Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Technique: The anti-trussed poultry

I grew up with a mom who tended to overcook poultry. Or she overcooked the breast. The dark meat was usually fine. But here's the thing. Dark meat can handle being cooked longer and to a higher temperature. It doesn't mind at all. That's why you'll find thighs in recipes that require braising, and you'll find breasts in recipes that cook quickly.

The problem is that the breast is right there, up-top, where it gets the most oven heat. Meanwhile, the joint between the thigh and body is tucked away, protected from all the heat.

And then recipes tell you to truss the bird. Tie its legs together. This is somehow supposed to protect the breast from overcooking. I don't know about you, but I've never seen a chicken that had legs that covered the breast that well. Meanwhile, that thigh joint is still tucked away, right?

A while back, I was working on a chicken recipe where I was stuffing things under the chicken skin, and with all that fussing, the skin tore and the thighs spread away from the breasts and I decided to just go ahead and cook it that way. It wasn't a pretty, round, neat chicken. It looked messy. Lazy. Sort of ... ugly, if I'm being honest.

But here's the thing. That thigh joint was exposed to oven heat, and the chicken cooked much more evenly.

I had forgotten about that chicken until recently. I don't roast a lot of whole chickens. I cook a lot of chicken pieces. But I was cooking a recipe from Sheet Pan Suppers and I saw the words "truss the chicken" and I said "Oh no. I want to anti-truss it." Instead of trying to protect the breast so it would cook slower, I wanted to expose the thighs so they'd cook faster.

And ... it worked! The only downside was that the skin on the thighs didn't get crisp. If the chicken had been cooking on a rack, the thighs would have gotten some air, but the chicken was sitting on a bed of vegetables, so the skin was kind of flabby.

In the photo, the chicken isn't quite done yet, but it's almost there. You can see how the meat in that body-thigh joint is still a little pink. It would have been a LOT more pink if that joint had been protected.

The good news is that breast wasn't overcooked by the time the dark meat was completely done. It was a sloppy looking chicken, but if you serve your chicken cut up, it doesn't really matter, does it? I'm calling it a win. I'm also calling it dinner, and sandwiches, and soup.

Next time, I might remove the leg-and-thigh sections completely so I can roast them skin-up. I mean, seriously. What would you rather have, a chicken that looks pretty, or one that's cooked correctly?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Whole Wheat Focaccia with Olives, Cheese, and Rosemary

This bread actually started out as an idea for a sandwich. Well, it started with salad, but then it quickly turned into a Salad Nicoise sandwich with tuna and kalamata olives.

I decided that foccacia would be the perfect vehicle for my sandwich, and I decided to embed the olives in the bread. I mean, why not?

The bread was also a great way to use a new flavored olive oil I got from a company called Pasolivo. They have a lot of flavored oils, but the one they sent me was a rosemary oil. I adore rosemary, but it can be kind of strong, so I was fairly conservative with it here - I just used it for drizzling on top of the bread. The rosemary flavor isn't super-strong, but that's exactly what I wanted - a hint of rosemary that would compliment the olives and the final sandwich, without overpowering.

If you're using this bread as a stand-alone and you want more rosemary flavor, you could drizzle more oil on right after baking, or substitute rosemary olive oil for the regular olive oil in the dough. Or, even more fun, you could use the rosemary olive oil as a dipping oil for the bread.

Because I'm still in love with my new grain mill, I ground my own whole wheat flour for this. If you don't have a grain mill, of course you can buy flour. It's what most folks do, right? But ... if you want a grain mill ... well, check out this post.

Whole Wheat Focaccia with Olives, Cheese, and Rosemary

4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) bread flour
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) whole wheat flour (I used freshly ground flour)
1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) semolina flour
2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star* active dry yeast
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water (or more, as needed)
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 tablespoon Pasolivo rosemary-flavored olive oil
1/2 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives
1/4 to 1/2 shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine the bread flour, whole wheat flour, semolina flour, yeast, cheddar cheese, sugar, salt, water, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix slowly with the dough hook until it comes together. The dough should be soft and sticky at this point. If it's not soft, and is dense instead, add more water as needed.

I've found that freshly-ground flour tends to require less water, so if you're using store-bought whole wheat flour, you're likely to need another 1/4 cup of water, or possibly a little more.

Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is elastic.

Cover the bowl and set aside until doubled in size, about an hour.

When the dough has risen drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil into a quarter-sheet baking pan. Turn the dough out onto the pan and stretch, poke, and cajole the dough to fit the pan. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cover the pan (another quarter-sheet pan turned upside-down makes a great lid) and set aside for 30 minutes.

Drizzle the rosemary olive oil onto the dough. Use your fingertips to dimple the top of the dough randomly. Top the dough with the kalamata olives, spreading them evenly over the dough. Push the olives into the dough. Scatter the mozzarella cheese over the top of the dough. If you want more cheese, I wouldn't say no. But remember - it's not pizza.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through the baking time if your oven tends to bake unevenly.

