Monday, November 12, 2012

Return of the French Classics - Coq Au Vin

I haven’t blogged for a while, but now that grilling season is over, it’s time to make some saucy comfort food. It took Coq Au Vin prepared in a traditional dutch oven to get me to start blogging again.  I’ve been very busy, and working with new techniques and dishes is what inspires me to blog (even though I seem to have zero time these days).

While this dish is meat based, the technique would work for a robust vegetable dish also. 

A dutch oven is somewhat similar to a crock pot in concept but I’m finding that for certain dishes it renders a different, less soupy flavor.  I have wanted a dutch oven for a long time.  Le Creuset is great, but I’ve decided to buy the Food Network version due; the price was more reasonable and it seems very similar the Le Creuset brand. I almost purchased the 5.5 quart one, but ended up getting 7.5 quart version instead.  I’m glad I did.  The dishes I make max out this dutch oven.  When you spend so much time making such dishes, there are economies of scale, so you may as well make a large portion.

I’ve also been reading “As Always, Julia:  The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto” by Joan Beardon.  This book inspired me to finally get this dutch oven and return to some of the French cooking I trained myself on in my early cooking days.  I made the Classic Coq Au Vin dish when I was a sophomore in college.  I liked it, but wasn’t thrilled with it, so over time, I abandoned it.  This book inspired me to finally purchase a French style dutch oven and make French style dishes again.  I have a crockpot that allows me to saute and slow cook in the same pot, but I suspected that the dutch oven would produce different results. 

To get in the mood I watched a few old Julia Child videos on YouTube.  I also read several recipes on line for Coq Au Vin.  I ended up blending various recipes (which is what I typically do).  While I liked the Julia Child recipe, I didn’t like the fact that I have to break adding ingredients at certain intervals (e.g., mushrooms at end).  One of the benefits of such cooking is once you fry your ingredients, the slow cooking is fairly easy.

There are many Coq Au Vin recipes out there…and you can add your own variation (as I did).  I basically mixed the classic Julia Child recipe with a few other ones I’ve found (one of them was an Emeril Lagasse recipe).  I believe the Beurre Manie, which is a classic French sauce thickening technique (a different version of roux) thickens a stew/casseulet well.  It consists of mixing softened butter (substitute soy if avoiding dairy) with flour and add it to a simmering sauce.  It makes for a very  nice velvety sauce.

Also, classic Coq Au Vin recipes call for using bacon fat to sauté the chicken, I avoided that also.  I’m not against it, but I must be one of the few people on the planet that doesn’t have an intrinsic craving for bacon. 

I used one free range (no antibiotic/hormone) chicken quartered and about six drumsticks.  I also added carrots to the traditional recipe.  The pearl onions are a must.  They taste delicious.

Some tips:
Always saute the ingredients.  Sauteing ahead of time locks in the meat juices (this is true for crock pot cooking too)-if you don't saute, you get soup texture for your ingredients.
Make sure you scrape those seared pieces when you pour the wine in (can’t do this with a no stick pan).
When the dish is done, make sure you uncover the dutch oven to let steam escape
Do not refrigerate a dish that is not cooled off.

Basic technique (again, there is flexibility here):

Basic Sauteing
Use a robust red wine...and make sure you scrape the  pieces that are stuck on the side...this renders a perfect sauce

with some good wine

The beauty of the Dutch goes straight into the oven and the seal is airtight 


Make sure you remove the lid so it doesn't get locked with the steam

                1 4 pound free range chicken and 6 drumsticks – patted dry and salted
                1/2 teaspoon salt
                1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
                1 onion, finely chopped (optional)
                20 small pearl onions, peeled
                1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled-they will be thrown in straight without choping
                1 pound mushrooms..roughly quartered-note:  I find baby portabella to be more robust than the usual white mushroom for this
                2 teaspoons tomato paste
                3 cups – bottle of red wine, traditional full bodied wine.  I used Bull’s Blood because it is very robust and reasonably priced (don’t use cheap junk red wine…it will destroy the dish-but a there are many reasonable priced red wines)
                1 1/2 cups chicken stock
                6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
                1 bay leaf
                2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
                2-3 carrots peeled and sliced (or can even use baby carrots)
for traditional side dish
boil some diced potatoes, chop some parsley and sauté in a tiny amount of oil/butter/soy butter

