October in the Kitchen – Pollo Spago

October in the Kitchen – Pollo Spago

This is a big weekend; it’s my birthday, and I am co-hosting Fiesta Friday #88! It’s my first time as a co-host and I’m looking forward to reading all the posts brought by fellow bloggers. I’m bringing Pollo Spago to the party and think it will be a big hit. Fiesta Friday is an ongoing blogging party hosted by Angie of The Novice Gardener. Everyone brings a virtual dish to share. My fellow co-host is Julie from the blog Hostess at Heart.

If you’re a blogger and you haven’t yet joined in the Fiesta Friday fun, please join in. It’s a good way to rub shoulders with a great group. We’d love to read about what’s going on in your kitchen. It’s easy, here are the guidelines – just make sure to link properly to your blog and mention Fiesta Friday somewhere in your post so we can find you. And, if you’re not a blogger, I know you’ll enjoy reading all the posts.

It is so easy to get into a cooking rut, don’t you agree? I find myself not only cooking the same recipes, but using the same techniques as well. Boring! Well, my birthday resolution for the year is to change that pattern. I intend to challenge myself to try new things and have more fun in the kitchen. Where am I going? The ultimate target is a “Turducken” for the holidays (coming up all too quickly!). What is that? Well, it’s a boned chicken inside a duck inside a turkey, with stuffing to fill in any gaps. It could be the holiday version of an all meat pizza. I’ve been reading about it for years but never met anyone who has had one. Have you? How was it? Wonderful, or disgusting?

All this is why I was attracted to the recipe for Pollo Spago in The River Café Cook Book–I am in favor of baby steps to start. And, I don’t to want end up in tears on Thanksgiving morning. Believe me, it has happened. This cookbook was the September/October selection for the online cookbook book club hosted by Leah at the The Cookbook Guru.IMG_3614

Do you know or have you been to the River Café? It is a restaurant on the banks of the Thames in London, opened in 1987. The authors, Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers, had spent many years in Italy and wanted to open a place with more genuine Italian food. They grew many of the ingredients in their own gardens, which was quite revolutionary at the time. Over the years they have published several cookbooks, this was the first. I found the cookbook simple, but not really. I know that sounds odd but they made a lot of assumptions, of both your available ingredients and knowledge of cooking techniques. This is not a cookbook I would recommend to a beginning cook, even though it appears simple at first.

On to Pollo Spago, the recipe was inspired and adapted from one served at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Spago in Los Angeles. He was another chef on the forefront of the food revolution. Pollo Spago is a boned chicken stuffed under the skin with minced garlic and parsley.

Pollo Spago

Pollo Spago

Again, this recipe is very simple, but the techniques are not. I think stuffing a boned (skin on) chicken breast would have been just as delicious. One of my problems was that there were no pictures, I had to prop the cookbook on the table while I was de-boning the chicken, re-reading the directions (over and over) as I went along. It went surprisingly well. Pictures would have made it easier.

So, here it goes with my own pictures to help you through it if you decide to try it.

Pollo Spago

Instructions for boning the chicken from Pollo alla Griglia (Marinated Grilled Chicken), The River Café Cook Book

  • 1 small organic, free range cicken
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • About 1 cup of flat-leaf parsley, chopped (4 oz)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil

Directions for deboning the chicken (you can skip this part if you are using boneless chicken breasts with the skin):

  1. Place the chicken, breast side up, on a cutting board. I found it easier to have the tail side closest. With a very sharp boing knife, cut along the breast bone, from front to back down the center of the breast. Lay your knife flat against the bone and cut through the skin and meat down to the leg joint. You will have to cut the wishbone in half. This will separate one side of the breast from the carcass. Crack the leg bone where it attaches to the body so it lies flat against your board. With your knife, carefully cut around the leg and separate one half of the chicken from the carcass. You will have to cut the wing joint as well.IMG_3609
  2. Snip the tips of the wing; I used a pair of sharp kitchen scissors. Leave the short bone in the wing.IMG_3610
  3. Now comes the tricky part, boning out the legs. Flatten your half of a chicken, skin side down and cut as close to either side of the leg bones as possible, prying up the bone from the meat as you go along. Try to keep the skin in one piece. This was a bit messy but once cooked, it was fine. Trim away any big pieces of fat or gristle.IMG_3611
  4. Repeat with the other side. I found a sharp boning knife and kitchen scissors essential.IMG_3612

That’s the hard part, yeah!

