Friday, April 30, 2010


I am currently reading Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop.  It's entertaining and informative, and there are recipes at the end of each chapter.  I'd be lying if I said I haven't been craving Chinese food every day since I started the book.

My craving resulted in a spontaneous trip to Da Lat (we don't have many good Chinese restaurants here), which was worthwhile because it's relatively inexpensive and delicious.  It's also nice to find non-chain restaurants that are close enough to work to visit for lunch.

Davy was gracious enough to cook for me, which will happen more often now that it's warm enough to grill regularly.  We had tilapia, zucchini, and potatoes. 

And this is how we felt near the end of dinner:

Tarragon, Cacao Nibs, and Chipotle Chiles in Adobo

Luckily the items mentioned above were not combined into one recipe.  They all happen to be ingredients that I don't use on a regular basis, but I will from now on. 

I grow and cook with my own herbs frequently, which often limits me to basil, parsley, and rosemary.  Tarragon has a faint licorice flavor and really lifts a dish from standard to noteworthy.  My mom puts it in her chicken salad, and it adds a nice layer of freshness.  Knowing how well it goes with chicken, I decided to try a French-inspired Tarragon Chicken recipe by Kerry Saretsky on Serious Eats.  It's a simple, lovely recipe that incorporates shallots and tomatoes into the sauce.  We ate our Tarragon Chicken over rice to soak everything up, and found the whole meal very satisfying.

Cacao nibs are cracked pieces of the cocoa bean that have been shelled and roasted.  They can be eaten alone, but are commonly used as a special ingredient in baked goods.  I got a bottle of Valrhona cacao nibs from my sister-in-law, and collected a few cookie recipes to test out.  I finally got around to making one a couple weeks ago, and it's definitely a keeper.  

Along with the cacao nibs, the "Chocolate Chunkocino Cookies" contain ground coffee, bittersweet chocolate in the dough and on top.  The nibs (pictured below) contribute nuttiness and a small crunch to the cookies, which are delightfully rich and best when served warm. 

My most recent ingredient experiment came with the Southwestern Pulled Brisket recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Chipotle chiles in adobo are sold in small cans, and they have a deep, smoky flavor that added a lot to the brisket.  We used the full three pounds to make it, and after three dinners, still have a significant amount of meat left.  The pictures below are the brisket before and after three hours in the oven.

For the first two nights, Davy shredded the brisket with two forks, and we ate it with tortilla chips and shells, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and some of the sauce spooned over everything.  I chose not to strain or skim the sauce, and it was fine with the vegetables in it. Last night we ate bite-sized pieces of the brisket over brown rice and steamed broccoli, which was a nice change from tacos.  

Sometimes the thought of trying a new food or flavoring can seem like a lot of effort, but it may be an enjoyable change for your routine.  Try to find a recipe for a familiar dish that contains a new or unusual element, and you may discover a new favorite herb or cooking method - even if it's just a different way to eat tacos.

French in a Flash: Tarragon Chicken

Posted by Kerry Saretsky, September 10, 2009
- serves 8 -
8 vine ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
8 chicken legs*
8 chicken thighs*
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
4 shallots, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/3 cup dry vermouth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
6 stems tarragon
1. First thing’s first: deal with the tomatoes. Cut out their little belly buttons, and slit and X onto their behinds. Drop them in boiling water for 10 to 20 seconds, and shock in ice water. Use a paring knife to help you lift off the skin, and then quarter them. Cut out the guts and seeds, then dice. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but it’s really so easy, and the result is a much lighter, sweeter, more summery sauce.
2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a braising pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken, in batches as necessary, until golden-brown all over. Set the chicken aside, and discard the oil.
3. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sweat just a minute. Add the vermouth and the wine, and simmer to reduce and burn off the alcohol. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and half the tarragon. Add the chicken back into the pan, and bring the liquid to a boil.
4. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the meat is falling off the bone. Boil uncovered for a few minutes at the end if you want to evaporate off some of the liquid (I like it saucy). Scatter the leaves from the remaining 3 stems of fresh tarragon over the chicken, and serve piping hot.

*I used about a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and halved the rest of the recipe.

Chocolate Chunkocino Cookies

Adapted from an adaptation of Unforgettable Desserts by Dede Wilson.
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks, such as Valrhona Caraibe (66%)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cacao nibs, such as Scharffen Berger
1 tablespoon finely ground coffee, such as French or Italian roast
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature

1. Sat aside about 1/2 cup of the chocolate chunks for later use.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a small bowl to aerate and combine; set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with the flat paddle attachment on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars gradually and continue beating on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes more, scraping down the bowl once or twice; beat in the nibs, ground coffee, and vanilla. Beat in the egg. Add the flour mixture, mixing just until some floury streaks still remain. Add the larger amount of chocolate chunks and beat until just combined. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or overnight. The dough may be frozen for up to 1 month, wrapped well in plastic and placed in a zipper-top plastic bag; defrost in the refrigerator overnight before proceeding.
4. Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°:F. Line 2 jelly-roll pans with parchment paper; set aside.
5. Drop by generously rounded tablespoon 2 inches apart on the prepared pans. Using the reserved chocolate chunks, press pieces of chocolate on top of each cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until light golden brown. The cookies will be a little soft in the center and firmer around the edges. Cool on the pans set on racks for 5 minutes, then slide the parchment onto the racks to cool the cookies completely. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days in an airtight container in single layers separated by parchment paper.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Tasty Easter

Below are some pictures of the delicious Easter meal we had on Sunday (photos provided by the lovely Shannon Lentz).  

Shannon provided romaine, asparagus, and roastbeef rollups with a garlic-herb spread:

My dad marinated and grilled two legs of lamb in soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, and rosemary: 

I sauteed carrots and bok choy with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil: 

My mom made a butterless mocha cake and hot fudge, which we enjoyed with vanilla ice cream: 


The meal, the weather, and the company were all amazing.  I hope everyone had a Happy Easter!