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Recover the American kitchen.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whatsa matta you? How I survived the end of the world. Pollo Alla Cacciatora

                                                    

   I love coming from an Italian family. I love that cousins are loved as ferociously as siblings. I love that siblings are a part of our soul. I love that Dads are thought of as highly as the Pope and that Mothers are living Saints. I love that we can eat and drink together, laugh seemingly forever and never get tired.
  I love that with only 48 hours notice, I got to cook for my generation of the Atonna family.

  A coupl'a chickens, a tug of rosemary some mushrooms and a head of garlic. Lots of love.

 Here's the story. When I started cooking ( I was maybe 15) I found a recipe in my Mom's old Better Homes and Gardens for chicken cacciatore. I tried making it and was really unsatisfied with the results.
  Seriously, what the heck is this nonsense. Over-cooked chicken in a bland tomato sludge. NOT what I was hoping for. I tried it again and again. Nope, it all sucked.

  Here's why. THEY DUMBED IT DOWN.

  Years went by. I kept learning. I kept researching. REVELATION. I found an Italian cookbook written by (gasp) Italians.
   I understand that this was; according to legend, made by hunters out in the woods with what they found OR it was prepared by wives anticipating a poor hunt and using what was on hand. Whatever. I think it was a little of both. So here's what you'll need.

CHEF NICK'S SIGNATURE DISH: POLLO ALLA CACCIATORA

Mise en place. The Italians taught the French how to cook, yes we did.

1-2 whole chickens. Important notes on this later
A whole lot of extra virgin olive oil
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, skin off
some sliced wild mushrooms, about a hand-full. Today all I could get was baby 'bellas but oyster, woodear all work great.
a good tug of fresh rosemary, separate leaves from twigs. 2 TB at least
red wine vinegar, if using 1 chicken about 1/2 cup, if using 2 well duh double it
dry white wine, if using 1 chicken about 4 ounces, blah blah, ok you get it
one BIG pinch of kosher salt
a big pot with steep sides and a heavy lid
if you have a spatter screen, I'd get it out
a set of tongs
a wooden spoon


ok here's the thing.
 I could never understand why hunters would spend all friggin' day standing over a pot with a chicken in it, aren't they supposed to be HUNTING? I figure the version of this dish that calls for a quick and messy fry in oil makes more sense. This calls for a bit of work but it's worth it. Trust me.

OK divide the bird into it's 4 basic parts. Cut these in half again. Cut THOSE into even smaller parts, try for about 10 to 12 pieces. Leave skin and bones intact as much as you can. Chop off the ends of the drumsticks and the tips of the wings. Save for stock.
trust me, use a sharp knife

 Dry all your chicken chunks with paper towels. Wash your hands. 

 Get the pot HOT. High heat please, yes. 

  Add about 1/2 inch of oil. Add 1-2 clove of garlic.


 Add 2-3 chunks of chicken. Skin down first. 

I know you're scared. Here's the problem. Extra virgin olive oil SMELLS like love but it contains a grip of water so it's gonna splatter. Ladies, please use your splatter screen to cover the top. Guys please wear shirts. 
 This takes some timing, remove the garlic clove before it burns but keep that chicken on heat until it turns a dark golden brown, on ALL sides. Alternate your heat from high to medium high, do not let it reach the smoking point. If it does, take off heat for a coupla seconds. I KNOW this is advanced stuff and if you need me to, I will come to your house and show you. 
 Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, alternating cloves of garlic, as everything browns remove it to a plate nearby. 
save those garlic cloves on the same plate as the chicken

and if you are doing 2 birds you'll need to dump out and change your oil half-way through. 
 You'll end up with a plate of this...

Once all the chicken pieces are done. Dump out the remaining oil. Don't worry, you won't have to add any for the next step. There's enough left in the pan. NOW add your sliced mushrooms. These will brown quickly

 once they do, remove them to a separate plate. 







 It's magic time. Still over high heat. Add the vinegar to the pot and scape up all that love on the bottom, once it STOPS smelling really sharp (your nose will wrinkle) dump in all your chicken and mushrooms. Add your fresh rosemary and big pinch of salt. Toss that around. Decrease heat to medium and add the wine. Let boil for a few seconds.  Put the lid on and turn the whole mess upside-down and shake. Distribute all that goodness.

 Serve with some cooked pasta, tomato sauce, some good bread and a fresh salad to keep up the fiber. Need a recipe for Tomato sauce? Check out the March 20th 2010 post, omit sausage.

 Cooking poor, eating rich. Get your grub on, Ciao.

