A Late Summer's Night Eve

Yes. I know it's fall.

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It’s finally autumn (my favorite season other than Christmas Beer Season) and since I’ve been complaining about the heat, looking forward to luscious, braised dishes.  I’ve generally been a curmudgeon all summer, so you’d think I’d be diving head first into superfall with all sorts of things spiced and pumpkiny and what not.  Instead, this week’s menu is one last gasp of summer.  Pretty good chance next week’s menu will be too.

There are a couple of reasons for that:  the first is that it’s still 85 degrees here most days – though the evenings are finally cooling off.  Second, and not unrelated, the farmers at our neighborhood markets still have amazing produce, and that means coming home with a basket of bounty that … well, I can’t let it go to waste, right?

This week’s menu is a partial return to the first menu I did for the newsletter.  That was a southern French inspired chicken dinner.  This is a southern French inspired chicken dinner – so you can probably see that glaringly obvious similarity.  In fact, there are a couple of dishes here that are almost but not quite exactly the same.  I would say that’s intentional, and I’m doing it to make a point or something, but the truth is that they’re really just simple, really tasty dishes that deserve a rerun.

That’s not to say it’s all exactly the same.  This time around I played around a little more with the food, because playing with your food is fun.

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Chevre Chaud

Chevre Chaud means “Hot Cheese.”  Well, really it means “hot goat cheese” but I just like saying “Hot Cheese!” because hot cheese is delicious and because it’s something that a 1970s TV kid might have had as a catchphrase.  It’s a classic French dish, and though you can bake, or even use a torch to produce the warm cheese, I’m really partial to frying it.  Not just because I love fried things, though that’s certainly always all the time totally true, but because it creates this marvelous little parcel of contrasts: crisp, sometimes slightly sweet breading; warm, soft, bracingly sour goat cheese.  Pair that with crisp sweet haricot vert and bitter but tender baby arugula … well, you see where I’m going.  It’s a classic for a reason, and it’s topped with hot fried cheese.

4 oz fresh chevre
½ lb. green beans
4 cups loosely packed arugula
1 egg
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp minced or microplaned shallot
½ tsp smooth Dijon mustard
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp good olive oil
cherry tomatoes as garnish
oil for frying

Prepare a large pot of heavily salted boiling water and an ice bath.

Trim the ends from the green beans and quickly blanch them in heavily salted boiling water before shocking them in ice.

In a non-reactive bowl, combine the shallot, mustard, salt, pepper, and vinegar.  Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes for the vinegar to tame the shallot.

Slowly whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture to form an emulsion.

Prepare a three step breading station with the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs.

Cut the chevre into 4 even disks.

Dip each disk into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.

Allow the chevre to rest for 5-10 minutes for the breading to hydrate.

Heat your oil to 350°F and quickly fry each disk of chevre until well browned.  Keep warm until service.

Arrange the arugula, beans, and any additional garnish on plates, top with the warm chevre, and drizzle generously with dressing.

Chicken Fat Potatoes with Fried Sage

This is one of the re-runs.  But it’s like a sitcom re-run that got edited a little.  Some superfluous characters were edited out, the plot was simplified a little, and there’s a hint of a new plotline.  

Potatoes fried in chicken or duck fat are amazingly crisp, and the flavor imparted by the fat makes them seem almost luxurious – which is funny because I don’t think I’ve really thought of chicken fat as luxurious at any point in my life that didn’t involve potatoes.  I know that not everyone has chicken fat lying around (though it’s worth keeping – I skim it off stock, and save the far rendered from recipe development for The Chicken Thigh Guy).

The last iteration of this dish was more heavily seasoned with a mixture of herbs and garlic.  This version uses only one herb - sage -  and mostly that herb is infused into the fat used for cooking the potatoes.  It’s a little more subtle, but you’ve sort of got to be subtle with sage because otherwise that stuff will reach up and smack you in the face.  Seriously.  Sage has some anger issues to work out.

4 medium sized yellow fleshed potatoes
4 tbsp chicken fat (or oil)
1 clove garlic
8 large leaves fresh sage
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking soda

Peel, trim, and cut the potatoes into 1 inch pieces.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water.

Add the baking soda to the water.

Add the potatoes, and cook until just barely tender, about 6-8 minutes.

Remove and drain the potatoes.

While still hot, coat the potatoes with 1 tbsp of fat or oil.

Allow to cool to room temperature.

Cut the sage leaves into a fine chiffonade.

