Chicken and Waffles — Sous Vide Edition

Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and waffles apparently is a thing that goes way back, although I came across it only recently. I still haven’t figured out whether it’s a big breakfast or an interesting dinner. Either way, I guess it combines wonderful fried chicken, waffles and in my case, a very tasty bourbon-maple syrup topping. Oh yeah — it’s also done sous vide — which makes it just superb, in my opinion.

So for those who aren’t familiar with sous vide (are there people like that still?) we start out with the chicken, cooked sous vide at about 150 degrees for about two hours. For this recipe, I boned the chicken (except for the legs) before cooking with just a little oil and garlic. When that’s done, I used some flour, eggs and breadcrumbs, then fried the chicken until the breadcrumbs were just the right color. Because all the chicken is cooked to 150 degrees and left long enough to kill off any bacteria, it’s fresh and very juicy. 

While the recipe is cooking, I made the waffles, which are just the way the manufacturer says they should be, including a little buttermilk, then got to work on the bourbon and maple syrup mix, which is very easy but very flavorful. 

While I made this for dinner, chicken and waffles could easily cut down the chicken and make it into a quick breakfast.

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Nan’s Chocolate Sour Cream Cookies

Chocolate Sour Cream Cookies

I don’t recall when my mother — who all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called “Nan” or “Nannie” — began baking these wonderful soft, moist chocolate sour cream cookies, but I have trouble remembering a Christmas without them. I’d bet this recipe was published somewhere and she tried and liked it. That would have been at least 50 years ago, probably more, so the original source is now a mystery. What’s fun is that her granddaughters continued the tradition of making these cookies every Christmas. 

The recipe makes from 6-8 dozen cookies. The good news is that when they’re kept in air-tight containers, they have a really long shelf life. Several weeks, in fact. I made one change to the original recipe, by substituting a half cup of unsalted butter for the original’s half cup of vegetable shortening. Nobody needs a half cup of transfat in their diet, I think.

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Croque Monsieur — The French Bistro Sandwich

Croque Monsieur

Had it been invented here in the U.S., the croque monsieuer would be considered “bar food,” but since it was created in one of the many bistros in Paris sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the name is much fancier. This version is slightly modified from the French classic to take advantage of some wonderful ingredients I happened to come across.

The ham came first. The traditional croque monsieur would use boiled ham, much like the ham you can get at just about any deli in any supermarket. Just a short drive from where I live, however, is Virginia ham country, and so I sometimes get my hands on some excellent thin-sliced lightly smoked country ham from Surry Farms. If you really like ham and you want a real treat, you can order it online. You’re not likely to find anything better.

Then the cheese. In Paris, it would be gruyere or ementhaler, or maybe Compte for this sandwich, but I also had on hand some Balsamic Bellavitano from Wisconsin’s Sartori Cheese, so in the interests of making this an all-American version of croque monsieur, I figured I’d give it a shot. Good choice, it turns out. It complimented the ham well and wasn’t overpowered by the rich bechamel.

Finally the bread. The classic version uses slightly sweet bread called pan de mie, which resembles brioche. If you can get your hands on brioche, great. I’ve found that challah works well and is close to the French pan de mie. Some versions of this sandwich call for using what Americans call French toast — bread dipped in whipped eggs and fried crisp. Feel free to do that if you’re making this recipe. Personally, I like the crunch of grilled bread.

If you’re not familiar with French sauces, bechamel is one of the so-called mother sauces. It’s just a white roux of flour and butter, with some milk whisked into it, flavored with a bay leaf and a bt of nutmeg, salt and pepper. For this sandwich, I also add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. I’ve included a small-batch recipe for the sauce that makes enough for two or three sandwiches.

Croque monsieur is perfect for a nice lunch or even better as part of a more elaborate brunch. It pairs well with a rich chardonnay.

Croque Monsieur
Had it been invented here in the U.S., the croque monsieuer would be considered "bar food," but since it was created in one of the many bistros in Paris sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the name is much fancier. This version is slightly modified from the French classic to take advantage of some wonderful ingredients I happened to come across.
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Ingredients
Sandwich
  1. Thin-sliced smoked Virginia ham (or boiled ham from the deli), enough for 2-4 sandwiches.
  2. Gruyere, Ementhaler, or Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano, enough slices to cover the ham on the sandwiches plus 1/4 cup grated for each sandwich.
  3. Two slices soft-crust slightly sweet bread such as brioche or challah per sandwich
Small Batch Bechamel
  1. 2 Tbsp. butter
  2. 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  3. 1 cup milk at room temperature
  4. 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  5. 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  6. 1 bay leaf
Instructions
  1. Prepare the bechamel by melting the butter in a small saucepan, and when it has clarified and just begins to bubble, add the flour all at once. Stir and cook for several minutes, until the roux is nearly dry. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and then continue to cook until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stir in the nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Set aside.
  2. Butter all sides of the bread slices and assemble the sandwiches with the ham and sliced cheese. Grill on a hot griddle until nicely browned and cheese begins to melt, turning once. Place the sandwiches on a non-stick cookie sheet or broiler pan.
  3. Top each sandwich with enough bechamel to just reach the edges and sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese on each sandwich. Run under a preheated broiler until the sauce on top is bubbling and browned.
  4. Serve immediately.
Discovery Cooking http://www.discoverycooking.com/
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A Very Basic Shakshouka

Basic Shakshouka

Shakshouka is a beautiful, colorful blend of North African and middle eastern culinary traditions that makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or dinner. It’s also versatile. You can add any number of ingredients to this basic recipe and so long as you’ve got that bright red, spicy sauce and some eggs, you’ve still got shakshouka. My only departure from the standard base is to add some onions, because, well, I like onions.