Beurre Manie:
mix 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour & 1 tbsp. softened butter (soy or regular)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large, heavy Dutch oven add some oil and brown the chicken, do it in batches.  You cannot simply throw the chicken into the slow cooking process.  Sautéing first locks the juices in. Remove the chicken and in the same oil sauté carrots, pearl onions, onion for about 5 minutes.  Then add the mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for about one minute.
Slowly add the bottle of wine and make sure that you scrape the meat parts that stuck to the pan.  Add chicken broth, tomato paste and herbs/salt/pepper. Add the chicken back, bring to a boil, cover and transfer to a preheated oven.

Cook for about 1.5 hours in the 350 oven.

Carefully remove the lid and  transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish and cover loosely to keep warm. Return pot to medium-low heat (from oven to oven top). Skim any fat from the surface of the cooking liquid and increase the heat to medium-high. Make the Beurre Mannie (classic French thickening technique), stir into sauce as it simmers (whishing works best).  Let sauce thicken and add chicken back.  Reheat everything and serve with parsley potatoes.

This was supposed to last for two days, but most of it got eaten the first night.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Grilling Season Basics

I’ve been trying to figure out why I haven’t blogged for a while. Yes, I’m busy, I always am - so that's not it.  But for various reasons the ‘busy state’ does not alleviate my constant need to cook (home cooked meals are healthier, cleaner, tastier and of course for us we have more choices). To ensure that my blog just doesn't die,  I thought I would look through my recent food photos to see what to blog about.  Then I realized why my last blog entry, “The Eclectic Duck,” was on April 24.  I’ve been doing a lot of grilling (outside) with my son.  I have never considered myself to be the ‘grill master.’  I prefer to cook and create special dishes and sauces and flavors.  But my son loves American style barbecued wings, chicken with barbecue sauce.  I don’t like barbecue sauce, but I do like a tasty Mediterranean shish kebob. I also love grilled vegetables. 

Since I know what I don’t know, I thought we would spend the month of May to improve our grilling skills.  Again, not really my forte, but if I’m going to do it, I have to do it right.  I know about indirect grilling and some of the tricks, but I still didn’t think I was even good (although others who consumed my grilled food said it was good).  So here are some tips that I find helpful in my grilling world:

  • I don’t use a gas grill.  I have a gas grill, but it serves as an overflow stand.  It’s a very nice grill too, but it just doesn’t produce the right flavor.  So I grill on a simple Weber grill.  I did replace the grate with one that has a way to lift up the sides.  This feature comes in handy for adding charcoal during cooking.  It’s also handy for adding wood chips (e.g., hickory)

  • I use charcoal not briquettes.  Yes, I’ve used the Kingsford briquettes because they are so easy to use and fast, but they do have some chemicals and if you grill it will add up somewhere in your system (if you grill frequently).  But then here and there the briquettes are fine (and are easier-charcoal can die out fast).

  • I use the ‘chimney’ to get the charcoal ready.  Yes, again, a bit tedious compared to the lighting fluid, but this is what middle school boys are for; they help with the fire (supervised). Typically I use two of these (actually my son creates these with some supervision...he loves fire...this is a good outlet).

  • Oil the grate (I think everyone knows this).  I recently saw this technique on Barbecue U – you saturate some papertowel (or cloth) in oil (regular olive oil)  and brush the grill with it (using tongs).

  • Use woodchips for flavor (smoked flavor)…again, this is something my son can play with.  He has his tshirt called “Grillfather” (a spin on Godfather)-he needs to prove he is.

