Butterfly Chicken Breast with Braised Leeks & Shallots

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Mouthwatering to look at, the taste will meet all of your expectations. The onion like taste of the braised leeks, enhanced by the braised shallots, complements the taste of the chicken breast perfectly! When you learn to make this, it will become a favourite that you serve to friends and guests that they ask for specifically, often!

Ingredients

  • 1 Leek
  • 2 Shallots
  • 2 Skinless, boneless, chicken breasts.
  • Sliced Cheese (my favourite for this is Havarti but Provolone or Swiss would be just as good. Avoid using cheddar for this, it’s too overpowering)
  • Butter for cooking.

 

Directions

1.) Cut the bottom end off the Leek and then cut a length that is roughly equal to the length of your chicken breasts. Slice it lengthwise and then discard the white outer layers, reserving the green inner layers to cook.

2.) Peel and slice two shallots.

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3.) Add butter to a frying pan. Bring it to a high heat to melt the butter and then turn it down to medium high. Add the green leek slices and the shallots. Move them around frequently. If the butter dries up, add some more. You need to keep them moist/oily with the butter during the cooking process to braise them properly and not burn them (so don’t use the highest heat setting!).

roulade1_2If you are making more than two butterfly breasts, you will need to do the Leeks/Shallots in two batches. Just like mushrooms, you don’t want to overcrowd them.

 

roulade1_4It will only take a few minutes to get the Leeks/Shallots to the cooked, tender condition you want. Keep a close eye on them and as I said above, move them around often!

 

4.) While the Leeks/Shallots are cooking, using a sharp chef’s knife you need to “butterfly” the chicken breasts. You cut them along the long edge but do not cut them all the way through. You need to leave one side intact so that you can spread open the cut breast like you open a book. More pointedly, when they are opened they give the impression of a butterfly’s wings opened, hence the term “butterfly”.

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5.) Lay the chicken breats open on your work surface. On each half add a slice of your chosen cheese. On each of the two chicken breasts, lay one half of the Leeks and the Shallots.

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6.) Using kitchen string (ask the Butcher for a 3 ft. length if you can’t find any for sale), fold over the chicken breasts and then tie them together in two or three places along the length of the breast.

7.) Heating some more butter in the frying pan as you did above, cook the chicken breasts over medium high heat, ensuring there is always moistness (butter) in the pan. Don’t use the highest heat setting, you will burn the chicken and not cook it through. Patience is the key for preparing this gastronomical treasure. Make sure you use tongs to frequently cook these on all sides. You will probably even need to stand them on their open side a few minutes to complete the cooking process. A bit of the cheese will melt out into the pan but not enough to worry about.

roulade1_6Use butter, not oil!

roulade1_7Keep turning them after every two minutes until fully cooked all the way through.

 

8.) When the chicken breasts are fully cooked, transfer them to your serving plate and enjoy! A white wine reduction made with the suc goes nicely on these.

 

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Bon Appetite!

 

 

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Perfect Mushrooms

One thing I hate is when excellent flavour is lost to high heat and over cooking. Most people I know think that the stove has to be turned up high for everything…. and food cooked forever…. until it’s shoe leather.

One of the foods that often fall prey to this is mushrooms. There are such a variety and palate of flavours available in the many kinds of mushrooms you can find in the grocery store. My favourite to cook with in everything is Crimini but Mini Bella are also a new favourite.

There are two ways I like to cook mushrooms. One is with water and oil in a stir fry and the other is to braise them on the stove top.

SECRET #1: Do not crowd the mushrooms!! This is a lesson learned from Julia Childs cooking and it has become a solid truth that is re-validated every time I cook mushrooms. Mushrooms should not be piled high on each other, there is no need to see how many you can get in the pan. Cramming a pan with mushrooms forces them to cook un-evenly and become overcooked.

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Place them evenly around the pan with some space. It takes longer to cook a larger batch but with the exquisite flavour you are learning to imbue in the mushrooms, quality far surpasses quantity!

