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Tutti a Tavola…

“Tutti a tavola a mangiare” or ‘everyone to the table to eat’ is Lidia Bastianich‘s closing on her Italian cooking show.

I thought it was an appropriate title for this Italian themed menu.

Strozzapreti (priest-strangler) pasta made with flour, a pinch of salt and hot water. Kneaded for five or six minutes until smooth and supple, this simple pasta is rolled out about 1/8th of an inch thick with a rolling pin and then cut into one inch strips with a pizza cutter.

The strips of pasta are then stretched a bit before being rolled between the palms of your hands to form little ‘snakes’ of pasta. Tear the pasta into 3-3 1/2 inch pieces and let dry for half an hour before cooking. Depending on how thick your pasta is, it will take five or six minutes to cook to al dente.

Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce of your choice.

Individual beef and mushroom braciole

Beef and Mushroom Braciole – serves 4

1 pound/454 gm eye of round, cut into four 1/2 inch slices**
1/2 cup finely diced mushrooms
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 slices bacon, finely diced
1/8 tsp dried parsley flakes
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
bundle of fresh basil leaves (6-8)
2 1/2-3 cups spaghetti sauce
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp ground black pepper, divided

Hot cooked pasta or polenta

** Eye of round cut into 1/2 inch thick slices, pounded to 1/4 inch thick with a meat tenderizer. Set aside.

Add the mushrooms, onion, cheese, bacon, parsley flakes, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp ground black pepper to a food processor. Pulse a few times until you have a homogenous mixture which still has some texture to it. Remove the mixture to a small bowl and divide by eye into four even portions.

Season the beef cutlets on both sides with some of the remaining salt and pepper. Spoon the mushroom mixture onto each cutlet, spread out leaving about 1/2 inch free on all sides. Starting on the longer side, roll up the beef cutlet to enclose the mushroom mixture. Tie up each roll with butcher’s twine. (Or use toothpicks to seal.)

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F.

Place a dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when hot, sear off each beef roll until browned on all sides. Transfer the rolls to a plate.

Drain off any remaining oil from the dutch oven and add the spaghetti sauce and the basil leaves. Add the seared beef rolls and any juices that have drained off. The sauce level should be almost to the top of the rolls. If needed, add some water to the sauce. Bring the spaghetti sauce to a simmer. Put the lid on and transfer into the preheated oven.

Bake for 1 1/2-2 hrs, turning over about half way through the cooking time, until the beef is tender.

Remove the string from the braciole, slice into 3/4-1 inch slices and serve over the polenta with some of the spaghetti sauce spooned over the top. Alternatively, toss freshly cooked pasta with some of the spaghetti sauce and serve the sliced braciole on top.

Dessert was a quick and easy affogato or ice cream ‘drowned’ in a shot of espresso.

And, a couple of ham, bacon, mushroom and mozzarella cheese pizzas for work lunches.

Chicken and Dumplings … with Rolled Noodles (Trial #2)

Rarely have I made a dish that was as satisfying in the preparation as it was in tasting the finished product.

Chicken and dumplings is a hearty comfort dish … a glorious chicken stew with a creamy texture filled with tender shredded chicken and vegetables. The ‘dumplings’ may be either drop biscuits, which I’ve made before, or rolled noodles. In both cases, the starch is added to the stew in the last 10-15 minutes and cooked. Achieving the perfect balance of dumplings/noodles and stew may be a challenge. On my first attempt I didn’t account for the amount of stock that would be absorbed by the dumplings during steaming. The result was unsatisfyingly dry even if the dish itself was delicious.

This trial was perfection. (I had extra stock in reserve, just in case.)

I started with a whole fresh Prime chicken, bought on sale at my local Freshco, and meant for roasting. After cutting the chicken into pieces, I used the two breasts, wing tips and the back for making the stock. The two legs and the wings were set aside for roasting.