  1. Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan of cold water and bring them to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, then drain and place in a small food processor (or chop by hand). Add the parsley to the processor (or chop by hand and mix), and process to mix and chop everything together.
  2. Wipe the chicken with paper towels and loosen the skin from the meat making two pockets, one at the breast end and one at the lets.
  3. Use about half the parsley mixture to stuff into the pockets, season well with salt and pepper.IMG_3629
  4. Grill the chicken halves for about 20 minutes on medium high heat until they are crisp, golden and cooked through. I turned them about every 4 minutes.IMG_3631
  5. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet, add the remaining parsley and garlic mixture, cook gently. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the chicken.

The recipe was good and I learned a lot. It will be much easier next time.

And next time, I would change it by mixing butter with the parsley and garlic that is to go under the skin. I think that it would have added more juiciness and kept the chicken moist.

March in the Kitchen – Italian Beer Can Chicken

March in the Kitchen – Italian Beer Can Chicken

This recipe comes directly from the cookbook “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking” by Paula Wolfert. Ms. Wolfert is also the author of “The Cooking of Morocco” which is the March/April selection of the on-line cookbook book club sponsored by Leah of The Cookbook Guru.

Do you ever become enamored by a writer? Paula has done it to me. It happens with novels, TV programs, and cookbooks. I fall in love with an author and have to read everything he or she has written. I think it’s the way Ms. Wolfert combines and uses spices in unusual ways that catches my imagination, I love the unfamiliar. It’s a new adventure.

She has re-inspired me to use my clay cooking vessels more frequently, I have several and they have been gathering dust in the top cabinets for years. My adaptation of this recipe actually doesn’t use clay as I don’t have a stoneware “beer can” baker (might have to investigate). I do have a much used and appreciated beer can BBQ roaster I purchased from Williams Sonoma several years ago. Trying to perch a chicken on a rocking can of beer is an iffy proposition in the best of times and this handy-dandy contraption solves the problem.  The roasting pan is meant to be used on the BBQ, it has places for either one or two”beer cans” which snap firmly in place. Thus your chicken is not in danger of tipping over and burning you with hot liquid.

Beer Can Roaster

Beer Can Roaster

Surprisingly beer can chicken is quite controversial, many folks say that it doesn’t do a thing to enhance the taste of chicken. There are actually on-line discussions devoted to experiments, both pro and con! I am definitely on the pro side, I think the hot liquid (and metal can) speed the cooking of the chicken from the inside as well as the outside, the flavored liquid (you don’t need to use beer) results in a moist and flavorful chicken.

I was intrigued by this recipe because it calls for juniper berries. There has been a jar of them in my spice drawer for far too long. I wasn’t aware that they are used in Italian cooking.

Beer Can Chicken with an Italian Rub

  • 1 frying chicken, 3 1/2-4 pounds
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of juniper berries
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, or clarified butter
  • 2 small lemons, 1 sliced
  1.  Wipe the chicken inside and out with damp paper towels.
  2. Using a mini food processor or a mortar and pestle, pound the juniper berries, salt, oregano, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaf to a paste. Blend in the olive oil or butter.
  3. Slide your fingers carefully between the skin over the breast and legs/thighs of the chicken, separating the skin from the meat. Be careful not to tear the skin.
  4. Insert pinches of the spice mixture under the skin and over the flesh of the chicken. Use any remaining to season the cavity and rub over the skin. Add a few slices of lemon to the cavity as well.
  5. Pre-heat your BBQ to between 350 and 400 degrees F (gas), or prepare a charcoal grill for indirect heat.
  6. Fill your beer can about two-thirds full of water and squeeze one lemon into it, add any leftover lemon slices to the container.
  7. Carefully seat the chicken so its legs straddle the beer can.
  8. Turn off the burners under where you will put the chicken or place the chicken over the spot without coals.
  9. Bake for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes until done to your liking. Check it at an hour as it may cook faster than you expect.

    Italian Beer Can Chicken

    Italian Beer Can Chicken

  10. Remove the chicken and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Carefully remove the bird off the stand and transfer to a cutting board.
Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

 

Beer Can Chicken wih Slow Roasted Carrots and Arugula

Beer Can Chicken wih Slow Roasted Carrots and Arugula

If you are lucky enough to own a stoneware beer-can baker here are the instructions.

  1. Carefully remove the chicken off the stand so the juices run into the bowl. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, degrease the juices in the bowl, pour them into a conventional skillet, and quickly boil them down until reduced by half.
  3. Correct the seasoning for salt and pepper and serve with the carved bird.

It was judged a success by the tasters.

I’m taking this to share with the gang at The Novice Gardener, it’s Fiesta Friday #62 at Angie’s place.

