Sunday, March 25, 2007

Three Out Of Four Ain't Bad

Giada De Laurentiis - Everyday Italian
Rustic Italian Cooking

Chicken Cacciatore
Smashed Parmesan Potatoes
Lemon Parsley Bruschetta
Chocolate Anise Cookies

For recipes:
Click here

Giada has barely introduced her cleavage, oops, I mean the first recipe, to the audience, when I have my first substitution.* Anise. Don't tell her, but I will not be putting anise in these biscotti. I may put cinnamon in or perhaps lemon zest, but anise is a definite nonstarter.

Now she's saying that it's a bit of a workout to make the cookie batter with a hand mixer. Then why, for heaven's sake, are you not using the sturdy Kitchen Aid that I can see in the corner? Oh, she's adding chocolate chips. I don't know why, but this combination of chocolate chips and anise completely DO NOT APPEAL to me. By the way, I prefer the ah-NIECE pronunciation.

Giada takes out the silpat to bake the dough on. I hate silpat. This recipe is really rubbing me the wrong way. However, she says to use parchment paper in the actual recipe. Don't bother, foil will serve you just fine.

Good, she's getting off of that and moving onto Chicken Cacciatore - ok good. I've made this before. It's a WONDERFUL RECIPE. Wait a minute - that means I must have seen these cookies before...must have been when I was in a less judgmental mood.

Oh, back to the cookies, just for a sec. Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit before slicing and baking for another 15 minutes. Ok, this is a good time to rethink the additions. This is a basic cookie batter. Use 1 cup chocolate chips with 1 tsp. of vanilla essence. Or use the grated zest of one lemon. Or use a good teaspoon of cinnamon. OR 1/2 tsp almond extract and 1 cup of chopped and toasted almonds or hazelnuts. You don't need no anise (remember ah-NIECE in polite company.)

Back to the chicken, thank goodness. MAKE THIS RECIPE. It is an easy hearty wonderfully toothsome version of a classic dish. Season the chicken. Listen to Giada about this. Nothing substitutes for early seasoning in a dish. She flours the chicken. Nice old-fashioned step. It makes for easy browning and thickens the eventual sauce. Bee-yoo-tee-ful browning. Bravo!

She remarks that in Northern Italy they add onions and carrots to this recipe and in Southern Italy, olives and anchovies. She seems to be splitting the difference by adding onions, peppers and capers. Chops onions...she says you don't have to worry about size, because this a rustic dish. Garlic - smashed and chopped. I liked PRESSED garlic. Giada adds the onions, peppers and garlic to the dish and proceeds to cook them for 5 minutes. (I would add carrots too.)

Ok, I can't keep quiet here, I must speak up. If there's one lesson I've learned in my life it's that an overcooked pepper is no benefit to a dish or to humanity in general. No matter what the recipe says, I ALWAYS ONLY cook peppers briefly (less than a minute) before adding them to the dish that they will be stewed, braised or baked in.

So...let the onions and garlic do their thing in the pan, with the carrots, if you're adding them. THEN add the peppers for a quick 42 seconds worth of sauteing. And THEN add the other ingredients.

Chicken goes back in the pan. It is looking awesome. She's using a 5 1/2 quart saute pan here, by the way. It's one of my favorite pieces of kitchen equipment. Sorry to ruin the surprise, but if you're getting married, this is what I'm sending you. You can make anything from tomato sauce to chili to pasta vongole. Don't bother with a 3 quart size, the 5 1/2 to 6 quart one is the ticket. HERE SIZE DOES MATTER. Get the highest quality you can and NEVER non-stick. THAT surface belongs to a frying pan- curved sides, shallow, short cooking times, no lid - and not a saute pan - straight sides, somewhat deep, with a lid, better for longer cooking times.

Lemon parsley bruschetta is next. You're winning me back Giada. What a wonderful choice with the Cacciatore.

Hold on, cookies are coming out. They look great, but I can't help thinking about the nasty taste of the ah-NIECE that awaits inside them.

She gets to work on the bruschetta. I love her stove top grill. She rolls the lemon on the work surface to get more juice out of them. I had another method: halving them and putting them in the microwave for 12 seconds. You wouldn't believe how much more juice you get out of them that way. But then I decided that killing every trace of vitamin c might not be the way to go. Wait a minute, this is getting cooked anyway. I dunno, we'll leave them unzapped for the moment...But I can give you a tip that will save your palms. Cut off a tiny piece from each end of the lemon. Cut in half. Now as you press down on your lemon to squeeze it (I believe an old fashioned glass juicer is the best way to go ) you won't get a spike going through your hand.

Giada gets the bread off the grill and rubs each piece with garlic. I always find that a bit onerous, plus I want each piece of bread to be equally garlicked. Why not just crush or press it and add it the lemon juice and olive oil that are getting brushed on the bread? And frankly, between you and me, I'm throwing the parsley in there too. That way, it'll stay on the bread better.

For Giada's smashed potatoes, she cuts red ones in half and boils them. She mashes them with some reserved cooking water. Now, you may think adding 1/2 cup of olive oil is A LOT , but this is for THREE POUNDS of potatoes, which serves 8 people. (Truth be told, that serves more like 6 people) If you feel that is just too much oil, there's a simple solution: DON'T MAKE THIS RECIPE...Just kidding, cut down on the olive oil. Simple as that.

Stir in Parm, oil, salt and pepper. Absolutely flawless. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I've said it before...AND THE POTATOES TOO.

She serves herself a plate. Tender steaming chicken with gorgeous tomato sauce studded with pieces of deep red peppers and little gems of capers, fragrant with white wine and oregano and fresh basil. Hmm. Puts cookies on a plate next to her. EEWWWW...Get rid of those. Way to ruin a meal, Giada...But I still love you and I'm willing to bet that all your college guy fans do too. They don't even know what ah-NIECE is...

*Check out this article in the N.Y. Times about internet recipe searchers and how they change recipes with abandon. Feel free to refer to my own musings on the subject: Anatomy of A Recipe Search.

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