  • I follow the well known technique of indirect heat for bone type meats and direct heat for boneless meats and vegetables.

  • Marinate, marinate, marinate-for wings and drumsticks, we’ve marinated in Leinkenkugel’s Honey Weiss. For boneless meats, I like going with a Middle Eastern or Asian type marinade that I create. 
Asian marinated pork tenderloin-very easy to make

Honey Weisse marinated wings 

Marinade is almost, sesame oil, grated ginger, garlic, sherry, olive oil etc.

Honey Weisse marinade

  • Baste with olive oil (but be careful not to get massive flares) that is seasoned with garlic and salt and any other flavor you are trying to infuse.

  • Grind your own meat-I’m not a big beef eater, but with pink slime and e-coli, I’ve realized that the only way my son can enjoy a  medium rare burger is if I grind the meat at home.  I have a Kitchen Aid attachment and grind the beef for the occasional burgers with it.

  • If you grill sausages-use the ones in natural casings and make incisions (this makes them more tasty)

  • Corn-grill directly-this is the best barbecued corn I’ve had.  I saw the technique on Barbecue U and it works wonder.  The sugar of the corn caramelizes.

  • Use a flat skewer instead of the round ones.  As I’ve said, I love Middle Eastern shish kebobs or Tandoori marinade for Chicken Tikka (non dairy version).  The chicken and vegetables tend to turn and it’s hard to get the right heat because of this.  I first saw these skewers on Barbecue U (such skewers are used in the Middle East and India).  I searched for flat skewers and only found some with wooden handles.  For me this is a bad idea because flare ups are unpredictable.  I found Steven Raichlen’s flat barbecue skewers on Amazon and used them tonight for the first time-they are phenomenal.

  • Have fun, I know this sounds cliché, but grilling seems to inspire my son in the culinary department and he is very good at it.

  • Do it in style-wear your retro Ray Bans.

And as always, look forward to some new challenges.  For me this will be making some non-meat grilled dishes.  The potatoes in foil (garlic seasoned) are great, but I would like to learn how to barbecue tofu.  I heard (I was in another room when the show was on) Steven Raichlen grill ginger infused tofu, this sounds really appetizing. I also plan on grilling more fish (but I know fish can tear).

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eclectic Duck

I love duck and so does my son.  It’s very hard to find good duck.  Because it’s so fatty, if not prepared right, you end up chewing fat-not enjoyable. 

I also like duck prepared Asian style-as in Peking duck. 

So, the best method is to combine some Asian preparation method with the European roasting method.  This end up being a very crispy skinned and tasty duck.


Clean and wash duck.
Cut off the extra fat (but save for later)
Poke tiny holes with a fork through the skin but NOT through the meat
Make sure you poke the tiny holes in the real fatty areas

In the meantime boil some water

Preheat oven to 425

For the marinade prepare (this is approximate)

¼ c rice vinegar
few tsp. soy sauce
½ cup virgin olive oil
Peel 3-4 garlic cloves and split
½ tsp. sugar
1-2 tsp. of marsala wine o sherry
a few dashes of sesame oil (sesame oil is not a cooking oil, it’s a seasoning oil).

Put the poked duck in a casserole and pour boiling water over duck
Turn the duck evenly around in the boiling water
Pour out the boiling water (put the duck on a plate), pour marinade into the casserole
Marinate duck for about 30-60 minutes (turn occasionally).

