Semi-Greek

Ok, so we suddenly have, shall we say, a whole pantload of cucumbers! What to do, what to do… Can’t preserve much of them, can’t give them all away, so gotta get cookin’. first thing that comes to mind for me is Tzatziki, just ’cause I do love it so. Secondly, we wanted something cool, ’cause it’s bloody 100+ outside and we neither need a bunch of cooking heat nor hot food on days like this, eh?

So off to the market, with a vague idea of a Greek themed dindin. I saw no lamb, so I settled on pork and beef, both USDA Choice, which they had as a Buy-1-Get-3-Free deal, so I bought three of each, of course. Snagged some very nice Greek yoghurt and some flatbread. No Retsina in sight, so a dry white wine, and back to the kitchen I went. I decided to make the protein as Greek-Like as a could and work from there. Here’s what I came up with.

Kinda-Greek Sausage
50%-50% cuts of beef and pork
Basil
Rosemary
Oregano
Thyme
Granulated Garlic
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

Note: I did this as sausage ’cause I have an attachment for our Kitchenaid – If you don’t, fret not – Just cut stuff to about 1/2″ and go with that, it’ll be fine – You won’t need to freeze/chill the flesh if you go this route, but limit its time outside the fridge strictly for food safety considerations.

Remove meat from packages, cube to about 1.5″ and throw them into the freezer for about 15 minutes. Throw another stainless bowl in there too, to catch the finished product. When making sausage, or really, any forcemeat, keeping your ingredients really cold all throughout the process is critical: This is necessary first and foremost to keep the proteins under 40°F and thus out of the Food Temperature Danger Zone. Secondly, it helps make a more homogenous end product with better taste and texture.

I grabbed the herbs from the garden, of course, (Which you should do too, by the way…) Field strip herbs and chiffenade/mince. Remove protein from freezer, coat liberally with oil, add herbs, garlic, salt and pepper, mix well.

Process through grinder with the wider of the two plates provided. Use chilled bowl for catching the finished sausage and return finished product to the fridge ASAP.

I cooked off the sausage in a saute pan, and M came home as I was doing so – I knew I’d done OK when the first words out her mouth were “Oh that smells soooo good!”

Now for the magic ingredient…

Tzatziki

1 8 oz container of Greek Yogurt, (You can use regular too)
1 med cucumber
2 tbspn olive oil
Juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon, (As you like it)
1 tspn dill, chopped fine, (You can sub spearmint)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste

If you don’t have Greek Yoghurt, plain will do, but find Greek if you can; it is richer, tangier and thicker, all of which are good things when it comes to Tzatziki.
Line a colander or strainer with paper towel and drain the yogurt for 15 to 30 minutes; this is critical in avoiding a runny final product.

Peel, seed and grate cucumber. We used Armenian from our garden, which have wonderful taste and nice, firm flesh. Any decent cuke will do, but make sure it is nice and firm!

Combine everything and mix well by hand, as blending or processing will make your yogurt break down.

Place in a non-reactive bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Let the sausage cool along with the Tzatziki.

Cut up veggies of your choice for garnish – We went with yellow bell pepper, tomato, cilantro, lettuce, onion, and pimento stuffed green olives – Talk about yummy!

Grill or toast flatbread. I wanted flatbread we could open and stuff like a Gyro, but the stuff I found wouldn’t do that, so we just cut grilled wedges and called it good. If you like cheese, then Feta or Mizithra would rock with this – We didn’t want to cloud the wonderful Tzatziki, so we left it off of ours.

Pile everything on and απολαύστε – εύγευστος!
(Enjoy – Delicious!)

Serious Mac & Cheese

OK, have had a ton of requests for more detail on comfort food faves and mac and cheese as I do it in particular, so here ya go!

If and when we do a restaurant, mac & cheese will be a mainstay, and I’ll guarantee in advance that, while it likely will never be the same twice, it’ll always make you come back for more. Here’s my secret, honed over decades of serious research…

The Roux

3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter.
3 Tablespoons Flour.
3 cups Milk.

