Chicken cacciatore is one of those dishes I always heard of, but strangely, never had as a kid. I couldn’t tell you why that is, but it certainly is worth taking the time to make. It is such a simple dish, and in many ways, reminds me of the poulet basquaies I made ages ago. I like these kinds of rustic dishes, they are generally pretty easy, and have loads of flavor. Simple ingredients that don’t get screwed up by trying to make them into something they aren’t.
What you need:
chicken, whole, cut up, or breasts if you prefer.
10 – 12 crimini mushrooms sliced thin
garlic, minced how much do you like?
1 onion sliced thinly
1 bell pepper sliced thinly (about the same size as the onion)
1 can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper
herbes de provence
That is really it. You could add pancetta, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, fresh basil, you know, that kind of thing.
I decided serve it on top of some gluten-free noodles, and I picked up a box of Schar tagliatelle.
This is pretty straightforward stuff. Season the chicken with salt, and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet, and sear the chicken. When it releases from the pan, flip it over, and sear it on the other side. The second side won’t take as long as the first. Remove the chicken and set it on a plate for the time being.
There should be some oil left in the pan. Throw in the mushrooms add a little salt, and saute them until they are tender. Then add the bell pepper, onion and garlic. Again, add a touch of salt, and saute until it is tender. Add some wine, and bring it to a boil. Scrape the brown bits up. I can’t really tell you how much, I wanted enough of the liquid to get some with the noodles. Next add the can of tomatoes and stir them in and bring the whole thing up to a boil. Add the black pepper and herbes de provence. See how much liquid you have, if it looks like enough that you can get the chicken down in it part way. Put the chicken in with whatever liquid is on the plate, put the lid on the skillet, and turn it down to a simmer.
While the chicken is simmering get the water boiling for your pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Keep in mind that the chicken will be fine if it is done a little before the pasta. The pasta on the other hand will turn into a gummy mess while the chicken finishes cooking.
I had been thinking about this for a while, when I was talking to my mom about what she wanted to do for Christmas Eve dinner. She mentioned that she wanted to cook a pork loin and stuff it with something. My idea was to use some apples and pistachios to stuff a pork loin. Amy doesn’t eat pork(except bacon), so I was thinking I would stuff a turkey breast tenderloin instead, but then this opportunity presented itself!
This was a chance for me to do a few things that I don’t get to do very often. While I understand and know HOW to make an “S” cut in something to make a round food into a flat sheet, I had never done it. I had also never made stuffing like this. I made some cornbread stuffing at Thanksgiving, so I had a general idea of how it would work. I was pretty much going to wing it! The final thing that I had never done, but more or less understood was how to tie a roast!
Equipment you’re going to need:
Sharp knife, boning, non-flexible slicer or utility
Some kind of roaster or sheet tray
An accurate thermometer
I figured the first thing I would do is make my stuffing.
1/2 loaf Scharr baguette cubed (I didn’t end up using all of this, but I was winging it, so just used what I needed.)
1 Jazz apple diced
1/2 cup pistachios after being shelled. Crushed
salt and pepper
6 fresh sage leaves fine chiffonade
1 Tablespoon approximately fresh rosemary chopped
1 pork tenderloin
Follow the directions of the Scharr bread. Or use whatever you have handy. This would be a good place to use up leftover gluten-free bread. I didn’t have any, so I did what I had to. Allow it to cool, and then cut it into small cubes. Combine all of the other dry ingredients of the stuffing, pour in a little bit of the chicken broth at a time to get all of the bread moist. It doesn’t need to be soaking wet.
Next we need to make an “S” cut in the pork. Using a knife you’re comfortable with, slice about 1/3 of the way from the top almost all of the way through. Then turn it around and cut the lower part the same way. This will give you a flat-ish sheet to stuff, and roll up.
Spread the stuffing on the pork loin. You’ll want to leave a little space at the edge so that you can roll it. Then to keep everything in place you’re going to need to tie it with the butcher’s twine. There are a number of ways this can be done. The easiest is to cut several lengths of string that you can slide under every couple of inches and tie securely. The best knot for this is a fisherman’s knot, (That is what we always called it, but a butcher might call it something else) which is a basic overhand knot with an extra tuck through the open loop . The other way is a little trickier, and involves making loops and tightening them up and making another loop, and only actually making knots at the end. Which is what I did. The one in the foreground is stuffed, and the one in the background is not. I cut it wrong, and tied it back up so that it would cook more evenly!
