Gutsy Cooks Club – Panzanella and Chicken with Two Lemons

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I am going to be traveling for the next few weeks so I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and make a couple of this months recipes.  Marie has chosen several wonderful recipes from Marcella Hazan for this months Gutsy Cooks.  I have been a fan of Marcella for many years and have cooked my way through many of her books.  Maries recipes for this month are a few that I have missed.

Panzanella

Panzanella has been a family favorite in my family for as long as I can remember.  As a child I absolutely detested raw tomatoes (and actually I still prefer them cooked), panzanella was one of the few ways  my mom could get me to eat them.  We had it often in the summer when the ripe tomatoes were plentiful in my dad’s or grandfathers gardens.  I have taken just a few liberties with this recipe.  My mom never peeled the tomatoes and I have also chosen not to peel them here.  She also always added fresh basil and I just can’t imagine ripe tomatoes without it so I have also added it here.  Other than that the recipe is almost identical to what I grew up with and was delicious.

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I just happened to have a whole chicken in the freezer which I was saving for stock but I decided it would be nice to try the chicken with two lemons here.  The recipe is simplicity itself.  Nothing but chicken, lemons, salt and pepper.  Prep is easy, just wash and dry the chicken.  Salt and pepper it and add the pierced lemons.  Truss it loosely and then roast it breast side down for 30 minutes.  Turn it over and roast for another 30 minutes.  Then raise the oven temperature to 400 and roast for another 25 minutes.  It practically cooks itself.  Marcella says that if the skin is unbroken and you have trussed correctly the chicken will  puff up.  I am not exactly sure what I was expecting to see but the chicken does in fact puff.  When done the chicken is nice and swollen with a beautiful golden skin.  Perfection.  You simply will not  believe the incredible aroma that comes from the bird as it is carved.  The meat is tender and very juicy with a wonderful lemony flavor.  And don’t overlook the pan juices.  I separated out the fat and added a bit of white wine.  Reduced it slightly and enriched with a bit of butter.  Heavenly.

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Gutsy Cooks Club – Tahini Marinated Chicken with Honey, Yogurt and Ginger Sauce.

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I was looking forward to this recipe.  We are very fond of Tahini around here and I was excited to come across this recipe when I was reading through an old cookbook.  This comes from Todd English’s book The Olives Table which is a volume I have had for many years and never really paid close attention too.  I was excited to find after many years of not looking at the book that it contains a myriad of wonderful recipes.

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This can easily be a weeknight dinner recipe if you remember to thaw the chicken and get it into the marinade the night before.  The marinade is very simple,  just put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend for a few seconds and then put the chicken in and set it in the refrigerator.  The sauce is also very quick.  Just a few ingredients that are sautéed for a few minutes and then yogurt stirred in.  It can be made ahead and then just warmed before service.

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I have to admit that while I was making the chicken that I feared it would be a bit bland.  The chicken browns nicely but I had an image in my mind that it would be this dark crusty chicken, I have no idea why that image was so clear in my mind.  In reality it looks just like any other sautéed chicken breast but the flavor is wonderful with just the slightest hint of the nutty tahini and the meat is incredibly moist.  The sauce is the crowning glory to the recipe with the light tanginess of the yogurt and the bright fresh taste of the scallions all topped off with a mild sweet undertone of honey.  It is marvelous and I think it would go great with vegetables and fish as well.

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I served it with wild rice and honey glazed sugar snap peas and it made a wonderfully light but filling Saturday night supper.

 

Gutsy Cooks Club – Fruited Pork Loin

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I have become quite a big fan of pork over the past few years.  This recipe is just marvelous for showcasing the mild taste of pork roast.  It makes excellent dinner party fare as well as being perfect for a buffet table.  The roast can be stuffed and tied and all prep work completed hours in advance and the roast held in the refrigerator until it is time to put it in the oven.

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I took a bit of license here and substituted pork tenderloin for the loin roast called for.  I just happen to prefer tenderloin. It required a few minutes of extra prep time but I felt was well worth the small effort.  Since tenderloin usually comes in two pieces I needed to butterfly each piece and pound the meat to an even thickness to accommodate  rolling.  Then I just added the fruit stuffing, rolled the roast and tied it as called for in the recipe.  The rest of the cooking was as stated in the recipe.  I found that the fruit stuffing accentuated the pork without taking away from it’s substantial flavor.  The madeira and molasses basting sauce is the perfect complement for the meat and fruit and makes an excellent pan sauce when reduced a bit and enriched with a little butter.

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I paired the pork roast with a pilaf of brown and wild rices with toasted pine nuts, currants, orange zest, orange juice, chopped parsley and olive oil.  I found that this complimented the meat extremely well.  This was also accompanied with soy glazed snow peas which added a nice crispness to the meal.