Roux is the key to sauce, as far as I am concerned. I have an idiosyncrasy about roux making that was shown to me many moons ago by a French Chef in a French kitchen, and it was sooo durn good, I’ve done it this way ever since. The bottom line is this; never break the roux. What I mean is this: You’re adding fat and starch, (Well, gluten), to liquid to make the resultant sauce thicker. Therefore, you want the chemistry that adds those qualities maintained. The how-to is simple: As you mix flour with butter, and then add liquid, do it slowly enough that you start with almost a paste, and maintain that stretchy, thick consistency throughout your mixing. Add milk slowly, a little at a time, incorporate, allow it to get back up to heat and repeat until all the liquid is added – In other words, do not mix butter and flour and then just dump in milk – Doing that defetas the purpose of the roux completely, for my mind… The other consideration is the shade of your roux. The beauty of roux to me is the simplicity. When roux is cooking alone, it’s that sweet, bready, rich theme we want to exploit. Personally, I like my roux for stuff like this to be nut brown, the color of done shortbread, before I start adding milk. You do what smells, looks, tastes and feels best to you! Hopefully, this series of pics will illustrate my ramblings adequately…

The Cheese

2 to 3 cups of your choice, shredded.

Here’s where that statement above about my stuff never being quite the same twice comes to fruition. Put simply, I open the fridge and use what’s there and floats my boat at the moment. If you buy and eat good cheese, you quite simply cannot fail in this regard. And frankly, why do the same old thing all the time? variety is the spice of life, so mix it up! If you come upon a really spectacular blend, (And you will), write it down, take pics and do it again, by all means, but first, ya gotta discover!

Tonight, I found a bunch of candidates and decided upon a four cheese blend. I went with Swiss and Jack as dominant notes, (About a cup each), and extra sharp yellow cheddar with 2 year old WSU white Cheddar as minors, and there’s your cheese chord!

Add cheese about a half cup at a time and allow to incorporate and heat thoroughly before ya throw in more.

Once that’s all in, it’s seasoning time. Here again, other than salt and pepper, there are no hard and fast rules. Do what smells, looks, feels and tastes right! Tonight, salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, smoked paprika and a shake of dried Tabasco chile was the stuff. Blend well and then take your sauce off the heat, and start into pasta.

Pasta

Use roughly 12 ounces of what you like

Yep, that’s it. We don’t use long and skinny stuff, for obvious reasons, but you could if you like it! We like shells a lot because they act like little boats for the sauce, but macaroni, fusilli, rotini, bowtie, radiatori, ruote, whatever floats your boat, throw it in!

Make sure your water is well salted, (As in about like seawater) and lightly oiled. Boil pasta to firm al dente, then drain and toss to remove al excess water.

Throw your pasta into a lightly oiled baking dish, add the sauce and mix well. Don’t put so much pasta in there that things will be dry. Mac and cheese needs to be luxurious, decadent, rich and creamy, not dry and pasty! I top with something, again, whatever floats my boat, but I always top. The nice, crunchy crust is a great addition and it helps seal in the casserole too. I’ve used everything from panko bread crumbs to crushed jalapeno potato chips and everything in between; again, it’s about what you have and that feels good!

To bake or not to bake; there ain’t any question…
Bake, plain and simple. 350 F for 30 minutes, preheat your oven first, of course. Baking infuses and blends flavors, textures and smells. Do it – Eating something like this without doing so is like taking the middle out of an Oreo, throwing it away and just munching the wafer – Good, but not right…

See? doesn’t that look incredible?!
Yes. Yes it does…

Pair It

Now, I am the first to say that stuff this good don’t need nuthin’ to help it, but that would be wrong. Pair your mac with a nice, light salad. That will provide a counterpoint to the incredible richness, help clear your palate, let you eat and appreciate everything more, and that’s good! Monica did a beautiful job with fresh greens, onion, pickled radish, homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, dusted with dill, and tossed with a light balsamic vinaigrette – Perfect counterpoint!

And there you have it – The cat’s outta the bag – Bon appetit!

Green Chile & Pork Enchiladas

Green Chile & Pork Enchiladas

There’s not much more seminal Tex-Mex than a nice enchilada. My fave combo for this is pork and green chile, hands down – There’s something about it that’s juuuuust right.

