Category Archives: Cooking techniques

Chicken cutlets for four

Ok, in my past life (as a magazine writer in NYC) I got lots of cool stuff sent to me, since I covered design/lifestyle type issues. One of my favorite things was the pile of pre-publication proofs of books we were always getting, and I brought the best of the food-related ones with me to NH. The only one I’ve really used so far is Christopher Kimball’s The Kitchen Detective, from the editor/founder of Cook’s Illustrated. Right after we moved here I tried his Polenta Pound Cake recipe, and discovered the big flaw to using proofs of cookbooks: They haven’t gotten their final fact-check, and they’re missing stuff like page numbers, certain ingredient quantities, etc. I cooked so rarely in Brooklyn that I never noticed the gaping holes in these books! Anyway, the pound cake tipped me off, since it said to bake at 325, a very low temp for a cake like that, and it took over an hour and a half (instead of under an hour) to finally cook. Oops!

Well, non-baking recipes don’t require the same precision, and the other night I made Kimball’s “Four-Minute Chicken Cutlets” for the second time. Here’s the thing. They don’t cook in four minutes for me, because chicken seems to be my achilles heel, and I can’t get my head wrapped around preparing it. I feel stupid that I can cook pork and beef with no qualms but get all freaked out trying to get chicken ready to go… I had a really terrible time cleaning the boneless breasts and pounding them thin. I definitely didn’t get them super-thin like the recipe requires if you want them to cook in less than four minutes. I ended up on the phone with my mom, up to my elbows in chicken, completely freaking out because the breasts were tearing instead of pounding thin. Turns out I’m an idiot. Instead of slipping them in a ziplock or between saran wrap, I’d put them between PARCHMENT PAPER, meaning they couldn’t scoot around at all while I pounded them, meaning the poor things were shredded. Live and learn. I did salvage them, using my mom’s excellent advice to simply cut the breasts into smaller pieces so I could cook the thick and thin ends separately.


The wonderful thing about this recipe is the coating, which combines shredded parmesan with store-bought superfine breadcrumbs, to great effect. It’s a salty, flavorful, crispy coating, and makes chicken taste really savory and exciting instead of dull. Kimball’s recipe is really long (he does the CI thing and talks about how he tested all the elements of the recipe, etc.) but here’s my very short version:

For four chicken breasts (halves of big ones):
Season with salt and pepper
Dip the chicken breasts in egg white (he says 3 egg whites for this amount, I could have used two)
Dredge in 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs mixed with 3/4 cup grated parmesan
Heat 4 T olive oil until just smoking, cook the chicken 1.5-2 minutes on each side (he says to pound it to 1/4 inch. Mine was at least 1/2 inch and so took longer to cook).

Serve on a bed of arugula with sliced tomatoes over it, and some basil over the tomatoes if you want. I used cherry tomatoes, cut in half and dressed in sherry vinegar and olive oil/ salt/pepper, which added a nice juicy layer. (Cherry tomatoes tend to be pretty tasty even in the middle of winter.)

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I over-roasted my new potatoes while trying to get all the chicken cooked…ah, well.

Before the chicken we had my third version of the cauliflower soup, this time made with Broccoflower! It’s a cross between broccoli and cauliflower (….obviously), and is an amazing shade of bright spring green, not quite captured by my photo:
I was hoping the soup would also end up bright green, but since the inside of the broccoflower is white, the soup was very pale green. I left the cheese out this time, and just sprinkled a little on top, which made it really light and nice, a perfect first course.

For dessert I made the Gateau Piège from Chocolate and Zucchini. Due to a slight clerical error in the original version of the recipe (it’s been fixed now) I underbaked it by quite a lot, so the middle was much denser and flatter than it should have been. I loved the flavor though, and it was super easy–I want to try it again this week, maybe with lemon this time.

Overall a very uplifting mid-winter meal, with lots of fresh flavors. I’ll try all of it again, hopefully with fewer bumps but a similarly tasty end product.

Huzzah for short ribs

Two fridays ago we had our friends Chris and Greta to dinner, and since Greta is a fabulous cook who worked in a great NYC restaurant before moving to NH, I wanted to try something new and really cook a great meal. I got my very own copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques for Christmas, and decided to try Suzanne Goin’s short ribs recipe, and serve it with her parsnip-potato puree. To start I made another cauliflower soup, this time a recipe from Bon Appetit (I got a subscription for Christmas) with much more stuff in it. For dessert I tried my hand at another BA recipe, a caramel pudding tart in almond shortbread crust. That was topped with candied almonds and whipped cream. I basically cooked for a day and a half straight, but luckily everything came out very well.

Thursday night I rubbed the short ribs in salt, pepper and herbs, as directed, and tucked them into the fridge to rest. I made the shortbread dough and put it in the tart pan, then froze that overnight. Friday morning I baked off the crust and candied the almonds, and after lunch I made the pudding and put the tart in the fridge to chill.