Fiesta Friday

 

March in the Kitchen – Marak of Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Olives

March in the Kitchen – Marak of Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Olives

Marak of Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Olives

Cauliflower

Morak of Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Olives

This recipe comes from Paula Wolfert’s “The Food of Morocco” and is part of an ongoing cookbook book club. You will find all the postings connected to various cookbooks on the blog The Cookbook Guru. “The Food of Morocco” is the choice for March and April of this year.

A Marak is a Moroccan vegetable stew. In her introduction to the dish Ms. Wolfert says “Moroccans often steam or pan-roast vegetables in order to preserve their sweet intense flavor and to endow them with a creamy texture. Here juicy bits of preserved lemon and ripe olives embellish pan-roasted cauliflower.” Being a big fan of cauliflower, and having a head in the fridge, I decided to try it. My usual method of cooking cauliflower is tossing with spices and roasting in a hot oven, so this dish was a departure from habit.

I’m not going to wait until the end to tell you it was a big hit. Especially useful is the fact that it is best served at room temperature and can be made ahead. I would definitely serve this as part of a spread of small plates or as a side dish with roast meat.

This would serve 4 as a side, more if part of a larger spread.

Marak of Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Olives

  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 medium cauliflower, trimmed, halved, cored, divided into 1-inch florets, rinsed and drained (about 4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 2 ripe or canned tomatoes, peeled (I didn’t bother), halved, seeded, chopped and drained
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 ½ cumin seeds, preferable Moroccan (mine weren’t)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Juice of ½ a lemon or to taste
  • ½ a preserved lemon, rinsed, pulp and white pith removed, and slivered
  • 12 green or ripe olives, pitted
  1. Heat the oil in a large straight sided skillet on medium-low heat. Add the cauliflower and sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and the lid, and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and continue cooking until all the moisture in the skillet has evaporated and the cauliflower begins to turn golden.
  2. Add the tomatoes and paprika and continue cooking, uncovered, for another 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, crush the cumin seeds (next time I would roast them first) and garlic into a paste with the salt in a mortar or small food processor. Sir in ½ cup of hot water and mix into the paste. Add it to the skillet.
  4. Continue to cook, uncovered, until all the moisture has evaporated and the cauliflower is soft and covered in sauce (about 20 minutes).
  5. Add the parsley and lemon juice, toss, let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes until the flavors mix.
  6. Garnish with olives and sliced preserved lemon.
Marak of Cauliflower

Marak of Cauliflower

February in the Kitchen – Broccoli Raab a la Jane Grigson

February in the Kitchen – Broccoli Raab a la Jane Grigson

Like my recent posting of grilled asparagus, this post is the basic method for cooking broccoli raab, also sometimes called broccoletti di rape, or rapini. It has multiple names, including rapine, rappi, rappje, turnip broccoli, tailcat, Italian or chicness broccoli, broccoli de rabe, Italtiona turnip, and turnip broccoli. Whew!

Broccoli raab is allotted only one recipe in “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book” published in the 1970’s. Until recently it was fairly uncommon in both the UK and the US. I found her recipe under the section on turnips (and swedes?) with whom they are closely related. She recommended serving them cool with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, or hot in a similar way as the recipe below. I’m currently exploring the cookbook as part of an on-line cookbook book club (say that 10 times quickly!). You can read more posts inspired by the book on the website The Cookbook Guru.

Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book

This vegetable originates in the Mediterranean and China. It is a descendant from a wild herb and is found growing wild (as well as cultivated) in California, Arizona, New Jersey, Quebec and Ontario. Among the Chinese it is one of their most popular vegetables. Broccoli raab is grown as much for its long-standing, tasty, mustard like tops as for its multiple small florets.

Broccoli raab

Broccoli raab

Broccoli raab is a rich source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium. It tastes a bit like broccoli but is more pungent with a nutty flavor and a slightly bitter taste.

When buying it at the grocers look for bright green leaves that are crisp and upright, not yellowed or wilted. Unlike broccoli you do not need to peel the stems. If the stems are large, start by sautéing them for a few minutes before adding the leaves to the pan. That will allow them to soften a bit.

Broccoli raab

Broccoli raab

How to Cook Broccoli Raab or Rapini

You can cook the leaves, stems and flower heads like broccoli (broil, stir-fry, braise, sauté, or steam). My preference is to blanch them briefly in boiling water (1-2 minutes) and then sauté with thinly sliced garlic and a chopped shallot, finishing with a couple of finely chopped anchovies or a teaspoon of anchovy paste seems to really fill out the umami flavor (a few dried red pepper flakes can also give a punch).

