Chicken Pizzaiola

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I never realized Lidia Bastianich had a website, until I randomly came across her recipe online for Chicken Pizzaiola. The name certainly caught my attention! I mean, who doesn’t love pizza ingredients!

The website is Lidia’s Italy, which highlights her restaurants, her books, her cooking shows (she even has a YouTube channel), plus recipes, and much much more. Her latest cookbook is Felidia, which came out in October of 2021.

Of this recipe, she says, “This dish has quickly become one of our most popular at lunch. The chicken is so tender that you don’t need a knife to cut it. And the pizzaiola preparation is a favorite traditional of Italian American cuisine.”

The lunch she’s referring to is at Felidia, her flagship restaurant she opened in 1981 on Manhattan’s east side, although it now closed permanently.

Chicken  Pizzaiola

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 2 pounds
Kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
3/4 cup freshly grated grana padano
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Sicilian, on the branch
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil plus 1/4 cup leaves, and whole sprigs for garnish
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups prepared fresh tomato sauce
4 slices low-moisture mozzarella

Season the chicken breasts with salt, and place them in a resealable plastic bag. Pour in the buttermilk, and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Drain the chicken, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, toss together the panko, grated Grana Padano, dried oregano, chopped parsley, chopped basil, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir to incorporate everything fully into the crumbs.

Put the drained chicken breasts in the bowl with the seasoned breadcrumbs one at a time, and pat well on both sides so the crumbs cover the chicken on all sides. Set the breaded chicken breasts on the parchment paper, arranged so they don’t touch each other.

Bake the chicken until the coating is crisp and browned and the chicken is just cooked through, about 15 minutes.

While the chicken bakes, combine the tomato sauce, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and ¼ cup basil leaves in a blender, and purée until smooth. Season with salt.

Pour the purée into a small saucepan, and warm it over low heat.

When the chicken is just cooked through, top with the sliced mozzarella and bake until the cheese is just melted, about 2 minutes.

Spread the tomato emulsion on plates, top with the chicken, and serve.

I served this chicken with simply sautéed spinach.

Maybe it’s not like eating pizza, but wow this chicken dish really is fabulous. I would use grated mozzarella instead of a slice. I don’t like the look of that.

The crust is wonderful, and the cheeses make it so tasty, along with the herbs, and of course with the sauce…. divine.

Stir Fried Noodles with Shrimp

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A while back, I posted on David Chang’s Bacon-Fried Rice recipe, which I found in a People magazine, of all things. It’s a fairly classic stir-fried rice recipe, but starts with cooking diced bacon and ends with fish sauce. It’s fabulous.

So I got to thinking, what about making a stir-fried rice, but using noodles instead of rice? That’s when I googled, and discovered that stir fried noodles is a thing. I didn’t invent it.

What’s interesting to me, is that the recipe I came across is by none other than Martha Rose Shulman, who I’ve never known to make anything Asian, but she obviously does. (And obviously I’m no Martha Rose Shulman expert!)

Her recipe, called Stir-Fried Rice Stick Noodles with Bok Choy and Cherry tomatoes, is from New York Times Cooking. The recipe sounds wonderful, but I’m subbing bok choy with spinach, because it’s easier to find, and I’m including spicy shrimp.

Stir-Fried Rice Stick Noodles with Spicy Shrimp, Spinach, and Cherry Tomatoes
Slightly adapted

1 pound shrimp, shelled, cleaned, sliced in half lengthwise
1-2 tablespoons peanut or grapeseed oil
Shichimi Tagarashi or cayenne, to taste
7 ounces rice stick noodles
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced jalapeño
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 eggs, beaten with a little salt and pepper
1 pound baby spinach
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved, lightly deseeded
Salt to taste
Pinch of sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish
2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Toss the shrimp in a medium bowl with the oil until well coated. Add the Shichimi Tagarashi and toss gently.

