Angry Cooking

Angry Chicken

I decided to shelve a 986-word rant regarding my threshold for inconsideration and incompetence across all age groups having possibly been crossed. It turned out that being stood-up for a blind play date with all three kids at Funworld, and my resulting expulsion from a playgroup I’d never been to, did not, in fact, kill me. Nor did the overly audible comment from a woman behind me in line at the Hallmark store as I waited to have an ornament boxed so I could quickly remove my whiny children from the public sphere. Please don’t bother getting irked on my behalf at her declaration of “I don’t understand people who have more kids than they can handle.” In exchange for her helpful insight, I provided her with something to work on with her therapist for the next several years. And Sally the Entitled’s incessant reproachment of my parenting still hasn’t plateaued, but fortunately, I have an abundance of faith in myself, and rubes, barbs, and gripes haven’t debilitated me. On the contrary, my fury-induced blood pressure spikes result in waves of some of my best cooking.

It was a rare occasion yesterday afternoon when, although I had adequate hustle and elan to cook something delicious, I considered the prospect of a trip to the market as appealing as participating in organized running. I may send Simply Recipes a Christmas gift; I had chicken, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and not much else, but the resulting Chicken, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes with Port Wine caused an elated Mr. P to unconsciously hum quietly until he admirably gave up just before the bite that would have killed the evening.

I’m sure you’re aware of my penchant for a well-executed cream sauce, but this is a refreshingly dairy-free combination of shallot and mushroom, and the tomato manages to restrain itself to a supporting role. The final reduction is spectacular, and even better when drizzled over whatever accompanies your chicken; in retrospect I would have gone with rice, as my choice of egg noodles proved to be a slippery one.

So even though the end of my tether is in clear sight, the pairing of productive, passionate ire with a reliable site for new recipes culminates in several days of Michelin-worthy dinners at Chez Peña, before my wrath cools back down to mild irritability and Mr. P resigns himself with grace and dignity to another long stretch of family-restaurant-tier cooking. But not tonight. Tonight, I summon my last sputters of anger for Sherry-Dijon London Broil with caramelized shallots and rice pilaf.

Chard, where have you been all my life?

Vegetarian But In No Way Vegan Lasagna


By some miracle all of my children are asleep at the same time in the middle of the day, and I can’t say I have high hopes for the completion of this particular nugget. Getting straight to the point, I am adding a new standard to not only my vegetarian repertoire, but to the Team-Peña fortnightly rotation as well. I’ve more than established my Seinfeld/Newman relationship with the vegetable, but every so often a new one gets past the gatekeeper, and as luck would have it, I like Swiss Chard. I’m not leaving Mr. P for it, but I like it. I made this for dinner last week when the fearless culinary maven Jess came over for some hair-of-the-Christmas, and I would have made it every night since but for the delightful and ridiculous amount of cheese involved. I was obviously in holiday shock when I undertook the recipe, serving something for the first time to a guest, experimenting with new leaves, and purchasing organic, whole-wheat lasagna noodles. I seemed to have temporarily misplaced my character.

Incorporating two of my favorite things (mushrooms sauteed with nutmeg, and ricotta), it was the sort of delicious that causes you to repress grunts, snorts and moans, and make at least a halfhearted attempt to refrain from wolfing. I found the recipe on Epicurious, and will link instead of typing it out, as I’d suggest only a few alterations. I wound up spooning out about a half cup of onions once they were in the pan with the chard, as the proportion just seemed off, and I’m glad I did. I was out of Extra Virgin, so I used regular and it was just fine, and I have no idea if my bay leaf was Turkish. Finally, I’d recommend any kind of whole-wheat noodles (who really cares if their pasta’s organic?). That last part was not an invitations for smart remarks.

Perfect, since I won’t be dining out any time within the next five years.

Eventually Stolen Chicken

Were I forced to choose one meal to eat for the rest of my life, I would unhesitatingly name the Wild Mushroom and Chicken Ravioli from Burton’s Grill. The cremini and (I’m guessing) morel and oyster mushroom-filled round ravioli, the grilled knuckles of chicken breast, the perfectly cooked asparagus tips and the ungodly white wine cream sauce work together so flawlessly that it still tasted good during my recent bout of pregnancy. I’ve repeatedly requested the recipe, even implying a cash reward, but the kitchen staff remains infuriatingly tight-lipped.

