Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Freekeh

Dish 3 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features chicken and some delicious grains

Chicken-Freekeh-Lemon2

Jamie Oliver likes to call this “Lebanese Chicken” for some reason. I love his recipe for this dish but it certainly it does not come off as Lebanese to me, more North African maybe. Either way it is delicious. The chicken is tossed with flour heavily spiced with cumin along with a touch of cinnamon and allspice. It is then seared in olive oil and braised in a mixture of preserved lemon, garlic, onions and white wine.

That alone makes for a nice east-west kind of braise but take it one step further and it is more special. In addition to the aromatics, the chicken is cooked on top of Freekeh in the potThis is an ancient grain used in traditional middle-eastern and some European cuisines. It is really just wheat that has been harvested while green and set on fire to remove the skin or chafe. As a result it has a sweet smoky flavor to go along with a nice toothsome texture. In the Lebanese mountains (ah! that’s where Oliver’s Lebanese name for the recipe must come from) Freekeh was considered a staple of the pantry before the introduction of rice. Thanks to the newish interest in all kinds of ancient, artisan and heirloom grains Freekeh is enjoying more popularity among chefs and home cooks. That is a good thing because it is awesome.

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The plate needed some more green in it. So I prepared a quick honey-lemon dressing that I tossed some salad greens in. To gild the lily a bit more I also drizzled a sauce of yogurt, cilantro and lime on the chicken. This went very well with the assertive and rich flavors of this dish. It was still winter-fall food but had a nice sharp and refreshing flavor while at the same time remained light.

Neighbors (Nicholas Stoller – 2015) B-

We have the almost-middle-aged married couple with the baby. They still want to be cool and fun. So, when a frat house opens next door they figure they can hang out and be friends…as long as the nice guys in the frat house keep the noise level down. Well this is all well and good until the couple call the cops one evening. It’s a good comedy with like-able characters and some very funny setups.

Salmon, Collard Greens, Roasted Beets and Smokey Orange Dressing

Dish 2 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features salmon.

Salmon-Collards-Beets

My preferred method to cook salmon fillets by far is using low temperature sous vide. It’s a process I wrote about before that includes brining the fish for a short time, bagging it with a little olive oil and cooking it at no more than 52 C for about 20 minutes. To finish I crisp the skin side in a hot pan with oil.

The salad is made from collard greens and roasted beets. It is loosely based on some ideas from Salad Samurai, a pretty useful and inspiring vegan salad-focused book. The beets are roasted wrapped in aluminum foil until fork tender. Collards are tough greens and usually are only eaten cooked. They actually work very well raw as well though. I “relaxed” the hearty greens by rubbing them with some salt, cider vinegar ad olive oil. This wilts them a bit but leaves them with plenty of snap. After that they can be left in the fridge for several days ready to toss into salads, omelettes, pastas…This works great with kale as well which is what the original recipe uses.

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The dressing is a lovely warm smokey orange vinaigrette prepared with smoked paprika and orange juice. It has a beautiful color and a robust flavor that stands up great to the strong flavors of salmon, beets and collards. It’s a great combination of flavors and textures that make for a delicious winter salad.

The Martian (Ridley Scott – 2015) B+

I loved the book and as is most of the time the case it is tough not to compare the two. That is why I think a film gets a much fairer shake if you have not read the source material. The movie is very good though. It moves at a good pace and has just enough geeky-science to be interesting without getting bogged down. It’s a fun and slick survival adventure of astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars and needs to survive on a planet that has no atmosphere, water or food. The Martian really works because it is fairly realistic. Everything that Watney or his partners at NASA do seems reasonable, calculated  and possible. This made for smart entertainment for the whole family.

Chicken, Butternut Squash, Carrot and White Wine-Creme Fraiche Dressing

It’s January, the month of resolutions, especially those diet-related ones. Most want to lose weight and get fit. To that end we got a variety of diets and fads that pick up. Some want to go Paleo or low-carb. Other misguided folks are still on the low or no fat bandwagon. Really ambitious dieters try their hand at a whole new lifestyle like vegetarian or vegan! In most cases it will all fade away in a few weeks and we are back to eating a lot of all the “wrong” stuff.

Well, I have no resolutions. I think they are silly and any claims of THE ONE DIET are ultimately useless and discouraging. That being said, we tried to take it easy this January since between November and December, the holidays and trips to Maine and Boston, we had a lot of rich carb-heavy food. Several nights in this month we went with a “salad” of some sort. Some were good straight-forward ones but nothing to document. Others were delicious, beautiful, satisfying and nutritious that were worth putting up here. Here is the first of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners.

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I had a few large chicken hind quarters from Yonder Way Farm. These are delicious for braising or very slow roasting on the grill or oven. In this case though I divided the drumstick from the large thighs. For this dish I de-boned the thighs and laid them flat on a cutting board as I rummaged in my fridge (I slow baked the drumsticks and slathered them in barbecue sauce if you must know).