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Gutsy Cooks Club – Parmesan Souffle Rolled with Greens and Leeks with Red Bell Pepper Sauce

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I was a vegetarian for many years and this is the kind of recipe that I would so often seek out.  It would allow me to maintain my vegetarian lifestyle by using it as an entrée while maintaining the peace in my household because everyone else could use it as a side dish.  Even today we have many vegetarian friends and it helps when having them to dinner as they don’t have to sit twiddling their thumbs while everyone else is eating meat. I also like it because it is so versatile.  You can easily substitute any hard type cheese for the parmesan in the souffle and the fillings can be varied in infinite ways.  I am imagining a medley of wild mushrooms, some beautiful Spanish ham, olives, meaty prosciutto, ground beef and cheddar.  It just goes on and on.

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I took the smallest liberty here with the original recipe as I found wonderful crimini mushrooms as the market and just couldn’t resist slicing them up and using them in the filling but that is the only change I made here.

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The filling is easy to prepare and provides the luxury of being able to be prepared and held for at least a day.  The sauce I must admit takes a bit of cooking time to get the peppers soft as you don’t want them to brown and spoil their mellow flavors.  It does make an ample amount so it is worth the few extra minutes of cooking time to have it on hand at all times for many uses.   It also can be prepared ahead and held so that everything can be ready and then just a few minutes of prep and bake time for the souffle and the whole thing can be ready in under an hour.  It makes a great luncheon dish with salad and crusty bread, a nice side dish as an alternative to potatoes or rice and as noted above a great vegetarian entrée.

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John Ash has long been one of my favorite wine country chefs and I encourage you all to pick up his wonderful book “From The Earth To The Table”.  It is loaded with great recipes such as this one, lots of hints and wine pairings and just makes a very pleasurable read.

Gutsy Cooks Club – Creamy Asparagus Tarragon Soup

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To me, asparagus signals the arrival of spring and I love it when those slender, pencil thin spears of glorious green asparagus start arriving at my local farmers market.  I have also been a huge fan of Sheila Lukas since the arrival of the first Silver Palate Cookbook back in the mid 80s.  This recipe is from her last book “Celebrate” and this recipe certainly does celebrate spring.  As much as I love asparagus what drew me to this recipe was the tarragon.  It is by far my favorite of all the herbs and I just don’t think people use it enough.  I am always looking for ways to incorporate it into recipes other than chicken, which seems to be its most common use.  This recipe certainly fits the bill.

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To me this was really just an asparagus vichyssoise using chicken stock in place of the water and parsnip in place of the potato.  Certainly the star of the show is the asparagus but what really drives the recipe to its heights is tarragon.  The smell of the tarragon through the house as the soup simmered had my mouth watering for a taste.  The soup is so easy it can be on the table in no time and certainly it is worth doubling the recipe and keeping it in the freezer for those times when you just don’t want to cook dinner.

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Since the soup is so light and refreshing (definitely try it chilled) I thought it would pair nicely with something a bit spicier. My fish monger had some beautiful scallops today and as soon as I saw them I knew what I wanted to do. I paired the soup with bacon wrapped scallops and a spicy aoili and on the side, my old standby polenta.

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I dipped the scallops in melted butter seasoned with garlic, cayenne and salt and pepper, then wrapped them in bacon and put them in the oven just until the bacon was cooked.  For the aoili it was mayonnaise with ground chili paste, lime and cilantro.  For the polenta I simply pan fried slices in a little butter just until they developed a crispy exterior but were still velvety creamy on the inside. I think it all came together perfectly.

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Gutsy Cooks Club – Malaysian Mussels

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This was a real treat.  I usually only cook mussels if I am making a cioppino or bouillabaisse but I had forgotten just how great they are on their own.  I am used to having mussels cooked in wine or some other type of broth which I always enjoy but have to admit it gets a little boring.  These Asian inspired mussels were a great change of pace and since we have been on a Asian kick lately they fit right in to our current eating ritual.  I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to serve with the mussels.  I did some online research and found suggestions of polenta, vermicelli with butter and garlic, rice and plain crusty bread.  All sounded fine to me so I called several of my Asian friends and it was unanimous with them that it had to be rice.  Rather ordinary I admit but it sure was great with the flavorful cooking liquid.  I opted for jasmine rice since to me it isn’t quite as bland as ordinary white rice.  Turned out perfect.