The recipe I used was one I found on YouTube for “Old Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings”. It was based on an Emeril Lagasse recipe according to the accreditation given there. After reading the comments, I halved the amount of roux (1/4 cup butter and 1/3 cup flour) I added to the stew, because I didn’t want it to be overly thick to start with. And, since I knew there were going to be leftovers, I didn’t want the inevitable thickening to adversely affect the dish.

I rewrote the recipe and am sharing it here in case anyone has difficulties accessing the version on YouTube.

Old Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings – serves 4-6
Adapted from an Emeril Lagasse recipe for chicken and dumplings.

For the chicken

2 split chicken breasts, on the bone with skin, about 3 lbs*
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 celery stalks, medium dice
3 carrots, medium dice
1 medium onion, medium dice**
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter***
2/3 cup AP flour***
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup frozen peas

* I used two split, bone in chicken breasts, the back and the tips of the two wings

** I didn’t have any onions so I used the white part of four green onions, sliced about 1/3 of an inch thick which gave me about 1/4 cup of onions.

*** I thought that the amount of roux used made the chicken and dumplings look too thick in the video so I reduced the butter to 1/4 cup and the flour to 1/3 cup.

Cooking the chicken

In a large pot or dutch oven, add in the chicken, water, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a medium boil, skimming off the scum as it rises to the surface, cover and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes. Don’t boil too hard, or too much water will evaporate. (NOTE: You can cover the pot and avoid the issue altogether.)

Prepare the vegetables and dumplings while this is happening.

For the dumplings

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk

Shredding the cooked chicken/adding the veggies

After the chicken has cooked for 45 minutes, remove it to a plate and let cool before shredding. Discard the skin and bones. Remove the bay leaves from the stock and discard.

Add in the chopped vegetables and cook for 10 minutes.

Making the dumplings

In a glass measuring cup, heat the milk and butter just until butter is melted. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add in the milk and butter mixture and stir with a fork just until combined. Dough should be soft. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead just a few times to make it come together. Don’t over knead or your noodles will be tough. Roll out the dough to 1/8″ thick and cut into 1″ strips and then into 3-4″ pieces. If you think you’ll be waiting for more than 5 minutes or so to add the noodles, cover them with a damp towel.

Making the roux

In a separate small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook over medium heat for a minute or so, stirring constantly to create a roux. Gradually add in about half a cup of stock at a time until you’ve thinned out the roux a bit.

Add roux mixture to the stock with the vegetables and whisk until no lumps remain. Add in the whipping cream and frozen peas.

Adding the dumplings

Bring the stew to a light boil and add in the dumplings, one by one. Stir gently, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until dumplings are tender and done.

Finishing up

Take the pot off the heat and add the shredded chicken back in. Stir to heat the chicken through, TASTE for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper, if needed, then serve.

As I placed the cherry red dutch oven on the kitchen table for serving, I wished that my small family was gathered around, empty bowls and spoons in hand, ready to dig in.

Battered, Crumbed and Baked … Chicken Tenders

I’ve made these tenders before, but it’s been a while, and I don’t know that I put enough emphasis on the positive aspects of the technique involved.

The usual 3 dish (seasoned flour, beaten egg and seasoned bread crumbs) method for preparing these tenders/fingers, or even chicken cutlets, usually ends up with flour and beaten egg to discard. By combining the flour and egg (only ONE) into a single step, along with some flavourings, the wastage is minimized. You can easily batter up to one pound of chicken pieces in the batter. You may also reduce the crumb wastage by judicious addition of the crumbs over the top of your chicken pieces. Another feature of this technique is the addition of the mustard, for flavour, and the mayonnaise, for moisture retention. In the past, I’ve spread mayonnaise or Miracle Whip over the top of a skinless chicken breast and then dipped the breast into seasoned bread crumbs and baking. This is incorporated into the technique.

