Category Archives: Main Courses

Dry-Brine Turkey for Thanksgiving 2014

The TurkeyThe Turkey

I’ve been absent from the writing portion of this website for a little while now.  Catering and events busy season kicked into gear, and I had also taken a full-time position in a catering kitchen at the end of July.  Those factors, plus some personal things I’ve been dealing with for the past few months resulted in a blog and recipe-testing hiatus.  Hopefully, you were all still keeping up with me via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  What has gotten me back into the swing of things is this gorgeous, fresh turkey from Cascun Farm in Greene, NY, which I prepared for the Thanksgiving feast that I hosted on Thursday for the “Castaways,” or “Orphans” gathering this year.

Set up for guestsGetting ready for guests to arrive

Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays far away from family over the years, both in New York City and when I was living overseas, I really enjoy these get-togethers.  I’ve celebrated the day for a several years with a few of the same folks who were at my apartment on Thursday.  Then, there were other people whom I was meeting, and whose food I was trying, for the first time.  It’s always an interesting dynamic and can get quite lively, with stories shared of holiday meals and family traditions.  So, I knew that I had to make sure that the turkey was delicious and flavorful.  No pressure at all for the hostess of this meal, right?  Nope.  None at all.

Finished TurkeyThanksgiving 2014 Turkey

The fact that I’d never, ever cooked a turkey before shouldn’t matter, should it?  An article in Bon Appetit about dry bringing the bird and spatchcocking it.  I decided against using the latter technique and for using the former.  After consulting a few websites about cooking time, I figured that allowing about three hours cooking time would work for a turkey of this size (about 12 pounds).  In the end, I realized that the turkey is just a large chicken, and I treated it (lovingly) just like that, stuffing herb butter under the skin and basting during cooking to promote a golden, crispy skin and moist meat.  There was hardly any left over at the end of the evening, definitely not enough to make Turkey Curry.  I can put this down as a success and look forward to next year’s meal.

Dry Brine Turkey

Prep Time: Overnight for the turkey to brine, plus 3 hours cooking time (allow for 3 1/2 hours with resting time)

Serving Size: About a pound of meat per person (we served 11 people)

Ingredients:

1 12-pound Turkey, preferably fresh

To Brine:

1/2 cup Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Sage, fresh, chopped

To Cook:

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, softened

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Sage, fresh, chopped

Dry Brine MixtureDry Brine Mixture

Unpack the turkey.  Remove the neck, giblets, etc. and reserve for making gravy or stock.  Put the turkey on a rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes while making the brine mixture.  Combine the salt, thyme, rosemary, and sage in a bowl.  Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the turkey, making sure to coat the entire bird thoroughly and evenly.

Turkey brining in the fridgeTurkey brining in the fridge

Put the turkey in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 8-12 hours at least.  Some folks I spoke with in the catering kitchen said that they leave it even longer.  When ready to cook the turkey, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Take the turkey out of the refrigerator and rinse off the brine.  Pat it dry.

Butter-Herb MixtureButter-Herb Mixture

Make the herb butter by mixing together the unsalted butter, olive oil, and herbs.  Notice that there’s no salt added.  The brine will have seasoned the meat, so there is no need to add extra salt.  Plus, with the gravy and stuffing and side dishes, there will be plenty of seasoning on everything.

Butter under turkey skinButter stuffed under turkey skin

Gently pull the skin away from the meat and stuff the herb butter underneath the skin of the breast and legs.  Try to distribute it as evenly as possible.  Place the turkey in the oven and let it cook for 30-40 minutes.  Baste the turkey, brushing the melted butter and fat over the legs and breast meat.  After that, turn the temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to cook the turkey for another 2 1/2 to three hours,* until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finished TurkeyThe finished turkey

Remove the turkey from the oven.  Tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 or so minutes while making the gravy and reheating the side dishes.  Carve the turkey and serve.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Balancing out the cooking time to have moist breast and thigh meat was one of the concerns that I had.  One way around this is to place foil over the breast meat if it looks like it is getting overcooked.  Basting the meat every 30 minutes or so also helps to keep the meat moist and juicy.