 

SECRET #2: Cook them in three parts butter to one part Canola or vegetable oil (never cook them in Olive Oil!). This technique is not quite “braising” but close enough. You will get nice colouring and the mushrooms will be packed full of flavour. They not only burst with the inherent mushroom taste, that taste is multiplied by the flavours of the butter that are absorbed into the cooking mushrooms. Notice that I use tongs to cook mushrooms with, not a spatula.

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Want something even richer tasting?

Cook full sized whole Crimini mushrooms in the 3:1 Butter/Oil mix over a medium high heat until fully cooked. This will take about 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and then add 1/4 cup red wine to the pan over the medium high heat. With a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to lift the suc (browned bits that stick to the pan) and re-incorporate it into the heating wine and oils. Simmer to reduce by half and then pour the wine reduction over the mushrooms in a bowl and serve immediately.

 

Bon Appetite!

Roasted Cracker Topping/Dip

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I usually make this when I make Tomato sauce. I reserve the onions from the tomato sauce to add to this. it’s very delicious if you like the full flavours of stewed tomatoes and roasted tomatoes and red peppers. Just spoon it onto your favourite cracker. You can store this for several days in the fridge. When you take it out to serve, depending on the size of bowl, you need to microwave it for 20 to 30 seconds. The fats in the tomato sauce and olive oil solidify when it’s in the fridge.

Ingredients

 

That’s all their is to it. It’s best if served slightly warmed rather than chilled. Again, you do need to warm it to liquify the fats that solidify in the fridge.

 

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Bon Appetite!

Meatballs & Spaghetti

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Is there a better comfort food than spaghetti (or any pasta) with homemade Tomato sauce and delicious meatballs? There is a lot of prep time for the meat balls but as long as you follow a good recipe, they are super easy to make.

I’m going to show you how to make them two ways. The first is cooked in a tomato sauce, super tender and ideal for topping spaghetti or to make a meatball sandwich on a bun. The other way is oven baked. Oven baked are a bit firmer but still ideal for any dish. If you are going to be freezing the meatballs for later use, oven baked is the way to go. You can simply simmer them in some sauce to thaw them and heat them up.

Two important points in making awesome meatballs, use medium ground beef (not lean or extra lean). The fatty medium ground beef makes a more tender meatball regardless of cooking method. Second, don’t forget the binder! Simply using eggs as the binding agent isn’t enough.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb (1/2 Kg) medium ground beef
  • 1/4 cup Half & Half cream
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 pkg Onion soup mix
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Yellow onion (cooking onion is fine if you don’t have any yellow onion).

meatballs_6Medium ground beef makes better meatballs than Lean or Extra Lean.

 

Directions

1.) Make the Binder: Mix together 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs and 1/2 pkg Onion soup mix. Stir in 1/4 cup Half & Half until thoroughly combined and set aside.

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meatballs_3aThe binder will thicken and become like a paste as the breadcrumbs absorb the cream.

 

2.) In a small bowl whisk together the egg, salt, pepper, Parmesan and any other green spices you may want to add.

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3.) Add the egg mixture to the ground beef and mix thoroughly with your hands. A spoon simply won’t cut it, it doesn’t blend as well as your hands do. If you don’t like the squishy mixture in your fingers, well, toughen up!

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4.) Add the onions and soaked binder to the meat mixture and mix with your hands.

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5.) Use your hands to pick up a bit of the mixture and roll it into a ball between your palms. I’ve seen meatballers in the store, little devices that scoop out just the right amount. Codswallop I say!! Use your hands, make them imperfectly sized but rolled together perfectly by you!

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meatballs_10Make them any size you want but about 1 inch diameter is perfect for your pasta with a sauce.

 

Cooking in the Oven

Place a sheet of tin foil shiny side down on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Place the meatballs on the foil so they are not touching. Do not press them down. I used to cook these at 400 degrees Fahrenheit but I like to cook them slower, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. These should take, depending on your stove, 25 to 35 minutes. You really, really do need to invest in an instant read thermometer and let that judge when they are done. For ground beef, the meatballs are done when a center read is 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. In the picture below, I actually over cooked these slightly as I was on the phone and didn’t get to them fast enough. Even slightly overdone, they were still delicious though.

meatballs_11Bake on the middle rack of the oven.

meatballs_14Really, use an instant read meat thermometer! Temperature must be 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

meatballs_15Mmmmm…..

