Sunday, February 21, 2010

Party Cheese Bread

I firmly believe that bread has a genealogy. In fact, I wrote a (yet unpublished) novel about it last November. When someone shares a recipe, or in the case of my book, a bread starter, with someone, that lineage should be documented. Perhaps that's why I always cite where I find a recipe, be it a magazine, a friend, a relative or a truly original creation.
With that in mind, I want to share this delectable recipe. It comes courtesy of my friend Alanna, who received it from Shellie Brown, who received it from Nancy Brown of Las Vegas, Nev. Alanna brought this pull-apart bread to a movie night at my house the other night (and yes, I totally get a kick out of us both turning around whenever someone calls either of our names. In an even funnier twist, we have the same maiden last name!). The bread was the edible hit of the evening (and it had to compete with a chocolate fountain for the top spot!). I have yet to make it, but it sounds incredibly easy and it really is incredibly tasty! Alanna said it might become her party tradition whenever she needs to take food someplace. I wholeheartedly agree!

Party Cheese Bread

1 round loaf of bread
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, sliced
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
2 tsp. poppy seeds

1. Place bread onto foil. The foil should be large enough to completely cover the bread in multiple directions..
2. Slice the bread at one-inch intervals, but do not cut all the way through the bottom crust. Repeat the process in the opposite direction so that a grid is formed. (Think tic-tac-toe, but with more squares than nine.)
3. Insert cheese into all slices in both directions.
4. Add green onions and poppy seeds.
5. Wrap foil around the bread into a bowl shape. Pour butter over the bread and seal in foil.
6. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Unwrap top and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Substitution Suggestions: I don't see why Pepper Jack or another meltable cheese wouldn't work with this bread. Alanna said she used mountain bread. When I try it, I will get the Marco Polo bread at Wegman's. I will probably also add some garlic and onion powders to the melted butter, too, but that's a personal preference.

Lessons Learned: Since I have yet to make it, I haven't learned any lessons yet, but I can imagine that it is really important to cut almost to the bottom of each slice. Since it is a pull-apart bread, you want to make it as easy as possible to pull apart. It won't pull apart into neat little cubes, but if you cut all the way to (but not through) the crust, it will be fairly easy to pull apart. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Strawberry Gastrique

Cleaning out the refrigerator ranks right up there with scrubbing toilets and cleaning grout. I hate doing it. It usually means digging into the inner depths of the fridge and extracting some moldy cheese that was long since forgotten, a potato that is softer than a Nerf ball (yeah, I know I shouldn't store potatoes in the fridge), remnants of a cucumber I forgot I had and a sauce that can no longer be identified. Sometimes, though, cleaning out the fridge can yield some tasty results. That's how this recipe came into being.
The original recipe inspiration came from Cooking Light. And like usual, I didn't have everything I needed, so I substituted ingredients. This is what I came up with. The syrup was absolutely divine!

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Strawberry Gastrique
1 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup sherry
2 tbsp vinegar
1/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 cup goat cheese
1/8 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or bleu cheese
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
2 ounces prosciutto or bacon, chopped
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place strawberries in a small, heavy saucepan; partially mash with a fork. Stir in sugar, sherry, vinegar, broth, and coriander; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until reduced to 2/3 cup (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Strain mixture through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids.

2. In separate bowl, combine cheeses, thyme, and prosciutto/bacon. Pat chicken dry. Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each breast to form a pocket; spoon 3 tablespoons cheese mixture into each pocket.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle both sides of chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 6 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over; cook 5 minutes or until done. Serve with sauce.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for 1/2 cup sherry vinegar. I didn't have any so I used sherry and white vinegar to equal the 1/2 cup. It tasted just fine. The original recipe also did not call for goat cheese. That is my addition since I needed to use or lose it. If goat cheese is unavailable, go with 1/4 cup gorgonzola and it'll be just fine.
If your clean-out-the-fridge chore doesn't include any use-or-lose strawberries, try the recipe with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.

Lessons Learned: The chicken required more cooking time than the recipe indicated. Perhaps if the chicken were pounded to a more even thickness before it was slit and stuffed, that would have helped. At any rate, make sure the chicken is cooked through before spooning the sauce over it because microwaving chicken is disgusting!
Instead of tossing the solids from the sauce, serve rolls with the meal and use the solids as as a savory jam.
The sauce really is what makes this recipe so good. The thick syrup is a beautiful blend of sweet and savory happiness. It could easily be poured over pork chops or fish.

