Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Monday Night Dinner Party


We had Jenn over again last Monday night, and she brought along her photographer friend Jason.  It’s always such a treat, having a real photographer come to dinner – I pick up tips and learn new tricks, and get to relax a bit as I leave some of the photo responsibilities to our guest.  (You’ll see one of Jason’s awesome pictures below.  Thanks again, Jason!

Citrus-Vodka Cocktails
Crostini with Goat Cheese and Olive Confit
Garlic & Herb Chicken Grilled Under a Brick
Asparagus Panzanella
Bitter Greens Salad
Orange-Chocolate Mousse

We started out the evening with some citrus cocktails.  I’ve recently become absolutely enamored with specialty cocktails.  And this is after thirty years of being completely oblivious.  For the first three decades of my life, certain the alcohol taste would be much too strong, I stubbornly refused to try mixed drinks, just stuck with wine and the occasional beer.  But a few weeks ago, I don’t know what got into me, but I tried a guava martini at Roy’s.  It was absolutely sensational!  And my self-imposed cocktail-ban was immediately lifted.  Since that night, I’ve gotten into experimenting with all sorts of boozy concoctions.  It’s a lot like cooking – mixing special ingredients and certain flavors to created something delicious.  And it’s just so perfect, having these weekly dinner parties, because they give me the perfect chance to practice this new hobby!

This citrus-vodka cocktail was really lovely.  It’s nothing more than freshly squeezed juice from oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes, mixed with vodka.  The color is surprisingly beautiful, a soft blending of the pink, orange, green and yellow.  Sugar lines the rim of the glass, and lends a perfect touch of sweetness to every sip. 

With the cocktails I served an easy hors d’oeuvre, bite-sized toasted French bread crostini, each topped with a dollop of goat cheese and a spoonful of olive confit.  For the confit, I sliced a few different varieties of green and purple cured olives – Kalamata, Arbequina, Picholine.  To these various bright and briny flavors I added some lemon zest, capers, garlic, pink peppercorns, crushed red pepper, and a splash of fruity olive oil.  The flavors are wonderful together, and made only more so when combined with the tangy goat cheese and buttery crostini.  It’s an easy snack to whip up, but it doesn’t taste at all ordinary.  The peppercorns, I think, particularly give this mixture a touch of something special, something everyone will notice.  I love these little bites, and make them all the time.  No matter what’s for dinner, they more often than not seem like a perfect way to start the meal. 

Grilled Chicken with Asparagus Panzanella & Bitter Greens Salad

Chicken can be a little boring.  But not if your grilling it under a brick!  I had fun experimenting with this unusual technique.  First I prepared the chicken – With a few easy slices, I ‘butterflied’ the bird so it could lay flat over the grill, and then rubbed a fragrant mixture of garlic and herbs under the skin.  I heated up the bricks along with the grill, then arranged the chicken over the cool side of the grill, with the hot bricks on top of the bird, pressing it flat over the hot grates and licking flames.  A little under an hour later, the chicken was ready.  And the results were fabulous.  The garlic and herb flavors penetrated deep into the meat, filling each bite with savory complexity.  The meat was cooked to perfection, tender and juicy, like the best roasted chicken.  And the golden skin carried all the benefits of grilling, all crispy and browned, with smoky char-grilled flavor.  Absolutely delicious - and anything but boring. 

Chicken Grilled Under a Brick

For a side dish - Asparagus Panzanella, a spring twist on an Italian bread salad.  It’s one of my favorite dishes, and a great idea that I picked up from an old chef of mine.  Cubes of crusty bread are tossed with red wine vinaigrette (which soaks through just a bit, making the bread the slightest bit soggy, saturating it with flavor) and finely grated parmesan (which sticks to the bread, coating the cubes with a dusty layer of cheese).  These vinaigrette-soaked, parmesan-coated bread cubes are then baked in the oven, until they’re toasty, warm and golden, crispy and crunchy but still soft and chewy on the inside.  To these delicious, golden cubes of toasted bread I add tender slices of roasted asparagus, a small handful of thinly sliced red onion, bite-sized bits of fresh mozzarella, and an extra dose of parmesan, for good measure.  The combination is out of this world.  It’s really one of my favorite side dishes ever.  So much so, that sometimes it even surpasses it’s side-status, and I serve it all on its own, as the main course for a light dinner.


I made a second side dish that was really too simple, kind of ordinary even, but still delicious, and  perfectly suited with the chicken and panzanella – a super quick and easy salad of bitter greens – arugula, radicchio and endive.  I don’t think I need to say too much about it, really.  I write about salads pretty similar to this all the time, nearly every week.  This was just a subtle variation on a common theme.

