Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A kitchen manifesto

Recently I was catching up on the episodes of "No Reservations" I had not gotten to see. If you know me, you know how I'm enthralled and inspired by this show, which happens to be about two of my favorite subjects, traveling and eating. Anyway, in the particular episode I was watching, Anthony heads down to Cajun country (and of course has some truly spectacular and delicious looking food, especially the pork).  He mentions that Creole and Cajun cooking is really the only truly American cuisine.

This got me thinking about the dishes I cook, the dishes I was raised with, and what I want to do with my cooking.  Now, I love my mom with all my heart, and she really is a spectacular cook, I just managed to grow up strongly disliking most of the popular dishes in our area (and house) - things like tuna casserole, meatloaf, Tony Mazetti, taco casserole... basically anything that contained meat and came in a 9x16 pan.  I still can't stand this type of food.  That's my particular weirdness.

What I tend to cook start as international dishes - I'll try to make something very authentic, at least the first time.  I'm realizing now, however, that that is not what American cuisine is. We take things and we bastardize them - and it sometimes results in beauty (I'm looking at you, Chicago deep dish pizza).  And that's ok, as long as the result is wonderful.  That's what all great cooking cultures have done -- Japan didn't have tempura until the Portuguese came; Pho is a wonderful remnant of the French in Vietnam.  It's only too bad that most of what is known as American cuisine is bastardized food from other lands that just adds fat and makes it incredibly heavy (I side eye you Olive Garden).  Yes, there is the whole "fusion" thing, but it seems artificial.  Cuisine should adapt to ingredients available naturally.

I hope in my cooking that I can achieve a balance; I will bastardize, as in my Salt & Pepper Elk (which is quite a way away from its inspiration), but I will try to make the food about balance and not just add a ton of fat.  I will continue exploring new cuisines, tastes, and textures, and adapting them to fit my family. I will travel and gain inspiration from which I will come up with new ideas. I will bequeath recipes to my children and grandchildren in the hopes that they will use them as a base to start from and continue to develop.

Someday we will have an American cuisine, and it will be a glorious bastardized mishmash of all our influences.  Sort of like America itself.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Chicken Quenelles in Parmesan Sauce

This one is being put up by popular demand.  It makes a large (6-8 servings at least) amount of light and fluffy chicken quenelles, and they make amazing leftovers.

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 8 oz old bread or breadcrumbs
  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Bechamel sauce
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 4 oz parmesan
Top with
  • 4 oz parmesan
You can make the quenelles and sauce in either order, but I prefer to make the bechamel sauce first, and put it to the side while I make the quenelles.

Bechamel sauce:
Heat milk over medium low heat to steaming.  In a medium/large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  When butter is bubbling, add flour and stir for about a minute.  Switch to a whisk and begin adding milk a little at a time, incorporating it fully.  Once all the milk is added, contine stiring until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, whisking  occationally, 10 more minutes.  Add parmesan, set aside (occationally stiring to incorporate cheese into the sauce)

If breadcrumbs are hard, soak in milk beforehand.  Combine chicken breasts, breadcrumbs, cream, milk, eggs, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor (If necessary divide into two batches). Process until a smooth, fluffy mixture is obtained.  Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer. Use a soup spoon to scoop out quenelles, shape (should be roughly egg shaped; they don't come out perfectly every time, they'll still taste good), and drop into water, about 6-10 at a time (I've done up to 15 at once in a very large pot).  Cook for 6 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon (to allow water to drain) to a 9"x16" pan.  Repeat until all of the chicken mixture has been used, and two 9"x16" pans have been filled.  Pour Bechamel sauce in even amounts over both pans, and sprinkle with parmesan. If you want at this point the pans can be set aside and finished later, or even the next day if you heat them in the oven before broiling. Put in oven under broiler, with rack in the middle, for about 10 minutes, until top is golden brown.

Serve with a side of fresh fettucini or cheese tortellini and sauteed spinach.