Chile sauce is something we make and can for later on; you need to pressure can to do that, but it is well worth it and another great way to take advantage of the annual Hatch chile release! This sauce goes great with enchiladas, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, huevos, and on and on…

Classic Green Chile Sauce

5 – 7 Hatch green chiles, roasted, field stripped, skinned and rough chopped.
1 cup diced sweet onion.
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced.
1-2 sprigs cilantro or ½ teaspoon coriander.
2 cups chicken stock.
1 teaspoon flour.
1 teaspoon butter.
Salt and pepper to taste.
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil.

Heat oil to medium high in a deep sauté pan. Sauté onion until it start to become translucent. Add garlic and briefly sauté. Add chiles, cilantro, and stock and simmer for about half an hour. Remove pan from heat. Pour mixture into blender and blend until you hit the consistency you like. Heat flour and butter in sauté pan. When roux is well blended and heated through, pour blended mixture back in and allow to blend and thicken. Remove from heat and allow to sit covered.

For the enchilada filling, I cut the pork thin and then diced it. That went in to a deep sauté pan, was lightly browned, and then doused with enchilada sauce and allowed to simmer for about ½ hour on low heat. I diced up more onion, black olives, some of our tomatoes, and shredded some jack cheese. I used lovely flour tortillas from a local tortillaria, since I was too lazy to make my own today… I also did up some plain red beans and rice, with no seasoning other than a little salt.

Finally, I put everything in a production line, did some assembly and off we went.

I left plating to your imagination, because I was way hungry. I assure you that none of those poor things survived the night! (FYI, we like to bed these on shredded lettuce tossed with a little more cilantro, salt and pepper.)

M’s 4th o’ JulyFest

It was M’s kitchen, 100% and just fine with me – She has imagination and flair and builds killer eats. Here’s what she came up with.

Red, White & Blue Spud Salad

3 cups multi-tone spuds, boiled to fork tender and chopped.
2 eggs, hard boiled, chopped.
6 – 8 stems garlic chive, slivered.
1/2 Lime.
1 Pickled Radish, fine diced.
1 small shallot, diced.
1 small Tomato, sliced.
Fresh Thyme to taste, fine chopped.

Dressing:
50% Real Mayo
25% each pickle relish & hearty mustard

Combine spuds, eggs, shallot, radish and thyme. Squeeze lime juice over mixture. Sliver garlic chive and set aside. Slice tomato and set aside.

Mix dressing components, add pepper to taste, (No salt needed in this mix).

Add dressing to mixture and coat thoroughly. Toss garlic chive and sliced tomato as topping garnish.


Chicken Breast with Citrus-Chile Reduction

Marinate Chicken breasts in a base of grapefruit juice, with lime, lemon, and red Hatch chile powder.

Braise breasts in marinating liquid until done through. Broil briefly for color and slight crust. Set to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Reduce braising liquid by 50% until the reduction coats a spoon nicely. M sliced the breast and set it back in the excess reduced liquid.

Served with spud salad, this was amazing flavor, let me tell y’all!

Happy Forth!

Pickling Two – The Sequel…

Had a bunch of gorgeous jalapenos hanging around the fridge, (Summer vacation, you know – They were bored because “there’s nothing for them to do” – Sheesh…). So I did a variation of the quick pickle brine recipe I posted the other day for these beauties – It’s been three days tonight, so they’re coming out with some green chile & chicken enchiladas for dindin!

Pickled Jalapenos

4 Cups Jalapenos, whole, cleaned and topped.
2 Cups white vinegar.
2 teaspoons sea salt.
1 teaspoon granulated sugar.
1 Tablespoon whole peppercorns, (I used our favorite black/red/green/white blend).
1 teaspoon of Dill.
3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and quartered.

Bring vinegar and seasonings to a low boil.

Place Jalapenos in a clean, glass container.

Pour hot solution over veggies to cover. Refrigerate at least 24 hours, and 3 days are even better. Kept refrigerated, they’ll last a good couple of weeks, if you don’t devour them first, of course!

We’ll let ya know the verdict after dinner!

Party at our place, for HOW MANY?!