Heat a little peanut oil in a large skillet over high heat with the ventilation on. Cook about a third of the shrimp at a time, about 1 – 1/2 minutes per side, until they are pink. Place on a plate, and continue with remaining shrimp, adding a teaspoon oil if necessary. Tent with foil and set aside.

Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with warm water. Soak for at least 20 minutes, until soft. Drain in a fine colander and, using kitchen scissors, but into 6” lengths. Set aside.

Combine the broth, soy sauce, and rice wine in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine the garlic, ginger, and minced jalapeño in another bowl. Set aside.

Heat the same skillet over high heat and swirl in 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil. Make sure the bottom of the pan is coated in oil, then add the eggs, swirling the pan so that the eggs form a thin pancake. Cook 30 seconds to a minute, until set. Using a spatula, turn the pancake over and cook for 5 – 10 more seconds, until thoroughly set, then transfer to a plate or cutting board. When cool enough to handle, roll up the egg pancake and cut into strips 1/4” wide. Set aside.

Swirl the remaining oil into the skillet and add the garlic mixture. Stir fry for no more than 10 seconds, until fragrant, then add the spinach. Stir fry for 1 minute, until bright green and wilted. Add the broth mixture, the noodles, and tomatoes.

Reduce the heat to medium and stir fry 1 to 2 minutes, using tongs to move around the noodles, until they are just tender and the tomatoes are beginning to soften. Stir in the shrimp gently, then add the cilantro, egg shreds, salt, sugar, and stir fry another 30 seconds until well combined.

Add the sesame seed oil, and serve.

I also added black sesame seeds.

In retrospect, these noodles really aren’t “stir-fried” even though Ms. Shulman actually refers to “frying” the noodles. With the 1/2 cup plus of liquid, there’s really no frying. Oh well.

I tried a stir-fried noodle recipe, and it was really good. That’s what’s important.

Lemon Pappardelle with Nduja

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Up until now, I’ve only used nduja on charcuterie platters – the wonderful spread that is so good on warm bread. That is, until I saw this recipe online.

If you aren’t familiar with nduja, it’s a spreadable pork sausage from southern Italy, spiced with Calabrian chile peppers. Nduja can be made from scratch, and maybe some day I will, but it’s so easy just to buy a tube. How to pronounce? In-doo-ya.

I have seen nduja included in red sauces, but in this recipe the nduja flavor is right there, not masked by anything else.

The recipe that got my attention is from Delicious Magazine – a really posh British cooking magazine that is also online. The actual name of the recipe is Sicilian pappardelle with nduja and crunchy breadcrumbs. In it, Sicilian lemons are recommended, but alas, there none to be found in Oklahoma. However, I did use Castelvetrano olives in this pasta, to make it a bit more Sicilian!

I wanted to include broccolini in this pasta for something green, but there wasn’t any at my local store. Frozen peas would work, or asparagus in the spring.

Sicilian Lemon Pappardelle with Nduja and Crunchy Breadcrumbs
Slightly adapted

30g/1 ounce unsalted butter
4 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Zest and juice of 3 lemons, plus wedges to serve
50g/2 ounces nduja, crumbled
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
50g/2 ounces fresh white breadcrumbs
400g fresh papardelle (I used dried)
1/3 cup heavy cream
40g/2 ounces Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
Castelvetrano olives, pitted, sliced lengthwise (optional)

Heat the butter in a large pan over a low heat and fry the shallots for 15 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, lemon zest and juice, then cook for a minute.

Add the nduja and half the parsley, then fry for 1-2 minutes.

In a small frying pan, heat a glug of olive oil, add the breadcrumbs and fry over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until crisp. Set aside.

Cook the pappardelle according to package directions. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water, then add the pasta to the nduja mixture. Set over a medium heat, then toss with a splash of the pasta water, cream, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the Parmesan.

Season to taste and divide among bowls or place in large serving bowl. Add the olives, if using, then sprinkle with the crunchy breadcrumbs and remaining parsley.

Serve with lemon wedges and extra Parmesan.

I also served the pasta with the Calabrian peppers for some extra heat!

note: Not all of my grams to ounces calibrations are correct. The ounces are what I actually used.

