Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Fettuccine with Grilled Chicken

Rice Fettuccine and Grilled Chicken

One of the world's best loved comfort foods is pasta and it sure is one of my favorites.  I had the pleasure of cooking for some friends the other night, and, with the request for a healthy meal, I went directly to my favorite pasta creation,  my sauce-less pasta.  To keep it gastronomically healthy, I chose rice pasta and fresh tomatoes, garlic and shallot.  To serve alongside this delicious, filling pasta dish, I marinated and grilled boneless/skinless chicken thighs.  My friend made a delightful salad which added to the healthful meal. This pasta, alone, will feed four or five people with one pound of pasta.  I'd love to share this recipe with you, and that of the chicken. Let's get started, shall we?

Pasta Ingredients
1 pound rice fettuccine (or your favorite pasta)
1 large or 2 medium shallots, sliced into crescents
2 pints tomato medley, halved
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
zest of one lemon, halved
4 tabs butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Halved tomato medley

After prepping the tomatoes and aromatics, prepare the marinade for the chicken thighs.  

Chicken Thigh Marinade
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon green tea
1 teaspoon turmeric
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons pomegranate red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin

In a medium bowl, add the liquid marinade ingredients. Next, add the dry ingredients and whisk together vigorously.  Next, add half of the marinade.  Add the chicken thighs open side down and pour the remaining marinade atop the chicken.  Allow the thighs to marinate for at least thirty minutes, though an hour or more would be best to allow the acids to begin to soften the tissues and the flavors to marry and settle in. Again, whatever time you have available will do. 

Heat up a grill plate or fire up the barbecue once you are ready to grill the chicken, and, place a large pot with about four quarts of water over high heat.  Rub evoo onto the grill plate or spray non-stick spray over the grill prior to heating.  The big idea with the chicken is to let it be; do not constantly turn it.  Let it grill for at least six minutes per side; if the chicken does not readily release, let it continue until it readily releases. The grill marks will be clear and the color a nice gold. The aroma is going to take your sinuses on quite a wonderful journey!

When the pot of water comes to a roiling boil, liberally salt the water, as it is the only chance you have to season the pasta.  Add the pound of pasta to the boiling water and stir to make sure the pasta does not stick to the bottom of the pot.  Stir occasionally to continue to prevent this. Cook the pasta until al dente, just shy of the eight to twelve minutes in the package directions.  

Strain the pasta in a strainer, but, save about half a cup or so of the pasta water.  Let the pasta sit for a moment while you add the tabs of butter and the evoo and a little fresh garlic to the pasta pot over medium heat.  Add the pasta, half of the cup of water along with the garlic, shallot and tomatoes and toss together to coat the pasta evenly and allow the flavors to marry.  Add some fresh grated parmesan cheese to the pot, about a quarter cup and toss to incorporate the cheese.  The aroma will be simply amazing. 

Remove from the heat and allow the pasta to sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to marry. I like to add the pasta to a platter and allow the people to serve themselves buffet style. This makes it more fun and people can give themselves the amount of food they want. 

Meanwhile, the chicken should be done, removed from the grill plate and allow it to rest a few minutes.  Now to plate.  Either slice the chicken or serve whole.  I served it whole.  

Pasta Plated Familia Style

My friend, Spinner, made a lovely salad which balanced out the dish very well.  I garnished the chicken with fresh thyme and garnished the pasta platter with finely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley. 

 As always, I am humbled and grateful for your readership and consideration!  Now, go cook for someone you love!

In-House Cook

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arepa Mania!!!
Venezuelan Arepa's Two Ways

As you know, I have been on a quest to make Arepas, a sort of English-muffin-like "pan" made with fine white corn meal and, as we all know, I have not been quite successful.  Until now!  Two of my friends from Venezuela recommended a particular brand of white corn meal to use.  I went to EVERY mom and pop Mexican grocer and large Latino grocers in my town and then some and I could NOT find it Anywhere!  And then, more than ironically, I found it in a large box store quite by accident. I will leave it there. 

This obsession with making authentic Venezuelan Arepas came at an opportune time for me. As I have alluded to on my humble blog's facebook site, In-House Cook (please look me up!), life sometimes throws monkey wrenches into your goals and plans in life and deflates you, and wrecks you. Despite things happening, when the going gets tough, I get to the kitchen.  And that is just what I did.  Twice. It seems that from pain has come two pretty darn amazing Arepas, one with chicken and one with flat iron steak; both seasoned, marinated and seared.  Let's get to the recipes, shall we?