If y’all are anything like me, you like a party now and then, but once push comes to shove, you’re probably more jazzed about a party at somebody else’s house, right?

Imagine then, my trepidation when M announced that we were going to host a surprise birthday party for her pal Deb and that roughly 30 folks would attend… Oh, and of course, we’d be cooking! So we got to work and made plans and a menu.

Needless to say, ya don’t celebrate the Big Six Oh without proper fanfare. I did the shopping while M put the final touches on the yard…

We went with pulled pork sandwiches, roasted chicken with a southwest flair, an incredible wild rice salad, coleslaw, killer shrimp hors d’oeuvers, (AKA horse doovers), and called it good.

The pork got a rub of black pepper, brown sugar, cumin, sea salt, garlic, onion and powdered hickory smoke powder, (From Butcher and Packer, just smoke essence mixed with dextrose – Amazing stuff!) It went low and slow, (275 F), for most of the day and came out, well, real good let’s just say!

The chickens were done up with a green chile and herb rub, (Dried Hatch chile powder, dried orange and lemon peel, Mexican oregano, sea salt and pepper), and stuffed with oranges, onion, cilantro, and olive oil.

M did the wild rice salad – Minnesota wild rice, dried cranberries, apples, red onion, toasted pine nuts, red bell pepper, and a white balsamic vinaigrette – It was incredible!

Coleslaw was green cabbage with shaved carrot, garlic chive and cilantro from the garden, and our semi-homemade dressing, (Mayo, sugar, apple cider vinegar, creamed horseradish, celery seed, salt and Pepper.)

Then there were M’s bacon and pineapple wrapped shrimp with a citrus chile glaze…

M outdid her self in the house and yard, I must say…

We had plenty of libations, both leaded and un…

And check it out; the cake mirrored the invites!

The guest of honor was completely surprised and everyone had a great time, us included!

House Made

The theme of today’s Big Wild show was Walleye recipes; I don’t have any fish around, (Wish I did, because after talking about it, I’m hungry.)  Here are the two variations we covered, plus some semi-homemade sauces to make things really cool:  While these are basic recipes you’ve probably had before, I’d bet a lot of y’all haven’t made your own sauces for these variations; once you do, you’ll never go back to store bought!  Note also that these would work great with a bunch of fish; cod, snapper, tilapia…

Beer Battered Walleye

Cut Walleye fillets into appropriate size for frying, 3” to 5” long by 1.5” wide or so would be just fine.

Heat peanut oil to 375º F in a deep fryer or deep pan.  Prepare batter;

House Made Beer Batter

1 12 oz. bottle of beer, (Anything decent, but please, no light!)

2 cups all purpose flour, sifted.

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Option:  Shake or two of ground chile

½ cup Flour for dredging

Douse fish in batter, then quickly dredge them through flour. Tap off any extra flour and, with a slotted spoon, carefully lower fish into hot oil.  Make sure your oil stays at or slightly above 375º F to keep fish from getting greasy.  When fillets are golden brown, (About 4 to 5 minutes), remove and place on paper towel to cool.

Serve with House Made Tartar Sauce, (See below) and;

South by Southwest Cole Slaw

A nice, basic coleslaw with a little edge to it…

For the Dressing:

1 cup real mayonnaise

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ to 1 tablespoon creamed horseradish

¼ teaspoon celery seed

Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl; take your time and pay attention to the sugar, you want it to dissolve and blend in completely; until the gritty appearance and mouth feel is gone, keep blending!  Allow to chill, covered, for at least 30 minutes

For the Slaw

4 cups cabbage, red, green or both, finely shredded.

¼ sweet onion, shredded

¼ cup cilantro, shredded

1 Teaspoon mild chile powder, (Green or red as you prefer)

Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl.  Add dressing and toss to coat thoroughly.  Refrigerate and allow to blend for at least 15 minutes.  Serve cold

House Made Tartar Sauce

Making your own basic sauces like this is a real treat!