Set up a roasting pan with a rack (so duck doesn’t soak in its own fat)
Rub the duck with kosher salt / freshly ground pepper mixture
You can insert an onion into the cavity
Tie legs together with twine

Start roasting duck for 45 minutes
Turn duck over (so bottom faces up) for another 45 minutes
Turn duck so that the breast faces up again
For the last 45 minutes cover top with foil as necessary (but only when it looks crispy enough)-depending on the oven you may need to make this one hour….
(total roasting time for a 5 pound duck is about 2 hours (2 hours and 15 minutes is the typical time in my oven).
If the wings are roasting too fast put foil on the tip of the wings

Remove duck (make sure skin is nicely roasted)
Let sit (“rest”) for about 15 minutes before serving

Left side:  simmer fat    Right side:  pan fry duck liver  
While the duck is roasting:

Take the fat pieces and a little water and salt-simmer until the fat becomes crispy (will need to turn once in a while). 
For those who love rind…this will be a delicious crispy rind
The fat will be great for frying hash browns or mashed potatoes

Duck liver is also great pan fried (maybe 10 minutes)

Use a quality duck that is not antibioticed up-there is a difference in flavor

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don’t casually pass over food that is Kosher for Passover

Time to stock up!

Whether you are dealing with food allergies, are a vegan, have  special diet for celiac disease, or just simply like some tasty food, Kosher for Passover may offer a heaven of tasty food choices.

This time of the year is one of my favorite times of the year for discovering tasty baked goods or revisiting some known ones.  The Kosher diet is great for offering dairy free alternatives (Kosher dietary law does not allow the consumption of meat with dairy-there is a great discussion on this in the movie,  “The Believer”).  Around Passover, there is no consumption of certain types of foods (again, you can find additional information on this on line) – this adds all kinds of gluten and soy free choices.  Although we no longer have to avoid gluten and soy for my son, it’s nice to not overload on the ingredients.  Stores around this time of the year also display more Kosher items.  A few years ago, when my son had to avoid wheat and soy, I would drive weekly to the Hungarian Kosher Store (one hour each way) so we could stock up on all kinds of goodies.  They got to know us.  Recently I haven’t had time to drive up as much, but have been able to find some great Kosher choices in stores closer to me (although not as much as the Hungarian Kosher Store).

My latest discovery (from Sunset Foods) is “Z Best Bakery” baked goods.  This is a nut free bakery (so no cross contamination) and there is NO dairy in their products.  Chocolate Coffee cake, challah rolls, challah hot dog buns and hamburger rolls, Italian bread, marble rye bread (and more) all made in a nut free, dairy free bakery.  So far, I had to bake all the bread for my son.  Now he can have a burger with a commercially made hamburger bun, or a chocolate coffee cake.  Today I bought a box of chocolate chip mandel ….this is like biscotti (which we can’t have because they are made in a facility with nuts).
Butter free pound cake....nut free!

Some of the Kosher items that are great for special diets:

·      Osem mini Mandel rings…great additions to any soup
·      Truly dairy free whipping creams that you can add to your pies etc..
·      A nutella like nut/dairy free spread I’ve found a few years ago
·      Hammentaschen - kolachky like dessert made free of flour and dairy
·      Dairy free ranch dressing
·      Bread crumbs (no dairy contamination because of the no meat with dairy mix)

Discovering Z Best Baked Goods....a huge variety

The display at Sunset Foods

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Next time you are in the store, check out the Kosher for Passover section.  You will find all kinds of goodies.  This time of the year is a gold mine for special diets.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Enabled Salsa

The ingredients in these chips are good - unlike many mainstream brands

This has been an extremely busy month.  I needed the extra day (leap year)-to make ONE blog entry for February.  Not good. 

Fresh salsa is nothing like salsa from a jar.  Some restaurants around here serve fresh salsa with their chips.  And the quality of chips also makes a difference.  If you don’t want oil and salt to dominate the flavor of your chips,  you need to purchase a premium brand.  More cost?  Not that much more costly when it’s on sale.  Stores like Woodman’s and Whole Foods often have Garden of  Eatin’ is one of the brands I use.  Expeller pressed oil, organic blue corn. are some of the ingredients in this item. 

This is a simple recipe.  You can fine tune to your taste-the main point is that it's really not difficult to make.  The nice part of salsa is that it can be totally adjusted to your taste.