Season the outside with salt and pepper and roast it at 350 degrees until your thermometer reads 150F if you want medium and 160 if you want it well. Remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for about 10 more minutes. During that time the temperature will continue to rise. Also, the juices in the meat will redistribute during this time. Just let it sit covered with a piece of foil.
This turned out to be pretty tasty, and we all enjoyed it. I even stuffed a chicken breast for Amy with the same stuff. (She didn’t care for it, but she doesn’t really like stuffing, and doesn’t think fruit and meats go together, so…) All told, it was a very nice evening with my family, and that is never a bad thing.
So, when I was a kid we would, from time to time, make a trip to a local Chinese food place. This was before the days of P. F. Chang, and gluten and basically everything. Once I was old enough to drive, it wouldn’t be unheard of for me to go to the same place and get the same thing. OK, there were several places I might go, but I almost always ended up with the same dish until I was in my 20’s. Sweet and Sour Chicken or pork depending on my mood… After that, I might go wild and have General Tso’s Chicken, but the Sweet and Sour was always there as a possibility. This pattern continued in college once I found the appropriate Chinese restaurant in town. My favorite had a fountain in the dining room… and many interesting evenings were spent there with friends.
Now, since going gluten-free my options for Chinese food are a lot more limited. That makes me sad, because I always loved it. Realistically, I know that this kind of thing is something I am easily capable of doing, but I never really tried it until today. Next time I might make a few adjustments, but it was good, and pretty close to what I expected. I’m pretty sure it is not particularly a traditional Chinese dish, but it is how I was exposed to Chinese food, and I would imagine I am not the only one.
I found this recipe in a book called Chinese Cooking The Food and the Lifestyleand, then adjusted it slightly to make it safe and also to use what I had or could buy.
2 Tablespoons of soy sauce (I used San-J gluten-free tamari.)
1 Tablespoon of sake (I know, sake is Japanese. Chinese rice wines are harder to find!)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or sesame oil
Just put the chicken in a bowl and toss with this mixture and allow to sit for 30 minutes or so. The chicken won’t get breaded like we all always had before, but it is fine. You could make a tempura batter with rice flour and deep fry it if you just have to have that element. Trust me though, this is good, and probably healthier! If you do make the tempura you’ll need to drain the chicken and then try to get it as dry as possible. Otherwise the batter won’t stick.
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons ketchup
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (Again, San-J GF tamari)
Heat the vinegar and sugar in a small pot until the sugar is dissolved. Add the ketchup and soy sauce, and mix well.
Next we’ll deal with the veggies.
1 small onion cut in large dice 3/4″ across or so
1 or 2 carrots thinly sliced on the bias
1 bell pepper cut the same size as the onion
In a second bowl
3 green onions finely sliced
1 clove garlic minced
So, now we can put the whole thing together! Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or if you have a wok use it! Saute the chicken in the large skillet until it is nearly cooked through, and remove from the pan. Wipe it clean and add a little more oil. Then saute the ginger, scallions and garlic until fragrant. This might take a minute. Add the rest of the veggies and saute them until they start getting tender. Return the chicken to the pan, and cook until the chicken is cooked through. Then add the sauce to the pan. Serve over rice and enjoy your trip down memory lane! I know I wish I had some chopsticks!
If you think about it, one of the first tools that we probably developed over the course of our evolution was a knife or edged tool of some sort. It is such as basic tool, and yet it is amazingly useful. That is why I wanted to start with it for this series of posts. It is a very important tool for all of us when we cook something, but it is very easy to use in ways which are less effective, less efficient or less safe than it could be. The kitchen can be a dangerous place to work, and yet most professionals don’t end up cutting ourselves that often. Last year I cut myself twice. That might be more than you did, but I spend a lot more time in the kitchen than most people.
Today we are going to talk about using your chef’s knife. This is the real workhorse of your kitchen knives. The others are more specialized or really not all that useful. The small serrated utility knife is the worst! The chef’s knife comes in many different shapes and sizes. I have several, all different, and I like them all!