Peking Duck-style Duck Pie for #PiePartyGE

Pile of Duck Pancakes from Chinese New Year’s Potluck

With apologies to all fellow #PiePartyGE attendees who were waiting for this recipe.  Something named “Sandy” pre-empted the originally scheduled publishing of this post.  

It all started innocently enough.  I sent out a Tweet asking fellow #PiePartyGE attendees if I should try to recreate the Duck Pancakes that I made earlier this year for a Chinese New Year’s potluck into a pie for last week’s event.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  So, then, I was on the hook to come up with just exactly how I would pull off this crazy idea.

Rolled out scallion pancake for pie crust

First off, the main question was how to build a crust that would capture the same tastes and texture as the pancakes themselves.  After mulling it over, drawing some diagrams, and talking to one of my chef contacts at school, I came up with the thought, “What about if the ‘crust’ was actually made of a scallion pancake.”  Aha!  That sort of became the eureka moment for pulling this whole thing together and to create the flavors for which I was looking.

Whole roasted duck

The duck filling would be easy, as I decided to mimic the way that I’d constructed the pancakes, by using the whole roast duck recipe from Jamie Oliver that I’d used the last time.  Then, I used a second scallion pancake as the top to the pie.  Once the whole pie was baked, in order to get the Chinese-restaurant-style rolled pancake concept in every bite, I topped it with a slather of hoisin sauce, a handful of chopped scallions for crunch, some finely chopped cucumbers for freshness, and crumbled, crispy duck skin to add an extra pop of flavor.

Savory pies table

The results must have been a success because folks dove on the pie once we were allowed to start sampling the entries for this year’s event.  In fact, at one point, it was harder to get a spot at the savory pies table than it was to get one at the table filled with sweet pies.  When I managed to get back to the place where I’d originally left my pie, I saw a slightly crumpled, disposable aluminum pan with a lonely piece of the scallion pancake shell and a few crumbs of meat and scallions left in it.  The Duck Pie had been almost entirely demolished.

The remains of the pie

This pie wasn’t an entirely perfect production.  While I did capture the flavors that I wanted to have, the scallion pancake made a tougher crust than the usual pie dough recipe.  It also ended up being a bit difficult to cut through when the time came to serve it.  I’m not sure if a looser dough would help to solve this problem.  I might also add some extra hoisin sauce the next time to bake into the meat filling of the pie itself, as I’m a big fan of having that sauce with scallion pancakes and duck (often taking over a container of it just for myself, to be clear).  The only other option I’m toying around with is how to make these into handpies or mini dumplings to make them easier to serve at next year’s gathering.

Serving of Duck Pie

Peking Duck-style Duck Pie

Prep Time:  3 hours (includes time to roast the duck)

Serving Size: 8 portions

Ingredients:

1 Whole Duck (this can be made with duck parts, too)

Chinese 5 Spice Powder

Salt

Ground Black Pepper

1 portion this recipe for Scallion Pancakes from Serious Eats

Toasted Sesame Oil

Hoisin Sauce

2 Scallions, white and green parts chopped finely

1/4 c. finely chopped Cucumbers

Assembly:

Seasoned whole duck

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place duck in a roasting pan.  Sprinkle the outside of the duck with Chinese 5 Spice Powder, salt, and pepper.  Rub seasoning into the skin.  Pierce the skin in several places with a fork to allow the fat to render out while roasting.

Roasted whole duck

Put the duck in the oven and cook for about two hours, basting every 10-15 minutes with the rendered duck fat so as to keep the skin crispy and to even out the cooking process.  Remove the duck from the oven when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh and breast reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Let the meat cool while preparing the scallion pancake.

Shredded duck in duck fat

The duck can be roasted, the meat shredded, and then the meat stored in its own rendered fat for a couple of days prior to making the pie.  To prepare the duck for filling the pie, heat the meat and the fat in a shallow pan and add extra Chinese 5 Spice Powder, salt, and pepper to taste.

Scallion pancake as bottom crust

About 30 minutes before the duck has finished roasting, being making the scallion pancakes according to this recipe.  Instead of dividing the dough into four pieces, split it into two, making a top and a bottom crust for the pie.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly brush the pancake with toasted sesame oil.  Place the pie pan with the scallion pancake into the oven and let it cook for about 20 minutes until lightly golden.