  1. Rinse and trim 1/4-inch from bottom of stems.
  2. Cut stalks crosswise into 2-inch pieces and drop them into salted (optional), boiling water.
  3. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes and remove with slotted spoon. Drain.
  4. Heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.
  5. Add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves and a finely chopped shallot; turn the heat down to medium and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until softened. Be careful not to burn the garlic or it will turn bitter.
  6. Add the blanched broccoli raab/rapini to the skillet and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes until cooked. If the stalks were large, add and cook for a few minutes before adding the leaves.
  7. Optional – Add 2-3 finely chopped anchovies and a few dried red pepper flakes.
Broccoli Raab

Sauteed Broccoli Raab

You could also toss the finished broccoli raab with some pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan. It’s delicious that way.

The Cookbook Guru – Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book

The Cookbook Guru – Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book” is the January and February selection for the Cookbook Guru. This is an on-line virtual book club for cookbook fans.

Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book

Here is how it works, at the beginning of every second month a recipe book is  announced, you get the next two months to pick a recipe from that book and create a post around it. If this sounds like something that you’d be interested in being a part of, make sure you jump over to The Cookbook Guru for the new year’s book list and to see how it all works.  Join in for one or all books, or just follow along to see what we create.  The more people we have as part of the book club the more value we get out of the experience and our current members are passionate foodies and regular commenters that love to talk about each of our experiences with the books we have been cooking from.

If you would like to join but don’t have a food blog, you can still be part. Check out the Facebook Page and post your photographs and comments there. You can also post photos of Instagram, be sure to tag the group @thecookbookguru.

For me cookbooks verge on an obsession and no opportunity to sample another gets past me. A book club with like minded individuals is a joy! I was already familiar with Jane Grigson as I had an earlier book of hers, “Good Times”. It was one of the first books in my collection. Jane Grigson deserves a place with other early pioneers of wonderful food like Elizabeth David and Julia Child. She was part of a revolution in the kitchen.

The first thing my husband said on seeing the book was “What, no pictures!” Modern cookbooks have gorgeous photographs and a whole food styling industry has grown up around it. I sometimes think that the recipes have suffered and taken second place. This book has some simple line drawings but no pictures. The emphasis is on the recipes.

I did find that some of recipes in this cookbook are more a set of directions than a detailed description. None of the recipes seemed overly complicated or filled with exotic ingredients, but I think beginning cooks might have a difficult time. Her assumption is that you are fairly comfortable in the kitchen.

As a gardener I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of various vegetables, some of them were unfamiliar to me (even more fun). Each chapter is a different vegetable or family group of vegetables; she includes entertaining background information as well as recipes. It is a fun book to read and will become a valuable reference.

That being said, I found some of the recipes dated. I definitely see the touch of the 70’s. Cooking and styles of eating have changed since then. It took me quite a while to settle on a recipe although I gained inspiration for several other posts.

Persian Spinach Kuku

Persian Spinach Kuku

I decided to make (it’s the name that got me):

PERSIAN SPINACH KUKU

Or KUKUYE ESPANAJ

This is essentially a flat Spanish tortilla, or crustless quiche, or omelet made with spinach, potato and eggs. There is no cheese, something I might add next time. I think the flavor would be improved by a touch of Parmesan.

  • 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
  • 8 tablespoons of olive oil or clarified butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb (1/2 kg) of spinach, blanched and chopped (I used two small bags of organic baby spinach, blanched for 2 minutes)
  • 5 eggs
  • Salt, pepper, pinch sugar (I did not use), lemon juice (I used grated lemon rind)
browning onions and potatoes

browning onions and potatoes

  1. Blanch the spinach in a few tablespoons of boiling water, stirring to make sure it all cooks. Drain, pressing down to get rid of all the liquid. Chop and put into a large bowl.
  2. Peel the potato and cut into small to medium dice.
  3. Melt the butter or warm the olive oil in a non-stick oven proof skillet on medium high heat.
  4. Add the potato and sauté until beginning to brown.
  5. Meanwhile chop the onion, add it to the skillet with the potato. Continue to cook until the onion is softened and potato is golden brown.
  6. Add the mixture to the bowl with the spinach and mix. Season well with salt, pepper and lemon rind or juice.
  7. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and then add them to the spinach mixture.
  8. Melt the second 4 tablespoons of butter or olive oil to the skillet, and pour in the spinach/egg/potato/onion mix. Flatten it to an even layer.
  9. Cover and heat on medium for 15 minutes. The center should just be firm.
  10. At this point you can either broil the top to brown it, or slide it out onto a plate and turn to brown the other side. Bake a few minutes longer.
Into the skillet

Into the skillet

Persian Spinach Kuku

Persian Spinach Kuku

This can also be baked in a gratin dish and served with tomato sauce or yogurt.

I cut it into triangles and we had it for brunch. It was delicious cold the next day. A bit of crumbled bacon would be a good addition.

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