Then I pulled out the short ribs to warm up, broiled some pearl onions that would later be served with the ribs, and browned the ribs (I made 6, but couldn’t brown them all at once):

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I made a mirepoix, cooked down red wine, port and balsamic vinegar, squeezed all the ribs in, and then….oh, then. Goin’s instructions say to cover the braising pot tightly with PLASTIC WRAP, then with tinfoil. She very carefully says not to worry, that it’ll be fine in the oven. I was dubious, to say the least, but this is the woman responsible for the pork burgers that are so complicated but come out so perfectly, so I trusted her. I put the pot in the oven and ignored it for over three hours.

Meanwhile I cleaned two huge bunches of red chard (there wasn’t any swiss in stock at the Coop, and I found the bright fuschia veins charming):


Then I made the parsnip puree, a relative nightmare since my Williams-Sonoma ricer likes to spray everything back out of the hopper, instead of through the screen. Awful. I and most of the kitchen was covered in hot potato and parsnip. This wasn’t helped by the fact that parsnips have lots of fibers, which clogged the ricer up terribly. I persevered, relieved that no one was home to hear me cursing or see me with parsnip on my nose, and the puree was very creamy and tasty, though not very different from straight potato. Finally, after Ben got home and was sent on an emergency chicken stock quest to the Coop, I made the soup.


Eh. As you can see, it’s got much more going on than the last version. It starts with bacon, and then celery and onion, and then the cauliflower and stock and a chunk of pecorino cheese. It was finished with “truffle oil” (we ended up returning it, it smelled/tasted like plain stale olive oil; obviously past the use by date) and shaved pecorino. It didn’t have as nice of a color, since the browned bacon and fat made everything browner. And the bacon was a little overpowering. I prefer the simpler version by quite a lot.

Just before Chris and Greta got to the house I pulled out the short ribs to see how they were doing. Well, surprise, surprise. The plastic wrap was visible fused to the outside of my Le Creuset, but inside: Nothing. It had vanished, obviously melted into the ribs. My stomach dropped into the basement, and I yelled for Ben to help me fish out the sheets of plastic wrap we could find. I was pretty freaked out–we didn’t find much, and I didn’t know what to do. In the end I admitted what had happened to Greta, and we just…served it. No one choked or got sick, so all’s well that ends well? I guess. Anyway, NO PLASTIC WRAP in the OVEN. After letting the ribs rest while we all got drinks, etc., I cranked up the oven to brown the ribs while the braising liquid reduced a bit.

I served the soup, which was good but not fantastic:


Then cooked the chard with the pearl onion, heated up the puree and put it in a serving bowl, heated up plates and plated everything:


I have to say the ribs were fantastic. The chard and onions provided great contrast, the sauce from the braising liquid was incredibly rich and flavorful, and the meat was meltingly tender and very, very delicious. It was a huge production, but at least I’d picked the right people to cook it for–Greta said short ribs are their favorite meat. (When I discussed the menu with my mom she was hesitant about the ribs because they’re so prehistoric-looking and fatty, until I told her where Greta had worked, and she said “oh, it’s perfect!”) The puree was a nice counterpoint too, as was a horseradish crème fraîche that Goin recommends serving with the meat.

It was a long time before we were able to face dessert, but that was a hit too. It was too sweet for me but the guys especially loved it. (Ugh, WAY too sweet for me.)
A messy photo:


It was actually really fun to go all-out on a menu, and I am in love with the Lucques cookbook, though the plastic wrap thing threw me. Soon we will be trying Grilled Pork Confit! Liz has 2 quarts of duck fat coming our direction!

Absorption Pasta (!) for two

Another inspiration from Chocolate and Zucchini, this time for a pasta technique that I’m now in love with. This is a way of cooking pasta that is closer to making risotto than typical throw-it-in-boiling-water pasta. You sauté garlic or onion in olive oil (just a little bit), add in your cut pasta, rattle it around very noisily for a minute or two to get it really coated in the oil and a little toasty, then add hot stock to cover it and simmer it for about 10 minutes. You might need a little more stock, but it doesn’t take that much—I cooked about 2/3 of a bag of pasta and used a little over 2 cups of broth, and shouldn’t have added in the last bit. Partway through cooking I added in broccoli, and at the end I stirred in sausage that I’d cooked in the pan before starting. Because of the extra broth the pasta was a tiny bit overcooked, but still delicious and very appealing-looking:

Looks rather restauranty, no? Because the pasta is sucking in all that flavorful broth, instead of tossing around in hot water, it is coated in a glossy jacket of starch rather than being washed fairly clean. That let the small pieces of broccoli and sausage cling to the pasta and gave it a very substantial feel, compared to when I’ve tossed veggies with boiled pasta. I will use this technique going forward for any pasta that I am dressing with something besides a tomato sauce, etc. It’s great for making a simple, quick dinner that feels a bit dressier. As Clotilde said in her blog entry, not having to boil water (boring) is another major plus!

ETA: I was just flipping through my Mark Bittman “The Minimalist Cooks Dinner,” and he has an absorption pasta recipe, simply called “Pasta, Risotto Style.” I must have flipped past it a million times… I will try his method next time; he recommends tossing the pasta for up to 5 minutes before adding broth, until it really starts to brown, and then adding the broth a little bit at a time and cooking uncovered.