 

Cooking in a Sauce

Bring your sauce to a boil then reduce it to a simmer. Add in your fresh meatballs. You need to simmer them for about 30 minutes, a bit longer if you prefer but not too much longer or they will start to toughen up. In the images below, I use one recipe (not doubled) of my Easy Tomato Sauce. It continues to reduce as the meat balls cook leaving a very thick and flavour packed topping for the pasta.

meatballs_12With one recipe of the Easy Tomato Sauce, I’m able to add about a dozen meatballs. This is enough for two servings. Double the Tomato sauce recipe to add more meatballs.

meatballs_13Really, these only need about 30-35 minutes to be completely cooked in the sauce.

 

Cooking the Spaghetti

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The amount you see in my hand is enough for two servings. Just right for one serving for two people. Bring some water with a bit of salt and Olive Oil to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir constantly and slowly for the first couple minutes to make sure the pasta does not stick together (that’s why we add the Olive Oil). Read the package the pasta came in to see how long to cook it Al Dente. As most cooking times are slightly overstated, that amount of time will please everyone. When cooked, turn the pot into a collander and then quickly rinse with a small amount of cold water to halt the cooking process (pasta will continue to cook from it’s own heat if you don’t).

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Serve in a bowl, top with sauce and meatballs and Voila…the whole gang loves ya!

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Bon Appetite!

 

Silky Omelette

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You’ve had omelettes that were thin, overcooked and dry. Hardly makes you want another one but it’s something that we keep coming back to. A well done omelette can be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dress it up with some appropriate sides and the meal is complete.

The secret to a great omelette is using cream instead of milk AND not using the highest heat setting on the stove. As well, always make a three egg omelette as two egg omelettes don’t provide enough volume for the frying pan and often burn or are tough.

Eggs don’t take a lot of heat to cook but it does have to be consistent and thorough. They need to be left on the stove long enough that none of the white is in liquid form any more. There are few things that will make you as sick as undercooked egg, to the point of hospitalization (as I found out on a trip to Turkey).

However, if you want a silky smooth and fluffy omelette, follow my directions below. The end result relies not only on your patience at the stove, but also on the type of cream you use.

  • Milk: Blech…makes a grosse omelette. Don’t bother.
  • Half & Half is almost always a perfectly form result, smooth but not too bulky.
  • Table cream (18%) a bit more volume but harder to keep in shape.
  • Heavy cream (35% – my favourite) is very fluffy, silky smooth and almost impossible to keep in a round circle.
  • Soy Milk: Doesn’t make the greatest omelette but will do the job for those who are lactose intolerant.

Choosing your frying pan is about experience based on your stove and your skill. I have four frying pans in my kitchen and there is only one of them that I would ever use to make an omelette in. It’s the perfect size, it’s old and natty looking and it always turns out awesome omelettes.

Making a Three Egg Omelette

1.) In a small mixing bowl, add three eggs and 1 Tbsp of your cream of choice.

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2.) Use a whisk or a fork to whip the eggs and cream together until smooth and the clear egg-white blobs are all broken up. Don’t worry about air bubbles, they come out in the cooking.

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3.) Put some vegetable oil or Canola oil in the frying pan and heat it before putting in the egg mix. When heated, lift the pan and move from side to side to evenly distribute the oil then pour in the egg mixture. Use a high heat to bring the oil to temperature then turn the heat down to medium high or slightly less depending on your stove.

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4.) The trick: We want an evenly cooked omelette with just a bit of browning, not burning. As you see the bottom start to go opaque you begin the process of draining the omelette. Use your spatula to push back a small part of the omelette and tilt the pan. The still liquid part rushes in to fill the place. Do this in several places around the pan and do it as many times as you need to to get the liquid part of the omelette onto the pan surface and cooking, without pooling/congealing in the centre. As the omelette cooks, air pockets form and bubble up. Use the corner of your spatula to break the air bubbles as they form.