Radicchio, Arugula & Endive

Dessert though, this was worth going on about.  Orange-flavored chocolate mousse.  Now, chocolate is something that matches up sensationally with all kinds of other flavors – peanut butter, caramel, strawberries, coffee, etc…  But my all-time favorite partner for chocolate has got to be oranges.  Have you ever tried one of those chocolate oranges?  Oh my goodness, I can never resist those!  So when I found this recipe for orange-flavored chocolate mousse in one of my Ina Garten cookbooks, I couldn’t resist trying that out either.  And am I ever glad I did.  It turned out absolutely awesome.  Let’s forget about the orange for a second, and look at this just as chocolate mousse.  Just by chocolate mousse standards, this was absolute perfection – rich and creamy, intensely chocolaty, and utterly silky smooth.  But with the addition of a bit of orange zest and a citrusy splash of Grand Marnier, it was over the top.  Wow.  That’s all I can really say about it – Wow! You’ve got to try this.  And now!


Citrus-Vodka Cocktails
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Serves 4
Citrus-Vodka Cocktails
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 2 oranges)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed pink grapefruit (from about 2 grapefruit)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)
1 cup good quality vodka
an extra slice of lemon
about 2 Tbl granulated sugar
ice cubes
Rub the sliced lemon along the rims of 4 drinking glasses (martini glasses if you have them), leaving a film of lemon juice just along the edge.  Spread the sugar over the base of a small dish, then dip the lemon-rimmed glasses into the sugar.  Set aside to dry. 
Combine the fruit juices and vodka in a pitcher, and keep cold in the refrigerator.  When ready to serve, fill the sugar-rimmed glasses with ice cubes.  Place additional ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, then fill the shaker about 3/4 full with the cocktail mixture.  Shake for at least 30 seconds.  (It’s important to give this a really good, thorough shake to get the drink really cold, and to dilute it with melted ice.)  Pour into the sugar-rimmed glasses.  Repeat filling the shaker with ice and cocktail mixture until all the drinks are filled. 
Serve immediately. 


Crostini with Goat Cheese and Olive Confit
Serves 4-6
Crostini with Goat Cheese & Olive Confit
1/2 # mixed olives (mostly kalamata, but not regular black olives)
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small-medium garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tbl lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp pink peppercorns, roughly chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
about 24 French bread crostini (from about 1/3 baguette)
about 4 oz goat cheese (make sure it’s creamy, not crumbly)
Remove the pits from the olives, then slice the olive flesh into long slivers.  (I do this as one step, making four length-wise slices against the central pit to create four ‘petals’ of olive flesh, which I then slice length-wise into slivers.)  Mix the sliced olives with the capers, olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice and zest, crushed peppercorns and red pepper flakes.  Store refrigerated in an air-tight container up to 1 week. 
Top each crostini with a dollop (about 1/2 Tbl) goat cheese, and then a dollop (about 1/2 Tbl) of the olive mixture. I like to position the goat cheese toward one side of the crostini, then smear it a bit towards the other end, and place the olive mixture on the other side, over the smear, which should keep it from slipping.  Serve immediately.

Garlic & Herb Chicken Grilled Under a Brick
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, May 2009
Serves 4
Herb-Marinated Chicken Grilled Under a Brick
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbl thyme, chopped
1 Tbl rosemary, chopped
1 Tbl kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 whole chicken (3 3/4 – 4 1/4 #)
vegetable oil, for grilling
Make the garlic-herb rub: In a small sauce pan, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and pepper flakes.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Simmer, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.  Add the thyme and rosemary and cook about 30 seconds longer.  Turn off the heat, then strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pushing on the solids to extract the oil, and collecting the oil in a small bowl.  Transfer the solids to a second small bowl.  Reserve both bowls.
Prep the chicken: Rinse the whole chicken, inside and out, in cool running water, then pat dry with paper towels.  Using kitchen shears, cut through the rib bones on both sides of the background, cutting straight against the backbone, along on side then the other.  Discard the backbone.  Flip the chicken over, then push down on the breasts to flatten the breastbone.  (This is called ‘butterflying’ the chicken.)  Tuck the wings back, folding the tips beneath the other wing bones. 
Running your hands over the meat and beneath the skin, loosen the skin over the breast and thighs.  Trim away any excess skin or fat.  Stir to combine 1 Tbl salt and 1 tsp pepper with garlic-herb mixture.  Spread the salt-garlic-herb mixture evenly under the skin over the breast and thigh meat.  Sprinkle another 1 tsp salt and a good pinch of pepper over the bottom side of the chicken.  Place the chicken skin-side up on a wire rack placed over a baking sheet.  Refrigerate 1-2 hours. 
Heat the grill:  Turn all burners to high.  Wrap 2 bricks tightly with foil and place them on the cooking rack.  Cover the grill with the lid and heat until very hot, about 20 minutes. 
Grill the chicken: Leave the burner on one side of the grill on high, and turn off the burner on the other side of the grill.  Place the chicken skin-side down over the cooler side of the grill, with the legs facing the fire.  Place the hot bricks length-wise over each breast.  Cover the grill and cook until the skin is lightly browned, about 22-25 minutes.  Remove the bricks.  Flip the chicken to skin-side up, with the legs again facing the fire.  (The chicken should release freely and not stick to the grates.  If it does stick, use a metal spatula to gently loosen it.)  Place the bricks over the breast, cover the grill, and continue to cook until the chicken is well browned, about 12-15 minutes.  Remove the bricks, and flip the chicken again to skin-side down, this time placing the chicken directly over the flame.   Grill until the chicken skin is browned and crispy, and a thermometer placed into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165ᵒF, about 5-10 minutes. 
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes.  Carve the chicken into 10 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings and 2 breasts cut in half ).  Brush the pieces with the reserved flavored oil.  Serve hot.
An extra grilling tip:  I always like to have a spray bottle of water handy, whenever I grill.  As fat melts off the meat and drips into the flame, flare-ups inevitably occur, which can quickly and thoroughly burn the surface of the meat.  A few quick sprays of water takes care of any flare-up.  This little trick has been a lifesaver for me, again and again. 