Kedgeree

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A while back on someone’s blog I commented on their kedgeree post that I’d never seen it with salmon, only chicken. She responded that she’d never seen it with anything but salmon! Well that’s when I realized I was mixing up the words kedgeree and biriyani. Yes, nothing in common at all. I’ll blame it on being old.

Both Indian dishes are rice-based, and both are served with hard=boiled eggs… but yet, not really similar. How I could confuse the names is beyond me!

Kedgeree can be as simple as a curried rice topped with prepared salmon, but I wanted something a little more fun, so I reached for Gordon Ramsay’s Cooking for Friends, published in 2009.

His recipe includes salmon and shrimp, but also quail eggs, which I couldn’t get my hands on.

Gordon Ramsay’s Posh Kedgeree

2 3/4 cups chicken or fish stock (I used both)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Pinch of saffron strands
9 ounces skinless, lightly smoked salmon fillet
7 ounces large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
2 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
2 cups basmati rice
12 quail eggs, at room temperature ( used 4 eggs)
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
Lemon wedges for garnish

Put the stock, thyme, saffron, and a little salt and pepper into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then gently lower the salmon fillet into the stock and poach for 4 minutes. Lift the fish out with a slotted spatula onto a warm plate. Add the shrimp to the stock and poach just until they turn firm and opaque, about 2 minutes.

I had lightly smoked the salmon using my stove-top smoker before starting this recipe.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the plate of salmon. Cover with foil and keep warm.

Strain the stock and discard the thyme; set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add the olive oil, shallots, and some seasoning. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft but not browned, 4–6 minutes. Add the butter and curry powder. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, then tip in the rice. Stir and cook for 2 minutes longer, to toast the rice lightly.

Add a generous seasoning of salt and pepper and pour in the stock. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid and let simmer for 10 minutes. Without lifting the lid, remove the pan from the heat and let the rice stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the quail eggs in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Crack and peel off the skins, then cut each egg in half. I obviously used un-posh, medium-sized chicken eggs.

Fluff the rice with a fork to separate the grains, then taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a bit more butter if you wish. Break the salmon fillet into large flakes and add to the rice, along with the shrimp and most of the chopped parsley. Gently mix the ingredients through the rice. Pile onto warm plates and garnish with the quail eggs, remaining parsley, and lemon wedges.

Serve at once.

The salmon is so tender I might cook it this way in the future. And the slight smokiness is wonderful. Altogether a delightful set of flavors and textures.

Mine was not quite as posh as Chef Ramsay’s, without the quail eggs, but I don’t think I could have peeled a dozen quail eggs, either.

I’m happy with how this dish came out!

A Seasonal Risotto

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I love making dishes that I can add stuff to, like pancakes, yeasted breads, risottos, mashed potatoes… well I guess just about any home-cooked dish! It’s one thing I enjoy and am good at. I didn’t learn creativity in culinary school, since I didn’t attend any cooking school ever. It actually comes from being financially strapped and never wanting to waste anything. Got a carrot? Juice it and put it in a soup, grate it and put it in a meat loaf, purée it and add to potato mash… and so forth.

But also, since I grew up experiencing various cuisines, I figured out that it’s easy to be creative by turning any random dish into an inspired-by cuisine. Take a potato soup, for example. Add chorizo, chipotle, and fresh cilantro and you’ve got a Southwestern-inspired soup. Use ricotta in the potato soup and top it with a spoonful of basil pesto, and you’ve got an Italian-inspired soup. And so forth. Every week you can make a “different” potato soup!

So that’s how I have fun in my kitchen, when I’m not following specific recipes.

Which brings me to risotto. I was looking over old blog posts a while back, and I came upon my Paprika Cream Risotto. It’s just a “plain” risotto with the addition of paprika cream. Simple, yet fabulous. The photos could be updated, of course, but what caught my attention were my own notes on suggestions of seasonal risottos.