First lets talk about the parts of a knife. First the obvious, there is a handle and a blade. There are a number of parts within each of these. The point, the tip, the edge, and the heal of the blade are the sharpened side of the knife. The part of the blade opposite the edge is the spine. The handle will vary depending on the construction of the knife, but it should be comfortable to hold in your hand. The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. The tang can be partial, or full. A full tang will be the full length of the handle, and the sides of the handle will be riveted to it. A partial will only be part of the length of the handle. You can also have a rat tail tang. It is a thin tang that extends into the handle. This is typically in cheaper knives, and you will not see it at all. This is not to say that a knife with a rat tail tang is a bad knife, just less expensive. The other part of a knife handle to know about is the bolster. The bolster is where the blade meets the handle. On some knives there is an actual bolster, and it is part of the blade that is part of the handle. On other knives it is more of a conceptual thing. The area is still there, but the blade just joins the handle.
Now what? Well lets talk about how to hold the knife. I know what you’re thinking, “Well, there’s a handle. That is what handles are for.” Well, yes, and no. You probably hold the knife with all four fingers on the handle.
As you can see I don’t hold a knife the same way you do. The bolster (remember that?) is sort of in the palm of my hand. My index finger is curled over the spine , and the blade is pinched between it and my thumb. The rest of my fingers are on the handle. My grip may shift a little when I’m holding the knife to actually cut something, but you get the idea. As you can see, my fingers are still all out of the way of any cutting parts. What does this grip do for you? By moving your hand closer to the working part of the knife you gain quite a bit more control. It doesn’t really seem like it would make that big of a difference, but once you try it, and stick with it for a bit, you will NEVER go back.
Why do you get more control? I’m not sure I can answer that, but you do. Today while I was at work I tried to slice some onions holding the knife the way I used to, and I just felt like I had no control over anything that was going on at the business end of things. Believe me, you want the control! At least in part this is because you don’t have to work as hard to actually hold the knife. Since you are not working as hard to hold the knife, you can be more accurate with your cuts, you can cut more without getting tired, cut things faster (with time and practice), and be safer overall. That last point is important, and relates to this… A sharp knife is ALWAYS safer. While that may seem counterintuitive, it is true. A sharp knife requires less effort to make a cut. Then when you are not struggling to hold the knife, and feel more secure holding, cutting becomes effortless. This is important because you are going to cut yourself! The sharp knife in your hand will cut you, but you won’t have been struggling to get the edge to bite into the skin of a tomato, and slip full force into your pinky finger causing a ragged tear of a cut. When you cut yourself, it will have clean smooth edges, and won’t actually be as deep, because there was much less force behind the blade. The nice clean cut will be less painful, and heal much faster. (Yes, it will hurt either way.)
Now that we have your dominant hand sorted out, lets take a look at your other hand. We have a couple of goals for your left hand. The first is to hold the food that you want to cut, and the second is to leave it intact!
As you can see in the picture above my finger tips are curled back from the blade of the knife, and the knife is actually touching the index finger and middle finger. As you can see, my thumb is nowhere near the blade at all. This will allow you to hold the food, and guide the knife as it cuts the food.
Depending on the size and shape of the food you’re cutting there are various techniques you can use. For items like carrots or celery that are going to be chopped and are not very tall the easiest thing to do is to keep the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board, and make a circle with your right hand. Starting with the blade of the knife on the cutting board, lift the blade and draw it toward you. Then as you descend push the knife away from your body still leaving the tip on the board. When used in this way you will be able to chop all kinds of things. Similarly you can hold the knife above the food, and slice downward through it. In this case the tip of the knife won’t be on the cutting board, but you will still use a motion similar to the basic chopping above. You can also use the tip of the knife to slice items like tomatoes or pineapples that have been sliced. These two techniques will serve you very well for almost anything you will be doing.
These two videos show me dicing a tomato and chiffonading some basil. In the first, I used the tip of the knife to slice the tomato, and then I used the variation of the basic chopping motion to dice it. When chiffonading the basil I used the basic chopping motion.
Remember your knife is not something to be scared of. It is actually one of the most useful tools you have in your kitchen!
Not too long ago I saw on Facebook that a bar near my apartment, called The Silver Ballroom, was having a salsa and guacamole competition. I decided to enter. This is about that, and not at the same time.