Duck pie topped with second scallion pancake

Remove the pie pan from the oven.  Brush the pancake base with a light coat of hoisin sauce.  Fill the pie shell with the shredded duck meat, drained of fat.  Top the filling with the second scallion pancake.  Brush that with some additional toasted sesame oil.

Duck Pie pre-garnish

Place in the oven and cook for another 20-25 minutes, enough to heat the meat through and to allow the crust to turn a light golden brown.  The pie can be served room temperature to warm, which made it a perfect dish to serve at the pie potluck.  Prior to putting it out on the table, garnish it with more hoisin sauce, the scallions, and cucumbers.  For an extra twist, fry up some of the duck skin and crumble it on top to add a bacon-y type, smoky crunch to the topping.  Serve some extra hoisin sauce on the side.

Finished Peking Duck-style Duck Pie

Buon appetito!

Thank you to GE Monogram for hosting us in their gorgeous kitchen showroom space.  Thanks as well to fellow sponsors Kerrygold USA, Smirnoff, Harvard Common Press, and Dub Pies for helping to make this gathering such a terrific event!

Beer-Batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole

1- Fried Fish-Kimchi-Guacamole TacoBeer-batter fried Fish Taco with Kimchi and Guacamole

After taking the Culinary Techniques course at the International Culinary Center, I have been having serious food cravings any meal that is not doused in a rich sauce or steeped in butter or that has the classic French flavor profile.  Looking at the jar of kimchi in my refrigerator from the demo last week with Kheedim of Mama Oh’s Premium Kimchee, my brain decided it was time to try to reverse-engineer the Fish Tacos from ABV (by the owners of Vinyl Wines and Earl’s Beer and Cheese).  Since its opening in January, ABV has become a popular gathering spot for Upper-Upper East Side folks (i.e., those living in the 90s and above) due to its extensive beverage list and unique dishes like the Tartare Pizza and Charred Strawberry Sorbet.

ABV

I was completely hooked from the very first bite I had of this dish with all the different layers of tastes and textures.  A slab of delicate, flaky fish surrounded by a hot, crisp crust lies on a base of spicy-sour kimchi and cool, creamy guacamole all held together by a soft, corn tortilla.  It is topped with a last-minute squeeze of lime, an extra sprinkle of cilantro and a few crumbles of queso fresco to give it an extra pop of freshness and tanginess.  This was my initial attempt at making this recipe, and I think I managed to capture most of the elements that appear in the dish at the restaurant.

ABV’s Fish Taco

I’ve marked this down as a Weeknight Supper option, as, with a jar of kimchi on hand, it really doesn’t take that long to pull this meal together.  I know that the ideal spot for eating this is on a beach, cold beverage in hand and ocean breezes wafting by.  Hopefully, that scenario is in your near future, especially with how hot it has been lately, but if it isn’t, at least these tacos might help keep things cool and refreshing.

Beer-Batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole

Prep Time: 30-45 minutes

Serving Size: 4 appetizer portions (one taco per person) or 2 meal-sized portions (two tacos per person)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Kimchi, chopped

1 Avocado

1/2 Jalapeno pepper, minced

1 Tbsp White Onion, finely chopped

1 Tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped

Zest of 1 Lime

Juice of 1 Lime

1 pinch ground Cumin

1 pinch ground Coriander

1 pinch Black Pepper

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 cup Flour

1 pinch Salt

1/2 cup Beer (doesn’t have to be the highest quality)

1 whole Red Snapper (or other white fish), about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds OR

1 to 1 1/2 pounds Red Snapper fillets

Corn or Sunflower oil for frying

4 large White Corn Tortillas (I used ones from Hot Bread Kitchen)

Queso Fresco

12-16 whole Cilantro leaves

4 Lime wedges

Assembly:

Kimchi

Place the chopped Kimchi in a serving bowl and set it aside until ready to put together the tacos.

Guacamole

Cut open the avocados and remove the pit.  Scoop out the green interior and place it in a bowl.  Mash it with a fork until there are no big chunks.  This version of guacamole should be fairly smooth in texture.  Add chopped jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and lime zest.  Stir to combine.  Pour in lime juice, cumin, coriander, pepper, and salt and mix together thoroughly.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until ready to put together tacos.

