Thursday, January 30, 2014

Braised Baby Bok Choy

 Gong Xi Fa Cai (Pronounced: gong she fa chai.) is how you say Happy New Year in Mandarin. This Friday kicks off Chinese Lunar New Year, the Year of the Horse. If you happen to be a Horse like me, you are active, energetic, sexy, quick-witted, and a hard worker. You also love your Chinese vegetables and braise a mean bok choy.
If you've never tried bok choy in the past, now is your chance. It is shockingly easy to work with, great tasting (Mr. O-P who is not known for particularly liking vegetables gobbled his down), can be used in just about anything from salads to soups to casseroles, to a simple sauté. It has few calories, and offers both protein and antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and K.  As if this isn't enough, it's just so gosh darn cute!

Braised Baby Bok Choy

1-1/2 tablespoons butter
3/4 lb. Melissa's baby bok choy, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring broth and butter to a simmer in a deep large skillet or a three-quart saucepan. Place bok choy, arranging so that bulb ends alternate to make maximum use of space. Simmer covered, until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Watch it as this happens rather fast. Using tongs, transfer bok choy to a heated serving dish and keep warm, covered, while you boil the remaining broth 
mixture until reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Stir in sesame oil to taste and pepper lightly. Pour mixture over bok choy.

If you want to get really special, after braising, chop off the leaves at the bottom, slice the bok choy in half, and form the two halves into this heart shape. How adorable would this be as a side dish to serve to your sweetie on Valentine's Day?

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chicken Vesuvio

Nothing says comfort on a cold winter night than a nice breast of chicken in a sumptuous sauce.  I love this dish because it can be on the table in a half an hour, or less, and is comprised of ingredients that I always have on hand.  A bit of pre-prep is called for, however.  First of all, use boneless, skinless chicken breasts purchased fresh from your grocer's meat counter. Wait for a sale if you must, but please do not use the frozen bags of desiccated chicken breasts.  The difference between the two is remarkable. Second, place your chicken into a lidded container and pour 1-1/2 cups of buttermilk over it and let it hang out in the fridge all day. Turn it once or twice, if you think about it, but if not, no harm done. Buttermilk does for chicken what brining does for pork, tenderizes, and makes it deliciously moist. Try it once, and you'll never prepare chicken again without making use of this easy first step.

Prior to preparing this dish, have all of the ingredients measured out and within reach of the cooktop of the stove. Once begun, the process is rather fast, and you'll have little time for retrieving, chopping, and measuring. I try to employ this practice with every recipe that requires cooking on top of the stove. It makes things fast and easy, and virtually mindless, something I truly appreciate at day's end.

This dish pairs well with rice pilaf, or nestles happily in a mound of freshly mashed potatoes, but I found perfection in the simplicity of the chicken and sauce served with a side of bright green, braised baby bok choy. Come back tomorrow for the recipe for that simple side, and a clever way to serve it for Valentine's Day.
Chicken Vesuvio
(with Mushrooms and Peas)

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, and seasoned 
with salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup quartered cremini mushrooms, about 2.5 oz
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup frozen green peas
2 tsp. fresh Meyer lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Place chicken breasts into pan and sauté 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a warmed plate and cover lightly with foil to keep warm.

Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat and add mushrooms.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, tossing to brown evenly, then stir in flour and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute more.

Deglaze skillet with sherry and reduce until nearly evaporated. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until mixture thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in peas and simmer 2 minutes more; add lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Return chicken and accumulated juices to the pan, covering with sauce until heated through.

Serves 2

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Super Bowl Snacks

Super Bowl is nearly upon us, so it's time to get out those recipes for tasty snacks. I have given you some exceptionally easy and, oh so delicious recipes during the past week, but here are four more that are also a cinch to make, universally appealing, and allow you time enough to actually enjoy the game and your company.
Click on the name of the dish to get the recipe.  From top left, going clockwise, Easy Cheddar Beer Spread, Seasoned Toasted Pecans (addicting), Hot Cheese Puffs, and Cheesy Bacon Pecan Spirals.ot Cgeese Puffs
 For those of you who aren't diehard football fans, are only minimally interested in the game, much less the outcome, and will be switching to Downton Abbey at 8:00, here's a recipe for authentic English scones. I'll be serving both!

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Displaying Flatware

 In my last table setting post, I showed off my new Pottery Barn Antique Silver Flatware, a Christmas gift from my dad, mentioning that I liked it so much that I didn’t want to put it away.  I love that it looks as though it has been passed from generation to generation, and that each piece is inscribed with its name.  After I wrote that post I thought, why am I putting it away?  Why hide something in a drawer or closet and only bring it out occasionally?  

So, I now have it on display where I can see, enjoy, and use it daily.   It has come in handier than I originally thought it would.  I am always grabbing a spoon, it seems, to stir coffee or use in consuming the Greek yogurt that I keep as a staple in the lower level fridge. 
It also provides me with the opportunity to use this cute little flatware and napkin basket, normally employed to tote necessities outside when dining al fresco.
As I look at this little dining room vignette, I realize that each piece here is special.  The basket I bought years ago when my parents had a house at the Lake of the Ozarks.  The wine steward was purchased during a trip to Buck's County, Pennsylvania.  The wall poster I bought at the Yale University bookstore during one of our research trips to New Haven.
While one of my goals this year is to minimize and thus organize, I am finding that there is so much that I can purge, and in the doing, am uncovering some true treasures that make me happy to view.  It pleases me as well, to pass once loved things on for others to cherish for a while, and then continue the cycle.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Deceptively Delicious Bacon Yummies

 Do you like church cookbooks as much as I do?  I always picture all of those church ladies agonizing over submitting their best recipes for inclusion in a published tome.  This recipe is from the Atonement Lutheran Church Cookbook. It has no provenance.  I wish it had. I'd really like to know just who it was who came up with the idea of wrapping a half of a piece of bacon around a saltine, and then baking it in the oven for more than an hour.  Who thinks up such things?  Clearly some quick-thinking cook with drop-in guests and a bare cupboard.

Well, thank goodness for that resourceful cook because these are deceptively delicious, hence my improvement upon the name. They are easy, tasty, always a hit at parties, but they are certainly not pretty. The last time I served them someone looked at the plate, then back up at me with a quizzical, can't-you-do-better-than-this look and said, What are these?  Crackers with bacon wrapped around them?"  Yup, guilty as charged, I replied, That, and a sprinkling of good quality Parmesan.
People first take a small bite as though they're about to consume something  laced with cyanide, or as if they are unwilling dupes in some sort of colossal culinary joke.  Once the first morsel is consumed, a look of complete shock crosses their face, while at the same time their hand passes over the serving platter scooping up as many as they can hold.
What can I tell you?  They're great!
They can be assembled a couple of hours prior to baking, and bake a good long time, giving you plenty of opportunty to mingle with your guests. I generally try to serve these well into the party (read: Halftime) when the initial plates of goodies are looking pretty bare.
You can substitute club crackers for the saltines for a more buttery taste, but for me, nothing beats the goodness of a good old saltine.

Deceptively Delicious Bacon Yummies
32 saltine crackers
16 strips bacon
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 275°F.
Cut slices of bacon in half.  Wrap one half piece of bacon around each cracker.  Place each cracker, bacon seam side down, on a broiler pan and sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese.  Bake in preheated oven for 60-75 minutes or until golden and crisp.  Serve hot.  Amazingly delicious and addicting.