Saturday, June 9, 2012

Reversed Chicken Cordon Bleu

I know I just wrote a recipe for a non-traditional Chicken Cordon Bleu 6 weeks ago, but here's how this new one happened...

I was up late one night recently, sick, with a fever that made it difficult to get comfortable in bed, and so out on the sofa.  I flipped through channels until I gave up and settled on an episode of Iron Chef America (a show I'd never watched because I hadn't really enjoyed the episodes of the original Iron Chef that I'd tried).  At one point a chef put a plate under the salamander, and as the host wondered aloud what was on it, the chef replied that it was a provolone sauce.  I thought to myself "how great would that be, a cheese sauce on the plate, under the food, broiled a bit to get it hot and brown and rich and gooey and delicious".  Since I (once again) had some Gruyere in the house needing to be used, I decided to write a recipe with a Gruyere sauce as the base.  I immediately ran into a major problem, namely that of not wanting to shatter my dinnerware.  Obviously I don't have a salamander (lizard or professional kitchen equipment), but I'd assumed I'd use the broiler.  The two kinds of dinner plates I have are newer Fiestaware and unknown-age Corningware.  Some vintage Fiestaware can go under the broiler, the new stuff can't (shouldn't.  People risk it and sometimes win, sometimes lose.  The company says "don't").  Same with Corningware.  My Corningware is possibly old enough (I got it from a relative who was 79 when she died 12 years ago, and I suspect she'd had it for decades), and it doesn't say "not for stovetop or broiler use" on the back like some Corningware does, but why risk it, especially when it would mean a recipe that few people could safely duplicate?  So I've switched my beautiful idea to a dipping sauce, which ended up not needing to be broiled (see notes below), but I still think how great it would have been to serve a deep blue plate with a bubbly brown-edged white Gruyere sauce pooled in the center and a couple skewers of wrapped chicken slanted across it.

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto
  • 1/2 Tbsp (approximate) Dijon mustard
1. Preheat broiler.  Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes.  Slice each piece of prosciutto lengthwise into 1/2-inch thin strips, then slice each strip into 3-inch lengths.  Using the back of a spoon, gently spread Dijon mustard thinly onto one side of each strip of prosciutto.  Wrap each piece of chicken with a strip of prosciutto, and secure on skewers (about 5-6 wrapped chicken pieces should fit onto each 10-11inch skewer).  Broil, 4-6 inches from heat, 3-4 minutes per side.
2.  While chicken is broiling, make Gruyere sauce.

Gruyere Sauce
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/4 C grated Gruyere cheese
  • dash pepper
1.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add flour and stir until combined, do not allow to brown.  Gradually whisk in the milk.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened.
2.  Remove from heat.  Add cheese, stir until melted, season with pepper.  Pour sauce into mini cocotte or ramekin for serving.

When chicken has finished cooking, remove from skewers and serve with rice, sharing the Gruyere sauce between both people to use as a dipping sauce.

Robyn's notes: Normally if I were writing a basic cheese sauce like the one above, it would include salt for seasoning.  But since this sauce is being used alongside a dish with prosciutto in it, I've left the salt out.  Prosciutto brings enough of a salt flavour to a dish without adding additional sodium to the sauce.  Prosciutto can be difficult to slice, and I recommend taking the package out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before starting to cook.  Try to carefully lay a single slice on your cutting board and cut with the end of a sharp knife without moving the meat.  It has a tendency to stick to itself and its packaging and to shred, if it does simply try to make it work by wrapping what you can around the chicken.  If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 20 minutes before putting the chicken on.  This helps the food slide on and off better, reduces the chance of slivers of wood breaking off with the movement of the food, and in some cases can help keep the skewers from burning all the way through.  They are still likely to char at the ends.  I did broil the Gruyere sauce alongside the chicken for the last 2 minutes of cook time, but it didn't brown on top and just gave the sauce a bit of a skin, so don't bother.  The sauce will be nice and hot from having just been made, and the broiling wouldn't add anything to it.  I made half of the chicken with Dijon mustard in the wrapping and half without, because I don't actually like the taste of Dijon, despite cooking with it pretty often, and I wasn't sure which would be better.  The pieces without were good, but the pieces with the Dijon had a wonderful depth of flavour that made a big difference, so I'm definitely including it in the recipe.  It doesn't actually taste like Dijon, just adds a little needed something to the dish.  Unless every bite of chicken is absolutely covered with dipping sauce, there will be some Gruyere sauce left over.  I simply couldn't write the recipe any smaller or it would be nearly impossible to make the roux.  So if there's enough left to save in a covered container in the fridge, it can be served over vegetables (especially cauliflower or broccoli) the following day.  We were both really pleased with this dish, and while prosciutto is too expensive to buy regularly, it'll definitely go on the list of favourites for an occasional splurge.  
***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Crashing Chocolate Cakes

I've got 3 more dessert recipes written that need to be tested, but I think they'll wait a little while.  We're starting to get a little overloaded on sweets, and I do have a couple of entrees also waiting for testing, so those will take priority after this.