The filling for my first successful batch last weekend I had incorporated chicken which I'd seasoned, marinated, seared and braised. Let's get to my spice rub and marinade, first. While the theme was certainly Latin flavors, I changed up my spice mix a bit but my aromatics are the usual suspects. 😊 

2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground chile ancho
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano


Fresh Ingredients for both the marinade and for braising...

2 Fresno chiles, sliced into rings
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup diced fire roasted green chile

Some of the braising ingredients: Salsa Ranchera, diced fire roasted green chiles, fire roasted diced tomatoes and 2/3 bottle of Mexican beer. Not included in the photo (I forgot):  1 8-ounce can El Pato Sauce (spicy tomato sauce). 

I seasoned six boneless/skinless chicken breasts, let them sit for thirty minutes.  Next, I added a third of the beer, a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of onion and a bit of cilantro and fresh oregano, salt and pepper, two tablespoons mirin, two tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons El Pato sauce and two tablespoons red wine vinegar to a large bowl and whisked it togetgher.  I added the chicken to the bowl and allowed the chicken to marinate for an hour. 

After an hour marinating, I added four tablespoons evoo to a large skillet over medium-high heat and I seared the chicken thighs until a good crust formed; on a couple, the marinade even blackened, which added amazing flavor.  Sadly, I have also suffered from bronchitis the last 13 days, and last weekend I could not smell Anything (still cannot) but, I can taste just fine. So, I am sure the aroma was just as incredible as the taste turned out to be.  The dog I was dog-sitting sat with me in the kitchen the entire time licking her chops, so I am quite sure it smelled pretty wonderful.  

After seering the chicken about three minutes per side in the hot skillet, I removed the thighs and plated them and set that aside. To a large dutch oven, I added the drippings after scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to get up the burnt bits up, also over medium-high heat.  I added the onion to that, sauteed it for three minutes, then added the remaining garlic, sauteed for another two minutes. I did not add salt to the onion because of the salt in the rub already on the chicken and in the marinade. 
Next, I added the beer, a cup or two of water, diced tomatoes, the remaining roasted green chiles, the remaining El Pato sauce, the salsa ranchera and stirred well and brought the mix to a boil. I added another tablespoon of my spice blend and also fresh oregano sprigs and a little fresh cilantro, and nestled the chicken thighs into the mixture in the dutch oven. The chicken should be slightly submerged.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer low and slow for two hours. 

After two hours, the chicken will fall apart. You may need a slotted spoon to get it all out, because the chicken will fall apart, I promise!!! After you get all of the chicken out, raise the heat to medium-high again, and reduce the remaining sauce by two-thirds, so it is thick. Use the wooden spoon to stir every minute or two to prevent burning. You will add some of the reduced sauce to the shredded chicken. Trust me, this is incredible flavor!

While awaiting the sauce reduction, take two forks and shred the chicken that did not readily fall apart. This will literally take two minutes. When the sauce has reduced by two thirds, which should take about fifteen minutes, add a heaping ladle or two to the chicken and toss the chicken with the sauce.  Add more sauce, if you wish!

Now, with the chicken handled, turn your sites to the arepas.  This process is so simple and easy and it is so versatile; there is practically no end to the flavors you can add to the corn meal, sweet or savory!  I went on a bird walk, sorry, but as I mentioned previously, it my new obsession! 😋

First, you have to get your hands on fine white corn meal.  As I mentioned above, it was quite a search for me, but I finally found it.  Follow the directions on the package.  I added two cups of water to a large bowl and added 2.5 cups of the white corn meal, half a teaspoon of garlic salt and a teaspoon of ground cumin, a little at a time to the water and whisked it until the batter became too thick, until it became a dough ball.  I let the dough ball rest for three minutes, per the directions. I had added some of the corn meal to a cutting board and allowed the dough to rest on that. Afterward, I separated the dough into sections, rolled it into balls, and created English Muffin sized round about half-inch thick discs.  This is a little larger than the directions state to, and I did not make ten dough balls, but six. That was just my conscious decision. 

In a skillet over medium-heat, I sprayed the skillet with evoo non-stick spray.  I also sprayed the arepa disc tops and placed them sprayed side down.  While the directions state you should fry the arepas about 3.5 minutes per side, because mine were larger, I had to fry them eight to ten minutes, until they gained a golden brown color. 

Finally, I used a break knife to cut the arepas once they had cooled for a few minutes. Because they remain hot inside longer than the outside, I learned to immediately add cheese to the top and bottom of the arepa, then add filling.  I also added torn fresh cilantro the arepas.  