1 Cup real mayonnaise, (Unless you must, no reduced fat or fat free!)

1 Tablespoon Pickle Relish, (I like sweet relish; use what you prefer)

1 Tablespoon fine minced shallot (or sweet onion)

Juice from ½ to 1 fresh lemon

Salt & Pepper to taste

Optional:  Shake of ground chile powder (I like Tabasco)

In a non-reactive bowl, throw in the mayo, relish, and shallot or onion; mix all these together well.

Begin with ½ lemon and slowly squeeze in the juice, (Remember, no seeds!), and make several taste tests for the level of tartness you like; use more or less lemon as you prefer.

Add a shake of salt and/or pepper as you prefer; do this sparingly and taste test after allowing seasoning to blend and sit for 30 seconds or so.

You can add a very light shake of chile pepper on top of the salt and pepper or in place of the pepper, as you see fit – I like all three!  Note:  I am referring to dried and powder chile, not to chili powder; there’s a big difference and chili powder would confuse this sauce!

Cover the bowl with a paper towel or plastic wrap and refrigerate the sauce for at least 30 minutes, (An hour is better), serve cold with additional lemon wedges and a dusting of finely diced parsley for your fish.

Lemon Dill Walleye

Here’s a non-fried style that will let the delicate flavor and feel of Walleye really shine,

Place Walleye fillets on a sheet of aluminum foil.

Blend;

1 stick of butter, room temperature

Juice from ½ to 1 lemons

1 teaspoon finely minced dill, (Dried OK if that’s what you’ve got!)

¼ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon celery seed

few shakes of Salt & Pepper

In a non-reactive bowl, cream butter and then add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Coat both sides of each filet by hand with the mixture.  Seal fillets in aluminum foil and grill (Outside, on your grill!), for about 15 to 20 minutes; open the packet and test the fish, (Careful of steam!); remove when cooked through and allow to cool for 5 minutes prior to serving.

Burger Heaven

Are there burgers in Heaven? Well, if not, then we got a problem…

What American comfort food is rootsier than Da Boigah? After a particularly grueling week at the café, and for quite literally the first night I’d be able to cook for in something like a week, I ad killer burgers on the brain. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my absolute Job #1 reason for cooking is to make great things that Monica loves: There are lots of reasons to cook; love is the best one there is, hands down, end of story… (And M knows and loves a good burger!)

Now, as soon as I knew that’s where I was goin’ for dinner, I started thinking sides; naturally, my first inclination was to pull out the deep fryer and go for classic, twice-fried frites, but… Well, we are getting older and we do have to nod to the 21st Century and maybe at least try to be a bit healthier than that, right? That said, spuds not being part of the side was not an option, so I decided to go with a nice, fresh spud salad; we’ll do this one with olive oil, fresh citrus and vinegar, so we’ve got a lighter take on potato salad we’ll amp up with some fresh herbs. Ready? Let’s rock!

If you’ve ever had a truly amazing burger at a local joint, I’ll bet you 10 to 1 that they either grind their own beef, or have their regular supplier do that for them: Custom ground and seasoned burger, done fresh, is what separates Holy Crud from Ho Hum in Burgerland.

So off I went to the market, where I found nice chuck steaks for $4 a pound, (They were marked ‘For marinating’); that’ll be the heart and soul of our burgers. The relatively high fat content coupled with nice big chunks of meat is gonna be great, but it does need a little help to put it over the top; I went with aged, Choice Tenderloin, which I found for $9 and change a pound, which ain’t bad, (And we’re only buying a half pound so…). I ended up with a mix of roughly 2:1 Chuck to Tenderloin.

I found fresh baked onion rolls for buns, and more of that really nice medley of red, white, and blue potatoes we had a little while back; they’re not only pretty, they’re real tasty; I can quickly become a creature of habit when I find something really good out there…

A quick note on shopping and hunting; our closest market happens to be an Albertsons; don’t discount a chain store just because it’s a chain store. This one, and many like it, are more often than not staffed by professionals with years of experience; yes, their bakery mostly does stuff I don’t want, but there’re real bakers back there, believe me; the quality and variety of fresh bread and rolls they put out daily is really quite good; you may need to dig around a bit to find something great, but often enough, you will. Likewise, their meat department may not be as good as some of the artisan solo outfits and Carnicerias we enjoy here, but they usually have good stuff and those folks behind the counter are real butchers; they love to have you ask for something special, believe me! We can’t go for the high end every day, and nor should we; find what’s good, close at hand and go with it.