Asparagus Panzanella
Adapted from Chef Jen Irwin at Just a Taste restaurant in Ithaca, NY
Serves 4-6
Asparagus Panzanella
1 bunch asparagus
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
12 oz bocconcini fresh mozzarella, sliced into quarters *
2 oz parmesan, finely shaved into thin ribbons
For the croutons:
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 cups French bread (about 3/4 baguette) sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
First, prep and roast the asparagus:  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  To determine where to trim off the bottoms of the asparagus (The bottoms of the stems are tough and woody but the tops are tender), take one stem and holding the bottom of the stem in one hand and the middle in the other, bend the stem.  It will snap right at the point where tough turns to tender.  Line up the rest of the asparagus so their tips align, and slice off their bottom portions at the same point where the first one snapped.  Slice the asparagus on a slight diagonal into 2-inch slices.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Arrange the asparagus over a parchment-lined sheet tray.  Lightly drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Use your clean hands to toss the asparagus with the oil, to lightly and evenly coat them.  Sprinkle evenly with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Roast in the oven until the asparagus is tender and just beginning to turn light golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Reserve
Meanwhile, prep all the other ingredients:  Slice the onions, grate the parmesan and quarter the fresh mozzarella. 
Now, make the croutons:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, melted butter and olive oil.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine.  Add the cubed bread to the vinaigrette and immediately toss it with your hands to coat.  Add the parmesan and toss again to coat the bread with the cheese.  Arrange the dressed bread cubes over a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven until golden brown and crunchy, but still soft and tender on the inside, about 10-15 minutes. 
Assemble the salad:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the toasted croutons with the roasted asparagus, sliced red onion, fresh mozzarella and parmesan.  Toss together with a rubber spatula.  Serve warm.
* Bocconcini refers to the shape of the mozzarella.  You want to the small (grape-size) round balls of fresh mozzarella.

Bitter Greens Salad
Serves 4
Bitter Greens Salad
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled & finely minced
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl vegetable oil
1/2 head radicchio, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 head endive, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 large handful baby arugula
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the mustard, vinegar, thyme, garlic, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper in a mixing bowl.  Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  The dressing can be made ahead and stored about five days, refrigerated in an airtight container.

Place the greens in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, enough to evenly coat the greens – You man not need to use it all.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately. 


Orange-Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten
Serves 8
Orange-Chocolate Mousse
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz bitter-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup Grand Marnier liqueur
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
10 large eggs, room temperature, yolks and whites separated
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbl sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup whipping cream
whipped cream, sliced orange segments and thinly-sliced orange zest, for garnish
Combine the semi-sweet and bitter-sweet chocolates, the Grand Marnier, hater and vanilla in a heat-proof bowl.  Place over a pot of simmering water, and stir frequently until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.  Cool completely to room temperature.  Then add the orange zest and butter and stir until well combined. 
Place the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on high until thick and fluffy and pale yellow, about four minutes.  With the mixer running on low speed, add the chocolate mixture.  Mix until combined, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. 
Place 1 cup of the egg whites (You wont need all of the egg whites - save or discard the rest.), the salt and 1 Tbl sugar in a clean bowl of the electric mixer, fitted now with the whisk attachment.  Whisk on high speed until the egg whites come to stiff peaks.  Whisk half of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Then using a rubber spatula, fold in the rest.
Again using the electric mixer and whisk attachment, whip the 1/2 cup heavy cream and the remaining 1 Tbl sugar until thick and fluffy.  (There’s no need to clean the bowl or whisk before whipping the cream.)  Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.
Pour the mousse into eight individual dishes.  Chill in the refrigerator, at least two hours.  Before serving, garnish with whipped cream (recipe below), sliced orange segments and thinly-sliced orange zest.

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over).

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to comment on Ina's Chocolate Orange Mousse :) This is a very delicious mousse! I've made it twice now, and the second time I made it side-by-side with another chocolate-orange mousse recipe from a very reputable cookbook, but this one was the clear winner! It is very creamy and orange-y. My husband LOVED it. I found it in my Barefoot in Paris cookbook. Highly recommended! You can use pasteurized eggs as well, if you'd like.