Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Just like Clothes Make the Man ...

Sometimes I think this is more a photo journey through my bad dishes. Sad remnants of K-Mart visits, vintage warhorses chipped from too many runs through the dishwasher, the concept of ‘matching’ becoming ever more abstract. Sometimes the plastic ‘Tony the Tiger’ cereal bowl we got inside a box of corn flakes has to stand side by side with the more typical ceramic soup bowls. Though we tend to avoid that one if at all possible for non-family visitors.

We took a walk through foodie Mecca Williams-Sonoma the other day. It’s obviously a step up from Crate and Barrel. Crate and Barrel has Rachael Ray pimping for them on huge posters at the front door, and on TV monitors throughout the store (non-stop 30 Minute Meals – beam me outta’ here, Scotty!). Williams-Sonoma has Giada De Laurentiis all over their store. Altogether a better image.

Imagine if you had one of each of the thousands of items they have for sale available in your kitchen. Stuffed in some drawer. Hanging from some hook. Perched on your counter top.

I would go nuts. I am not a fan of ‘dust collectors’. Things that have limited if any purpose. Just sitting around taking up space, or clogging my cooking area. Fun to look at, but not for me.

I have a pretty small array of tools, implements, machines, etc., that somehow help me create all this food that I make everyday. And when the grease is spattering and the smoke starts to get thick – well, there’s no time to evaluate tool options. No time to consider which of the 250 knives would be just the right one for the task at hand. Which of the 500 different scoopers, turners, scrapers, tongs or ladles, with or without slots, in 20 different materials from metal to plastic to ceramic, would be best to manipulate the array of things cooking that are on the verge of burning, turning to mush, or coagulating beyond the edible state.

I make a reach for what I know will work. Every time.

But on the serving side, I can see the value. Everyone eats with the eyes. Food arranged interestingly, with complementary or contrasting colors, on appropriately sized and shaped serving vehicles – that might be something to consider.

Looking around these stores highlighted that situation. And looking to plate a few recent creations, such as yesterday’s strawberry parfait, or today’s vibrantly red beet soup, pointed that out again. I’m sure these would have actually ‘tasted’ better in something that let the eyes enjoy the food as much as the tongue.

So apologies for using the 50¢ soup ‘bowls’ for the beet soup.

Anyways, I’ve made the beet soup a few times before. It has a nice roasted flavor, with a little more depth that some other recipes because of the ‘mirepoir’ and roasted fennel used for the base. Plus – sage! Roasted beets, fennel and sage, with a hint of apples and mint. What more do I need to say?

Easy to make (you can watch a whole half of basketball while the beets are roasting – double bonus!), really a full array of vegetables that gets away from the everyday salad format.

And the finished ruby soup is always dramatic looking. Even when draped in K-Mart for the evening.

The soup has a touch of apples in it. To complement that, I made another dish that has worked out pretty well before – chicken and apples in honey-mustard sauce. Also easy to make. And again, some good nutrition from the apples that gets a little away from the usual overcooked vegetable side dishes.

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2001

1 pound medium beets, stems removed
1 fennel bulb, about 3/4 pound, core and stems removed, and quartered
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1/4 cup small diced carrot
1/4 cup small diced celery
1 teaspoon minced garlic
6 cups chicken stock, or canned, low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons apple sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/4 cup toasted, crushed pistachios

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a bowl, place the beets, fennel, 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt, and pepper, and toss to combine. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast until caramelized, about 1 hour.

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, peel beets and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a medium, heavy pot, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the fennel, beets and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

With a hand-held immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor or blender, puree the soup. Refrigerate the puree until cool, at least 2 hours.

In a small bowl combine the sour cream, apple sauce, mint, and sage and stir to combine.

Ladle the chilled soup into serving bowls, top with a dollop of Apple-Sage-Mint Crema and some of the crushed pistachios, and serve.

Chicken with Apples in Honey Mustard Sauce
I do not know where I found this recipe – I printed it off the internet a long time ago.

1 cup apple cider
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs
4 large chicken breasts
olive oil
3 small unpeeled apples, cored and cut into thick slices
1 cup chicken broth
fresh parsley

Whisk cider, cornstarch, mustard, honey, salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl. Set aside.
Spread bread crumbs on a piece of wax paper, lightly coat chicken with crumbs.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil and add the chicken breasts. Cook over medium heat until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn chicken, add apples, and cook until browned on the other side.
Add chicken broth, cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 15 minutes.
With slotted spoon, remove chicken and apples to serving plates. Whisk cider mixture again and add to skillet. Cook and stir over high heat until lightly thickened and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon over chicken and apples, sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with rice. Serves 4.

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