Spring: Lemony goat cheese risotto with salmon, peas, and basil

Summer: Tomato and tomatillo risotto with chorizo and cilantro

Fall: Brussels sprouts risotto topped with grilled sausages

Winter: Smoked gouda risotto topped with short ribs and pickled onions

Damn. Those are great ideas! The Italian purists wouldn’t appreciate these recipes, but I have no problem with this kind of inspired cooking. Especially when the outcome is so wonderful!

I decided to start with the spring version, cause it’s spring! Now, this combination isn’t unique for springtime flavors, but they are really good together! Begin with the salmon, then keep the filets warm while you prepare the risotto, then put the final dish together.

After receiving a gift of a variety of fish from my daughter at Christmas from Sitka Salmon Shares, it has become my source for fish; their salmon is perfection.

Easy Sautéed Salmon Filets
Serves 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 salmon filets, not steaks
Salt
Finely ground pepper

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and let it brown slightly.

Season the flesh sides of the filets, then place the filets in the skillet, flesh side up. Cook for about 2 minutes, then gently flip over.

Lower the heat slightly and cook the skin-up filets for a about 4 minutes. At this point you can easily remove the skins using a thin spatula.

Turn them over for one last time so the fish cooks under the skin more, about 2-3 minutes over the lowest heat. Place them on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm, then prepare risotto.

Lemon and Goat Cheese Risotto with Peas
Generously serves 2

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup Riesling or other non-dry white
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 or 4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup prepared green peas (or sliced steamed asparagus if you prefer)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the butter and let melt. Add the shallots and sauté for about 4-5 minutes; don’t allow much caramelization.

Add the rice to the pot and stir it around in the butter and shallots until all the grains are coated. Pour in the white wine. Stir as the rice cooks in the wine and it gradually gets absorbed.

Without letting the pot go completely dry, add some of the broth, about 1/3 cup at a time, and repeat the stirring process, without allowing any burning or sticking. Turn down the heat if you think the rice is cooking too fast; it’s always best to go slower. You can see the risotto is cooking but not ready quite yet.

When you’re down to the end of the broth, turn off the heat and gradually fold in 3 ounces of goat cheese until well distributed.

Add the salt and white pepper and taste for seasoning. If you’re satisfied, gently add the peas, lemon juice and zest, cover the pot, and set it aside.

Lemony Goat Cheese Risotto with Peas Served with Salmon

2 tablespoons goat cheese, at room temperature
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
A chiffonade of basil leaves

Strain the reserved butter in the skillet into a small bowl. There should be at least 1 tablespoon of melted browned butter. Add the 2 tablespoons of goat cheese into the butter by gently whisking until smooth. If you don’t like this idea, just put a small dollop of soft goat cheese on each filet before serving.

To serve, divide the risotto into two pasta bowls. Top each serving with a salmon filet. Divide the goat cheese-butter mixture between the filets.

Divide the lemon zest between both servings, and finish with the basil chiffonade.

I loved the goat cheese, lemon, and basil flavors together!

If you’re not familiar with the term salmon “filet,” here are photos of the two most common individual cuts – the thinner filet, and the thicker steak. Filets can be trimmed so their thickness is uniform. Save the scraps!

Thanks to Cooks Illustrated for these photos!

Spicy Pork

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I’ve never routinely watched cooking shows, and never thought I would. Well, never say never! During the pandemic, I happily discovered a few entertaining shows that I enjoyed bingeing. One is Amy Schumer Learns to Cook, and another is Somebody Feed Phil. Both are fun and funny as well as educational. Then, I discovered The Chef Show on Netflix, and once more I was hooked. It’s hosted by Chef Roy Choi and Jon Favreau.

I’ve mentioned Roy Choi on my blog before when I made a spectacular sauce from his cookbook, L.A. Son, which is a great read. It tells the story of Chef’s rise to fame from a Korean-American kid in Los Angeles to highly regarded chef status. Along the way he attended the C.I.A. and lucked into an externship with none other than Eric Ripert!

