Saturday, June 27, 2015

Aji Amarillo Chicken Skewers w/ Aji Sauce

As far as the traditional food from Peru goes, I enjoy a good Causa and I'll never say no to a Saltado, particularly with lamb. My favorite Peruvian dish, however, is hands down aji de gallina: a flavorful chicken dish with a spicy yellow gravy which is made delicious and unique by the inclusion of the star of the dish: aji amarillo peppers. Aji is a type of chili from Peru which is of medium to high heat, depending on your tolerance (the pepper averages out at about 50,000 units on the Scoville scale). As its name suggests it is yellow as it grows and reaches an orange-ish yellow upon maturation. This dish is hearty, comforting and rich without being overly so. Traditionally the dish is made with bone-in, skin on chicken, which is simmered in chicken stock and aji amarillo paste until the chicken is fall off the bone tender. At some point cubed potatoes and sliced hard boiled eggs (big in Peruvian cuisine) are added and the sauce is thickened with breadcrumbs. Olives, particularly green ones, are popular in Peru and often included in this dish. I love for my husband's Peruvian relatives to show up to a family gathering with a delicious, aromatic pot of this dish. It was only a matter of time before I tried to make it at home. Of course me being me and this being grilling season, I had to put my twist on it. I felt grilling chicken thighs and quail eggs brushed with aji amarillo paste would lend a smokiness to the dish's rich and spicy flavor and I am very happy with how it turned out! Initially I had hoped to find really small new potatoes and pop them onto skewers, so I could pack a little more smoke flavor into my dish, but I could only find smallish Yukon Golds, so I parboiled them and finished them in the aji de gallina sauce, which I ended up preferring anyway, but I recommend the idea as something to play around with if you can find gold fingerling potatoes.

I cannot find fresh aji peppers here, so I make do quite nicely with aji amarillo paste. There is no substitute for it and I can order a jar of it online. One jar goes a long way and it can be used to spice up your chicken, pasta or potato salad, or in place of sriracha in any sauce.

Stay tuned to for an upcoming post on a traditional aji de gallina.

Grilled Aji de Gallina

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
3 Tablespoons aji amarillo paste, divided equally in two
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup milk
20 quail eggs
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

1. Cover potatoes with water in a pot. Add salt. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Cover quail eggs with water and when they have reached a simmer, swirl them around carefully but vigorously to ensure yolks will rest in the center of the egg. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Cut up chicken thighs into large bite sized pieces and thread them onto skewers. Peel eggs and thread them onto their own skewers, to avoid the risk of cross contamination.
4. In a small bowl add milk to bread crumbs.
5. In a large pot bring chicken stock, 1 1/2 Tablespoons aji paste, 1 cup water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and add potatoes.
6. Mix water into the remaining 1 1/2 Tablespoons of aji paste to form a slurry. Baste chicken and egg skewers with aji paste slurry. Salt skewers to taste.
7. On a charcoal grill over medium high heat, cook the chicken skewers for 4 -5 minutes per side (or until cooked through) and egg skewers for 2 - 3 minutes per side (or until they develop some lovely grill marks.
8. As the skewers are cooking add milk and breadcrumbs to the chicken stock and aji paste mixture in the pot. Reduce heat to the laziest simmer and when the skewers are ready the sauce will have thickened.
9. Serve over long grain rice and garnish with sliced green olives.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Grilled Peaches with Grand Marinier & Spice Clove Syrup

Grilled peaches

Barbecues and grills are not just for meat. This time of year you can grill vegetables, and even grill dessert. Wait, grill dessert??? Yes, exactly. It's widely known that grilled and roasted fruit makes a great sauce for certain cuts of meat, such as roasted plums with pork loin or roasted berries with venison. In a similar vein (no pun intended), grilled pineapple slices are great on a teriyaki burger or Hawaiian themed burger. So, last year I decided to try grilled peaches. And I'm revisiting it, partly because of the grill/bbq event at foodies plus and partly to offer a different sauce and to serve it in a different way. In honor of Balvinder Ubi I am serving it with crêpes. And in the spirit of experimentation I have replaced the honey cognac sauce with a grand marinier and clove syrup. Enjoy!

Grilled Peaches

(Makes enough to cover 4 crêpes)

1 barely ripe peach, halved with the stone removed
1/2 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 Tablespoons grand marinier
2 spice cloves, ground up

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Brush butter onto the inside of the peache halves. Grill peaches for about 7 minutes over medium heat coals.
2. Transfer peaches to a baking dish and bake for about 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the syrup: heat water in a small heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-low heat. Whisk in sugar and cook for 5 minutes, or until sugar is thoroughly melted and incorporated.
4. Add liquor and cloves and cook over low heat for am additional 10 minutes, to reduce syrup by about 1/3.
5. Remove peaches from the oven and slice them into wedges. Serve warmed crêpes, topping each with 1/4 peach and desired amount of syrup.