Ingredients for Beer Batter

Put 1/2 cup flour into a shallow bowl with a pinch of salt.  While stirring with a whisk, pour in 1/2 cup of beer and mix together until the ingredients are all combined completely and there are no lumps of flour.  It should resemble the batter for thin pancakes.  Let this sit for a few minutes while preparing the fish.

Red Snapper

I chose to use red snapper for this dish, but any white fish that won’t fall apart when fried would work.  I went by the guidelines at the fish counter at Whole Foods, truthfully, as I still find it confusing to figure out which is a “good fish” to buy versus a “bad fish,” environmentally speaking.  Feeling adventurous based upon my exploits in culinary class, I decided to buy a whole one and practice on it.  Needless to say, it is not really possible to take pictures while cutting up a fish, so I’ll have to let you imagine that I did much neater job of this task than was the actual reality.

Red Snapper Fillets

In the end, I had several large pieces.  To test the recipe, I cut a couple of them into long strips and left the others as they were.  I’m still not sure which size I prefer for this dish.  They both fry up really quickly and seem to hold onto their texture while maintaining a nicely crisp exterior coating.

Beer Batter

Put 1/2 inch of Canola or Sunflower oil into a heavy frying pan and turn it to a medium-high heat.  This is a great excuse to pull out the cast iron skillet as it will hold the heat better than other pans, which is why it is often recommended in fried chicken recipes.  While the oil is heating, prepare the fish.  Pour the other 1/2 cup flour onto a plate or into a shallow bowl.  Cover each piece of fish in the flour and shake off the excess.  Dip each piece of fish into the beer batter.  Shake off the excess and put it on a clean plate or cutting board while you check to see if the oil has reached the right temperature for frying.

Frying Fish

Drop a bit of batter into the oil.  If it sizzles immediately and begins to turn golden on contact, it is ready.  Gently place several pieces of fish in the pan, making sure not to crowd them together as they need room to cook.  Fry about 3-4 minutes on the first side, until golden, turn it over and cook another 3 minutes on the second side.  Remove fish from the pan and dry on paper towel.  You may have to cook the fish in a few batches.

Prepping Tacos

Set up the ingredients and begin to construct your tacos.  Begin by slathering some guacamole on a corn tortilla base.  Then spoon some of the chopped kimchi.  Gently lay a piece of the fried fish on top of the kimchi.  Sprinkle a few whole cilantro leaves plus a couple of large pinches of crumbled queso freso on top of the whole thing.  Serve on a large plate, accompanied by lime wedges.  These should be eaten while the fish is still warm to hot so that you get the right balance of hot and cold, crunchy and sour, and creamy and tangy.

Buon appetito!

Chicken with Tomato-Pancetta Sauce and Mashed Potatoes

This dish brings back memories of my folks coming to visit me when I lived in Bologna, Italy.  Far away from home, it was a real treat to be able to show off my language skills and the city to them.  Of course, the other benefit was that we got to eat out at places that were normally beyond my grad school student budget.  One of those was the venerable Ristorante Diana, which has been around since the 1920s and has served just about everyone.  Yes, at this point it is quite touristy, and although it does a good job with la cucina bolognese, it isn’t really the first place I’d send people looking for the classic cuisine of the city.

Go down Via Independenza to get there

At the same time, however, I did have a dish there that night that I immediately tried to re-create in my own kitchen a few weeks later: Chicken with Tomato-Pancetta Sauce and Mashed Potatoes.  It would have been useful if I had written down exactly what I had done more than ten years ago when I first cracked it, but, of course, I didn’t.  Two countries, four cities, and I’m not sure how many moves later, and I decided that I needed to try this one again.  I’m not sure if I got it quite the way that I had had it in Italy, but I think this is a close approximation.  It is a meat and potatoes dish with an Italian flare, and it came together quickly on a week night.  During these dreary winter days, it also had me dreaming of the inviting tangerine and papaya hues of Bologna, which is never a bad thing.

Chicken with Tomato-Pancetta Sauce and Mashed Potatoes

This is one of those dishes where several pots and pans are going on all at the same time.  That is one of the reasons it works well as a week night supper, as it comes together very quickly.  Read the recipe through all the way to get the hang of the sequence of these steps and to see how several things are timed to cook together.