What I didn’t know when I watched the movie Chef back in 2014, is that the main actor, Jon Favreau, who plays a disgruntled chef who starts his own food truck, actually trained for his role with Chef Roy Choi!

Chef Choi, well known for his famous food truck Kogi in Los Angeles, was a perfect fit for Favreau. Choi sent Favreau to a week of intensive French culinary schooling. His knife skills are super impressive.

The pair got along so well that well after the movie they decided to visit chefs and celebrities and cook with them, and called it The Chef Show. In one episode, Gwyneth Paltrow asks the two what the point of the show is, and they both start laughing, cause there really wasn’t, as it turns out. They just have fun cooking together, cooking with others, mentoring, and eating.

So far, I’ve watched the pair cook with Wolfgang Puck, David Chang, Wes Avila, the duo of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, some foodies and non-chefs as well. The chefs are my favorite cause you get to watch them at work, and they put both Jon and Roy to work as well. It’s all fascinating.

When Chef Roy cooks on the show, it’s like watching a magician. His sweet and spicy sauce that I made had about 800 ingredients in it, and many measurements like 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon. Seriously, that seemed crazy to me, that adding 2 or 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds would make a difference. But when you watch him, you get it. It looks random, but it’s madman precision.

In every episode, I’m scribbling like crazy to write down the recipes, pausing occasionally to write, sometimes pausing to google. Chile de valle? Couldn’t find it.

But then, I found the darn recipes online. And one that I really enjoyed is called BBQ spicy pork. It’s a menu item at Chef Choy’s Best Friend restaurant in Las Vegas at the Park MGM, which reopened in March of 2021 after closing during the pandemic.

To make the spicy pork, you first make a marinade called Galbi, the name of a Korean rib barbecue sauce, then you use some of it to make the spicy pork marinade.

BBQ Spicy Pork

Galbi Marinade:
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup maple syrup
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 medium onion, quartered
1 scallion
1/3 cup whole garlic cloves
1/2 kiwi, peeled
1/2 Asian pear

Purée these ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Spicy Pork Marinade:
1 cup Galbi marinade
1 cup gochujang
1/4 cup gochujaru
2 jalapenos
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup whole garlic cloves

Purée these ingredients until smooth.

1 1/2 pounds pork butt, sliced 1/2″ thick
1 1/2 pounds pork belly, sliced 1/2″ thick
Salt
1 large onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 cup spicy pork marinade
Cooked white rice
Sliced green onions
Sesame seeds

Place the meats in a large bowl and coat with the spicy pork marinade evenly and heavily. Allow to sit at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours in marinade.

Remove the pork from the marinade. Season lightly with salt. Grill on a flat griddle.

Add the onion slices and cup of marinade, and continue cooking until meat is nicely charred and cooked through, slightly chopping the meat as it cooks.

Serve over white rice.

Sprinkle generously with chopped green onions and sesame seeds.

And the remaining Galbi marinade? I poured it over abou5 2.5 pounds of cut up pork shoulder, marinated it for 24 hours, then cooked it in a slow cooker. Wow! What fabulous flavors.

Salmon with Pickled Strawberries

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In July of 2020, my husband and I visited Glacier National Park in Montana. It was a dream trip that we considered cancelling because of the international pandemic. Cancelling would have involved losing money, but mostly, after not leaving the house for months, we just wanted and needed to get to Montana.

We stayed at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, in Whitefish, Montana. Because of the pandemic, our hotel experience wasn’t what we had anticipated, but we understood the issues with which the hotel dealt. On our first night at the hotel, we ate dinner at the hotel’s “fancier” restaurant, called the Boat Bar.

I ordered a salmon dish. It was described as “House-smoked salt-cured seared salmon over kohlrabi purée, charred asparagus, beets, fava beans, and pickled strawberry vinaigrette” on the menu, photographed below.

The combination of flavors and textures were so good, that on our last night in Montana we ate at the same restaurant and I ordered this same dish. That is not like me!

I have never seen fresh fava beans where I live, so earlier this year, my girlfriend with a greenhouse started some for me! It was so exciting!