Let the focaccia cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

Remember that sandwich?

I cut a piece of the focaccia in half and added mayonnaise, tomato, and tuna. It was really good.

*If you use a brand other than Red Star, let it soften in the water before adding the other ingredients.

I received the Pasolivo Rosemary Olive Oil as a sample for review. I decided to use it in a recipe, instead.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Ultimate Cheesecake for Fall with Pumpkin Spice, Maple, and Pecans

So, every once in a while, the nice folks at General Mills Cereal send me a little care package. Recently, the package contained exactly one thing: a box of Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

I've said many times that Cheerios have been my favorite cereal since I was a kid. Chex are a close second, but if you offered me a bowl and some milk and told me to choose a cereal from every possible option, I'd choose Cheerios every time.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, though?

The first thing I thought of when I saw the box was cheesecake. I happen to love pumpkin cheesecake, and I thought the Cheerios would be perfect as a crust. And once I got the idea into my head, I absolutely had to do it.

Of course, pumpkin reminds me of fall, and once I had those ideas in my head, my imagination went a little wild. What could I flavor the cheesecake with?


How about a little maple? And then I started thinking about pecan pie ... I thought about adding pecans to the crust, but then decided to top the cheesecake with a little dulce de leche and chopped pecans.

This cheesecake is like all of fall's desserts wrapped into one tiny little dessert.

And I mean small. Very small. Not quite a single serving, but small enough that it only uses one single 8-ounce package of cream cheese.

This recipe is inspired by the pressure cooker cheesecake in The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book. If you have a pressure cooker - either electric or stovetop - you should get that book. It's amazing!

Tastes Like Fall Cheesecake
With Pumpkin Spice, Maple, and Pecans

1 cup Pumpkin Spice Cheerios (These are seasonal - use another type if you can't get them.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (not lowfat or fat-free)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg at room temperature
2 tablespoons creme fraiche* (or sour cream)
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
Dulce de leche, for garnish (optional), as needed
Chopped pecans, for garnish (optional) as needed

Set a rack into your electric pressure cooker (I used my Instant Pot) and add 2 cups of water. Have a 6-inch springform pan standing by.

Note: I have what appears to be a 5(ish) inch springform pan, which is pretty unusual. I suggest using a 6-inch springform pan for this recipe, if you have one. Your cheesecake will a little wider and a little less tall than mine, but that's fine. Mine overflowed the pan just a little bit, but you should be fine with a normal 6-inch pan.

Use your food processor fitted with the steel blade to turn the Cheerios into tiny bits and crumbs. If you have a food processor with multiple bowls, use the small bowl so you don't have to wash the bowl after. Add the butter and process until the Cheerio bits are all wet. You can also mix by hand.

Add the crumb mixture to the springform pan. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and a little but up the sides.

Put the cream cheese and sugar in your food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until smooth. Wipe down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure everything is well mixed.

With the processor running, add the egg and process until smooth. Next, add the creme fraiche, then the flour. Process for 1 minute.

Add the lemon juice, and vanilla, and maple extract and process again until it's combined. Scrape down the bowl as needed to make sure it's all well-mixed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Don't cover it. I know you want to, but don't.

Fold a double-thickness of foil (about 24 inches long) in half lengthwise. Use this to form a sling that will hold the pan and allow you to lower it into the pressure cooker and to remove it when the cooking is done. Lower the pan into the pressure cooker and crimp the ends of the sling to fit neatly inside the pot.

Note: my metal rack has handles, so I didn't make the sling. I've used a metal sling before, and it's pretty handy.

Lock the lid on the pressure cooker.

In an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker: Cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. When the time is up, turn cooker off so it doesn't switch to the warming setting and let it reduce pressure naturally. After 15 minutes, vent any remaining pressure manually. (I haven't made this in a stovetop pressure cooker, so I don't know the timing for that.)

Unlock the pot and carefully remove the pan.

Let the cheesecake cool until you see that it has stopped deflating. It only takes a few minutes. Dollop small amounts of dulce de leche over the top of the cheesecake. Use as much dulce de leche as you like. I love the stuff, but I didn't want it to overwhelm the cheesecake. Let the dollops sit for a minute or so to warm up and soften, then spread the dulce de leche over the top of the cheesecake. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the top of the cheesecake.

Let the cheesecake cool for 1 hour on a rack, then refrigerate it overnight before removing it from the pan to serve. To make it easier to loosen the ring, run a thin knife around the inside edge of the pan before opening the lock..

*Creme fraiche can be expensive, if you buy it. I make my own. Instructions are here to make it in and Instant Pot. Here's how to make it the old-fashioned way.

Thanks to General Mills for sending me fun products to work with! I was not obligated to write about this, or even eat it. But I just had to. Because ... cheesecake!