Flourless chocolate cakes seem to wax and wane in popularity, having moments of being everywhere you look and moments where it seems no one has ever heard of them.  This one is similar to the "molten" or "lava" cakes that tend to be available in restaurants, but with a more homey look.  Speaking of which, the towel in the picture below was embroidered by my late grandmother in the 1950s.  It's been getting near-daily use in the years since, too, so for those of you who enjoy embroidery but think you have to choose between an item that's utilized and one that's cherished?  Have hope!  Sometimes you can do both.

  • 3 oz dark chocolate
  • 1/3 C butter
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 C sugar
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt, with butter, in a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.
2.  Beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale yellow.  Remove top of double boiler or bowl from the heat and combine egg mixture with chocolate.
3.  Whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form (stiff peaks stand on their own completely without falling over.  Do not overbeat), fold into chocolate mixture.  Pour batter evenly into two mini cocottes or individual casserole dishes/ramekins.  Bake 18-22 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.  The cakes will rise while baking, and crash in the centers after being removed from the oven.  Serve warm with ice cream. 

Robyn's notes: I took the first cake out of the oven after 18 minutes, leaving the other to cook longer, so we could taste each and decide which we preferred.  The first (photo above) rose to about a half-inch above the cocotte rim (both had been filled to about a half-inch below the rim), and crashed very nicely and evenly at the center.  It was a little bit too "uncooked batter" in the center for my taste, which I know is the point, but I like the mushy inside of these cakes to be almost like hot fudge, not like licking a beater.  The second, which cooked for about 21 minutes, rose quite high above the rim (almost a full inch), and didn't crash nearly as prettily, instead getting a large crack and subsiding halfheartedly in one direction.  The center was closer to my preference, though.  In step 3, where I say "whisk" the egg whites?  If you have access to an electric beater, use it.  Seriously.  I had to actually whisk because my mixer is unavailable at the moment, and not only does it take forever to whisk egg whites to stiff peaks by hand, it's very tiring.  The only benefits of doing it by hand are 1) the feeling of pride and accomplishment that lasts about 90 seconds upon completion; 2) the knowledge that you could do it if your power went out/that you're not as far removed from your homemaking great-grandmothers as you thought; 3) the tiny possibility of reduction in the jigglyness of your tricep.  If you'd like to add a little liqueur to this recipe, such as Amaretto or Kahlua, about 2 tsp should do it, and it should be added to the melted chocolate and butter before adding the egg+sugar mixture.  These cakes are very rich.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Monday, June 4, 2012