Chile Rellenos in Tomato Broth

My family loves to watch the Food Network. We don't do reality TV on other stations -- just the Food Network. We love watching Iron Chef America, especially Bobby Flay and Michael Simon (although Simon's laugh is really annoying!). My son and I also enjoyed watching the first season of Worst Cooks in America. Talk about funny! The cake cook-offs don't do much for me. There's just too many of them.

When the network launched a magazine, I was one of its first subscribers. The magazine started off strong, but in recent months, more pages have been dedicated to reality TV stars and useless gadgets than to the recipes and actual cooking. It's somewhat disappointing. I care more about food than what band Duff plays in when he's not at Charm City Cakes or what Bryan Boitano's kitchen remodel looks like. Regardless, there are some recipe gems in the magazine. The recipe below is one of them. My mother made chile rellenos a few times when I was a child. They were good enough to create a pleasant memory, but not enough to try them on my own ... until last week. Like usual, I had to tweak the recipe to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand since we were snowed in and the grocery stores were closed! Thank goodness I got the last few poblanos at the grocery store in anticipation of this recipe. Though somewhat time intensive, the results were stellar ... even with my substitutions.

Chile Rellenos in Tomato Broth

8 poblano chile peppers (4 1/2 to 5 inches long)
12 ounces muenster cheese, cut into 8 sticks (about 3 1/2 by 1 inch)
2 14.6 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole cloves
7 black peppercorns
2 small bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
6 large eggs, separated
All-purpose flour, for dredging

1. Preheat the broiler. Place the chiles on a foil-lined broiler pan; broil, turning, until the skins char, about 8-10 minutes. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool, about 10 minutes.

2. While chiles are cooling, puree tomatoes, onion and garlic in blender until smooth. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until almost smoking.  Add the tomato puree, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cilantro sprig and fry, stirring, until thick, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the broth, reduce the heat and simmer until thickened but still brothy, 25 to 30 minutes.

3. Peel the chiles. Slice each open lengthwise, about 1/2 inch from the top to 1 inch from the bottom. Remove the seedpod, then rinse to flush out any remaining seeds. Blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Carefully stuff each chile with a stick of cheese.

4. Season the tomato broth with salt. Strain, discarding solids, and keep warm.

5. Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 1 to 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 360. Beat the egg whites, 2 tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon salt with a mixer until stiff but not dry. Beat the yolks in a separate bowl until combined, then gently fold them into the whites.

6. Overlap the sides of the slit in the chiles to enclose the cheese, then dredge in flour. (Coat any tears with flour.) Using tongs, dip and roll the chiles in the egg mixture to coat. Fry in the hot oil until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer with a large skimmer or 2 spatulas to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet, letting the excess oil drip back into the pot. Repeat with the remaining chiles and egg mixture. Place in the oven on the lined baking sheet to cook off any excess oil, about 5 minutes.

7. Ladle the tomato broth into 4 shallow bowls; place 2 chiles in each. Garnish with cilantro.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for fresh tomatoes. I think the canned ones worked just as well. For a veggie version, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. The cheese can be substituted as well. Traditional rellenos call for Monterey Jack. I would not use cheddar. It doesn't melt the same as Monterey Jack or Muenster. I actually used sliced Muenster instead of the bricked version. It's what I had in the fridge so I went with it.

Lessons Learned: The chiles take longer to roast than the originally suggested 8 minutes. Make sure you turn them ever few minutes or else you'll set off your smoke alarm! They tore easily as I seeded them. Perhaps they would have seeded better if I had cut into the skin to extract the seed pod before I roasted and peeled them. I'll try that next time. I worried that they would split open when I fried them. They didn't.

I only had five poblanos (remember, I bought everything the store had), so I halved the amount of tomatoes and broth. And, I only used three eggs instead of five and had plenty of that left over, too. So, I think you can safely cut down on the number of eggs used, even if you make the full recipe.

The rellenos have a nice heat -- strong enough to taste it but mild enough that the flavors still come through nicely over the heat. The egg coating remained surprisingly crisp even after it was placed in the tomato broth, which, by the way, is worth the time necessary to make it. I definitely look forward to making this recipe again in the very near future.