As is my habit most times, I ended up with an Italian flavor profile for the chicken thighs. After seasoning them with salt I rolled them with garlic, shallots, rosemary, oregano and lemon zest into neat cylinders. These chicken thighs are from free range birds and they benefit from longer cooking. So, I cooked them sous vide at 66 C for about 4 hours. They were tender and perfectly juicy.

Chicken-Squash-Carrots

While the chicken cooked I roasted a cubed butternut squash along with a few cut up carrots. When the chicken was done, I patted them dry and browned the skin in the pan with olive oil till crispy. I made a nice warm sauce/dressing for the dish using reduced white wine with shallots. I added Dijon mustard and enriched it with creme fraiche and some of the reserved cooking juices from the bag.

Coming up next, Salmon, more chicken and an ancient grain…

 

Lomo al Trapo – Beef Tederloin Wrapped in Cloth, Salted Potatoes, Chimichurri

Lomo al Trapo-Potatoes

I have cooked meat -usually fish- and vegetables in a salt crust before, but not like this. I saw this Colombian dish on Kenji’s Food Lab and it immediately caught my attention. It is too cool, too old and new at the same time and just plain wild. Christmas dinner seemed like an excellent occasion for this. It is a luxurious cut of beef but also most of the attendees -Diana’s family- would be Colombian. So curious to try it out but not wanting to screw up Christmas eve dinner I made a trial run first to make sure. It was a good idea and made the second time I cooked it for a crowd much easier. The concept is pretty simple; wrap beef tenderloin in a salt crust encased in a towel (that’s the Trapo), throw it on a pile of hot coals until done, remove, crack the crust away, slice and enjoy. A few details are important to note though.

Beef Tenderloin

The middle of the tenderloin is the best part to use here. I bought whole tenderloins and trimmed them myself. I managed to get three semi-even cylindrical pieces and the rest of the meat went in the freezer for other uses. To wrap each one, I laid a cotton kitchen towel and covered it with about 1/2 inch of kosher salt and a scattering of herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary). This carefully gets wrapped around the trimmed beef tenderloin. It’s a bit tricky to do and needs some practice to make sure the salt does not clump in one area or falls off the sides. A quick confident roll is key. I tied he rolls with twine and they were ready to go on the charcoal.

Lomo al Trapo3

Lomo al Trapo

When I say “on the charcoal” I literally mean that. Directly on hot fully ashed-up coals. It is impossible to tell how done the meat is in the salt cocoon. That salt gets hard very fast and that is what you want. It just makes it tricky to figure out when the meat is rare and to account for carry-over cooking. So, of course you need to use a thermometer. After 10 minutes on one side, I flip the meat over and started taking the temperature. I over shot a bit the first time and the meat that came up beautiful off the coals, but a little overcooked by the time it was sliced. To get the nice medium-rare final serving temperature, you need to shoot for about 92 F when you take it off the grill. Let the meat rest until it reaches 125 – 130 F and crack the salt crust open.

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By now the towel is mostly burnt away and a few taps with the back of a knife is enough to reveal the amazing burnished and very savory beef. The smell is really phenomenal at this point and the whole spectacle is too much for any of the guests not to stand, stare and “oooh”.

Lomo al Trapo-Potatoes2

I served this very simply and triditionally with boiled salted marble potatoes and a sharp chimichurri sauce (parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar). The potatoes were boiled with lots of salt until the water evaporates and the salt remains. This was another recipe from Kenji (and also a traditional Colombian preparation) but they did turn out a bit too salty so they need some work. By contrast the salt encrusted beef was delicious, perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. It really is a show-stopper of a roast.

The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2015) A

This is a tremendous movie and quiet an achievement. It’s not a fun or entertaining experience but it is like nothing I’ve seen before. The story is set in the early 19th century pre-American wilderness of the Dakotas. It is cold, wild, full of misery and death. When fur trapper Hugh Glass is left for dead after a bear mauling he tries to survive and make it back to exact revenge on those who betrayed him and left him. It’s not a revenge story but that of survival in the very harsh environment where the elements, animals and humans are trying to kill you. It is a rough and harsh movie with a backdrop of awesome beauty.

Leonardo Di Caprio delivers and exceptional performance as Glass in an obviously difficult role. The way the movie is shot and framed is beautiful and terrifying. Iñárritu loves his closeups and low camera placement. He makes us live every moment with Glass as if we are there. We feel the cold, the pain, the hunger and exhaustion as he tries to make his way back. Some scenes here are so good and so effective that they will be difficult to forget, like that bear mauling. The Revenant might not be entertaining but it is a great movie that I am glad exists. After the good Birdman and now this, I am eager to see what Iñárritu is up to next.