THIS IS HOW WE EAT
The next generation
My Niece Brynn





Chef Nick with nephew Hayden




Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How the heck did we ef up POPCORN???


Cooking poor, eating rich.

 This is what I'm all about. Take it back.

Have you looked at a bag of micro-wave popcorn lately?

  The most basic sack I saw has more crap in it than; say, crap.
 Popcorn has 3 basic ingredients, popcorn, butter, salt.

 Folks, seriously.

 How did we screw this up???

My Dad made this with nothing more than a pot, some corn and melted butter. If we were good, he added cheese. I have many memories of us going to drive-in movies with a sack of popcorn, and us in our jammies. Mom, Dad, I love you.




Get out there, buy a jar of popcorn. All you need is some oil, salt and butter. OK if you're me, some cinnamon-sugar and Tabasco. List of cool things to add listed below.

you will need

 1/3 cup of popcorn. I used the one with Orville's name on it, Use what you have, no worries.

a coupla TB of veg oil.
some salt
1-2 TB butter

one deep pot with lid

List of things to add after the butter, yes butter.
NOT to say you should use ALL of these together, use with wisdom.
cinnamon sugar
cayenne pepper
garlic salt
shredded parmesan cheese
dried oregano
Tabasco sauce
minced chives
shredded sharp cheddar

my two favorites are cinnamon sugar and tabasco. I like the sweet-spicy thing.

OK got this?
NOW into the pot put your oil, a pinch of salt (add it now, shake it later) and a few kernels.
like this

ON HIGH HEAT lid off for now and wait for it....takes 'bout a minute. Once you get some popping action
BOOM BOOM POW


 add the rest of the kernels in a single layer and take the pot off heat. Let the pot rest off heat for about a minute. This lets the kernels all heat up to the same temperature.

OK put the lid on and put the pot back on heat. Grab some kitchen towels. 
You will start hearing the kernels pop after like 20 seconds. Keep that lid on and shake your pot every couple of seconds. 


Once you no longer hear the POP, remove from heat and shake the pot a few more times just to be sure. Now turn pot upside-down (hold the lid on folks) and shake one last time. We are using the carry-over heat from the pot to pop those last few kernels. Dump out into a large bowl. using your now empty but still hot pot, plop in your butter (yes again, butter). 


Once melted, pour over popcorn. Add whatever you want. Again, nothing I like more than sweet and spicy so I'm doin' mine with cinnamon sugar and tabasco. toss around and eat. 
The ol' man would be proud

Cooking poor but eating rich.
 Go get your grub on. Ciao. 

If you are really reading this, ask me what the first movie I ever saw, with my folks at a drive-in was. Dad had a big brown bag of popcorn, love the ol' man. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The death of Cyrano, the mutant tomato.

Cyrano, on the vine.


Cyrano, on the slab


sur la table

add bacon, mayo, lettuce and bread


I grow my own, how 'bout you?



cooking poor, eating rich. Get your grub on. Ciao

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I get by with a little help from my friends. Fajitas with Guacamole.

This one's for you Lisa, James and 'Tasha. 
 I know some terrific people.
In the picture to the left everything you see except the skirt steak and ground cumin was grown by myself, friends and neighbors. I scored some avocado, peppers of all sorts, onions, garlic and limes. Put that together with some sliced steak and you get that tex-mex favorite, fajitas. Right on guys.

 Easy to assemble. Trust me.







 First we'll gather together and start the marinade for the steak. Then we'll get the guac' going.
Here's a list of what you'll need.

Mise en place:
Fajitas
2 lbs of skirt steak or chuck steak
Red bell pepper thin slices
Green bell pepper ditto
Yellow or white onions ditto ditto
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 jalapeno, minced (if desired)
Zest of one lime
Juice of the same
Splash of oil
S&P (this means salt and black pepper, fresh ground)
1 tsp ground Cumin
1 TB dried Oregeno

Take your peppers and onions, lime zest, juice and garlic and put it in one bowl.
Hey I got a great tip for slicing onions. Ya wanna know? Yes you do.
Slice off the top and then cut right through the root end leaving the skins for now. Got it?
Now just peel back the skin, leaving the root end intact. This creates a good grip for you to make long thin slices and that's what we're going for here. PLUS the remainder is a neat little package for the stock pot. Thank you Chef Barkley, ya big Cajun jerk for showing me this trick. 
See? just pop it right in the stock pot, no mess. 
You got everything in the bowl right? Lime juice, lime zest, oil, onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, peppers all sorts? Good, let's move on to the steak.
 I used a skirt steak, sliced long and thin (thank you Kevin, god of butchers) but you can also use chuck if you got it. Now all you have to do is slice into sticks. Looks like this.
knife skills, word
If you need to, remove any fat that feels like hard wax, leave the rest.
Add your sliced steak to the bowl and toss, don't forget to add salt and fresh ground pepper. 
This really needs to marinate overnight or at least 6 hours. If you can, toss it around a few more times.
Cover and 'fridge

By my command of time and space we will skip ahead to tomorrow in 3-2-1-.....