Last night, my eyebrow shot up as I tasted the first bite of a new recipe I tried from Simply Recipes for Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sage Sauce. I’ve found your secret cream sauce, Burton, and you’ll be hard pressed to get another $17.95 plus Diet Cokes out of me for quite a while. Though I only had Goya Cooking Wine on hand, and hadn’t thought to buy asparagus, I anticipate an even more transcendent product tomorrow when I make it again, but I was too excited to wait. I might use sherry instead of white wine for the third time, mainly as an excuse to purchase a nice fresh bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream, as I just remembered my ban on alcohol has been lifted.

I needed a win.

Stolen Chicken

Mrs. Pena is back in the saddle. I’ve been repeatedly browsing a site I stumbled upon a few weeks ago, and in spite of my recent and concerning spike in dinner misses, this evening I mustered up some fortitude, selected a recipe based on an attractive photo, and was indescribably relieved with the breathtaking final result. That said, some last-minute finagling and adjustments were vital, and I’ll admit it was touch-and-go at one point. My version did not resemble the referenced photo; it was darker with a richer sauce — more rustic (here I’m applying the ironic Pottery Barn definition). Obviously, I suggest you go with the following recipe versus the linked. I also concede that Mr. P is right; this web log does indeed need photos.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 oz cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1/2 C chopped shallots
3 tbsp finely chopped sage
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 1/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 C dry vermouth
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey (Mr. P saved the day with this addition)
salt and pepper

Pound the chicken with a meat tenderizer (a rolling pin works in a pinch, but get the disinfectant bath ready) to a thickness anywhere between 1/3″ and 1/2.” Salt and pepper the breasts on both sides, then put them on a plate, set it aside, and attend to the tiny chicken particles all over your counter and surrounding cupboards.

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat, add the shallots, and saute for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms and parsley and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have softened, about 7 minutes. Evidently, cremini mushrooms have a much lower water content than the standard white button, so if you haven’t used them before, don’t freak out when they won’t caramelize the same way. Leave the burner on and transfer the entire mixture to a bowl.

Immediately put the olive oil in the pan, give it a few seconds to heat up, and add the chicken. If necessary, cook it in shifts and transfer finished breasts to a plate in the oven at 250. The breasts should take about 4 minutes per side, but always sneak a test-slice when in doubt.

Once all the chicken is relaxing in the oven (and I didn’t direct you to turn off the burner), pour in the vermouth and deglaze the pan with a spatula. Slowly pour in the cream while stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk until the color is consistent. Add the mushroom mixture back in, as well as the sage and honey, and bring the sauce to a moderate boil, stirring frequently. Don’t worry if it seems too boozy just yet, as it will reduce over the next 10 minutes, thickening nicely and losing a good deal of the alcohol taste. Wait until the sauce is basically done before adding salt and pepper, since you won’t get a real sense of the flavor until then.

Plate up the chicken and top generously; I find egg noodles to be fantastic vehicles for sauce supplementation. If it’s vegetable day, I’d recommend baby carrots steamed with butter and thyme. It was, in fact, vegetable day for us, and I found them wonderfully palatable.

A Beefy New Year

T-Bone Peña

My resolution for the new year has been to expand my sauce repertoire, from béchamels and gravies to reductions and compotes. I’m also striving to take more risks with bottled staples and spices, so hold onto your hat, Mr. P! Speaking of whom, my doting and cultured spouse was the fortunate recipient this Christmas of four perfect T-bones from my father, Mr. S. We had the final steak last night (our cheeks have never been rosier), and I was delighted that the following tastes as good as I had imagined.

1 1-1/2″ thick T-bone steak
1 12-oz pkg white button mushrooms, sliced with stems
3 tbsp salted butter
1/2 C sherry
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 drops Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Position the top oven rack so that the meat will be 2″ from the flame and turn your broiler on to high. Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper and place it on a rack over a roasting pan, then stick it in the oven directly under the fire. 10 minutes per side should do it, as it will sit for a few minutes out of the oven while you finish the mushroom sauce.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and toss to coat. After a few minutes, put the remaining 1 tbsp chunk of butter in the middle of the pan and swirl it around the bottom, through the mushrooms, as it melts. At this point, your mushrooms should be sufficiently buttered. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until they release quite a bit of water. When most of it’s evaporated, sprinkle in the nutmeg and stir briefly before pouring in 1/4 C of the sherry. Boil down the liquid until the mushrooms are dark brown and just moist, then transfer them to a bowl and set it on the stove top to stay warm.

Ding! Did you manage to complete the above paragraph in 20 minutes and remember to turn the steak half-way through? If so, you should be pleased with yourself. Park the steak elsewhere and pour the fat out of the pan, then place it on a burner set to medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, pour in the other 1/4 C sherry, and swirl it around in the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen anything sticky. When it boils, incorporate the Worcestershire, throw in the mushrooms, stir, and continue cooking until they’re hot through and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Serve atop your T-bone, and don’t worry about a starch, though a salad actually works well here, bite my tongue.