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5.) When the liquid has all taken form and is no longer running when you tilt the pan. It’s now time to flip the omelette. The broader your spatula the easier this is. Gently work the spatula under one side and wiggle it back and forth underneath to get past the centre point. In one quick motion lift and flip the omelette. You may have to adjust it a bit with the spatula ones it flips over, if it bunches up a bit.

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6.) Now that it’s flipped, add on some cheese, onions, mushrooms, whatever you want. Allow it to cook for only two or three minutes on the second side. Then with the spatula, flip up one side and back over the stuff you added to make a half moon. Quickly transfer to a plate and enjoy!

omellette_1Plain omelette, 35% cream, nothing added except some grated Padano.

 

Note: if you want to add green onions, onions, etc. to the mix before putting it in the pan, then sautee these items first. They don’t cook that much when mixed in with the omelette. You can add grated cheese to your omelette mixture as well but I find the taste is richer if you add the cheese after flipping the omelette. Large additions such as mushrooms, leeks, etd. should definitely go on after the flip and become sandwiched in the half moon shape.

Bon Appetite!

 

Easy Roux Gumbo

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Doesn’t it look good? It tastes great! Especially when you take the time to make yourself something so rich, tasty and filling.

There are basically three kinds of gumbo, differentiated by how they are thickened (not by the contents). There is the traditional Okra gumbo, thickened by the addition of cut up okra late in the cooking process. There is a Roux gumbo, thickened by a Dark roux (there are four kinds of Roux: White, Blond, Brown and Dark). The third type, the most commonly known probably, if the File Gumbo (pronounced Fee-Lay). The File Gumbo is thickened by adding in File powder just as the pot is taken off the heat, stirred in and allowed to sit for a few minutes. File powder can also be served in a dish and added to the bowl by your guest.

Today I’m going to show you the method of making a Roux Gumbo (Okra wasn’t available and I’m out of File powder). Roux gumbo takes some extra effort but only a bit extra effort. the results is, as stated, delicious!

As with a lot of Cajun cooking, I typically use the Cajun Trinity (green pepper, onion, celery) which is a variant of Mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot) for the creole audience. In the photos on this post, I was out of celery so I omitted it. It still tasted awesome. If you were to get this dish down in the South, it would be made with Andouille sausage. As that is not available in this neck of the woods, I use hot Italian sausage (store made) and it tasted just as good.

 

Ingredients

  • 4 Hot Italian Sausage, cut in moderate sized pieces
  • 2 Skinless, boneless, chicken breasts cut in moderate sized pieces.
  • One green pepper, diced
  • One medium sized cooking onion, diced (yellow onions are better if you can get them)
  • One stalk of celery, sliced
  • 3 Cups thick sliced mushrooms
  • 28oz can of Diced Tomatoes
  • 28oz tap water
  • 1 small can of Tomato paste.
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • Long grain rice and 1 Tbsp butter to cook and serve the gumbo over.

For the Roux

  • 1/4 cup all purpose white flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (do not use Olive oil, sunflower oil or peanut oil)

 

Directions

1.) Cut up the onion, green pepper and celery. Place the Tbsp of Canola oil in a frying pan and add the Trinity. Cook until almost fully cooked, not quite all the way.

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2.) Cut up the Sausage and the Chicken into moderately large pieces. Place them in your large dutch oven or large non-stick pot.

easygumbo_2Hot Italian sausage, store made, used in place of Andouille sausage

 

easygumbo_3Skinless, boneless, chicken breasts cut up but not too small. I trim the fat from the pieces but throw the fat in the pot to cook with the gumbo.

 

3.) Add the sauteed Trinity, diced tomatoes, water, mushrooms, sausage and chicken to your large dutch oven

easygumbo_5I used packaged sliced mushrooms. Sometimes I’m lazy!

easygumbo_7This recipe makes a LOT of gumbo. Make sure you use a pot large enough.