Like most dishes from this region, it’s hard to pin down the origin, but most of the sources I found credit the start of the modern version to Tunisia. From there it spread across North Africa and into the Middle East, where it now is a favorite breakfast or dinner in Israel. In Tunisia, the dish often includes artichoke hearts, potatoes and/or broad beans. I’ve also had it with sausage, chick peas, and feta cheese, in various combinations.

In other words, experiment and have fun.

This version uses harissa, the arabic blend of spices built around chili peppers. You can find it either in paste or dried form in most mainstream groceries, these days and it’s easy to find online. Some recipes I’ve seen call for other chili-based spice blends. Again, use what you like. You also can add more eggs to stretch the dish to feed more people, so long as everyone gets an egg or two.

A Basic Shakshouka
Serves 4
Shakshouka is a beautiful, colorful blend of North African and middle eastern culinary traditions that makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or dinner.
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Ingredients
  1. Olive oil
  2. 2 Tbsp. harissa (or to taste)
  3. 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  4. 1/2 cup diced white onions
  5. 2 large red peppers, diced small (about 2 cups)
  6. 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  7. 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  8. 1 28 oz. canned whole tomatoes
  9. 4 large eggs
  10. Salt
Instructions
  1. Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium heat and when it fully heated, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom.
  2. When the oil is heated, add the onions and peppers and saute until they're softened.
  3. Add the harissa, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for another minute or two.
  4. Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes, using the back of a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. When the sauce has reduced a little and become very thick, use a spoon to make four evenly spaced indententations in the sauce and gently break and egg into each indentation.
  6. Reduce temperature a little, cover and simmer until the eggs are poached to your liking.
  7. Remove from the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to settle, then spoon into individual plates and serve with fresh bread (Challah is great for this).
Discovery Cooking http://www.discoverycooking.com/
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Spiced Plums

spiced plums

Dessert is something that’s pretty rare around my kitchen unless we’re having guests, but once in a while something I see catches my eye and I just have to give it a try. That’s how this spiced plums recipe was born. It started when I stumbled across a picture of a brunch menu while browsing my Twitter feed. I’m not sure why that particular picture caught my eye, but given that fall plums had begun showing up at the local farmer’s market, I had to give it a shot. I’m happy I did.

This is a perfect no-fuss kind of dessert that’s ideal for a fall brunch. Warm fresh fruit, a hint of cinnamon and cloves and a little citrus tang. The plums are easy to warm up and, even better when served over a piece of ginger bread. 

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The Art of the Tartine

tartine

Anyone I know who has spent anytime at all in France — myself included — has a favorite tartine and a story to go with it. Mine involves stopping in  a charcuterie/brasserie in Dijon near the hotel La Cloche and driving out into the country on a beautiful fall day with a couple of incredible tartines and a lightly chilled bottle of Puligny-Montrachet. Some days you just don’t forget.

The thing about tartines is that they’re anything you want them to be, so long as they’re open-faced on a slab of toasted rustic bread, often, but not always, sourdough. The one pictured above replicates the one I had that day in Burgundy, which had a bed of arugula, thickly sliced smoked ham, thinly sliced apples and melted Brie, with, of course, a slather of Dijon mustard.

No recipe accompanies this post for good reason. There simply is no single way to make a tartine. They can be meaty or vegetarian. Sweet, savory or both. I’ve seen breakfast tartines with eggs and tomatoes and fresh herbs. I even had one once that was effectively a caesar salad on toasted bread. Tuna and chicken salads make wonderful versions, and I’m told that sardines are great too. I haven’t tried that. 

The one characteristic of all tartines, however, is that they appeal to the eyes as much as to the tastebuds. I’ve had tartines in France and at some very nice restaurants here in the US, and they have always been as beautiful as they are tasty, so when you embark on the creation of your own special version, exercise both your culinary and visual creativity. A tartine should be a work of art.

And whatever you do, don’t forget the wine.

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Exploring Sous Vide, Part 3: My Perfect Egg

perfect egg

OK. Before anyone goes off the deep end, there is no objectively perfect egg. There is a perfect egg for a given purpose, as far as I’m concerned, and as part of this week’s sous vide explorations, I’ve spent some time (and eggs) to figure out the formula for producing my own perfect general purpose egg. In this endeavor, I have lots of company. The first thing that just about everyone who buys a sous vide setup immediately begins playing with eggs. The reason is simple: They’re easy to do (no recipe needed) and eggs are very sensitive to the time and temperature at which they’re cooked.

sous vide rig

My Sous Vide Rig

I’ve found a ton of useful information online regarding sous vide eggs. I am especially happy that I found this article at ChefSteps, which features an interactive calculator for determining the time/temperature combination for a given white/yolk texture profile. That, in turn, led me to this article at The Food Lab, which satisfied the chemistry geek in me.

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