Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Honey Me Up"...Anything You Say, Chef

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello

Americana Goes Gourmet
"PLT" Salad
Spiced and Honey Glazed Ham with Savory Bread Pudding
Pineapple-Mango Upside-Down Cake
Coney Island Iced Tea

To get the recipes:
Click here

Michael is revamping American classic recipes, with his very own "chefly" touches that make them even more delicious than the originals.

He starts with Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. He does something that I admit I never thought of, but it's very clever. He makes INDIVIDUAL ones. And not only that, he ramps up the flavor by adding mango. How perfect to add another tropical fruit which will complement the pineapple. He uses a cutter to make each pineapple round perfect.

Then he makes an "agrodolce" syrup by browning the butter (go ahead and try it, it really enhances the flavor), and adding red wine vinegar and brown sugar. If the sugar doesn't quite melt, put it back on the heat. He pours that into the bottoms of buttered and sugared ramekins - a few tablespoons in each. The pineapple rounds go in next.

In the recipe, he mentions that the pineapple rounds are a bit hard to cut through after the cakes are baked, so you can also use pineapple pieces. You're left with a difficult choice - beauty or function? The rounds look gorgeous, but does that matter if the cakes go flying across the table as your guests try to cut through them? Hmmm...I have an idea. What about giving out steak knives? Yup, that's what I would do, emphasizing they have them because of the pineapple, not the texture of the cake....

Michael takes little pieces of mango and fills in all the "holes" in the dish - the center of the pineapple and the edges, too. Then he drizzles more syrup on top and adds chopped macadamia nuts - just for good measure. How great is this sounding!!! Obviously, use the nut of your choice, but the macadamia is appropriate in keeping with the tropical theme.

Michael tells us, "That's the crux of the flavor profile." Ooh, I love it when you talk foodie, Michael.

For the cake batter, he creams butter with superfine sugar (just make it in your processor) and adds egg yolks. He adds the dry ingredients alternately with the wet. Why? He says "this will guarantee (he) doesn't have any loose flour in the batter." I buy that.

He beats the 2 eggs hand. No thank you. I don't care if it's ONE egg white, that's what the KitchenAid is for. He beats in the sugar. He seems to have left them very frothy, not beaten well at all. Let me consult the recipe. No, it says soft peaks, so he just didn't bother taking them all the way on the show. Then he folds them into the cake batter.

ALERT!!! Do you remember my explicit instructions for beaten egg whites NO MATTER WHAT THE RECIPE TELLS YOU TO DO? ALWAYS stir in 1/4 of the beaten egg whites to lighten the mixture, BEFORE you add the rest. Otherwise, you risk overfolding and destroying the entire light texture that you're after in the first place.

SO, even though Michael must have just forgotten this little step on the show, do it. WAIT, thank goodness, the world is still round...He DOES mention it in the recipe. He says to mix in half the whites. Trust me, a quarter will do.

One other thing, the ramekins are a strange size - 4 inches - and probably not the ones you currently have. Well, don't worry, the cutest chef around gives directions for a 9 inch dish as well. (You can use a glass pie plate).

He moves on to the ham. Honey is mixed with all kinds of interesting spices. You do have to toast them first and then grind them. But, if you've never done it before, it's a real revelation. The flavor is superb. If you can't stomach fennel seeds, use cumin. Instead of 1/4 cup, which is 4 tablespoons, just use 3.

After he scores the outside of the ham, he rubs this yummy mixture on, "honeying it up", he says. He leaves some for later. (I'll be right over!) He does his usual, very clever, trick of using 2 celery sticks as a rack in the bottom of his roasting pan. He adds 1/2 cup water to avoid scorching. He lays the ham over and off it goes for one hour at 425 deg. F. Baste it every 1/4 hour.

Now, MC is on to a savory bread pudding. I'm a little confused about what he's after here, until he says the "flavor is like bread dressing for Thanksgiving". Ok, I get it now. It's like stuffing that you bake in a dish, but he's adding a lot more eggs and milk to make it more batter-like and cut-able into pieces. Thanks for clearing that up, Mike.

Michael dices fresh thyme and chops onions. Cooks in browned butter. We could call this episode Browned Butter 101...He toasts cubes of old bread. Then cracks 6 eggs (with BOTH hands) into a bowl and adds whole milk and fresh nutmeg. Use a lower fat milk, if you want. As with Giada's Chicken and Orzo Frittata that I told you about the other day, with so many eggs in play, you can reduce a lot of the fat by using 1% milk.

He adds his lightly browned onions to the toasted bread with Parmesan. Then the egg and milk mixture. Puts it all in a buttered baking dish. Nice idea, this recipe. Then he crumbles on 1/4 lb of bleu cheese. Sometimes one thinks bleu cheese will be nasty, but it has a salty rich flavor that is occasionally called for. This may be one of those times. At least, sprinkle SOME bleu cheese over half or a quarter of the dish, so you can taste it.

Michael's take on a BLT is next. The B is replaced by P for pancetta - unsmoked bacon. We see MC buying some. (He looks hot outside of the kitchen too.) He cooks it up, rendering the fat, then drains and reserves it for the dressing. And what a dressing it is! He tops up the rendered fat with olive oil to make one cup and gently cooks garlic cloves in it. He cools the oil and adds 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (a little less acidic than the classic three parts oil to one part vinegar vinaigrette) and seasons cautiously because the pancetta will add a lot of salt.

He turns to the bruschetta which will be the base for his sandwich. He says NEVER oil the bread before toasting. That does make sense, so it doesn't get all soggy. When the bread comes out, it gets a quick brush of olive oil and a little salt. He cuts the bread in half, places it attractively on a platter. Lays the pancetta next to it, then the thinly sliced romaine. He cuts the tomatoes into big thick "steaks" and seasons each one with salt and pepper. They go on the platter. He finishes the dressing with half the julienned basil. He pours it over the tomatoes and lettuce, AND WHAT THE HECK, the bread too. The rest of the dressing is served separately. The remaining basil is scattered overtop.

"The lowly BLT sandwich is turned into a Pancetta, Lettuce and Tomato Salad. Amazing." And absolutely gorgeous...the salad too.

The friends arrive and lastly, the chef comes up with an unbelievably boozy Coney Island Iced Tea. It's every conceivable liquor mixed together and poured in the bottom of a glass. Then he tops it off with cola, which is the first thing you taste, so you don't realize how potent this drink is.

At the end, Michael picks the prettiest babe to help him clear up and serve the pineapple cakes. He serves each cake, still in its mold, face down on a plate. He lets each guest unmold his/her own. I like that idea, that way if it sticks, you can blame the guest and not, in this case anyway, the entirely adorable chef who is responsible.

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