Serving Size: 2 portions

Prep Time: 30-ish minutes

Ingredients:

1 medium Potato per person, peeled and cut into chunks (I used a variety called Nicola that was nice and buttery.)

1/2 tsp Olive Oil

1/2 tsp Butter

Salt

Pepper

2 Chicken breast halves

4 slices Pancetta, cut into medium-sized pieces

1/4 tsp. Olive Oil

1/2 c. Tomato Purée (I used Pomi strained tomatoes.)

2 tsp. Tomato Paste

Pepper

1/4 c. Green Peas

2 Tbsp. Butter

1/4 c. Whole Milk

1 pinch Nutmeg

More Salt

More Pepper

Assembly:

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put potatoes into pot.  Fill with water until it just covers the potatoes and stick it on a back burner to cook away over medium heat.

In shallow oven-proof pan, melt butter and olive oil together.  You can pick one or the other of these if you like, but this is really one of my favorite combinations of fat in which to cook chicken.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on each side of the chicken breast halves and place them in the pan when the butter has melted into the olive oil.  Cook on each side until lightly brown and then place the pan into the oven to continue cooking thoroughly.

Chicken cooking away on the stove

While the chicken is browning in the pan on top of the stove, put the pancetta into a saucepan with about 1/4 tsp. of olive oil and cook over medium to low heat until it is brown and crisp.  Set aside on a paper towel to drain.  Pour the tomato purée and tomato sauce in the saucepan and stir it to combine the leftover fat and bits from the pancetta.  Season with a few grinds of fresh black pepper.  Add the peas and stir to mix everything together.  Stir in the pancetta.  Let this simmer over low heat while the rest of the dish comes together.

Tomato sauce with the peas, pancetta to be added

Test the potatoes.  By this point, if you insert a knife or fork into the potato chunks, they will break apart.  At that stage, turn of the stove, drain the potatoes in the pot, and toss in the butter, milk, some salt (1/4 tsp. or so), and some pepper (1/8 tsp. or so).  Mash up the potatoes with a fork or potato masher and mix everything together.  Taste.  Add nutmeg and potentially some more salt and more pepper.

Mashed potatoes

Put the potatoes on each of two plates.  Remove the pan with the chicken from the oven and test the chicken to make sure that it is cooked all the way through.  Place the chicken on eat of the two plates.  Pour some of the tomato-pancetta sauce over the chicken.  Serve.

O.K., so this time I might have gotten a little carried away with the sauce

Buon appetito!

Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate Fondue for Christmas Eve

This was our holiday table yesterday for the annual family gift opening gathering.  It is roughly around Christmastime, I have to add, because we try to have our big meal when the maximum number of people are in town.  This is a bit of a challenge when you come from a family that includes 6 children, 5 in-laws (or S.O.s), 7 grandchildren (and counting), parents, aunt, and adopted family.  Last year’s dinner had us trying to fit 13 people around a table made originally for about 8-10.  This year, we had 8 adults, a toddler, and a newborn, so it was less of a squeeze to bring everyone together.

When the emails started going around after Thanksgiving about how to coordinate this year’s get-together several ideas were suggested.  Due to scheduling, we were going to be having a lunch rather than the usual dinner, so no one wanted to fix or eat something as complex and heavy as the Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce, although I would happily eat that for breakfast, if faced that dilemma.   My brother’s best friend’s wife (they joined the family drawing years ago) suggested having fondue, which wasn’t voted down by anyone when I asked them.

As a child of 70’s era parents, I remember fondue night fondly.  The dark red pot would be put in the middle of the dining room table bubbling away with a sea of molten golden yellow liquid inside of it.  We would each be assigned a different color wooden-handled fondue fork and have to wait our turn to load up cubes of French bread on our plates.  Spearing a piece of the bread and then dunking it carefully into the cheese, making sure not to knock off anyone else’s bread while pulling your fork out of the pot, twirling it just so to make sure to have maximum gooey dairy coverage in each bite, made dinner a fun and interactive evening.