OK, so once we get home, I stuck the beef into the freezer for a little bit. Any time you’re grinding meat, making sausage, etc, you want your protein as cold as you can get it; this will help keep the fat and meat in a proper matrix while you work with it, thereby avoiding mushy, unpleasant results; more importantly, cold keeps your food out of the temperature danger zone, thereby avoiding making you and your loved ones sick; always a plus, that, eh?

I set up the grinder attachment on the ol’ KitchenAid, cut the beef up into strips manageable for the hopper and got to seasoning. As with sausage making, you can season ground meat before or after you grind it, of course; I prefer doing so before, because you get a more even distribution of spice as the meat is grinding. For these burgers, I went with Hawaiian flaked salt, fresh ground pepper blend, (Black, red, white, green; our go-to mix), onion powder, celery seed, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, and a dash of Worcestershire. I seasoned with a fairly light hand, because we just want to accent the meat’s great flavor, not blow it out of the water… So into the grinder she goes, using the coarser of the two plates I have available. I gave the freshly ground burger a few tosses to make sure everything was well blended, then covered it and stuck it in the fridge to think about things for a while.

While the burger was incorporating all those flavors, I put the spuds on to boil. Just a note on water; it’s sad to say that not all tap water is created equally these days, (Especially coming from a kid who grew up drinking from streams and lakes and even garden hoses!) My bottom line on cooking with stuff is simple; if it does not look, taste, feel and smell right, do not cook with it! The concept of taking, say, a nasty bottle of wine and cooking with it because it wasn’t good enough to drink: Negative, Ghost Rider; that’s a no-no! Same goes for a thing as elemental as water. If yours doesn’t taste good to drink, do what we did and get a decent filter for your kitchen tap; from home brewed coffee to things you boil for dinner, everything will taste better; you can thank me later…

A trip out to the herb garden found Garlic Chives and Cilantro looking very nice indeed, so I took some of those, then added fine diced green onion, red bell pepper, and fresh tomato: All that, plus a few pieces of great Apple smoked bacon, will go into our spud salad.

For the salad dressing, I squeezed the juice from one lime and one lemon, and then added a couple tablespoons of grapefruit juice; I whisked some nice extra virgin olive oil into that at a roughly 2:1 ratio, added a dash of sal de mere, fresh ground pepper, and celery seed, and there you have it. I quartered the spuds, put everything into a stainless bowl to mix and then into a ceramic bowl, covered in the fridge, for a good hour to allow everything to blend: As M rightly points out, stuff like this salad are gonna be great tonight but much better tomorrow; like good soup or stew, salads marrying a bunch of wonderful flavors are gonna be at their prime round about 24 hours later…

OK, back to the burgers and the fun part. I formed four thin, wide patties, then cut up some of my stash of 2 year old WSU Creamery White Gold Cheddar and placed a nice layer of that in the middle of one patty. Then we assemble; a layer of burger, then cheese, then burger, seal and plump up the edges of each so we have a nice round patty of uniform thickness throughout. I let them hang in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to marry flavors further.

And that’s that; the burgers hit the grill over nicely glowing coals for about 4 minutes each side, with the cover on and vents wide open. I put the buns in a warm oven with a little dish of water to get nice, moist heat going. Finally, I sliced onion, tomato and pulled some lettuce leaves. M got condiments out and we were good to go.

At the point that she turned to me, burger in hand, with that serious knit-brow look and said, “This is, without a doubt, the best burger you’ve ever made; seriously…” I considered my mission a success…

Pesto to the People!

Spring done sprung down here and so has our cilantro; not where we planted it last year, interestingly enough, but in a bed where it hung out 2 years back – What they hey, never look gift herbs in the mouth, right?  We’ve been using at best we can, but as you can see, it’s gotten really leggy and flowered out, so what to do with it?

A recon trip by M to the freezer found some nice skinned chicken boobs that need to get used, so how about a shotgun wedding for those two?  Pesto it is, then!

