Tag Archives: recipe

Champagne: Chic or Chicken?

Champagne chicken sauce recipeOne man’s champagne diet.

Now that the yearly New Years service is over, it’s safe to admit.  I don’t like champagne.

That will probably get my ticket yanked with a segment of the liquor industry, the high-stepping party crew and modern romance food aficionados, but there it is.  Sure, I raised my glass and drank with everybody else.  But, it’s kind of like clapping for the neighbor’s child’s recital.  Not to be confused with actual enjoyment.

Is champagne really the right New Year’s drink in the first place?  For a hearty sendoff of one year and the fingers-crossed hopes for a new one?  Seems to me the occasion deserves a draft Guinness, or a shot of  Bushmills, a decent merlot or the like.  A touch of bitterness, followed by a moment of impossible-to-ignore fullness of flavor, and a real loosening of expectations.

Champagne?

I  first got suspicious when I learned champagne was actually a  wine mistake.  Centuries ago in France champagne grapes were harvested so late, winter cold would sometimes stop the wine fermenting, only to restart in the spring. This caused the yeast to go nuts and produce more gas than usual.  Bottles exploded, the wine fizzed, that kind of mess.  Until one day, as they were dumping another ruined batch, some prince or another wandered in, tasted the stuff, and offered to pay good money.  They couldn’t unload it fast enough.

Now, I’ve got nothing against the champagne industry, who’ve carried on this lucrative tradition, or folks who enjoy bubbly white wines.  I’ll just suggest my favorite way to dispose of this French mistake and its domestic cousins is over shrimp, salad, or as below, to sauce a chicken.  It’s a delicious way to dress food, one pan, man-simple cooking.  And what were you planning to do with all the half-empties anyway?

You’ll need:

Large cast iron or other heavy skillet (big enough to hold the chicken), baking dish (to keep chicken warm)

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/3 – 1/2 bottle of champagne
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon tarragon

How To Make:

  1. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts.
  2. Melt the butter in the skillet, and when it starts to foam, add the garlic.
  3. Add the rest of the butter and heat for one minute at medium heat.
  4. Add the chicken skin side down and brown it, then turn it over, about 5  minutes for each side
  5. Add the champagne to the skillet and cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken broth and tarragon, and cook another 15 minutes.
  7. Take the chicken out, place in a baking pan, cover and keep warm (in the oven, set to its lowest temperature would work).
  8. Add the cream to the pan, raise the heat medium high to bring the liquid to a gentle boil, and stirring, let the sauce reduce in volume by about one half. This can take 15 minutes or more, depending on how much liquid you have at this stage.
  9. Return the chicken to the sauce, coat it well and serve, pouring the extra sauce over the chicken.
Some folks like to spice this dish up with red or cayenne pepper, add sautéed mushrooms, some shallot or onion, that’s up to you.  Great with rice.
Best of the New Year to you.
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Ladies of the Night Dessert

Bottom’s up in the kitchen.

The other day I went looking for a nicer than average dessert to make, and stopped when I found one that promised to put buttery caramel, apples, toasted walnuts and moist cake in your mouth all at the same time.

The recipe below got me smiling partly because of the occasion.   My engineer brother spreads a special family dinner at Christmas.  He and his wife never fail to impress.  Since we arrive with a small army of locusts, I usually offer to add something to the menu.  And around the fourth or fifth try he usually accepts. This year, he suggested I bring desserts.

While my wife and daughters got busy turning out special cookies and decorated cupcakes, I hit the laptop.  And I eventually uncovered this recipe, for an apple upside down cake.

‘That’s tarte tatin, ‘ my brother said, ‘it’s French.  You sure you don’t want to just pick up a pie or something?’

I wasn’t about to back down, or ask him what it meant, so I tried Google Translator.  It came back with an empty box.

Now, my command of French is really thin.  It wasn’t enough to keep me from riding shuttle buses for hours around Charles De Gaulle airport, looking for my departure terminal.  Which by the way is how the French cunningly disorient tourists and other terrorists. But that’s another story.

The point is, you’ll have to settle for my best explanation here.

By my understanding a tart is someone… well along the way to prostitution.  So it didn’t surprise me when a link I managed to turn up confirmed tarte tatin was a specialty of two French sisters who were awfully popular with hunters around the Loire Valley.  In fact, the French call this dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin, which apparently works out to “the tarts are two unmarried women named Tatin.”

Which leaves to the imagination why the cake is upside down.

Anyway, this takes a bit of time and several steps, but it’s worth it.  It’s a lot easier than making a pie.  You can do the whole thing in a cast iron skillet (extra Dad’s points for that) but that requires tossing hot metal into the air and catching the contents on a platter, so I’ve gone with a cheat here.  Bonny appetite.

You’ll need:

a 10 inch cake pan, measuring equipment, a 12 inch heavy skillet, saucepan, mixer and two bowls, and between two and three hours.