All of us eat food. (Hopefully, several times a day!) How many of us take the time to actually pay attention to what we are eating?
I pretty much always taste food I am cooking if I can. At work that is not always possible, but I generally get the help I need. When I make a dish the first time I will follow the recipe fairly closely (unless something just doesn’t make sense to me), and the next time I make adjustments as I see fit. Hopefully, you do something somewhat similar when you’re cooking for yourself.
I decided to enter the contest, more or less on a whim. I decided Thursday night about midnight that I would enter the contest that took place on the following Tuesday. Not a lot of time. Obviously, I had recipes that I felt fairly comfortable with, and figured they would be a good start. If I’m entering a contest like this I want to win! So, I realized that I needed to really make sure that I got my recipes right. (To tell the truth, for my salsa and guacamole there is no actual recipe, more of a concept. I just make them, and taste as I go.)
I wasn’t going to write something down, because then I would be following something that constrains me in these, and I didn’t feel like that would be the right way to go. So, I tried to really pay attention to the flavors in each of the dips. I did decide to take all of the salsa ingredients outside and put them on the grill rather than roasting them in the oven. I figured the charring on the pepper skins and tomatoes skins would give me more depth of flavor, and then since I was making some turkey burgers for dinner, and the grill was lit… Once everything was pureed I added the lime juice and salt and pepper and tasted it. Now, really pay attention… Is there enough salt? Bell pepper? Garlic? Jalapeno? etc., and I tried to really take my time tasting, adjusting until I really felt that I had it exactly how I wanted.
When I made the guacamole I did the same thing. I tried to be very precise with my cuts for each of the ingredients to get them exactly the way I wanted them. When you’re using a knife, you can actually impact the flavor of a dish by cutting things inconsistently. Imagine taking a bite of something only to find a large piece of raw garlic… Probably not what you wanted to go for. And it will certainly affect the flavor of that bite. Of course, if people are judging your food on a single bite, you probably just lost a vote…
Obviously, I was trying to get the flavors just right for the contest, but really we can extend this to almost any time we are cooking or eating. If you are already gluten-free you’re used to paying attention to labels on EVERYTHING you buy at the grocery store, right? And while that is a very good thing, there is more that you can do. Take a little time and when you taste the food you’re cooking pay attention to what you’re actually experiencing. Food is far more than taste and smell. Really, all of our senses go into cooking and eating. Look at the food, and notice the colors and textures. Do you hear anything? Maybe it is sizzling as you cook it… Touch it! If you’ve ever handled meat that has gone bad (yuck!) you’ll know that it feels different, as well as smelling different! Of course, that is not all you can tell by touching your food. In short, pay as much attention to the food you’re eating, when you’re cooking it as when you buy it. Take the time and really experience it. That was the challenge I gave myself. It didn’t really add a lot of time to the prep, but it may have made a difference in the end result.
When all of the salsa and guacamole had been eaten, and the votes were counted it turned out that I took first place in the guacamole and second in the salsa! It was a lot of fun to try something that was somewhat out of my comfort zone like this, and give myself a challenge. Of course, that means next year I will have to defend my title I suppose!
With summer and hot weather upon us the grill becomes a favorite way to cook lots of what we eat. Plus, it saves dishes in the kitchen! There is probably not a lot of food that wouldn’t be tasty on the grill. I’ve grilled vegetables, various red meats, fish, poultry, fruit, and even some lettuces. No matter what food you decide to grill there are some basics that will apply.
Depending on your choice of fuel this will be easy or a little more complicated. Depending on what you are going to be cooking, and how you are going to be cooking it you will do different things.
I prefer charcoal, personally, but it is up to you. I know some people have grills with a charcoal section and a gas section. That would be nice for quick grilling sessions on a week night fire up the gas side, and when you have time use the charcoal side. Or if you have people coming over, use both! I have given up lighter fluid, and now use a starter chimney. No more lighter fluid taste! It is easy, and actually pretty fast! You always want to make sure that the coals are ashed over before you start any food. Flames are bad when you are grilling. Flames mean soot, and soot is never good on your food!