Creme Brulee

The notes on this are kind of long, but that's because there are several options for browning the tops of the crème brûlées.  Plan ahead, these need lots of resting time in the fridge.
  • 1 1/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/3 of a vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1/3 C vanilla sugar, divided
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • hot water
1.  Preheat oven to 325°F.  Combine cream, vanilla bean and its scrapings in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes to infuse.  Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for other use.
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp sugar and the egg yolks until they are well blended and just starting to lighten in colour.  Add cream slowly, stirring continuously.  Pour mixture into mini cocottes.  Place the cocottes into a roasting pan and add enough hot water (not boiling) to the pan to come approximately halfway up the outside of the cocottes.  Bake until custard is set but still jiggly in the centers, approximately 40-45 minutes.
3.  Remove cocottes from roasting pan and place them in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, up to 3 days if making in advance. 
4.  Remove the cocottes from the fridge 30 minutes before beginning to brown them.  Spread the remaining sugar on top of the cocottes and melt with a kitchen torch to create a crispy topping.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: first, and most importantly, the taste.  This was far too rich for my liking, I simply couldn't eat it without adding a raspberry to each bite to add some freshness and cut through the strong rich custard.  The raspberries weren't meant to be more than a pretty garnish.  My vanilla sugar is not ready to be used yet, so I used regular sugar, if I'd used vanilla sugar it would have been way over the top (and I love vanilla).  I don't have a lot of experience eating crème brûlée, but my first (and favourite) was at Neiman Marcus years ago during the holidays, and theirs included Grand Marnier.  I may consider using some when trying this again.  Secondly, the process of browning the sugar.  I went to Williams-Sonoma and priced their kitchen torches last week ($40), as well as carefully reading every line of text on the packaging.  I simply cannot afford to spend that kind of money on a kitchen tool that has very few uses.  The packaging said that the torch uses butane, and after a lot of research, I determined that Bic long-handled lighters also use butane.  I am not saying that it's safe to use a Bic lighter for a food product.  As a matter of fact, I'm saying that it's probably not safe.  Probably nobody should do it.  But I decided to give it a try anyway.  It was a pain.  The lighter is not meant to be used for more than 30 seconds straight, and while I decline to say whether I kept it lit longer than that (ahem), I had to be careful that I didn't keep it lit long enough to become a danger.  The biggest differences between a kitchen torch and a Bic lighter are that the kitchen torch a) has a stronger flame, and b) has a hotter flame.  This means that the sugar melts much more quickly and over a larger area.  The Bic lighter took half an hour to melt just the top of one of these mini crème brûlées (we're saving the other to try another technique tomorrow, which I'll get to shortly).  It was very tiring and frustrating.  The sugar did melt, the caramel disc did solidify, but it was not worth the work.  The other option, which we'll be trying tomorrow on the second crème brûlée, is to sprinkle the sugar over the top, then place it under the broiler for a few minutes (be careful!  Not all ramekins are broiler-safe!).  The problem with this is that it subjects the entire dish to increased heat, which changes the consistency of the custard beneath the sugar.  I was trying to avoid that, but we'll see tomorrow how it goes.  Update: the broiler option does work, but as expected it changed the consistency of the custard, in a way I didn't like.  It became much like curdled milk, basically liquid with some strange chunks.  The final option, which I will not be trying at this time, is to flambé the sugar by splashing it with liquor and lighting it up.  I don't currently have either flambé experience or a good fire extinguisher, so I'll be letting that option pass me by for now.  

** 2 Stars: Acceptable. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, if I make changes

Vanilla Sugar

I am a big fan of vanilla.  The only scented body or hand soap I'll use willingly is vanilla, the only kind of scent or perfume I've ever used is vanilla, and just opening a jar of vanilla extract (real, please, not imitation) in another room is a great way to get me rushing in to look over your shoulder.  I think it's unfortunate that the word "vanilla" has come to mean "plain" to so many minds, because true vanilla is anything but plain.  Consider that vanilla is the seed pod of a tropical climbing orchid, and "plain" starts to go out the window.  Vanilla Sugar is not a cheap product to make and have on hand, but I think it's worth the occasional splurge because of the way it elevates sweet baked goods.

  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
1.   Pour sugar into a bowl and set aside.  Slice the vanilla bean down the center to open it.  Scrape the inside of the bean with the side of a small knife to remove the seeds. 
2.  Add seeds to the bowl of sugar, and use your fingers to rub the inside of the scraped bean with some of the sugar, to coax out any additional seeds that you may have missed while scraping.  Stir together seeds and sugar to get the seeds as well mixed as possible.
3.  Pour sugar and seed mixture into an airtight container, burying the bean in the sugar as well.  It will take 1-2 weeks for the flavouring to infuse fully.

Yield: 2 Cups vanilla sugar

Robyn's notes: once the vanilla sugar has combined, it can be used in place of sugar in sweet recipes, without needing to adjust measurements.  It's also good in coffee or tea, sprinkled on oatmeal or fruit, or as a simple but elegant gift-in-a-jar for friends who bake.  To make this more cost-efficient, used beans work fine, too.  If you've made a custard or sauce with a vanilla bean, you won't be eating the actual bean as part of that dish.  So once you've removed the bean from its previous use, pat it dry gently and put it into the sugar.  As the bean dries in the sugar, give the canister a shake from time to time, it'll break up any clumps that may have formed and help loosen any remaining "vanilla caviar" (the seeds) that may still be in the bean.  In the photo above, I used half of a new bean and half a bean that had already been used for another purpose.  Vanilla sugar can be stored indefinitely in an air-tight container, just as regular sugar can, and just needs to be topped off with additional sugar and more seeds or another bean as you use it up. 

***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly