Recipes and Me

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tarragon Chicken Salad

Tarragon Chicken Salad

1 Rotisserie Chicken (typically 2 pounds or so)
½ cup mayo
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of fresh lemon juice (squeezed from ½ lemon)
1-2 stalks diced celery (depending on your love of celery)
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Kosher salt
Fresh Black pepper

I love that time of spring when herbs have all peeked out of the garden and you can start dreaming up all the possibilities for things you’ll try or create this season.  I anxiously await that day when I can go into the garden and start clipping away at my favorite herbs.  Tarragon is one of the herbs I grow in my garden and for me it’s synonymous with spring.  It’s a fantastic companion for lighter dishes with seafood, eggs, and vegetables.  Tarragon and chicken also make a very happy couple.  I’ve always loved chicken salad and over the years I’ve played around with a number of different versions.  At a sandwich shop I once had a chicken salad sandwich with tarragon on Ciabatta bread and it was delicious.  It had an incredible taste and the tarragon really boosted the entire flavor of the salad.  I clearly remember leaving a very clean plate behind. 

This recipe is inspired by the lunch I enjoyed that day.  I love the combination of crunchy versus smooth so I’ve included celery and walnuts but as I always say, this recipe is for you so don’t be afraid to take liberties.  If there’s something you’d like to try in the salad, throw it in and see what happens.  If you like almonds better than walnuts, try slivered almonds perhaps.  You may decide that was a good decision or a bad one but at least it will inform your creativity and desire to take chances in the kitchen and that’s what counts!

If you’ve just bought the rotisserie chicken, let it cool off for a bit. If you cut it while it’s still hot, it will prove to be a very difficult task.  Cut the rotisserie chicken, removing the legs, wings, and cutting off the breasts and thighs.  Remove the skin as well.  The great thing about rotisserie chicken is that the style of cooking allows so much flavor to permeate the meat so you won’t miss the skin at all.  Cut the chicken pieces into nice sized chunks, ½ to 1 inch depending on how chunky you like your salad.  Put the chicken chunks into a large bowl.   Add the mayo, Dijon mustard, and fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Stir the wet ingredients in the bowl just a little bit to mix them all together.  Add the cranberries, walnuts, diced celery, and chopped fresh tarragon.  Stir everything together.  Taste and add a sprinkle of salt, as needed (I find the rotisserie chicken is typically pretty salty so I don’t need to add more than a sprinkle of kosher salt to the mixture), and cracked black pepper.  Give the mixture a final stir and then store in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight.  This salad tastes even better the second day!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Balsamic Glaze – The Champion of Versatile Sauces


Balsamic glaze is hands down my pick for most versatile sauce.  Oh there’s a list, don’t worry, but right now, for me, a balsamic glaze (aka reduction) is really up there.  I was first exposed to balsamic glaze at a farmer’s market in California.  The market was enormous and had something for everyone, which translated to me wandering the market for hours, exploring every unique station.  There were fine baked breads and pastries, more charcuterie than one would know how to choose from, interesting cheeses, wine, and more.  There was one Italian vendor there selling fresh pastas, mozzarella, and a number of other Italian specialties.  One I noticed was balsamic glaze.  As the vendor explained to me the wonder of balsamic glaze and its simple creation, I was easily sold, shamefully so.  It’s surprising I didn't ask to purchase a case right then and there.  No, since I was traveling I just bought one bottle. But when I arrived back home and started using the glaze in the kitchen, I found nearly infinite uses for it.  And to this day I often find new dishes that are enhanced by the flavor of balsamic glaze.  Its thick syrupy consistency and concentrated, yet sweet, balsamic flavor goes well on everything from grilled meats, prosciutto, sharp tangy cheeses, ripe grilled peaches, and caprese salads with ripe garden tomatoes and bright green basil, to vanilla ice cream and sweet strawberries.  It’s a wonderful thing, made more wonderful by the fact that it only involves two ingredients, balsamic vinegar and a bit of sugar. 

