Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chef's Delight

You may notice I'm wearing my other, slightly more serious chef's hat here, because I actually wrote down the recipe rather than just wave the finished dish around. This is an actual chicken-walnut-broccoli salad I made for my sister and her husband, who are throwing a party tonight. I hope I've made enough for at least 10 people, but a lot depends upon how many people eat how much.
The basic ingredients are: 6 boned, skinless chicken breasts
2 heads of Calabrese broccoli
1 clove of garlic
3 stalks of celery
5-6 stalks fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 6-ounce can black olives
1 whole red bell pepper
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 lemons
1 bottle cheap (under $5 if possible) white wine.
Riesling works nicely.

6 Tbsp mayonnaise (NOT salad dressing!)
3 Tbsp mustard (brown is best)
1 Tbsp raw (unrefined) sugar
2 Tbsp pickle juice
Other stuff that helps jazz it up: 1 Tbsp rosemary (whole)
1 Tbsp lavender
1 tsp. dill weed
1/2 tsp Chipolte smoked pepper
1 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese

The prep: Rinse and blot chicken breasts with paper towel. Place in a large stainless bowl.
Rinse and grate the peel of 3 lemons. Slice lemons thinly and place slices under and over the chicken breasts, sprinkling the zest over the chicken. Peel and finely chop 1 clove of garlic (depending on your love of garlic) and sprinkle over and under the chicken. Pour in 1 bottle of white wine. Massage the chicken in the wine/lemon/garlic mixture. Note that 1 bottle of wine may not be enough to cover the chicken, so you may need to open a second bottle and nurse the leftover while doing the rest of the preparation. Let the chicken marinate in the wine/lemon/garlic mixture for at least an hour.
Place the chicken and liquid mixture in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat, reducing to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken meat is white all the way through. Drain the broth and chop the chicken into chunks. Place the chicken in a large bowl and set aside to cool.
Strip the stringy stuff from the celery, chop and add to the chicken. Thinly slice and chop the red bell pepper and add to the chicken. Finely chop the green onion and add to the chicken. Finely chop the cilantro and add to the chicken. Drain and chop the black olives and add to the chicken. Sprinkle the crumbled walnuts over the chicken. Blend all the ingredients well.
Chop the broccoli into small florettes. Add some of the stalk, which should be thin sliced and chopped first. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add the broccoli. When the water returns to a boil, remove from heat, drain well, and cover with ice cubes, turning once in awhile to cool the broccoli evenly and quickly. Add the broccoli to the chicken-walnut combination and blend well.
In a separate bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, sugar and pickle juice. A little horseradish can be added for extra zest. Blend in the crumbled blue cheese and mix well. Add more mustard or pickle juice to balance the taste. Pour the dressing mixture slowly over the chicken-vegetable mixture and blend a little at a time for even coverage. Grind the rosemary and lavender in a mortar and sprinkle over the mixture, blend well.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Before serving, sprinkle a little paprika or smoked paprika over the salad mixture for added color. This is a great summertime main dish with crusty French bread or garlic toast and, of course, more white wine, preferably a little more expensive than what was used to marinate the chicken.
Sidelights: Chicken is a great all-purpose source of protein, low in cholesterol and all that other healthy stuff. Broccoli is an excellent source of essential minerals and vitamins, and an effective cancer-inhibiting agent that has been found to help men reduce the risk of colon cancer.
The walnuts are another healthy element of this salad. Nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, help reduce cholesterol and complement the benefits of the broccoli. The salad overall has an appealing combination of appearance, taste, texture, and health benefits that is hard to beat.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On the Trail

Since I've been in Boise, I have spent considerable time watching people float down the river, whooping and having a fine ol' time. I have only done it once so far, but of course I am going again. But I have been working on the logistics, checking out the take-out point, which is about a mile and a quarter downstream from my abode. And today, I finally found how to get to the entry point, which is at Barber Park, in the southeast part of the city.
The trip To Barber Park by bike is not so bad, as long as you keep a lookout for low-flying golf balls and don't get distracted by Ed the Elk. (Ed wasn't there today. The cows were on some kind of sit-down strike in the pasture, possibly anticipating a thunderstorm, but Ed was probably still up in the foothills.) i found a crossing past construction on what will be a new wetland area and park (Boise is really impressive for the many parks that are named after wives of prominent Boise citizens. Those husbands must have loved them very much indeed to invest in such classy real estate as parkland!). There it is, just across the bridge.
Finding the bike path back is not quite so easy, mostly because the sole map that shows the river rafting route and associated hiking and bike trails has been faded into monochrome. But by using the Braille method, I found a bike path that follows a fenceline past the backside of a residential area. Because of more construction, part of the path is currently detoured through a new subdivision before coming out near the crossroads at Bown Crossing.