So NOW we're ready for the quacamole. Here's what we'll need. 

Guacamole
2 ripe avocado
1 minced small onion
Juice of one lime
1 clove garlic, pureed
pinch of ground cumin
pinch chili powder
dash of Worcestershire sauce
S&P
some chopped tomato* see note below

Avocados are funny. If you are really reading this, ask me what "avocado" means in Aztek.

Slice your Avocado in half long ways, remove pith and with a sharp spoon, remove flesh into a medium bowl. Add all other ing's.
 *except tomato, add that later.








 Smoosh around with fork. Smoosh is a funny word. Don't make this smooth, leave some chunks. Adds character. Scrape into a small bowl, stir your tomato chunks in gently and cover with plastic wrap.      The problem is that since avocado(snicker) is oxygen sensitive it will start to brown right away. Place the plastic right onto the surface. Like this.
keep that air out
Back to the main feature.

Now that your steak has marinated you are ready to go. Heat up a grill pan (I got one for Christmas, what'd YOU git) or a large saute pan. HOT HOT HOT. 

With some tongs grab a hunk of everything and start cooking. 

As a friend of mine just pointed out, fajitas always smell better when cooking. Yeah I agree. All that lime juice, cumin and oregano does tend to make it's presence known. Toss this around until you get some good brown. Remove to a plate.
 Serve with a grip of warm tortillas, a heap of your good quacamole.

 I made some re-fried beans (need a recipe? see me) Eat up. Thanks again James, Lisa and 'Tasha. I am truly blessed. 
Go get your grub on. Ciao.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Damn Yankee Pot Roast.

One of my favorite pass-times is scouring used bookstores for old cookbooks.
 This last time I found a copy of "Ye Olde New England Home" from 1952.

 Nifty right?

Oh my yes.

Here's why.

As the U.S. was slowly colonized from the old world our ancestors had to adapt their traditional dishes to include the new foodstuffs from our continent. Potato, Tomato, Squash, etc. 

One of our most beloved dishes, namely today's subject is a direct descendent of the English boiled dinner. 
The earliest recipes called for flour and herbs as a tenderizer followed by a long slow braise in stock or beer. I think we can do better than that.

After some research and some experiements I got this. Still traditional but more my style. 

 Got it? Let's go

No big deal














CHEF NICK'S DAMN YANKEE POT ROAST
pre-heat oven to 350
mise en place
S&P. frsh ground please
One good sized chuck roast
Splash of oil. 
Mirepoix. Onion, carrot, celery. chopped. 
a tug of parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, any fresh herbs you have in your backyard
one grip of mushrooms, chopped
some potatoes, skins on, scliced large.
one other root vegetable, rutabaga, parsnip. chopped
one large can of tomato puree or sauce or whatever
2 cups of beef stock
 dash of Worcestershire Sauce. (from here on out I will call this WS, it's too hard to spell)
1 squirt ketchup (I know, ok)

Season your roast with some salt and pepper

First off, heat up your pot. Not warm. HOT. Add a splash of oil.
now that's a sear
Place your roast right in there. Let it go until it doesn't tug on your fork. If it sticks, it ain't done. Let it go until it releases. turn it over and do it again. Sear. 

Once seared.Remove from the pot and place aside, like on a plate or something.

 Go ahead and add all your veg's. Toss in some salt and pepper. Toss around for a minute or so. Add all your herbs that you managed to scrounge up. 

Toss around for a bit and add your ketchup. OK look, I tried this with tomato paste, fresh, sauce blah blah. Ketchup worked best. 

Toss around for a bit more, it will start smelling sweet. Splash in some WS. 

Throw in the roast. Can of tomato whatever and the beef stock. Bring to a boil, let simmer. 
cover and stick it in the 350 degree oven for about an hour. AAAANNNNDD we're waiting. 

Did I mentiom those potatoes? Nope, stick them in the pot NOW and toss around. Let this mess go for another 30 minutes or so. Check 'em by stickin' a fork in 'em. If they slide off, they're done. 

You cannot harm this dish by letting it go too long. Just let it rest for 20 minutes or so. Slice it, serve it. Done

Go get your grub on, Ciao