Pesto? You say; I thought pesto was made with basil?

It is, I nod sagely, (Pun intended),  but that’s only one popular permutation, truth be told:  Let us consult our handy pocket dictionary where we find, and I quote:

“A sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat. Origin: 1935–40; upper Italian, (compare Genoese dialect pésto):  noun derivative of pestare; to pound, crush.”  (Notice how close the root sound of the word is to pestle, as in mortar and?)

There you have it; think of pesto as a combination of veg, something from the Alliaceae family, (AKA garlic, shallot, onion), a hard cheese, a nut, an oil and a little salt and you’re there.   Basil pesto is wonderful, as is cilantro; hey… Cilantro!  We’ll do a nice cilantro pesto sauce for the chicken, and marry that with some beautiful Asparagus M found at the market, and we’re talkin’ serious bounty – So let’s!

Cilantro Pesto

1 bunch fresh cilantro, (roughly 2 lightly packed cups)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced, (And you can roast them first if you like a milder, smokier taste!)

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon ground chile (I like Tabasco for this)

½ cup pine nuts, (Sub Hazelnuts for a very cool taste)

½ cup olive oil

salt to taste

Add everything but the oil to quisinart or blender and zap it all into a nice dry paste.  Slowly add up to ½ cup of olive oil, while blending constantly, until you get the thickness you like for pesto.

Store pesto in a sealed glass container in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to allow all those flavors to get to know one another:  You can store it long term in the freezer in an airtight container for a few months without losing much flavor.  When you’re ready to use it, you can either add it to, say, pasta that you’ve tossed into a medium sauté pan until well coated and serve right away, garnished with a little more cheese and a cilantro sprig, or, for what we’re gonna do, just pull it out of the fridge, stir it a bit to re-blend and top a piping hot chicken breast with it just like that.

We’re gonna braise our chicken, so we get nice, juicy meat for that cilantro to land on:  We rinsed and patted dry two nice breasts, then threw them into a sauté pan on medium high with a couple shots of olive oil therein; we seared the breasts on both sides, then tossed ‘em into a glass baking pan and added;

½ cup white wine

½ cup chicken stock

A shake or two of salt, pepper, and ground Tabasco chiles.

We put the ol’ temp probe equipped thermometer to use and shoved that into a preheated oven at 350º F; we’ll cook that, (I’ve said it before and I’m fixin’ to say it again), to temperature, not time – Done chicken breasts should reach 170º F, then be pulled and allowed to rest for 5 minutes or so; they’ll continue to cook and seal in all those juices so they don’t bleed out when you cut ‘em, leaving you with nasty, dry chicken jerky, (Which nobody wants, right?  Right!) Let me point out at this juncture that this recipe will work GREAT for any poultry, including wild game; as Pheasant, Grouse, Dove, etc are all quite lean, searing and braising as we have seals in moisture and delivers very tender, juicy birds indeed.

Our Asparagus was hand chosen by M at the market; as you can see, it’s beautiful stuff, indeed!  She did the standard test; choose firm, smooth stalks with nice tight flower heads.  Give the bunch you like a sniff, it should smell lightly of fresh veggies, nothing funky or heavy.  Don’t wash your asparagus, or soak it:  If you’re not going to use it right away, trim the ends and stand the bunch upright in a glass or dish with enough water to cover the freshly cut ends, and don’t wait too long to enjoy it!  The sugars in Asparagus convert pretty quickly to starch after it’s been harvested, the results being woody stalks and accompanying lousy flavor… When you’re ready to cook, pull out and quickly rinse the bunch. Gently bend each stalk and allow it to snap where it will; toss the ends and cook the good stuff. You want to cook Asparagus pretty quickly to a slightly al dente consistency; just a bit of snap to the bite, and certainly not mushy! We chose to roast ours, so we gave it a light coating of olive oil with a splash of white balsamic vinegar, then added freshly chopped rosemary, thyme, and salt. We roasted for 10 minutes in a 400º oven, and since we had that, we decided that there should be some nice buttermilk biscuits to keep ‘em company, (Another time for that recipe, honest!).

All that went nicely onto the plates and voila, dinner fit for a queen!