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I got to my fish monger a bit late in the day and the place was packed.  I was in there for about 45 minutes and the whole time I kept thinking to myself, this had better be worth standing in this line all this time.  I didn’t need to worry, it was totally delicious.  The recipe is simplicity itself.  After scrubbing and debearding the mussels it is just a quick saute of garlic and ginger.  Some red curry paste is stirred in and sautéed for a minute, then in goes the coconut milk, bring it to a boil and toss in the mussels.  Cover and cook a few minutes till the mussels open and dinner is on the table.  The cilantro and lime add just the perfect kick to top it all off.   Total heaven.

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I think in the future I think I would serve this as a starter.  Mussels are deceptive creatures.  You look into a pot filled with mussels but when you start eating there really isn’t much to them.  When you buy two pounds of mussels you probably end up actually buying a pound and a half of shells and half a pound of actual meat but they are too good to quibble about that.

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Gutsy Cooks Club – Steak Pizzaiola

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Since I goofed last week and made this weeks recipe, I just made last weeks recipe this week.

Steak Pizzaiola was a staple on our family table at least once a week when I was growing up. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it in years and when I saw that we were going to make it, it brought back all kinds of memories of sitting around the table talking about what happened at school that day or what was going on around the neighborhood. They were really good times and it was good to take the trip down memory lane through food.

This recipe is fairly similar to the way my mom made it except that she would use her own homemade canned tomatoes. I found this to be really easy and most delicious. I can see easily having this on the table for a weeknight supper without much effort at all, just remembering to take the meat out of the freezer in the morning.

It has a rich, deep flavor with a nice level of spice without being over-powering. I served this with my own homemade linguine because, as you have probably already guessed, that’s what Mom did.

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Gutsy Cooks Club – Sun-Dried Tomato Parmesan Crisps

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So Easy, So Quick, and yet So Good.

Those of you who have cooked with me for awhile know that I am no shrinking viotet when it comes to offering up my opinion. I am not now, ever have been, or ever will be a fan of any sort of Marha Stewart. I have spent the better part of the last 10 -15 years avoiding absolutely anything having to do with her. I have never picked up one of her books or magazines, watched a single episode of any of her shows, or bought anything that bears her name. So, you can imagine what I am going through now having to swallow my pride and not only admit to having made one of her recipes but actually liking it. No easy task I must admit. At any rate, this was good. I made them during the week and we had some neighbors over for cocktails and they fit right in on my hors d’oeuvre table and were well received by everyone.

I did make a few changes. Several years back I took it upon myself to master puff pastry. Pounds of flour and butter later I felt that I had indeed mastered it. (Lucky for me, even failures are salvageable so nothing went to waste.) I now make puff pastry every few months so I always have it in the freezer and I definitely used my own here.

I also wanted to up the tomato flavor so I added diced sun-dried tomatoes to the mix and used the oil they are packed in in place of the olive oil. I doubled the cheese simply because in my household we prefer more cheese to sauce on anything requiring the combination. This resulted in a much darker brown top than pictured in the recipe but I found it visually appealing and certainly very very tasty.

All in all I very much enjoyed these little tidbits and see myself making them again. Maybe changing the cheese. I am also envisioning a version of them with tapenade and feta. I never tire of that combination.

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Pretty happy around here today.

Gutsy Cooks Club – Adas Polo

I was intrigued by this recipe.  I like the way Middle Eastern food has the subtle interplay of savory and sweet with the use of fruits in savory dishes. I am also a lifelong fan of lentils so any recipe that uses lentils is a recipe that I want to sample.  The results I am afraid to say were rather disappointing.  The overall dish was rather bland.  I found myself continuously adding salt and pepper to try to give it some taste.  Other than the occasional hit of date or raisin the dish was totally tasteless.  There was way too much rice for the dish and the rice was very mushy due to the pre-cooking of the rice and then the rather long cooking of the dish after it is assembled.  The lentils seemed to disappear into the dish and they also became mushy because of the pre-cooking and then cooking of the assembled dish.  This could really benefitted from some garlic and nutmeg.  I was also stumped when the recipe says it serves 4.  I ended up with an amount that could have easily served 10.  I assume that this is a sort of pilaf and is meant to be served as a side dish.  All in all I was disappointed but I may try it again and jazz up the spices as well as cut the recipe in half.

Chicken Filled Enchiladas with Tangy Crema Tomatillo Sauce

Since we enjoyed last weeks enchildadas so much I decided to try the second recipe for them this week.  These were similar in assembly to lasts weeks but I have to admit that I didn’t care for this recipe as well as the last one.  These were very good but they just didn’t have the smoothness of the version made with the bechamel sauce and I found that they lacked that smooth and smoky hint of heat in the finish.  The tomatillo sauce was nice but just a bit on the bland side for me.  I did enjoy the addition of the sour cream with the chicken filling.  At any rate, it was fun to experiment with different versions of the same dish and compare them.  I will definitely make these again and continue on the hunt for more authenitic Mexican recipes to try out.