Balsamic Glaze

2 cups balsamic vinegar (does not have to be expensive, just use one you really like)
2 tablespoons brown or granulated sugar

Pour vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce to low heat and simmer the mixture 20-25 minutes until it has the consistency of syrup.  Do not try to speed things along by increasing the heat.  It seems to make the acids in the vinegar more potent and will give the syrup a somewhat bitter taste.  Just simmer it low and slow and keep an eye on it towards the end so you don’t risk burning it.  As it reduces significantly you may need to turn the heat even lower to make sure the vinegar doesn’t start boiling.  You should be able to coat the back of a spoon with the mixture.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes or so.  It will thicken as it cools.  Pour the mixture into a squeeze bottle and let it cool completely.  I find my balsamic glaze keeps in the fridge for a few months.  It probably can last longer but I’ve usually used it all up by then! When ready to use, just reheat it in a small saucepan of warm water.  It can also last on the shelf if you prefer, with a slightly shorter shelf life. 

*Believe it or not, this recipe can be made even simpler with the subtraction of the sugar.  Many traditional glazes are made without sugar as there is already a suitable content in the vinegar.  The addition of sugar, I find, helps the sauce to thicken to a nice consistency and balances the bite of the vinegar.  But if you want to be super traditional and want a bit more tang to your glaze, forget the added sugar and just reduce the vinegar on very low heat and for a longer period of time to concentrate the sugars already in the vinegar.  Be sure to watch it towards the end so it does not burn, not pretty.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not your Grandmother’s Scones

Scones get a bad wrap sometimes and I can’t say I completely disagree with the sentiment.  For years, scones were not my pastry of choice.  I found them to be quite dry and crumbly and, just not my cup of tea (wink- get it?).  But a couple of years ago while happily perusing a neighborhood farmers market I came across a bakery vendor selling beautifully crusty baguettes, sourdough rounds, aromatic rosemary loaves, ridiculously tempting cookies, and more.  They also had scones.  When I arrived to the bustling market I was fashionably late and much of the breakfast breads were already sold out.  They had only a few scones left. Hungry after quite a bit of walking, I “settled” for the scone.  But when I had my first bite I was completely blown away.  This moist flaky bread studded with beautiful cranberries and tart orange zest was beyond delicious.  It was unlike any scone I had ever had.  And that is when I found my hidden love for scones.  What I came to find is that there are some very strong opinions out there about what a scone should and shouldn’t be but the most important thing to realize is that there are different types of scones.  I don’t love the dry crumbly scone you must dip in tea to absorb any sort of moisture but many purists feel that’s exactly what a scone should be.  But I am a complete sucker for a flaky moist scone studded with a variety of goodies, sweet or savory, so that’s the recipe I’ll keep in my back pocket.

This is a recipe I developed awhile ago as a result of my newfound love for scones and all of their possibilities.  As a tribute to the one that started it all, these are cranberry orange flavored but feel free to play around with ingredients to mix into the scone batter.  I’ve made blueberry, lemon poppyseed, and bacon and cheddar scones all using this batter so it can be very versatile.  Have fun!

Cranberry Orange Scones
(makes 8 scones)

2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into little squares
½ cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon orange zest
¼ cup orange juice (from zested orange)
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons milk or cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.  Zest the orange until you have 1 tablespoon.  Cut the orange in half and juice it into a smallish (cereal size) bowl.  Pour the dried cranberries into the bowl with the orange juice.  After a few minutes they will start to plump up a bit as they absorb some of the fresh orange juice.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or with your fingers (lightly and quickly) until the mixture forms pretty coarse crumbs. 

Drain any excess juice from the bowl of cranberries (I usually drink it, it’s so tasty!).  Stir in the orange soaked cranberries and orange zest. Gradually add the buttermilk and stir until a soft dough forms.  Do not overmix, this batter will not come together completely from the added moisture.  Your hands will assist in doing that.  Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead the dough gently five or six times.  Pat it into a circle (about 7 or 8 inches round).  

Cut the circle in half and then again crossways.  Cut across the round twice more as if cutting a pizza, to give you 8 equal sized wedges.  Place the wedges on the parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the wedges with the bit of milk or cream.  Sprinkle the tops with sugar (this will help them brown and will give the scones an addictively crunchy crust).  Bake 20-24 minutes until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool, if you can keep yourself from them that long.  I think they’re best nice and warm so if making them for company I often just slide them right off of the baking sheet onto a platter so everyone can help themselves.