Following is more of a guide I used in my attempt to recreate this meal. I couldn’t find kohlrabi, so I subbed potatoes.

Salmon with Pickled Strawberries, Roasted Asparagus, Beets, Fava Beans, over a Potato Puree, and a Creamy Strawberry Vinaigrette
Serves 2

For  the  Fava  Beans: Strip open the pods and remove the beans. Place them in boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and cool with ice water. Gently pinch off the peel.

For  the  Potato  Purée: Boil 2 peeled and chopped russet potatoes until tender, put them through a ricer, then add heavy cream until soft.

For  the  Salmon: Heat a little butter in a medium skillet, add 2 uniform thickness salmon filets, seasoned with salt and white pepper, and sautéed them until just cooked.

For  the  Beets: Because these weren’t treated any special way, I simply used canned beets, although at the store I could only find them already sliced. I cut them into little cubes as best I could, and placed them on paper towels to dry.

For  the  Asparagus: Slice about a dozen asparagus into small, uniform pieces, using mostly the tip end halves. Toss the pieces with salted olive oil, and roast them at 400 degrees until obvious browning appears.

For  the  Pickled  Strawberries: Slice about 6 large strawberries crosswise, place them in a jar, add 2 teaspoons of sugar and cover them completely with red wine vinegar. Shake gently and let the jar sit in the refrigerator overnight. Before using, remove them from the vinegar and let them sit on paper towels to dry.

For  the  Strawberry  Vinaigrette: Drain the pickled strawberries and reserved the vinegar in a small blender jar. Add about half of the pickled strawberries to the vinegar. Add olive oil, mayonnaise, about 1 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth and taste.

I included some sunflower greens, and fresh flowers to use for the presentation.

To put it all together, make sure all of the elements are warm. Spread some potato purée on each plate (I made two servings) and top with the salmon.

Add the roasted asparagus, poached fava beans, beet cubes, and pickled strawberry slices.

Sprinkle the salmon with some flaked salt, if desired, and top with some microgreens of choice.

Taste the vinaigrette for flavor and seasoning before you use it. You don’t want it tart, but also not sweet. Serve extra on the side.

The vinaigrette is really good on the asparagus, beets, and favas. And I really enjoyed the backdrop of the potato purée.

And if you ever have a chance to see Glacier National Park and other parts of Montana, do go! Such spectacular scenery!

A Basic Omelet

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There was a summer many years ago when I taught cooking classes to four little girls – two sets of sisters who were homeschooled. Their mothers thought that cooking classes would satisfy many interests and teach quite a few skills to the girls. And indeed, I’ve always thought that cooking classes are fabulous for not only learning about food, but also grasping important applications like math and chemistry.

During those classes we had a session on eggs – how to appreciate them for the wonderful little package of food they are, and how to treat them with respect in the kitchen. And one thing we made together were omelets. (Also a pavlova, which was a huge hit!)

Now, it may not seem that creative to put an omelet on my blog, but on the contrary, I think that an omelet requires learning some skills. Plus, there are a lot of terrible omelets out there, so perhaps I’m doing a community service with this post. I hope so.

To me, there are a few criteria for making the perfect omelet:
1. good eggs
2. good cheese, for a cheese omelet
3. the right skillet
4. a lid
5. patience

Of course it goes without saying that the ingredients that you choose for your omelet have to be good. It’s especially nice to have access to farm-fresh eggs – the kind that are almost impossible to break open because the shells are so hard.

Cheese is subjective – there’s no “right” cheese. I like Fontina, Gruyere, or even a good Monterey Jack. Who am I kidding?! Any cheese that melts well will work.

The right skillet is important because you want your omelet to end up a decent thickness. Place your whisked eggs in too large of a skillet, and you will get a thin omelet. Unless you like that kind, I don’t recommend too large of a skillet.

The skillet I use for my one-person, 2-egg omelet, is actually a crêpe pan. It’s got a flat bottom and flat sides. The outside diameter is 8″; the inside diameter, or bottom, measures 6″ in diameter.

crepe

A perfect-fitting lid is also important for making a good omelet.