When you grill you have several options for getting heat to your food. You can have direct or indirect heat. Obviously, you can use both in one grilling session, and sometimes that is exactly what is called for. Charcoal grills give you more options, but they can also give you more problems. With a gas grill you can use the burner or burners to control how much heat and where it is. When you are dealing with charcoal you have to place the fire where you want it. Obviously if you want a nice even heat over the entire grill you need to make sure you spread the coals under the grill evenly.
How you distribute the heat will depend on what you are grilling. Certain things require even heat across the entire grill. This category would include sausages (brats, hot dogs, salsiccia…), burgers, fish (fillets and steaks), veggies, fruits, chicken breasts. In other words, small similar sized items should go over direct heat. Indirect heat would be best for larger items or smoking. So, if you wanted to grill a whole chicken, or smoke a boston butt for example you want indirect heat. In the case of the chicken you could sear the skin over the hot part and move it to the cooler part of the grill to cook through, or cook the bird through and then sear the skin on the hot side.
When you are smoking you generally want a lower temperature, and to use indirect heat. I do this by piling all of the coals (and soaked wood chips) at one end of the grill, and then putting the smokee at the other end. I am then able to control the temperature by opening the air vent and the chimney. More air flow will give you a higher temperature, but if you close things up too much you starve the fire of oxygen and you end up killing the fire. So you want to find the point where you have enough heat to cook, but you also want to have the fire low so that you can get nice smoke flavor into the food.
2 Let it warm up!
Before you put food on the grill you want it to get good and hot. This will help the food to not stick. I’m not really sure why this is, but in almost every case you want to put the food on a hot surface rather than a cold one. This will also help keep you from having flames, and it will burn off some crap from the grill.
3 Clean the grill!
Make sure there isn’t a whole bunch of burned crap on the grill. A grill brush will do the trick and it is cheap! This will ensure that all of the crap that was left on the grill the last time and burned on there doesn’t end up in your food. If you think about it it makes sense. You don’t want your grilled pineapples to taste like the chipotle marinated pork chops that you had the other night, do you? Clean the grill! (Having said that, chipotle pineapple might be an interesting combo… if you do it right, spicy and sweet almost always works!)
4 Season your food!
This should be a no brainer, but seasoning your food is always a good thing. In grilling, which is a high heat dry method of cooking, if you have a large piece of meat you should consider brining it. This will help you keep your food more moist. You might also want to consider brining things like shrimp which are easy to over cook. Even if all you use is salt and pepper it will make your food taste better when you get through cooking it. I also like to use various marinades and rubs, depending on the meat and the flavor I want.
5 Leave it alone!
Ok, so here is where things get a little more interesting. Whenever you are cooking and add a piece of high protein food to a hot surface it will stick. This is not a problem, just leave it alone! This happens in a non-stick skillet, it happens in a stainless steel skillet, and it happens on the grill. I’ve seen special foil that you can put on your grill to prevent that from happening. I don’t know why you would do that though. A little vegetable oil on the grill before you put the food on it, or a little cooking spray (Make damn sure you don’t get the baking spray that has flour in it, because that would not be gluten-free!) on the food before you place it on the grill will make it not stick. Since you’re leaving it alone you will not tear up the chicken, or steak or burger. What you will end up with is grill marks! (Just like at your favorite restaurant!)
Make sure you have a little oil on the grill, and place your seasoned food on the grill at a 45 degree angle to the direction of the grill grates, and leave it there! After a couple of minutes with your tongs lift the edge of the food very gently, and if it comes up lift it and turn it 90 degrees. If it doesn’t come up easily, let it sit a little longer. Obviously if you are making a burger you should use a spatula, and the angle that you place it is less important. Closing the lid of your grill will help heat the other side of the food, and speed things up a bit. Once you have turned your food and allowed it to sit a little longer you will have nice grill marks on one side of your food.
The second side will go a bit quicker, but with a large piece of meat the grill marks are less important, because it will take longer to finish cooking. If you have a larger piece of meat and you just want the grill marks you can finish it in the oven, and then return it to the grill to essentially remark it. This is fairly common with things like half chickens. You can do them on the grill from start to finish, but it takes a bit of care to not over cook it or burn the skin. It isn’t hard though.
This one is pretty simple! Enjoy the summer, and grilling! There are is almost no limit to what you can grill, and with a little creativity you can really get some great flavors that are much more difficult during the winter, unless you are a serious griller, and then you won’t be hindered by a little snow!