Monday, October 26, 2009

Russian Borscht (Beet Soup)

I felt I had to do a bit of research before I tackled this next blog. Then, I almost gave up when I found out how many different kinds of Borscht there actually are. There's Russian Borshch, Ukranian Borshch, Jewish Borscht, Polisch Barszcz, Romanian Bors, Lithuanian Barsciai, Estonian Bors, Czechoslovakian Borsc, Chinese Borshch, Mennonite Borscht, Belarusian Borscht, Armenian Borscht, American Borscht, hot Borscht, cold Borscht, Borscht with beef, Borscht without beef, Borscht with Kvas, Borscht with chicken... phew! How do you know which one is authentic? So, I decided that I'd combine what knowledge I had accrued and make up my own recipe. I started with a basic Russian version, which traditionally has no meat, and decided to add a bit of a French twist to it by incorporating a mirepoix into the base of the soup. This was truly an adventure. Enjoy!
The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is the more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious. -Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume


4 Red Potatoes, chopped
4 Beets (3 Red, 1 Yellow), chopped
1 Qt. Water
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 C. Onion, diced
2 C. Celery, diced
2 C. Carrot, diced
3/4 C. Tomato Paste
1 Small Head Cabbage, shredded
2 C. Roma Tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. Cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. Brown sugar
Sour Cream
Dill Weed
Salt & Pepper

After chopping the potatoes and beets, boil them in the quart of water for 45-60 minutes, until they are tender. You can then move on to prep your other ingredients. Go ahead and dice your onion, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and shred your cabbage. Be sure to keep them all separate because you will be adding them at different times.

Once the vegetables have all been cut and the beets are halfway cooked, you can start your soup. (You can follow these steps by looking at the photos from Left to Right, Top to Bottom).

1. Sweat the onions in butter and a touch of salt until they are translucent.
2. Add the celery.
3. Add the carrot.
4. Mix and cook until the celery and carrot are tender.
5. Add tomato paste and caramelize until everything is well blended and the paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pot.
6. Deglaze with half of the beet water and stir until the bottom of the pot is clean. Cook about 10 more minutes.
7. Add the cabbage.
8. Add the tomatoes.
9. Add the cider vinegar and brown sugar. Cook for 3 minutes.
10. Add the beets, potatoes, and the rest of the beet water.
11. Stir and cook until beets and potatoes are fully cooked and tender.
12. Change consistency to your liking. I used an immersion blender to coarsely puree the soup. Some people like it chunky so this part is completely up to you. Be sure to adjust your seasonings at this point.

Plate your soup and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and sprigs of fresh dill weed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blackened Salmon w/ Wild Rice & Cajun Alfredo

This recipe is a lot of fun to make. Once the heavy prep is out of the way, this dish can be made in under 10 minutes. In this blog you'll find the steps to make everything from scratch, but you'll also find shortcuts (in parenthesis) along the way to help keep everything simple.INGREDIENTS

Wild Rice
1/2 lb. Chilean Salmon Fillet
6 Each (26/30) Shrimp
1 Roma Tomato, diced
1 Bunch Green Onions, chopped

For The Alfredo
2 Tbsp. Butter
1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Salt
1/2 Tbsp. White Pepper
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Parmesan Cheese
1 Tbsp. Blackening Seasoning

FOR THE RICE (Skip This Step? Buy an "Uncle Ben's" boxed rice.)
Start by making the rice because it can take as much as 25 minutes. Rice cookers are fine, but I find that they always burn the bottom portion of my rice. I suggest putting your favorite kind of rice into a small pan with about double the amount of water, 2 Tbsp. of butter, and your favorite herbs and spices. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 20-30 minutes while you do the rest of your prep.

FOR THE ALFREDO (Skip This Step? Buy Alfredo and add blackening seasoning to it.)
In a stock pot over medium high heat, combine your butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Once the garlic has browned slightly add your heavy cream and bring to a simmer for 7 minutes. Add your parmesan cheese and whisk to prevent the cheese from clumping. The sauce will thicken as the cheese melts. Finish with blackening seasoning.

For this dish, I was able to use one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. I have a Flat-Top made out of Solid Marble. Essentially it's a slab of rock that heats up to 450 degrees. I only get to use it about twice a year, so I was excited that this recipe could utilize my Marble Flat-Top. You can use a fry pan or a saute pan just as easily.

Heat your pan over medium high heat. Season the fish with salt, pepper, and blackening seasoning.

Sear one side of the fish while you season the other side. When the fish has cooked halfway through (about 3-4 minutes) flip it over and sear the other side.

At this point you can either add the shrimp to the same pan or heat a second pan. If you're using the same pan, then oil from the salmon will flavor your shrimp

*I use 26/30 shrimp because they're pretty small. "26/30" means that there are an average of 26-30 shrimp in a pound. "16/20" shrimp are larger and more commonly used in shrimp cocktails. These are the two most commonly found sizes in super-markets. There are also "41/50" shrimp and "90/110" shrimp also known as "popcorn" shrimp.

Serve the salmon over a bed of rice alongside the shrimp. Circle the rice with the cajun alfredo and top it all with diced tomatoes and green onions.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stuffed Chicken w/ Roasted Red Peppers & Herbed Goat Cheese

I love roasting my own peppers, so when I found some extremely large, perfectly shaped red peppers I knew I had to get my hands on them. Also, I had some ridiculously large chicken breasts in my fridge. In order to keep them from drying out during cooking, I decided to stuff the chicken breasts with whatever I found floating around the fridge. This is kind of a "fly by the seat of your pants" recipe, but sometimes those are the most fun.

Red Peppers
Chicken Breast
Goat Cheese
Herbes de Provence*
Heavy Cream
Lemon Juice
Salt & Pepper

*Herbes de Provence [EHRB duh proh-VAWNS] is a basic assortment of the most commonly used herbs in Southern France; basil, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme.

We start by roasting our peppers. We roast peppers in order to remove the skin while keeping the meat of the pepper in tact. This process also gives the peppers a rich flavor that tends to be on the sweeter side. I like to set my oven to "Broil" and place the peppers on a sheet tray on the top rack. Once the peppers have blistered on one side, you'll want to rotate them and blister all four side. Once they're finished, you'll want to place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This allows the residual heat to sweat the peppers inside the bowl, making the skin much easier to remove.

As the peppers are sweating, you'll want to butterfly your chicken breast and season both sides with salt and pepper. I crumbled some goat cheese and rolled it around in some Herbes de Provence. Once your peppers have been peeled, lay one thick strip on one side of the chicken and top it with goat cheese. Lastly, you'll want to close your chicken breast much like a taco shell.

If your chicken is over-stuffed (like mine was) you'll want to truss the breast using butcher's twine in order to keep the breast from falling open during cooking. Simply sear the chicken for 3 minutes on each side until it's golden brown and finish in a 400 degree oven for 7 minutes.

I wanted a very light sauce for this dish since the chicken is very heavy. In a sauce pan, I browned a bit of minced garlic in olive oil, then deglazed with lemon juice. When the lemon juice had reduced by half I added heavy cream and reduced that by half as well. Heavy cream takes on a very nutty flavor as it reduces, so this sauce will taste of zested nuts. I added a touch of white pepper and salt, but not a lot. I really wanted this sauce to be light and not take anything away from the flavors inside the chicken.

When the chicken was done cooking, I set it aside to rest. Using the same pan, I tossed in a handful of leftover diced peppers, sugar snap peas, and some baby portabello mushrooms. I served the chicken over the vegetables and drizzled with a bit of the citrus cream sauce.