Once in a while, we’d have a meat fondue, too, but I don’t remember eating it that many times.  It might have had to do with the fact that it involves very hot oil being put on the table and, having lots of smaller children around, my mom realized the safety factor wasn’t in her favor with that dish.  We did, however, usually have chocolate fondue, in addition to the cheese.  This meant that we also got to eat Entenmann’s butter pound cake, a special, special treat, as my mother baked all of our sweets and we rarely got to eat anything store-bought or processed, unlike my schoolmates.  My mother served this fondue with cut-up bananas as well, which might have made her feel better as we were ostensibly eating fruit for dessert in addition to all the chocolate and cake.

Everyone enjoyed the lunch and was, I think, a bit surprised at how well it worked out to have a meal as low-stress and quick to throw together as this one was.  After the present-swap and exchanges of good cheer, about half of the group left to continue their holiday celebrations at their next destinations.  Clean up was a snap as well, which as cook-in-chief made this meal a winner for me, too.  The two main dish fondues (meat and cheese) as well as the dessert fondue (chocolate) and a green salad, which not everyone touched, amply fed the assembled mass.  It even got me thinking that maybe next year I should ask Santa for my own fondue pot and start inviting folks to come over to dinner for some spearing and dunking fun.*

Swiss Cheese Fondue

(after a recipe from BBC Good Food from March 2000)

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people as part of main course

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
2 Tbsp. Kirsch
1 large Garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 2/3 c. dry White Wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 tsp. fresh Lemon Juice
12 oz. Gruyère cheese, freshly grated
12 oz. Emmental cheese, freshly grated
1 pinch freshly ground Black Pepper
1 pinch freshly ground Nutmeg
1 Baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces

Assembly:
Prep all ingredients and set out before putting everything together. Combine cornstarch and Kirsch and set aside.

With the fondue pot turned off, rub cut side of garlic along side the base and sides. Discard garlic clove. Pour the wine and the lemon juice into the fondue pot and turn on heat.

Bring mixture to a simmer over low heat and then start adding in cheese by the handful, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Stir until all the cheese is melted completely and the mixture bubbles slightly. Pour the cornstarch/Kirsch mixture into the fondue pot and add pepper and nutmeg.

Continue to stir so that the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pot while the mixture is thickening. Once the mixture has become thick, which takes about 5 minutes or less, turn the heat to low and call everyone to the table. Dish up the bread cubes and start dunking them into the cheese fondue.

Meat Fondue

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people as part of main course

Ingredients:
1 c. Vegetable Oil
1 ½-ish lb. Top Sirloin of Beef, sliced into thin pieces across the grain
¼ Yellow or White Onion, sliced (optional)

Assembly:
Heat oil in fondue pot until it is very hot, which takes about 2-3 minutes. Test by putting a piece of meat on a fondue fork and letting it cook. Let oil continue to heat up if it is not cooking the meat fast enough.

When ready, call everyone to the table. Let everyone put one or two slices of meat onto fondue fork. Place in pot and cook 15-20 seconds for rare and around 45 seconds to a minute for well-done. If desired, place a piece of onion on the fork with the meat for additional flavor.

Chocolate Fondue

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people

Ingredients:
2/3 c. Heavy Whipping Cream
2 4-oz. Chocolate bars, 60% cocoa (bittersweet)
1 Tsp. Chambord, Cognac or Brandy
2 Bananas, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 Apple, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 Pound Cake cut into 1-inch cubes

Assembly:
Heat cream and chocolate together in fondue pot over low heat.  When thoroughly combined, add in Chambord, Cognac or Brandy.  Round up everyone and tell them to start digging in by dipping slices of banana, apple and pound cake into the chocolate.

*As compensation for allowing me to take photographs during the family meal, I was told that I needed to give an acknowledgement to my sister for her fabulous hand-modeling in the various dipping pictures.  Thank you, too, to the fondue equipment suppliers for the meal, including said sister as well as my brother’s best friend’s family.  Also, thank you to my father for chauffeuring me around to pick up all the ingredients for the meal, but that was mostly because he didn’t trust me with his car.  As he pointed out, “You drive, what, maybe once a year?”

Buon appetito e buona festa a tutti!

