon sugar. Serve with fresh lemon wedges

Or with your favorite jam.

I will be sharing this recipe with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable, & Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.

I hope everyone has a happy Easter and Passover and it doesn’t rain on your parade. I’ll be wearing my Easter bonnet. Will you?