Thursday, April 30, 2009

Roast Chicken, Brie and Fig Sandwich with Asparagus "Fries"

As promised, here is my #1 sandwich. This is a great way to use up leftover chicken. I first found this cute little jar of Dalmatia Fig Spread at the natural food store where I cook, but I have since seen it at big-chain grocery stores, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. You can use whatever kind of bread you like, but I love making this sandwich healthier by using a sprouted-grain bread (like Ezekiel). The chewy, high-fiber texture is fantastic when grilled.

Roast Chicken, Brie, and Fig Sandwich
(makes 1 sammy)

2 slices sprouted-grain bread
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons fig jam or spread
1/2 cup cooked chicken, torn into small pieces
1/2 cup baby arugula or spinach, washed and dried
1 ounce brie cheese
fresh cracked pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon butter, divided

Spread one slice of the bread with mustard, and one slice with fig jam. On the mustard slice layer the chicken, then the arugula, then the brie. Sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper, to taste. Top with the remaining slice of bread.

Melt half of butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Swirl pan to coat evenly. Place sandwich into pan and cook 5-7 minutes on one side. Using a spatula, remove to a plate, add remaining dab of butter to the pan, melt and swirl. Flip the sandwich over and cook the other side 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Asparagus "Fries" with Garlic Lemon Aioli
(serves 2 or 3)

My friend Dustin made these at a dinner party and they've become one of my favorite simple sides. The only thing fry-like about this recipe is that a hot spear is dipped into a zingy sauce and eaten with the hands. I'm not sure what Emily Post would have to say about it, but as far as I'm concerned asparagus is finger food. It tastes better that way. Late-season asparagus (available now) has a bit more girth than the pencil thin shoots of last month, and is perfect for this recipe in that they don't get so floppy when cooked.

1 bunch asparagus, washed
Garlic Lemon Aioli (recipe below)

First remove the ends from the asparagus using my tried and true method: snap them off with your fingers. The asparagus will automatically break where the woody tough part ends and you will never have to gnaw through tough asparagus again.

In a pot large enough to hold the asparagus, bring 4 inches of well-salted water to a boil (salty like the sea). Reduce heat to medium and add asparagus. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the spears, 1 to 3 minutes. The desired result here is crisp-tender, not limp. Watch closely and test often. Drain asparagus, and serve hot with Garlic Lemon Aioli

Garlic Lemon Aioli

When I'm out with friends one of the menu items I often get asked to define is aioli. What is aioli (pronounced aye-oly)? Aioli is a French or Italian condiment made from an olive oil emulsion, often thickened with egg yolks and seasoned. Common flavorings are garlic and/or mustard. This is a quick cheater recipe in that it uses mayonnaise. I love it because it's a great way to use one of my favorite healing foods: raw garlic.

2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated or minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Using a garlic press, smash the cloves into a small mixing bowl. Add salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice, and stir until salt is dissolved. Add olive oil and mayo and stir to combine.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What a Jook

This morning I woke up feeling all oogy. Stuffy head. Body aches. And not especially strong of appetite. This was an occasion for the paragon of comfort food: a soupy rice porridge, filled with bits of chicken, and perfumed with green onion, cilantro, and ginger. Jook, also known as Rice Congee is of Chinese origin. To me, it is the edible equivalent of a warm Vernor’s Ginger Ale and a stack of Saltines, the perfect antidote when nothing sounds good and the forces of evil are winning the bacterial battle in your tummy.

One of my most beloved convenience foods is the rotisserie chicken. I make good use of it here, and shamelessly celebrate the fact that I don’t have to handle raw chicken or take the time to roast my own when I’m feeling so crummy. Wait, I feel a poem coming on. . . Oh rotisserie chicken, with your crispy golden skin. How I love the way you smell up my car on the ride home, and offer me your snacking wings as I pull you from your plastic dome. . . Anywho, most likely you will not use all of the chicken in the soup; but stay tuned for my most absolute favorite (and healthy) Roast Chicken, Brie, and Fig Sandwich (to be posted in the next couple of days).

Chicken Jook (aka Congee)

Like any good soup this recipe takes time, but it is not at all labor intensive. The healing power of homemade Chinese-style chicken stock is worth the time. Jook can also be made with turkey, and is eaten at any time of day—often for breakfast.

1 average sized rotisserie chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
2 quarts (8 cups) water
1 bunch green onions
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few whole sprigs
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
2-inch piece fresh ginger root
¾ cup long grain rice
1 - 8 oz. can whole peeled water chestnuts, drained, rinsed, and quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Peel and discard the skin from the rotisserie chicken. Remove the meat from the bones and using only your very clean hands, tear into bite sized pieces. Place in a storage container and refrigerate immediately.

2. Place the chicken carcass and any stray chicken scraps or juices into a medium (4 quart) soup pot. Cover with 8 cups water. Slice half of the ginger root into discs and add to the pot along with the smashed garlic cloves, and 3 to 5 sprigs fresh cilantro. Trim the white and light green ends from the green onions and add to the pot, reserving the green parts for later. Bring to a very low simmer, cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours.

3. Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer until water runs clear. Return stock to the pot and add the rice*. Cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

4. Add 2 to 3 cups of the chicken pieces, 1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger, water chestnuts, salt, white pepper, and sesame oil. Continue to simmer over low heat for 30 more minutes. The rice should be starting to fall apart at this point. Be sure to stir frequently and keep over low heat so the porridge doesn't burn on the bottom.

5. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot topped with hearty pinches of chopped cilantro and green onion.

*Many Jook recipes call for 2 parts long-grain white rice and 1 part short-grain sticky rice (or sushi rice). If you have some short grain rice on hand, go ahead and substitute ¼ cup for long-grain. Otherwise, it’s fine to use only long-grain.
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