Bown (pronounced bone, as in T-Bone Walker) Crossing was a famous ford across the Boise River along the Oregon Trail, and there is a nice little business district in the wash between the path of the old pioneer trekking route and the river that includes an excellent candy shop that sells not only all the favorite penny candies of my childhood but those of childhoods of people waay older than me.)
Anyway, I made it. And the river rafting plan ultimately is to have a vehicle of my own, so I can enter the river just outside my apartment, float down to the takeout point, deflate the raft and haul it and myself down to Barber Park to the entry point, re-inflate the raft, and float back down to the takeout point at my apartment, deflate the raft again, and go have a shower and a glass of wine.
How does that sound to ya?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Buon appetite!

When dining with new people, I like to ask this: If you had to survive on the cuisine of one country, which country's food would you choose? It's a thoughtful question. Of course, we would hope to always be in a place where we have a free choice among the countless delightful and delicious foods of the whole world. But, for the sake of conversation, what would it be? French? Well, the French certainly know how to eat and how to enjoy food. We can go on about that in a future Blog. Chinese? Well sure. China is a very big place, and it is really not just one cuisine but many, with specialties of the many regions and ethnic groups that occupy that vast space.
For today though, how about Italian? I love scenes of Italian extended families hauling out the tables and chairs beneath the olive trees and bringing out loads of delicious food, pastas, breads, salads, meats... and the wine!
Yesterday, I found a hice pork tenderloin, boneless, hiding in my freezer compartment. And in this heat of high summer, I said, well, sure, why not Italian. So we have an inspiration. This is a dinner featuring the pork tenderloin, beaten into submission with garlic, oregano, parmesan, basil, parsley, thyme, and such, marinated with some red wine, then blotted dry and dredged in panko (Japanese bread crumbs) mixed with more of the same herbs and more parmesan and fried in olive oil. First browned on both sides, then simmered slowly to make sure the pork is thoroughly cooked but still juicy.
The color comes from red, yellow and green bell peppers, cut into strips with two onions and a bud of elephant garlic and some smaller buds of more normal-sized garlic. The garlic is browned separately, drained and set aside to keep crunchy. A half-dozen mushrooms are sliced, sprinkled with pepper and oregano, and sauteed in olive oil, then splashed with red wine. The heat is reduced to allow the wine to cook away, then the mushrooms are also set aside to be added later. I heated a big frypan and added olive oil, then quickly added the peppers and onions, stirring them quickly and thoroughly while adding more red wine. Then the mushrooms. I covered the pan and reduced the heat, allowing the veggies to cook down a bit and absorb the wine.
Meanwhile, in a nearby saucepan, I had water boiling, into which I dropped a fat zuccini donated by my sister. I had sliced it thin so the slices would blanche quickly when they hit the water. I drained the water, added a tablespoon of butter and a couple of hearty shakes of grated parmesan, covered the pan again and shook the pan to cover the zuccini slices with butter and parmesan.
Separately, in yet another pan, water was at a rolling boil. I added a cup of gorgonzola-stuffed ravioli (the technique for that will have to come in another Blog later.) and turned down the heat by half and covered the pot. When the water started bubbling again, I stirred it and gave it about eight minutes, to have the pasta puffy but still al dente!
Serving, you see, includes an herb salad with cucumber and Italian tomato (also out of the garden), and some toasted garlic bread chips, plus what's left of the wine used during cooking. Just before serving, I sprinkled the fried garlic over the peppers. It's not bad. I may be criticized by Italian purists, but I am glad to have contributions of other recipes and advice on how to make it better next time. I am thinking maybe sausage and peppers with a nice tomato sauce...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another Milestone

Well, tomorrow I come upon another milestone, or maybe it's millstone, when the odometer registers my 66th birthday. It's a little surprising, what with all I've been through and all that's been through me, to have made it this far. I am hoping for at least the biblical threescore and ten, and the parts that need to work still work quite well.
So I am rummaging around now for the carrot cake recipe, as that is what I plan to bake for myself to mark the event. I remember the last time I actually blogged about a birthday was when I turned 64. Gosh that seems like a long time ago and many events and thousands of miles have intervened since then. But then, and I think it is still clickable here, I offered the Beatles and When I'm 64 as the birthday song.
Maybe one reason I didn't write about being 65 was that I couldn't find a song about being 65. But there is a song about the current number. The prolific singer-composer Botty Troup wrote it in 1946, and it was popularized by Nat King Cole and covered by artists as diverse as Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and many others.
Route 66 was also a long-running TV show that helped fuel my teenage desire for a Corvette. But the subject of the lyric, of course, is the legendary 2,448-mile-long highway that wound from Chicago to LA, through eight states and three time zones. Stuff like that makes me think it's appropriate as the theme song for this year's birthday party. Join me in the sing-along?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ocean's Bounty

