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Monday, January 31, 2011

moroccan chicken with green olives & preserved lemons

i don't think i've mentioned here yet that my super-sweet boyfriend surprised me on my birthday with-- wait for it-- a 3.5 quart, cherry red, enameled cast iron, le creuset dutch oven! mine. all mine. when i told my facebook friends about it, one said, without hesitation, "now go get molly steven's book, all about braising." i did as he instructed and am so impressed with this book! it's a wonderful step-by-step explanation of braising techniques and principles, and every recipe i've made has been mouth-wateringly perfect.

i recently added to my braising equipment when, through a serendipitous series of factors including a gift card (from super-sweet boyfriend two birthdays ago) and a massive after-christmas sale, i bought a 4-qt. all-clad braiser for less dough out-of-pocket than i'd spend on a couple of packages of bacon from skagit river ranch. hellz yeah.

so now, let's cook.

one of the first recipes i made was a moroccan chicken with green olives and preserved lemons. it's difficult to get a good photo of braised meat, but trust me, it was better than it looks! tangy, briny and bright, with a rich, savory sauce. all of the cooking is done on the stove top, so i used my all-clad pan, which was plenty big to accommodate a 3-lb cut-up chicken.

moroccan chicken with green olives and preserved lemons
adapted from all about braising by molly stevens

for spice mix:

1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

for the braise:

1/2 cup unpitted green olives
1 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into eight pieces (save back, neck, feet, etc for making stock)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
kosher salt
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, parsley, or a mixture of both
1/2 (4 eighths) preserved lemon (the recipe calls for discarding the pulp and using only the peels, but i decided to just chop the pieces with pulp. next time i'll even add a little more because they are SO delicious. *note: molly says if you don't have preserved lemon, do not substitute regular lemon peels as they will not be the same thing at all. rather, squeeze in juice from half a lemon during the first braise step, and stir in the rest as you finish the sauce.)

the spices: in small bowl, stir the spices together. in separate bowl, cover the olives with water and let them soak.

the chicken: rinse chicken pieces with cool water and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. season with salt and pepper. heat oil and butter in braising pan, or large saute pan, over medium-high heat. add half of chicken to pan, skin side down, and leave to brown without disturbing them, 4 minutes or so. lift with tongs to see if skin is browned and crispy, then turn and brown other side, about 4 minutes. transfer to plate and repeat with rest of chicken. remove to plate and set aside. 

the aromatics: pour off all but 1 Tbsp of fat from the pan, and lower heat to medium. add onion and garlic, stirring, and cook about 3 minutes to soften. (don't burn the garlic! if it starts to brown too fast, move on to the next steps.) add spice mix and saute about one minute more.

the braising liquid: pour water in pan to deglaze, scraping up browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.

the braise: when water boils, return the chicken to the pan, wings, legs and thighs only, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 10 minutes. if liquid is at a lively simmer, reduce heat so that it's a slow simmer. turn legs and thighs over with tongs and add chicken breasts, placing them skin-side up on top of the other chicken pieces. sprinkle with half of chopped herbs, cover, and braise 20 minutes more. 

the olives and lemons: drain the olives. remove pits by smashing olives with the flat side of a knife, open olives like a book, and remove the pit. (this is surprisingly fun. i thought so anyway. oh, and i have to imagine there's a reason why she calls for unpitted olives that she then tells you to pit-- maybe less salty this way? higher quality olives have pits? dunno. but i did as i was instructed.) rinse the preserved lemon pieces and chop into chunks. 

after the chicken breasts are added and the 20 minute braising time is over, add olives and preserved lemons and turn chicken pieces again. cover and braise another 10-15 minutes, making total braise time 40-45 minutes. check for doneness-- juices should run clear when pieces are pierced with a sharp knife. transfer chicken out of pan and cover to keep warm. 

the finish: increase heat under braising liquid to meduim-high and bring to a boil. simmer sauce until it thickens a bit. add the rest of the herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. serve sauce spooned over chicken.

garlic from anselmos

Friday, January 14, 2011

our new favorite pecan pie

i've never been much of a dessert person. fat, salt-- these are my cravings, but sugar? not so much. that said, there are some occasions that demand dessert, and christmas is definitely one of those. 

i went to georgia to visit my family a little early  this year, and since i wasn't going to be there over the 25th, we rescheduled "christmas" for a couple of days before. it was great. we had a totally low-key potluck, featuring my dad's smoked turkey, my brother's mac & cheese (mac & cheese is a requirement of all family get-togethers, no matter the occasion), aunt jane's amazing zipper peas and creamed spinach (i'll post about this soon!), and i contributed a pie. a pecan pie. because christmas cries out for pecan pie, and because i love it. 

i followed a recipe from the final issue of gourmet from november, 2009. they, of course, made their own crust, but i didn't bother because 1) i don't bake, and 2) it's christmas-- i don't want to spend it in the kitchen, i want to stay in pjs all day long and watch football with my dad! besides, the whole thing is basically corn syrup-- why not pile a little partially hydrogenated lard on top of it, eh?

the pie was amazing. aunt jane declared it the best she's ever had. dad told us a couple of times that he doesn't even like pecan pie, but that he really liked this one. he requested i make another one before i left for seattle. aunt jane wouldn't leave the house without the recipe, and was telling her neighbor about it a couple of days later. i made the pie again as soon as we arrived back home in seattle because, yeah, it's that good. 

the magic comes from the light corn syrup and light brown sugar, so it avoids the heavy, molasses-y experience that comes from their dark counterparts. add to that the best pecans you can get your hands on (hooray for georgia pecans!) and a hint of orange zest, and you've got a really spectacular pie with very little effort.

now, i have had two friends make either this pie or add orange zest to another pecan pie recipe and report mixed results. fair enough-- holidays are personal, and we all have expectations about holiday meals. i'm just saying, WE think this pie RULES. 

dad and aunt jane's favorite pecan pie
from old fashioned pean pie, gourmet, november 2009

3/4 stick butter (i used salted)
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar (i actually used a little less)
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated orange zest, orange part only
1/4 tsp salt (if you are using UNsalted butter)
3 large eggs
2 cups pecans, half of them chopped
1 deep dish pie shell

preheat oven to 350 degrees.

melt butter in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. add brown sugar and stir/whisk well until smooth.  remove from heat and add corn syrup, vanilla, orange zest, and salt (is using), stirring well to combine. allow to cool briefly (adding the eggs to hot syrup will cause them to cook). lightly beat the eggs and add to the syrup mixture, mixing to thoroughly combine. 

put pecans in pie shell and pour syrup/egg mixture over pecans. bake on a baking sheet until filling is set, 45 minutes to an hour.