Ingredients:

  • 7 or 8 medium apples (gravenstein or other good cooking apple)
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 2 tb lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

For the cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F .
  2. Butter the inside of the cake pan well or use cooking spray to prevent sticking.
  3. In the saucepan, melt 3 tbsp butter with the brown sugar.  When it starts to bubble, pour it to cover the bottom of the cake pan.
  4. Peel the apples, slice into 8ths, core, and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
  5. Put 2 tbsp butter into the skillet, and when it’s melted, turn off the flame, add 1/4 cup rum and mix. Then put down a single layer of apple slices til the pan is filled, and cook over medium low heat til the undersides of the apples are just the color of your done-o-meter, a nice medium brown ale, like Newcastles: several minutes.  Don’t guess, lift them and check. Take them off the heat immediately.
  6. When the slices are cool enough to handle with a fork, line them up edge to edge in circles in the cake pan, cooked side down.  It’s ok if they overlap a little.  If you don’t have enough slices to fully cover, repeat the step above.  Sprinkle on the walnuts. Then set the pan aside.
  7. Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
  8. In a separate bowl, cream the 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar together until its light and fluffy.  You’ll see.
  9. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat til light again.
  10. Now, in batches, add some flour and milk, and mix just until they’re combined. Continue in batches til it’s all in.  You don’t want to overmix the batter, as it knocks out all the fluffy air you worked to put in.
  11. Next, put heaping spoonfuls of this batter onto the apples, going around the pan from the center.  Then carefully spread the batter out so that the topping is covered evenly to the edge of the pan.
  12. Bake for about 45 minutes and check it.  When it’s done, a clean wood toothpick or skewer inserted in the center will come out clean.  Or, the top of the cake will spring back when touched with a finger.  Let it bake if it’s not done, but check every 5 minutes.
  13. Take the cake out and let it cool on a rack 10 minutes, not longer.
  14. Put a platter that’s wider than the cake pan over the top of the cake pan, and holding the two together, flip them over, so the platter’s on the bottom.  It feels like a tricky maneuver, but you can do it safely by holding the platter and pan together like a sandwich with your thumbs on top, and then rotating in one smooth turn towards yourself so your thumbs end up underneath.
  15. You can give it a good shake to free the cake from the pan onto the platter. If any apple slices are stuck to the pan, just take them off with a fork and replace onto the cake.

Just be careful, the sugar topping is blazing hot and sticks to skin.

Voila.

There are plenty of variations of this recipe, including some which claim to be authentic, but I’ve tested the one above personally, so if you go with the others, just be careful.  In my opinion, new recipes are like blind dates.

Easy Dinner Recipe Online Dating Nightmares

These days, men who want to cook, or anybody with a modem and two fingers, can find a so-called easy dinner recipe.  They are as plentiful as singles sites, and there’s  something for any taste, from the best darned chile con veggie in West Texas to a Cambodian tarantula fry.  There are recipes for dummies, diabetics, divorcees, dogs, and darn near everyone else on the planet.  Finding a recipe is not a problem.

The problem is, a new recipe is actually a blind date. Until you sit looking at each other across the table you will have no idea whether they are what they promised they’d be.  Or whether you’ll be up half the night wishing you hadn’t let your appetite get the better of your good sense.

Some recipes have really been around. Others are missing important little details they’re hoping you won’t notice, til you’re in too deep.      Some you will never figure out, no matter how long you try.   And there’s a whole lot of recipes that think really highly of themselves, but the reason they’re spread all over the net is because they’re really just interested in being popular. They’re only looking for attention, and they’ll leave you hungry.

So, how do you tell a good recipe from one you should run, not walk, away from?

First, it goes without saying, don’t pay any attention to the picture.  Really. You know everything’s photoshopped these days, right? All pink and perky healthy on the preview, but at dinner, fatty, grey and can’t even sit up.

And don’t be afraid to check, are we talking natural here, or artificial enhancements?  Is it really ‘beouf en croute’ or just hot dogs rolled in doughboy pastry?  If there’s any ingredient you don’t like, give it a pass. It may seem like just a little thing now, but later on that wart will be the only thing you’ll notice.

Next, consider who introduced you. Do they have any taste at all? If they don’t, why would you even think about getting this anywhere near your mouth?

Does the recipe look like it’s going to take a whole lot of time and effort, with complications and special handling?  Are you going to have to shell out and spend all day running around just for one night’s quick disappointing dinner?

And beware the recipes that look too good to be true. Some folks I have personally known will sabotage a favorite recipe before they give it out, just to keep their big cooking secret to themselves. You think you’ve got a winner for the school potluck.  Then the principal waves the science teacher over to take a look at it.

The best recipes are dishes you’ve met and liked, introduced by someone you know.  Having them come from a friend let’s you call for help, if you hit a snag or question. That’s a big advantage right there.  Say you were trying to do a recipe you were watching on the Food Channel, and you need some help with parts you missed while you were in the fridge.  Don’t expect anyone you call there to have the slightest idea what you’re talking about, or to know what you should do next.

The best way to know a good easy dinner recipe from a one night mistake is to get to know what tastes you and the family like, and then look for the ingredients and dishes that have those tastes. You’ll still have some flops and experiments, but you won’t waste your time hoping fishcakes are gonna show up looking like steak.