4.) Bring to a boil then quickly turn down to a simmer. After the pot simmers for 15 minutes, stir in (carefully so you don’t spill) one small can of tomato paste.

5.) As you put in the Tomato paste, you should begin making the Dark Roux (as it takes about 15 minutes to make it). Use vegetable oil for this as no other oil will make the Roux properly (though Canola comes close but definitely not Olive!). The cooking time is far too long to make Dark Roux with butter.

Add 1/4 cup of Vegetable Oil to a non-stick sauce pan and bring to temperature. Add in the 1/4 cup flour and begin stirring. You need to be at the pot and stirring constantly. You cannot let it sit still for more than 2-3 seconds otherwise it will start to burn. Stir constantly but carefully. A hint to keep your hands from being burned by the oil if you splash it is to wrap your hand holding the stirring spoon with a tea towel. Stir constantly, but not too fast. If you stir too fast the roux cooks slower and you will splash the hot oil on yourself!

The dark roux takes about 15 minutes or a bit more to cook properly. It’s a lot of work but it is worth it. It thickens the gumbo perfectly (better than Okra or File in my own opinion).

easygumbo_8This is the roux just after the flour has been added and blended.

easygumbo_9This is the roux after ten minutes of cooking (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of it finished at 15 minutes).

6.) Add the finished roux to the pot of gumbo and stir to blend it thoroughly. Allow the gumbo to simmer for 2 or 3 more minutes then remove it from the heat and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Making the rice

For years I would fret and fuss over the making of rice. I followed directions on the bags and boxes like a doctoral candidate. I have gone through three different rice makers (Black & Decker was the best, and it was a steamer too). How do you get just the exactly right amount of water? However, once you discover the secret to cooking long grain rice, you can get rid of the rice makers and the stress and worry. The only thing you DO need to do is cook up a test pot as the time can vary slightly depending on your elevation and whether you are using white or brown.

It takes me ten minutes to cook long grain rice perfectly and about twenty-five minutes to cook long grain brown rice.

Put a small pan with three cups of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Add in 1 cup of long grain rice and 1 Tbsp of butter and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook until it’s tender (test it by chewing a small amount from the tip of your stirring spoon!!).

Turn out the rice into a kitchen strainer and allow the excess water to drain off. This leaves you with perfectly cooked rice, it’s sticky, the way I like it. You don’t have to fret about how much water because you start by using too much water. If you don’t like it sticky, rinse it with a small amount of hot water.

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After your gumbo has rested for thirty minutes, put some rice in a bowl and spoon the gumbo over top of it. Serve it with some hot toasted garlic bread and this rib sticker will satisfy the hungriest of guests.

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Bon Appetite!

 

 

Easy Tomato Sauce, Pasta Ready!

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My friend Monica talked me into making my own tomato sauce. Blanch and peel the tomatoes, add to a pot and cook with a few simple spices until done. Then I discovered the equally easy Marcella Hazan 4 Ingredient Tomatoe Sauce. This little dish of heaven is ready, on it’s own, to dress up your pasta. I also use it with my Spaghetti and Meatballs. This sauce, recounted below, is super easy and only takes about 45 minutes using canned tomatoes.

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Ingredients

  • 28 oz. can of cooked Tomatoes (no garlic, no spices, just plain tomatoes, whole or diced).
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Yellow onion, peeled and cut in half (do NOT chop, slice or dice!)
  • 1/4 tsp Salt.

 

Directions

1.) Drain the can of Tomatoes and place in your sauce pan.

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2.) Use your spoon to break up the tomatoes in the pan as much as you can. They will break down further while they are cooking.

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3.) Add in the onion, butter and salt. Bring to a boil then quickly reduce to a simmer.

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4.) Every five minutes or so, use your spoon to press the tomatoes against the side of the pan to break them up. Simmer for 45 minutes and then remove from the heat, removing the onion halves. Voila. Tout Finis.

If I’m having a proper dinner the next day, I’ll save the onion halves and then re-heat them to serve as a garnish (the onions are delicious cooked in this sauce).

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Bon Appetite!