And then the most important aspect of making an omelet – patience. As Rome wasn’t built in a day, an omelet can’t be prepared in one minute. I know everyone likes fast food, but if you rush your omelet, it will taste and feel like something purchased at a fast food restaurant. Which would make me wonder why you’re even bothering to cook an omelet at home in the first place…

For today’s omelet, or omelette, I chose butter, 2 eggs, grated Fontina, and some diced, leftover ham. And here’s what I did.

A  Basic  Ham  and  Cheese   Omelet

2 eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Diced ham, optional of course
Cheese of choice – grated, or sliced fairly thinly

Whisk the 2 eggs in a small bowl with a fork, before you begin heating the skillet. Also, please don’t think that brown eggs are better than white. My mother had chickens that laid many different colored eggs, depending on their breed.

Place the butter in the skillet over medium heat. It should begin melting immediately, but not burn. If you think the skillet is too hot, remove it from the heat source for a minute. Cooking is a lot about common sense.

You need to work fairly quickly at first, but don’t worry, it’s not a race. Just have all of the ingredients available, as well as the skillet lid. And don’t forget to adjust the heat on the stove. That’s why there are knobs. Or, if you panic, completely remove the skillet from the heat source and collect yourself.

Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. The butter has browned a bit. You can see that the skillet is “grabbing” the eggs and the cooking process has begun.

Immediately place the ham and cheese over the top of the eggs and turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Trust me.

Then place the lid on the skillet. Let the omelet cook slowly, with the lid on, over the lowest heat, for about 4 minutes.

At this point, the top of the omelet will look like this:

Most of the cheese is melted, but there is still a bit of egg that need to cook through. Remove the skillet completely from the heat source, but leave the lid on.

After about 1 minute, the omelet should be ready. I prefer an omelette baveuse, or soft. Cook a little more if you can’t handle runny eggs!

You can use a thin spatula to remove the omelet from the skillet and fold over gently, or slide it out for an open-face presentation. Alternatively, use the skillet to slide the omelet on the plate, then fold it over into a semi-circle using the edge of the skillet.

The egg part of the omelet is cooked and somewhat puffy, almost like a soufflé, but not to the point of rubberyness. I don’t mind a bit of browning on the eggs.

Notice the cheese is fully melted inside because the lid on the skillet allowed the cheese to warm and melt, just like with a quesadilla.

What’s important is that in spite of the fact that this omelet took a little time, the results are superb.

I swore off omelets at restaurants a couple of decades ago. No more rubber omelets, ever!

Guiso de Carne

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At our favorite Mexican restaurant in town, I typically order one of two favorite items. One is shrimp Saltado, and the other is guiso de carne This is what is looks like at the restaurant.

It’s tender beef in a rich red sauce – not spicy, but very flavorful, served with rice, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream.

Recently I decided to make guiso de carne at home, and I immediately had challenges. The first was that this didn’t exist in any of my Mexican cookbooks, and then online, the name guiso de carne was most often changed to carne guisado. I tried to figure out the difference, but hit a dead end.

Carne Guisado is beef braised in a seasoned red sauce, and at this point I’m thinking its a Tex-Mex creation.

So I created my own recipe, and is it exactly like what I love at the restaurant? I’d have to do a side-by-side taste test. But it’s really good.

Guiso de Carne

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Grapeseed or canola oil, divided
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 guajillo chile peppers, stemmed, seeded
8 ounces hot chicken broth
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper
8 ounces tomato sauce

Place the cut up beef in a large bowl. Add the salt, pepper, cumin and coriander and toss so that all the beef is seasoned.

Starting with 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven, brown the meat in batches over high heat, without crowding, then place in another bowl. Continue with remaining beef.

Reduce the heat and add a little more oil if necessary, and sauté the onion; don’t caramelized much.

Meanwhile, place the hot chicken broth in a small blender jar with the guajillo peppers, broken up slightly, the chipotle peppers, the oregano, and ground ancho chile. Let sit for about 5 minutes before blending until smooth.