Wiener Schnitzel and Gene’s Sausage Shop Chicago

The first leg of my Christmas 2011 adventures started out with a trip to Chicago to say good-bye to my uncle who had passed away prior to Thanksgiving (sad) and to meet my brand-new nephew (happy).  My youngest sister’s boyfriend is a good, solid home cook and fellow food lover, so a stop at Gene’s Sausage Shop did not seem out of the question on his first trip to the Windy City.  I tried to prep him for it by explaining that he was going to be entering a “meat emporium,” as if that could adequately describe the culinary wonders that awaited him there.

Interior of Gene’s

My first trip to Gene’s was a little over a year ago when I was visiting my brother in Chicago.  We stopped by the cemetery in the formerly-German part of town to visit the graves on my mother’s side of the family.  I’m about a quarter-ish of German descent, mostly on my mother’s side, although on my dad’s side about 300 or so years ago someone Dutch married someone German in Philadelphia so there’s a smidgen from there, too.  We combined this excursion with a saunter around the shops in Lincoln Park including this one, which is not original to the neighborhood.

Pierogies & Blintzes

At the shop, I discovered that my toddler nephew had a taste for their spiced, meaty Krakow sausage which he devoured as soon as he could grab a fistful of it from his dad.  Although I was bit more polite than my nephew, I, too, was taken with the samples and the tastes displayed all around me.  It’s still astonishing to me when I study the history of cuisine in the United States and find out how Teutonic-influenced our diet is as I don’t feel like I grew up eating the particular dishes from that area.  One of my friends who is French was surprised that I hadn’t realized the level of German inflection in our “American” dishes, too, but that probably goes to show you how foods that are at one time considered ethnic and weird can become assimilated and mainstream (think cilantro and pesto).

This is only a small sample of their sausage offerings.

My sister’s boyfriend seemed to be no less taken with the variety of wursts, smoked meats, sausages (fresh and prepared), salads, and other gastronomic delights from which to choose at the shop.  When he found out that they were out of Wiener Schnitzel (made with veal, not pork), he decided on the spot that he would fix some for dinner that night.  As it was the first night of Hanukkah, and I had woken up with a wicked craving for latkes, we threw in some potato pancakes for good measure.

Wiener Schnitzel, Potato Pancake, Red Cabbage, Cucumbers with Dill

Adding some of their prepared salads, and a Central European-inspired meal was in the works.  The recipe for the schnitzel is a bit non-traditional, but, also being of German ancestry and more recently than that of my family, my sister’s boyfriend assures me that this is the way he is used to making it.  I generally have done the flour-egg-breadcrumb variety.  This one, using just three ingredients (six if you count the salt, pepper, and oil), was quick and tasty and would make a great weeknight supper.  I think my ancestors would be interested to see that some of the foods they might have eaten still have a place on our table today.

Wiener Schnitzel by Mr. Brown

Prep Time:  15 minutes

Serving Size: 4 adults

Ingredients:

4 Veal cutlets, pounded thinly to about 1/4 inch

1 Tbsp. Mustard (he used Thomy mild)

1/2 cup Breadcrumbs (fresh if you can get them)

Salt

Black Pepper, freshly ground

Canola Oil for frying

Assembly:

Take each of the cutlets and spread a thin layer of mustard on one side.  Sprinkle a little salt and a few grinds of pepper on top of that.

Then, flip each cutlet over and repeat the steps on the reverse side.  Dredge the cutlets in the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat each side thoroughly.

Heat canola oil in a large (12-inches or larger) skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking.  Put in 1-2 cutlets, taking care not to over-crowd them. Cook cutlets for 2-3 minutes on first side until breadcrumbs are golden brown.  Flip meat over and cook on second side for 2-3 minutes more.  Because it is so thin, the veal will cook quickly.

The heat and oil need to be hot enough to make the breadcrumbs crisp but not so hot that the meat burns.  If cooking the cutlets in batches, take care to wipe out the pan and add more oil each time before you put in an uncooked cutlet.  That way, you will not make a smoky, hot mess in the kitchen.  Place cooked cutlet briefly on a paper towel after removing it from the pan to pat any leftover oil off of it.  Serve immediately.

Typically, wiener schnitzel is served with a slice of lemon on the side.  Vinegar-based potato salad, cucumber salad, and a dollop of a sweet preserve might also be on the plate to go with the meat.  Just be sure to serve it with your favorite beer to capture the mood of feasting in Europe.

Buon appetito!