One more!!!

But wait!  We are not done yet!  Yesterday, I created an all new filling!  I was delighted, however, when my two Venezuelan friends both told me how authentic these looked and that I had done well.  How humbling! And what an amazing feeling!

Now.....Onto Carne Asada Arepas!

Carne Asada Arepa

While the chicken was quite a luscious, intensely flavorful filling, this flat iron steak arepa filling was insanely delicious!  And I promise, this recipe is far shorter but much more eye-brow raising than the previous recipe.  I took some very unusual flavor risks which paid off amazingly.  Let's get to it, shall we?

1 - 2 flat iron steaks (one small steak feeds two)
1 yellow or red onion, 1/4 finely chopped, the remainder sliced into crescents
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
fresh oregano and thyme, 4 sprigs each

1 teaspoon green tea
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 rounded tablespoon smoked paprika

Additional ingredients for the marinade
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 generous tablespoons Mirin
1.5 cups Mexican beer (I used Tecate)
1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice
1 cup cranberry-pomegranate juice
1/2 cup El Pato (spicy tomato sauce)

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  

Add the dried spices and herbs to a bowl and mix well.  Add half of the spice mix to the flat iron steaks and set aside for thirty minutes. 

Add the additional liquid marinade ingredients and the remaining dried spices and fresh herbs to a large bowl and whisk together well. 

Pour some of the marinade to the bottom of a rectangular pan and place the meat atop it.  Pour the remaining marinade atop the meat.  Use a fork or tongs to snuggle the meat into the marinade as best as possible.  

Place the remaining fresh herb sprigs to the marinade. 

Marinate the meat for an hour, if possible.  I had the time, and I actually marinated the meat for two hours. 

Sear or grill the carne asada (flat iron steaks) as you wish, at least four minutes per side.  As you can tell, I prefer my steak rare but with a good caramelized crust.  Remember friends, color means flavor!!!

Color means flavor!

After searing or grilling the carne asada, remove it to a cutting board and allow it to rest a several minutes; the meat will continue to cook a little bit and the juices will redistribute. These are all good things!

Slice the meat after several minutes. 

Next, following the directions on the package (as mentioned in the chicken filling recipe, above), make the arepas.  

Use a bread knife to slice open the arepas like an English muffin.  In my case, the arepa was so hot inside that I jumped at the chance to place cheese on both the top and bottom to start melting.  Deliciousness! Add any sauce you want, if any, cilantro, or whatever greens or slaw you wish.  I went simple, cilantro, my favorite hot sauce and closed up shop.  What delicious eating!

I hope you will try one or both of these arepa fillings and make it your own! This is a true comfort food winner, and, despite my ramblings, the time involved is only what you can offer it.  If you cannot marinade meat, then spice rub and sear. You will not, however, regret it if you make this when you have a nice lazy afternoon to give the meats time to marinate.  

As always, friends, Thank You for your time and consideration!  Now, go cook something great for someone you love!!!  

In-House Cook

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Great Enchilada Caper

When I was younger, almost every extended family get-together included enchiladas. I am told I loved my aunt's version when I was a kid, but I apparently lost my taste for it once I entered middle school.  Afterward, no one really made enchiladas that I could get hooked on until my friend's mom sent me some (we were neighbors) and I loved them. The flavors were layered, complex and truly Mexican, flavors which I love. I never made them, however, afterward.  Now, I know enchiladas are "Mexican Food 101", one of the most made Mexican food dishes in the USA, and of all of the dozens of taco dishes and carnitas dishes I have made over the last ten years, I have never made enchiladas.  Not once.  I am deeply shamed and we must never speak of it. 

I decided to get over myself and make enchiladas.  I am always trying to expand my horizons and try my hand at new things, new dishes.  On a side note, a bird walk, I am often asked why I do not make dishes with shrimp, abalone and mussels as well as mushrooms.  I am allergic to mushrooms and shell fish. However, I have decided to get over that, too, and expand my horizons and prep dishes with those, too, although just the aroma of mushrooms sauteing makes me quite ill.  I have to figure that part out, still, and I will need taste testers because, well, there is the whole allergic issue.   Alright, back to enchiladas!  I decided that if I were going to make this dish I was going to do it my way, use my own methods, herbs and spices. Since I grew up with the ground beef version - and I do not find anything wrong with that, folks - I decided to use chicken and spice it up, season each layer of the dish, from the chicken to the tortillas, the sauce and the cheeses.  Let's get to it, shall we?