Battered, Crumbed and Baked Chicken Tenders – for 2

250 gm /1/2 lb chicken tenders or skinless and boned thighs, cut in half, try to get all your chicken about the same thickness
~ 1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

Batter – makes enough batter for 500 gm/1 lb of chicken tenders

1 egg
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard (or any other mustard of choice)
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

oil spray or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 200C/390F, spray a baking sheet with vegetable spray or brush on a thin layer of vegetable oil. If using parchment paper, to reduce cleaning, you should still use the spray/oil as it will help promote browning.

In a metal pie tin, add your bread crumbs and set aside.

Place the batter ingredients in a medium sized, shallow bowl (a 1 lb margarine tub works for me) and whisk with a fork until combined.

Add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, to the batter, using a fork to turn the chicken over to coat both sides, and letting the excess drip off. Transfer the chicken pieces, still using the fork, to the bread crumbs and shake the pie tin back and forth gently to help coat the bottom of the chicken with the crumbs. With clean dry fingers, sprinkle some of the bread crumbs over the top of the chicken pieces, then gently turn them over to make sure all sides are crumbed.

Place the crumbed chicken onto the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes depending on thickness. You may want to turn over the pieces about half way through the baking to get both sides crisped and slightly browned. Don’t bake too long or any thinner parts of the chicken will dry out.

Serve immediately with dipping sauce of your choice. ie honey mustard, ranch dressing or spicy Sriracha mayo.

Sriracha Mayo – serves 1

1 tbsp of your favourite mayonnaise
Sriracha, to taste

Since I’m cooking for one, I utilize whatever mixing vessels are available, nearby … usually in my draining board.

The price tag was to remind me that I bought 0.856 kg of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $10. The cutlets below served three and I have over a half kilogram chicken left.

Chirashi Sushi (Scattered Sushi) and More

Eating out at one of the local sushi restaurants is a great treat, but, when I’m strapped for cash, I make my own.

There are many rolled and shaped types of sushi but this version is one of the easiest to make and requires no special equipment or rolling skills. And nori (seaweed) is not needed.

You can serve/assemble this dish in whatever container you’ve got … a special sushi bowl, a bento box or just a pretty bowl that’s large enough to hold your rice and toppings.

Chirashi or “scattered” sushi starts with a bowl of sushi (seasoned) rice and is topped with an assortment of ingredients. Of course, you may use raw fish (dip in soy sauce before eating) or other items traditionally found in sushi rolls.

Chirashi Sushi – serves 2,  1 1/2 cups of cooked rice per person

1 cup raw sushi rice**, Calrose, Nishiki and Kokuho Rose are what I’ve tried

Cook according to package directions and then season with two to three tablespoons of seasoned rice vinegar. Each cup of raw sushi rice will give you three cups of cooked sushi rice.

** Note: This amount of rice is enough to make 4-6 sushi rolls

I decided to cut back on the rice serving size, to one cup (instead of 1 1/2), so that I could make three different sushi dishes.

Toppings

raw ahi tuna
blanched shrimp
hard boiled egg, sliced into wedges or rings
sliced avocado
sliced green onion

Condiments

wasabi
soy sauce, for the raw tuna
pickled ginger

If you can find wasabi powder, make it fresh ( 1 1/2 heaping teaspoon of wasabi powder with 1 tsp of cold water stirred in) for each sushi meal as the heat lessens as it stands. Store the powder in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Garnishes

shredded nori
masago (capelin or flying fish roe)

Ochazuke or “rice with green tea” is a great way of using up leftover cooked sushi rice, odds and ends from making sushi rolls, grilled fish and blanched fresh or pickled vegetables.

Ochazuke – serves 1

1 cup leftover cooked sushi rice (unseasoned), reheated in the microwave
1 cup of hot green tea
toppings ie furikake (rice seasoning)

If you stir your raw fish into the hot tea, it will poach quickly.

And with my third cup of sushi rice and the last of the raw ahi tuna I had thawed, I made these two traditional sushi rolls. The spicy tuna roll was topped with masago (capelin roe) while the other roll just had strips of the tuna and avocado so that the flavour of the tuna could be appreciated ‘naked’.