Add the tomato sauce and blend again; set aside.

Once the onions are sautéed, stir in the minced garlic for barely a minute, then pour in the tomato sauce mixture.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the beef and its juices to the sauce, give everything a stir, and simmer on low for 1 hour.

Check halfway through cooking – add some more broth if necessary. Make sure to give the meat a stir to make sure there is no sticking.

Serve the guiso de carne on a plate with your desired side dishes and toppings.

Rice and beans are great accompaniments, as are flour tortillas.

If you prefer eating guiso de carne in tortillas, like tacos, it’s best to make sure the pieces of chuck aren’t bigger than 1/2″.

Monte Cristo Crêpes

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A Monte Cristo sandwich is a ham and cheese sandwich with a layer of strawberry jam, that is then egg-dipped and pan-fried in butter. The sweet and savory flavors, along with the melty cheese and crispy bread are heavenly.

I’ve only had a Monte Cristo once, but I remember it well. My stepfather had come to Santa Barbara, California, where I was attending college, and he took me to lunch at a well known Mexican restaurant downtown called El Paseo, which was housed in a popular fiesta venue known for its retractable ceiling. I found this photo on Pinterest!

How I came to choose the Monte Cristo sandwich that day is beyond me, but I loved the flavor combinations.

The traditional Monte Cristo sandwich recipe is generally the following:
Firm sandwich bread slices
Sliced Swiss cheese
Jambon de Bayonne or other good thinly-sliced ham
Strawberry jam (not preserves) or red currant jelly
Mayo mixed with some whole-grain mustard
Eggs whisked for dipping
Butter for pan frying

The Monte Cristo is always sliced in half before serving, so the beautiful layers show, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. This photo is from Bon Appetit, although it doesn’t show the layers.

Thanks to general pandemic googling, I came across Monte Cristo Crêpes from Serious Eats, by Morgan Eisenberg, WOW! I was so excited to make these. From the recipe’s creator, whose blog is Host the Toast: “It’s a masterpiece of the sweet-and-savory genre, and it turns out it’s just as good in crepe form.”

Monte Cristo Crêpes
adapted by Morgan Eisenberg

1/2 cup strawberry jam (not preserves)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
6 basic crêpes, unsweetened
6 slices Havarti cheese
Grated Gruyere, about 6 ounces
12 thin slices deli ham*
1/3 milk
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Confectioners’ sugar, to dust
Assorted berries, for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together jelly and mustard. Spread a thin, even layer of the jelly mixture over each of 6 crêpes. Warm first if necessary.

Top each crêpe with 1 slice of each cheese and then layer the ham on top of the cheese.

Sprinkle some grated Gruyere around the outside of each crêpe to help everything to hold together – about 1 ounce each. I used my microwave on a very low setting to just get the cheese warm and slightly melted in order to hold the crêpes together before continuing with the recipe.

Roll the crepe up tightly and and set seam-side down. Press gently. Repeat for remaining crepes.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, egg yolk and salt. Have a non-stick skillet over medium heat, starting with about 2 tablespoons of butter melting. Using your fingers, briefly dip a crêpe into the egg mixture. Allow excess to drip off and transfer to the skillet, seam-side down.

Fry crepes until golden all over, turning once. Everything is already cooked, so you’re just looking for some nice browning.

Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining crepes, frying one or two at a time and adding butter as needed.

Serve any remaining jam-Dijon mixture.

Dust crepes with powdered sugar, if desired.

Serve warm with berries. See the beautiful layers?

I might have made these extra cheesy, because the cheese “juice” as my husband calls it, just poured out of these!

But so did the cheese, which was lovely.

I have a lot of experience with crêpes, but with all of the ooziness, I didn’t think they looked very pretty free-form. I might make these again more in casserole form, even though I detest that word! I also think larger diameter crepes would have been easier to manage.

*Since I used Serrano ham, which is similar to prosciutto, I only used 6 slices total.