Sunday, September 23, 2012

Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken

For someone who gets nervous cooking for more than 3 people, I'm surprisingly very much looking forward to cooking for 25 in a couple of weeks.  Cassandra is flying back from New York City and we are co-catering a large pre-wedding family dinner for her beautiful little sister Libby.

I've taken the day off work so that we can clean, prep, chop, and prepare an entire fall harvest feast for Libby and Edward and their closest friends and family.  Can you imagine anything more wonderful than spending a crisp October day in the kitchen with your best friend?  I really can't.

I was excited to try to create a fall menu to incorporate wild rice, squash, kale, Brussels sprouts, and apples.  Easy!  However, I was stumped on what protein to serve.  I don't know how to cook red meat, the thought of trying to serve fish or seafood to a crowd at the proper level of doneness is terrifying, and I was pretty sure Libby didn't want us to serve a lentil loaf.  So, I was thankful to find a simple recipe on Simply Recipes for honey mustard chicken and promised to test it before the big day.

Testing happened over the weekend and it was very successful!  The recipe is so easy and straightforward, and it works on any cut of poultry you like.  I tried a boneless/skinless breast, boneless/skinless thighs, and bone-in skin-on thighs.  The breast was great and cooked quickly, but the thighs were juicier and more flavorful.  Also, using thighs helps create more liquid/fat to make a nice gravy out of the honey mustard mixture. This will be the perfect entree to kick off Libby and Edward's wedding celebration!

Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken, from Simply Recipes
Serves 4, and easily multiplied to serve a crowd

4 pieces chicken (thighs recommended)
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place chicken in a roasting dish and lightly season with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, honey, oil, and salt and pepper.  Pour over chicken and sprinkle with chopped rosemary.

Bake 45-55 minutes, or until chicken is firm to the touch (25-35 minutes for boneless breasts).  The honey mustard mixture should have made a nice gravy, but if thin, heat it on the stovetop and whisk in a teaspoon each flour and butter.  Pour gravy over chicken and serve immediately.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Spicy Sweet Corn Cakes
TWO YEARS AGO:  Squash and Spinach Risotto with Gorgonzola
THREE YEARS AGO:  Tomato and Corn Pie

Monday, September 10, 2012

Open-Faced Croque Madame

I have not eaten my usual August/September quota of tomatoes this year, and it makes me feel like I just let an important piece of paper fly away in the wind, gone forever.  Typically, I'm mainlining tomatoes now for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because they just never taste as essentially tomatoey as they do these few weeks of early fall.  But through a series of weekends with other plans, I just haven't made it to the Farmer's Market with my usual diligence, hence the tomato deficiency.

Marney to the rescue!  My favorite friend/neighbor/co-worker Marney came through like a champ last night and donated two big ruby red beefsteak beauties along with at least a cup of little cherry tomatoes from her garden.  The little guys were a great snack at work today, and the big boys were destined for dinner.

My favorite restaurant in Minneapolis, Barbette, has a sandwich on the late night menu called a Croque Madame.  In French, I think this translates to "Mrs. Crunchy" (I don't speak French so I could be mistaken).  It's traditionally supposed to be a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, smothered in a cheesy bechamel sauce, and topped with a runny fried egg.  Figures - usual French decadence.  The Barbette version subs in roasted tomatoes for the ham.  My version is even lighter yet, but still bistro-quality elegant and very tasty.

To really ensure the wow factor with this humble dinner, first make sure your tomatoes are at peak ripeness.  Then, buy (or make) the highest quality fresh artisan bread you can find (Rustica, in the Mpls metro area), and if possible source out the real deal cave-aged French gruyere cheese. Buying fresh local free-range brown speckled eggs is up to you but I think it's worth the effort and extra buck or two.  Serve with something green - a mixed green salad or sauteed kale and onions.  Just like that, you've turned your kitchen into a French bistro, with food that's lighter and just as delicious.

By the way, Barbette's version of this sandwich is $10.  I think this sandwich at home cost me (even with top shelf ingredients) about $1.50, and that's estimating very high.  For ten bucks, I could have made enough of these sandwiches to feed about 8 people.

Croque Madame, inspired by Barbette in Minneapolis
Serves 1

1 half inch thick slice artisan bread (mine was a center slice of Rustica's Miche)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp or more dijon mustard (I like the coarse grainy style)
Thin sliced gruyere cheese (can substitute swiss)
2 or more quarter inch thick slices fresh garden tomatoes, lightly salted on both sides
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Butter both sides of your bread, put it on a sheet pan and toast for a few minutes until the bottom gets golden brown.

Flip the toasty bread over and spread a thick layer of mustard on the golden brown toasty bread.  Add a layer of cheese and top with tomatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is melty.  Feel free to pop this under the broiler at this point for a minute or two to help get a nice heat on the tomatoes and finish melting the cheese (I did).

While baking/broiling, gently fry your egg over medium-low heat until it has reached your desired doneness.  Top sandwich with egg and eat with a fork and knife.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna and Quinoa
TWO YEARS AGO:  Cherry Tomato Tart
THREE YEARS AGO:  Rainbow Rollup

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grilled Carrots with Avocado

This summer I was invited to join a group called "Ladies Salon" which actually has nothing to do with hairdressers, but is in fact "a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase knowledge of participants through conversation."  I call it book club without the hassle of reading books.

The ladies in this group are a classy bunch: mostly vegetarian, partly gluten-free, and totally interesting.  Most have gardens and bring very fresh salads or dishes to the potluck.  Last week, Jess brought a roasted carrot and avocado salad that was hands down the best dish of the night (even though my gazpacho garnered some praise as well).  When I googled it, of course Smitten Kitchen had a great recipe (which was, I'm sure, the inspiration for Jess's dish).

I liked it so much I made it last night, but modified for the grill.  It was a piece of cake to cook, and just as great, or better, than I remembered!  I bought a beautiful bunch of neon orange mini carrots at the Farmer's Market yesterday.  They were about 4 inches long each, and no thicker than an inch.  I scrubbed them up (no need to peel these little babies!) and cut them at a sharp angle before grilling in a grill basket with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  After about 30 minutes over indirect heat, the carrots were soft all the way through and nice and charred.  I tossed them with some chives, juice of half a lemon, and half an avocado.

I served these lemony carrot coins with some cedar plank grilled salmon and a stunningly beautiful heirloom caprese salad.  It was a great and colorful dinner!

Grilled Carrots with Avocado, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4

1 bunch small, fresh carrots - well scrubbed and cut at an angle
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp chives
Juice of half a lemon
half an avocado, diced

Heat your charcoal grill until all coals are coated in white ash.  Move all coals to one side of the grill and place your grill basket on the other side to cook with indirect heat.  Toss carrots with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put in grill basket.  Cover grill.  Stir every 10 minutes or so and they should be soft through after about 30 minutes.

Remove carrots from grill and toss with avocado, lemon juice, and chives.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Spicy Broiled Tofu Tacos
TWO YEARS AGO:  Chicken Fajitas
THREE YEARS AGO:  Pesto, Hummus, Tapenade