Monday, June 15, 2015

For the love of bolognese

This post is all about the basics. I’m a passionate fan of a certain slow-cooked, flavor packed meat and tomato sauce that originates in Italy. It might surprise you to know that you’ve probably ordered bolognese in a restaurant, only to have a quicker (and therefore less flavorful) version passed off as the real thing. You see, many people are confused about the difference between a ragu and a bolognese. A bolognese is a type of ragu, but not all ragus are bolognese. In America we often offer bolognese over spaghetti, but in Bologna, the region the dish hails from, it is served over tagliatelle, or used as the basis (along with a white sauce) of Italian lasagna. A proper ragu alla bolognese simmers for a minimum of three hours and has layers of flavor cooked in. I have adapted my recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Classics of Essential Italian Cooking, one of my top three favorite cookbooks. In doing some research on the subject I am given to understand that there are many variations on this pasta sauce; the only constant is that it must respect the “spirit of the region”. I cannot be certain of what that means, but I’m sure you’re going to love this rich, sumptuous pasta sauce.
What tweaks do you have when making bolognese sauce?

Bolognese Sauce

Makes enough to cover 1 ½ lbs of pasta

1 pound minced beef, with a 20/80 fat-to-lean content
2 ½ cups chopped stewed tomatoes, in juice or crushed tomatoes
½ cup chopped onion
⅔ cup chopped celery
⅔ cup chopped carrots
3 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine
a small pinch nutmeg (about ¼ teaspoon)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add olive oil.
Add onions, and cook for 2 minutes, then add celery and carrots and a small amount of salt and pepper. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until carrots have started to become tender.
Add minced beef, more salt and more pepper and cook until browned, about 15 - 20 minutes.
Reduce heat slightly and add milk and nutmeg, stirring frequently, until it has been cooked into the meat (about 15 minutes).
Add wine and simmer until wine has been absorbed into the meat, about 25 - 30 minutes.
Add tomatoes. Turn heat down to the lowest possible setting. Simmer on the laziest boil for 3 to 4 hours, adding water 1/2 cup at a time if sauce dries out. Remove from heat and serve over pasta of choice.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cracked Pepper & Four Fruits Vinaigrette Spinach Salad with Citrus & Cracked Pepper Grilled Chicken

There are two sources of inspiration for today’s post: the first is the event I’m hosting on Foodies Plus this month (link here), a barbecue & grill event that I’d like to encourage more people to jump into. So, perfectly tender, immensely flavorful grilled chicken. The second source of inspiration was the strong jammy perfume my quinoa imparted as a dry ingredient; the smell only got stronger as it cooked and it put me in the mood to play around with the idea of a jammy vinaigrette. Well, I had more of that delightful four fruits preserve and a hankering for black pepper, and this sweet, bitter, zesty and bold salad all came together in the end. It is as flavorful as it is healthy. Filled with fiber, protein, vitamins and iron. But most of all deliciousness. Yes. Filled with deliciousness. Try it out for your next bbq or grill night. I promise it is easier than its list of ingredients might suggest.

Citrus & Cracked Pepper Grilled Chicken

Two chicken breasts, butterflied & tenderized
Zest & juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest & juice of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sriracha
Salt, to taste

Grind the peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar and combine with all of the above ingredients, except the chicken to make the marinade.
Mix thoroughly.
Lay chicken in a shallow dish and pour marinade over the chicken. Cover pan and marinate for 30 minutes.
Over medium to medium high heat of charcoals, grill chicken. Cook it for about 3 -4 minutes per side, or until internal temp at the thickest part reads 165.
Set aside to cool, then chop into bite sized pieces to be tossed with salad.

Cracked Pepper & Four Fruits Vinaigrette Spinach Salad

For the vinaigrette:
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 orange
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons Four Fruits Preserve
1/2 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dijon or stone ground mustard
Salt, to taste

For the salad:
1 cup cooked white quinoa
3 ounces baby spinach, cleaned
4 leaves radicchio, chopped into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup almonds

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in the blender. Pulse until thoroughly combined.
Roughly chop almonds in the food processor
combine spinach, radicchio, quinoa, chicken and almonds. Top with vinaigrette and toss to combine.
Enjoy for lunch or as a dinner entree.