Add the remaining chicken fat or oil to a frying pan over medium heat.

Add the cut sage to the oil and fry until the herbs are dark and crisp.

Remove the fried sage and set aside to use as a garnish.

Add the potatoes to the pan and cook, tossing frequently, until the surfaces are browned and crisp.

Season well with salt, top with the fried sage, and serve hot.

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Herb Roasted Chicken with Almost a Vegetable Tian

You know that dish in that movie with the rat that cooks?  As some pedantic food writer in a big newspaper or food magazine helpfully reminds us every year, it’s not really a ratatouille.  Then again, the ratatouille I included in the last version of this menu I did more than a year ago wasn’t really a ratatouille either.  The pretty layered vegetable dish from the movie with the rat is apparently a tian.  This isn’t even that.  But it’s pretty, it’s delicious, and the vegetables in the pan slowly stew in the juices from the roasting chicken and the combination … well, you should have some bread on hand.  You should have lots of bread on hand.

Like the chicken I cooked way back when for the very first edition of this newsletter, this one is crusted with common herbs.  They’re basically almost exactly the same chicken – I had different herbs in the garden, but …you get it.  The differences are subtle, but mostly this chicken isn’t about the chicken itself, it’s about those veggies swirled prettily underneath it.  The chicken is there to make the side dish better.

1 3-4 lb chicken
2 medium zucchini
2 Chinese or Japanese style eggplant
3-4 roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp chopped rosemary fresh leaves
1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh lavender (substitute tarragon)

Season the chicken with 1 tsp or more of salt and place uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.  This will dry the skin and help it crisp in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Peel, trim, and chop the garlic.

Add the thyme, basil, lavender, rosemary, 1 tsp of salt, the garlic, and the olive oil to a mortar and pestle and work the mixture until it’s a smooth paste.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and generously coat it with the paste.

Clean, trim, and thinly slice the zucchini.

Clean, trim, and thinly slice the eggplant.

Clean, trim, and thinly slice the tomatoes.

Add a small amount of oil to the bottom of an ovenproof pan large enough to hold the chicken, swirling or brushing to ensure that it’s well coated.

Layer the zucchini, eggplant, and tomato in rows or a spiral until the bottom of the pan is completely covered. 

Season lightly with salt.

Place the herb coated chicken in the center of the pan, and roast until the chicken is browned, the skin is crisping, and the internal temperature of the chicken has reached 165°F.

Garnish with fresh herbs, and serve in the pan.

Chocolate Caramel Pot du Crème

This week’s dessert is a little complicated, which is kind of funny considering that the ingredient list is mercifully short compared to other things I’ve called “complicated” in the past.  Cream, eggs, milk, chocolate, sugar.  That’s it.  But it does turn into something pretty darned tasty – a smooth chocolate custard layered over caramel sauce and topped with whipped cream.

Ok, ok, ok, I admit it’s just another “I’m not good at cakes and pastry” dessert.  It’s another pudding.  But it’s a fancy pudding.

3 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup whole milk
4 oz 85% cocoa dark chocolate
6 egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar

Chop the chocolate into small pieces.

Add 1 cup whole milk and 2 cups heavy cream to a thick bottomed pot over medium heat.

Cook just until the mixture reaches a simmer, then remove from the heat.

Add the chocolate to the mixture and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.

Slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs while whisking to prevent curdling.

Once fully incorporated, set the custard aside and allow to cool.

Add ¼ cup of sugar to a dry pan over medium heat. 

Cook until the sugar is completely melted and has turned a medium brown.

Add ½ cup of cream to the caramelized sugar (be careful, it will spatter) and reduce to a very low simmer.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is thickened and smooth.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Pour approximately 1 tbsp of the caramel into the bottom of a small ramekin or oven proof glass.

Allow this to cool to room temperature.

Divide the custard mixture evenly between the 4 containers, pouring through a strainer to eliminate any lumps.

Individually cover each of the ramekins or glasses with foil.

Place the ramekins or glasses in a baking pan and pour in enough hot water to come 2/3 of the way up the container's side (this is called a bain marie) – the hotter the water, the shorter your cooking time.  I use water just off the boil from an electric kettle.

Carefully transfer to the oven.

Bake in the bain marie until just barely set – usually about 35-45 minutes depending on your oven and the size of the containers.

Allow to cool to room temp, then chill.

To finish, whip the remaining cream to stiff peaks and top each custard.

Garnish with fruit and herbs.

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