OK, I admit Boise is not too near an ocean, and having seafood more than an hour from a sea invites suspicion about the freshness of the catch. Still, I was inspired today to try a seafood salad.
Inspired for several reasons. One, it was in the 90s again today. I had a vague hankering for beef bourguinon after having recently enjoyed the movie "Julie and Julia." You should see the film, because it is good. And if you appreciate food or like to cook even a little, you will find some resonance in the interwoven tales of how Julia Child became a household word in the kitchens of America and how a young lady living above a pizzaria in Queens was influenced by Julia's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and how it changed her life.
But it was too hot for the beef, and I had already pigged out on my favorite breakfast (bacon and eggs, half a pink grapefruit with honey, yogurt and blueberries and toasted wheat pita washed down with OJ and black coffee). Nope. The beef will wait. After all, Boise is pretty close to beef central, so I don't need to worry about finding good meat here.
Among the thousands of possible alternatives that would be lighter, healthier than the heart-stopping breakfast, and easier to prepare (maybe), I opted for a seafood salad.
Now there are a gazillion possible seafood salads, I know. But I made this one up because I wanted something summer-like and green and crunchy that would go well with a cheap pinot grigio.
The seafood is a combination of frozen baby shrimp, scallops, and a seafood mix that includes octopus, squid, mussels, shrimp and another kind of shelfish that I take to be little-neck clams, but who knows. I have spent the past three decades and change in Japan, where, believe me, the folks know real seafood, and are the world's biggest consumers of it. So they don't mess around with frozen if they can get fresh. And I wouldn't either. But, as I said first-off, I am in Boise, not Tokyo.
So, for safety, I let the various frozen creatures thaw out in some lightly salted water for a half-hour first. I am oookinv cod ons, zo I would say that a cup and a half of the seafood variety of choice, or even all shrimp, all scallop or bits of your favorite seafood--even smoked salmon would be good--will do for one portion.
I made limeade yesterday, with just a little raw sugar, so it really tastes like lime. I mixed a cup of that, a half-cup of cheap white wine, and a fistful of cilantro, and brought it to a boil. I drained the seafood, then dumped it into the limeaid-wine broth and stirred it around until it came to a boil again, then quickly removed it and drained it again, adding a dozen ice cubes to bring the temperature down.
While I was letting the seafood mix soak, I was busy having a glass of that pinot and chopping up some herbs and greens, some snow peas, green onions, garlic, and a fancy-looking purple bell pepper. I also made a sesame-ginger vinagrette as a dressing, using real ginger root and toasted white sesame, ground up with balsamic vinager and just a bit of mirin (sweetened cooking sake) I added some cilantro and peppercorn and some lime peel zest.
Ok. I had a little more of the pinot and decided that a graceful handmade blue bowl I got at the Saturday Market would be the best way to treat myself to the salad.
I made a little bed of the herbs and greens, then added some chopped celery and some garlic and green onion. I sprinkled a little of the sesame-ginger dressing on the greens, then added the drained seafood mix. I dribbled the juice of the leftover lime onto the seafood and added more dressing. I then sprinkled some sliced snow peas, green onion and cilantro, and added the remaining sesame-ginger dressing.
As we speak, I am enjoying it with some black pepper-olive oil triscuits and what little is left of the pinot. I am not too humble to say it is pretty good.
And if you are reading this, you probably already know that I am a serious fan of cooking and enjoying good food and wine. I would like it more if I have someone to enjoy it with. Still...
What Julia Child did to popularize and demystify French cooking, I wish I could help do for cooking that involves ingredients and techniques from other parts of the world. During my time in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of eating and enjoying very good food from many places. Often, I would ask the chefs how they prepared a certain dish, then try to replicate or enhance it at home. This is one of my favorite hobbies and has served me well. So before too much more water passes under the bridge, I want to share some of what I have discovered and enjoyed, and in the process, I hope to demystify and help others appreciate what I have enjoyed and discovered, so you can make it too.
Cooking is a skill, and it can be an art. I prefer approaching it as a way to enjoy something we need every day. So, as Julia would surely say, "Bon appetit!"

P.S. The heart-stopping breakfast pictured above is really not so bad in moderation. Yes, I am aware of the nutritional needs of humans and the modified Food Pyramid. I am also aware of the healthy choices and the importance of food that is pleasant to look at, tasty, and involves the best possible combination of protein, essential vitamins and minerals and all that stuff. So maybe one reason I chose to make seafood salad instead of the beef was to balance out the heavy stuff. Maybe tomorrow, I will be back in the carnivore bracket!