2/3 c. tightly packed cilantro
2 garlic cloves
1 medium onion quartered
2 jalapeno peppers seeded
4-5 medium tomatoes quartered
1-cup organic tomato sauce
1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce or hot sauce (can add more if prefer a hot sauce)

Set up food processor
Add cilantro to bottom and turn food processor on
Drop garlic cloves through tube and chop until done
Stop food processor  and open
Add quartered onion (or more than quartered) and quartered tomatoes and jalapeno peppers
Pulse until about the right consistency (depends on your preference-maybe 4-5 times).

Add tomato sauce, salt, sugar, vinegar, Tabasco or hot sauce
Pule a few more times
If there is time, chill for a little while so that the ingredients blend

Serve with tortilla chips.

I'm hoping that next month I don't need an extra day to have one entry.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy New Year -Egg Drop Soup

I love a good egg drop soup.  It’s very comforting.  Due to his food allergies, my son has not been able to have this soup in restaurants (it’s not on the safe list).  I occasionally have it, but you really don’t get a great serving for the price you pay ($3.50-$4.00 for three spoons…really). I decided that for Chinese New Year’s I would make this (I don’t know why it took me this long to make this…possibly because I made it during my freshman year of college, when my culinary skills were minimal…so they didn’t turn out well at all).

Egg Drop Soup Recipe

4 cups of chicken stock
1/8 tsp. ground ginger powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp Marsala wine or sherry
2 eggs + 1 yolk (or 3 eggs and just remove a bit of egg white)
1.5 tbs. of cornstarch
1 tsp. sesame oil (add only at end)
green onion for garnish
tiny tofu (extra firm) cubes (optional)
White ground pepper (optional)

The stock can be either home made or store bought (ready or a consommé type made from bouillon…just make sure it’s not too salty-Telma chicken consommé is a recent find-not too salty…but it’s hard to find…).

Beat eggs and put on side
Thinly slice some green onion
Cut a small amount of tofu into cubes (optional).
Make a slurry of the cornstarch and water-it should be like a thick liquid, not paste.

Bring 4 cups of stock, soy sauce, ginger powder and Marsala wine to boil.

During a slow boil, slowly add the cornstarch slurry and stir until it thickens.

Once thickened, turn off heat (but leave pot on heat), stream (pour slowly) in eggs and slowly stir with a spoon in a circular motion as the eggs form a nice stream  (I use a wooden spoon to stir).  Once done, add the sesame oil.

Serve (add tofu cubes if using) and garnish with thinly sliced green onion.

Serve yourself some seconds.
There are some variations on this.  Some restaurants add a little corn to the soup or even some tiny vegetables.  I like this pure form.  Also, this recipe turns out as those of better Chinese restaurants, not the cheaper quick type places that now run rampant in suburbia.

Allergen note:   If you avoiding gluten, use a gluten free Teriyaki sauce, if avoiding soy all together-use Umeboshi Vinegar-I used this as a soy substitute when my son was off of soy.  Also, I don't use genetically modified soy sauce. Instead I use organic non GMO soy sauce (I use 365 brand from Whole Foods).

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Are food allergies, diets and being different causing alienation? Revisited

About a year ago, I blogged about the alienation that results from food allergies and special diets.  So what, if any, changes have I observed since last year?

I think I’ve noticed more of an ego issue with bad food choices people make.  Instead of saying, “bad food choices will lead to bad health consequences, maybe I should learn and alter my habits a bit,” (which seems like a step in the right direction if your goal is not to get chronic disease), it’s become an ‘us vs. them’ climate.

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my blog.  “Thanks for making us more aware and sharing tips and tricks on how to eat healthier and tastier food.”  Such comments are very encouraging.  My personal goal this year is to spend time and effort only on activities that make a difference.  Time is a scarce resource.  So I’m thrilled that there are people out there that want to improve their lives and just need a little help as they acquire awareness (as I did when I learned all this-it was a fulltime job to figure out how to cook with healthy ingredients, what healthy ingredients even are,  and have the food taste great). 

