Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Potato Roast!

This was a great way to use up some potatoes....sliced thin with a v-slicer, mixed with some shallots, drizzled with butter and baked until crispy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fauna & Flora - Abby at the Botanical Gardens

I think that spring is the best season in Florida. The weather is typically beautiful, and it's the best time for outdoor activities.

Last Saturday we went to the Botanical Gardens in Largo with Abby (aka the crazy dog).  We had never been there before and were really impressed.  There are several different areas, including some nature trails and a wedding garden.There was also a long trail by the water, which had adirondack chairs in a few spots. It's definitely a great place to sit with a book and relax. Abby had a great time walking around and nosing some flowers. We also saw some turtles, plenty of lizards, and some fish.

The only surprising thing was how empty it was...unfortunately, I don't think that many people take advantage of the outdoors, and how enjoying it can be.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tarts - They're Not All Sweet

Some people think that tarts are only sweet dishes (lemon tart, pecan tart, etc.) but tarts can be savory too. A tart is basically just an open pie shell with a filling in it.  If you have basic ingredients on hand, you can quickly throw together a tart for dinner.

I like to use puff pastry for my tarts.  Puff pastry is made by repeatedly folding layers of butter in between dough. As the pastry heats in the oven, the butter releases steam, which causes the many layers to puff up.  The result is a buttery, but airy crust.  Frozen puff pastry is available in the freezer section of the grocery store and is really easy to work with - you just need to let it defrost in your refrigerator and keep it cold until you're ready to work with it.

You can use whatever combination of fillings/toppings in your tart.  I typically start with some kind of onion (yellow onion, red onion, leeks, scallions) which I slice, then saute in some butter until they start to caramelize.  That will go on the pastry as a base, and then I add additional ingredients.  Here's some combinations that I've made:

  • Leeks, ricotta, salami, and grape tomatoes
  • Yellow onion, gruyere, and potato
  • Red onion, zucchini, and fontina
The tart gets baked for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees until it's puffed and golden.  If adding any fresh herbs, such as basil or parsley, I wait until the tart is out of the oven, so the herbs stay fresh and vibrant.  

Next time you're at the grocery store, grab some puff pastry, cheese, and vegetables to create your own quick and easy tart for dinner.  Once you make one, you'll see how simple it is and how many different combinations of toppings you can use.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spatchcock a Chicken? Should I Take it to Dinner First?

Sometimes you run into a recipe that requires you to do something you normally wouldn't or presents you with a term you haven't heard before.  Example - a recipe that I made for dinner tonight requires you to "spatchcock" a whole chicken.  While this may sound a little unusual, or possibly dangerous, it's pretty easy to do.

Spatchcocking (the term may have originated from "dispatch the cock" or kill the chicken) just means taking the backbone out of the bird.  This is typically done if the chicken needs to be somewhat flat, such as putting the chicken on a grill.  You only need a few common culinary tools:

  • A plastic cutting board (the germy chicken juices won't get absorbed by it). 
  • A sharp pair of kitchen shears - you can use a sharp chef's knife, but it's much safer with shears.
  • Paper towels
  1. Place the chicken breast side down on the cutting board. 
  2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.  The less moisture, the less chance that the chicken will slide around when  you're cutting it.
  3. Using the kitchen shears, carefully cut along one side of the backbone until you've cut all the way through.  
  4. Repeat cutting along the other side of  the backbone. Remove it, but don't toss it! Freeze it so you have it on hand the next time you're making chicken stock. You are making your own stock, right?
  5. Flip the chicken over so it's breast side up.  Press down hard on the middle of the breastbone until you hear it pop, and the chicken lays flatter.  This is also a great way to relieve stress. The sun was coming in through my windows when I took the picture for this step.  I think it makes the chicken look very dramatic :).