I began by toasting the cumin and coriander seeds to make my Mexican Spice Blend. I then combined and ground the following spices and dried herbs in my spice grinder. 

Recipe for my Mexican Spice Blend

3 rounded tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons chile molido or your favorite chile powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 partly rounded teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

I know that this is the same photo that I used for my previous blog post but it always looks the same. 😋

I simply seasoned both sides of six boneless, skinless chicken thighs and three chicken breasts.  I added three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat to a skillet and seared the chicken in batches without cooking them all the way through.  In the meantime, I prepped the other ingredients for braising the chicken so it'd be tender even through the baking process.  

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 28-ounce can Cento tomato puree
2 14.5-ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 large bottle of Corona beer
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 rounded tablespoons of Mexican Spice Blend
2 cans fire roasted diced green chiles*
1 28-ounce can chile ancho sauce*
1 4-ounce can Salsa Ranchero
1.5 cups Mexican Fiesta Cheese Blend

Now, in the same skillet in which I'd seared the chicken, I added the finely chopped onion and sauteed it for about three minutes over medium heat.  I did not add salt to the onion as the salt from the spice blend on the chicken had salt enough in it. I am seriously trying to monitor and diminish my sodium intake. Afterward, I added the garlic and gave it two more minutes.  Next, I'd transferred the onion and garlic to a slow cooker. To that, I added half a bottle of Corona beer - delish, I know! - and one 28-ounce can of tomato puree (I love Cento), 2 14.5-ounce cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes, two tablespoons of my Mexican Spice Blend, the can of salsa ranchero and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro.  I thoroughly stirred the liquids and spices together to incorporate well.  I snuggled all of the chicken breasts and thighs into the braising liquid.  I added another fourth of the beer bottle and stirred once again. I set the timer for 5 hours on high.

After a long five hours, long due to the mouthwatering aroma in the kitchen all day, I removed the chicken and shredded it.  Very simple and easy by that time!  It practically fell apart by itself.  

The combination of thigh meat and breast meat was delicious, and I used that combination because the friend I was cooking for wanted the breast meat and I wanted the thigh meat, so we compromised.  Next time, because I really enjoy chicken thigh meat, all juicy and flavorful, I will use that for  my next batch of enchiladas. I want to make my own sauces, both chile ancho and salsa verde with fresh tomatillos, Anaheim and serrano chiles, garlic and onion and cilantro.  Looking forward to spring fresh veggies and herbs!

Alright, now for the learning part.  I KNEW that I should have heated up my corn tortillas before using them, but I thought that if I heated up my store-bought chile ancho sauce I'd dipped the tortillas in before filling and rolling, that would make them more pliable.  Wrong.  Lesson Learned:  Heat Up The Tortillas First. We must never speak of it again.  

I reduced (but not enough; next time!) the braising liquid after skimming off much of the fat renderings and used some of that to mix with the shredded chicken to add even more flavor to the meat. I added some finely chopped onion I had reserved, along with diced fire roasted green chiles to the meat and mixed that together with tongs. I dipped a tortilla in the ancho enchilada sauce, placed it in a baking pan I'd sprayed with non-stick spray, added about two tablespoons of meat, some cheese and fresh cilantro, rolled the tortilla and moved it to the side of the pan.  I continued the process, but because I did not heat the tortillas up properly, as I mentioned above, some of them tore. I tucked those under the enchilada roll next to it in hopes that in the baking process, sauce and cheese oozing downward would cement it together.  BOOM! 😊  Mic Drop!  That worked quite well. 

Reducing ancho sauce for the tortilla hot tub.

Dipping and filling and rolling and placing. 

Oven ready!

You can see the two rolls in the center right that did not work out so well.  The cheeses did cement it together nicely, thankfully. 

I have to mention that the above photo does not show everything.  I added more cheese atop what you see and then baked it for 25 minutes at 350-degrees. 

Final product!!!

Lovely melted cheese with diced fire roasted chiles oozed in, topped with olives on half of it (my friend loves olives, but I am not partial to them, except in a tapenade).  

Annnnnd plated!

I garnished with fresh cilantro, Tapatio and salsa ranchero sauce.  I was very pleased with the combination of flavors and the textures.  I think I am back to loving enchiladas again!

I'd love to hear your tips and flavor combinations.  Drop me a line!  You can visit my Facebook blog site at In-House Cook and leave me a message!  Or, you can follow me on Twitter: @grnmn1 

Thank You!

Now, go cook for someone you love!  They will love you for it!

As always, Thank You for your time and consideration. 

In-House Cook