But, now I sense some of the isolation that people with food allergies, celiac disease, and other special diets face.  It’s as if I came out of the closet – and now it’s public that I refuse to eat in a state of unconsciousness and succumb to peer pressure. 

Surely genetics plays a role in our health.  But if I don’t feed my child processed mac and cheese and sodium nitrite hot dogs every day with a generous helping of factory farmed meat and processed chemicals…. purely from a probabilistic standpoint, the likelihood of him acquiring some chronic disease is reduced.  No guarantees…but at least I’m trying to influence the outcome.  There is no need for me to restate all the great research that one can simply Google (China Study, Reversing Heart Disease, etc.).  Same goes for me, while I can still improve (e.g., be more disciplined about working out), I indulge in conscious eating and choices.  “Conscious Eating” – a term Michael Pollan coined.  Yet, conscious eating is looked down upon by a lot of people.  They continue to say, “I have the right to eat xyz.”   Yes, they have the right, but they also increase health costs for the rest of us.  And again, genetics already plays a role here. 

So my goal with the food related aspect of my blog continues-enable “conscious eating” that doesn’t mean you have to eat cardboard.  Not everything that tastes great has to lead to chronic diseases. Yes, it’s more effort, but most worthwhile things in life are. Is it convenient?  Not for me, full time career, single motherhood and eternal commute would make great excuses for not doing it.  But again, spend time on things that make a difference.

Follow me on Twitter:  JuliannaJ9

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Crockpots Aren't Just for Beef Stew, as this Delicious Eggplant Dish Proves

Right before it goes into the crockpot base

Crockpots aren’t just for pot roast (I never make), stews or soups.  In fact, a crockpot can render delicious vegetarian dishes.  This is a favorite dish for dinner.  Healthy, tasty and makes for great leftovers.

Note:  for the most flavor I always pan fry (even meat dishes) the ingredients first.  I want a 'main course' flavor not a boiled flavor.  This is not a requirement, but a personal flavor preference.  Even for meat dishes, I never just throw the meat into the crockpot.  Instead I always sear and pan fry first.  This process locks in the juices.

1 1/4 lbs eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about two medium eggplants)
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1-2 cloves garlic (or more)
1 celery stick
1-2 red peppers diced
2-3 Tbs olive oil (or 365 expeller pressed canola oil)
 ½ cup. tomato sauce
2 cans of organic diced tomatoes (unflavored)
½  cup pitted ripe olives, cut in half
2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs capers, drained
1 tsp dried oregano
.5-1.0 tsp. cumin powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs. chopped dill (add right before serving)
1 tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley at end
For protein, either add pan fried tofu (see other blog entry on how to) or crumbled pan fried seitan.

I have a crockpot that allows frying as well as cooking in the same insert (most don't-but this model doubles up as a dutch oven). 

Add 3-4 tbsp  oil (not extra virgin, but Bertolli Classico, or 365 expeller pressed canola oil)

Fry the onion for a few minutes, then add the eggplant, peppers (I added poblano this time) & celery and fry for at most 5 minutes.  Add the cumin and fry for one minute.  Remove from heat and insert into the crockpot base (or transfer to crockpot).

Add the garlic, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes- cover and cook on Low 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until eggplant is tender. Stir in olives, vinegar, sugar, capers and oregano. Season with salt and pepper (not much salt is needed-it’s already tasty). Cook for about 45 minutes (at this point add optional protein-tofu or seitan). Right before serving add dill and top off with cilantro.

This one is the plate for a Jager Schnitzel lover....but my non meat eating guests were happy too

Since one of the advantages of a crockpot is not having to ‘nurse’ the dish.  If you end up cooking the dish longer and only have 15-20 minutes to cook with the vinegar, tofu,  etc. it will not hurt the dish.

As any dish, this is very pretty flexible and the flavors can be altered. 

Because it’s a saucy dish, it tastes delicious the next day (or could be frozen-but when reheating frozen foods, always add a little extra spice to liven up the flavors).

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