Where does she get those wonderful recipes?

Penultimate Stuffed Mushrooms

Once the pride of my hors d’oeuvres repertoire, these almost meatless hot appetizers have won me countless compliments and immeasurable laud over the past decade. Then, a few years ago, I had one of Mrs. H’s stuffed mushrooms, and my mouth cheered while my stomach sank. Hopefully, she’ll donate her recipe within the next few posts, but this will tide you over in the meantime, since you don’t yet know what you’re missing. Mrs. H, I should mention, threw a superb Christmas party last night, and rolled out her best spread yet. Well done, Mrs. Hamilton!

24 white button mushrooms
1/4 C tbsp plain bread crumbs (bonus over-the-top points if you make your own from a stale baguette)
2 tbsp fresh grated Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp black pepper

Set your oven to 350. Pull and wiggle the stems out of the mushrooms, leaving each cap with a 1/4″-1/2″ cavity. Finely chop the stems and put them in a medium mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, oil, vinegar, parsley and pepper, and combine well.

Mash the anchovies into a paste. You could use a fork and cutting board, or you could take the time to find that mortar and pestle you swore you couldn’t live without back in 1997 and finally remove it from its packaging. Incorporate the mashed anchovies into the mushroom mixture with your hands; they act as the only source of salt, so take care to disperse the paste thoroughly.

Pack each mushroom cap full of the mixture, forming moderate mounds on the tops. Space them at least 1″ apart on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Test to make sure they’re hot through (eat one), and plate on something delightful from Shreve, Crump and Low, or the less ostentatious Target (French pronunciation, please).

Introducing the Unparalleled Mr. H

Steak Hamilton and Cheesy Potatoes

It’s not surprising that the lovely and talented Mrs. Hamilton is married to an equally engaging and capable gentleman. Mr. Peña and I agree that Mr. Hamilton holds the top slot on our survive-a-zombie-attack-or-other-apocalyptic-scenario team roster. He’s also the easiest man I know to shop for. At the end of each January, he checks in with me to schedule his annual birthday dinner, and I pick up his gift at the meat counter several weeks later with the groceries. Both spouses were averse to mushrooms until the first time I made this for them, but now they’re believers.

I should warn you that you will open a door with this recipe that doesn’t close. For example, I acquired Mr. Peña with this meal, setting the bar a little higher than I would have had I not been in the heat of the culinary moment. Originally titled Teeny Tiny, my mother would make a petite version if one of us had an emotionally trying day and was feeling particularly teeny and/or tiny. I’ve renamed it as an homage to the man who may one day save my family’s brains.

To serve 4:
4 filet mignons, size dependent on budget and preference (I use modest 1″-thick cuts)
4 Russet potatoes
2 12-oz pkgs white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced with stems, 1/8″-thick
1 16-oz package baby carrots
1 C whole milk
1 C/2 sticks butter, to be safe
3/4 C grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 C cooking sherry
1 tbsp herbs de Provence (blend of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender; you can just mix up whichever of those you already have)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper

Set the oven to 350, grease up the potatoes with olive oil, and stab them repeatedly with a sharp fork. Bake them until it they hardly resist a poking. You’re looking at about an hour and a half.

Start the mushrooms when you’ve got about 15 minutes left on the potato clock. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium-high. Once the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and sauté. After a few minutes of turning and cooking, add another 1 tbsp of butter and melt it in. The mushrooms will soften and release about 1/3 C of liquid. Keep the heat at medium-high until the liquid cooks off, turning the mushrooms frequently to prevent burning. Once the liquid has evaporated, add the sherry and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the alcohol boils off. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl, cover, and set on the stove-top to keep warm.

Ding! Either your potatoes are done, or you need to up your hustle. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Set a ricer over a large mixing bowl. Holding a potato using a dishcloth or folded paper towel, cut two slits in the top to form a lemon shape. Peel the cut skin off, and carefully spoon the piping hot potato into the ricer bin, getting out as much as you can without tearing the husk. Rice the potato, then repeat with the other three. Set the empty skins on a cookie sheet. Cut half a stick of butter into tbsp chunks and bury them in the potatoes to melt. Stir vigorously while you slowly pour in the milk, beating in as much air as possible. Then add the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and combine (don’t worry if the cheese doesn’t melt completely).

Spoon the potato whip back into the shells, and pile any extra filling on the tops. Sprinkle with paprika to get a little Lawrence Welk-ish nostalgia going, and wedge a pat of butter into each. Put them back in the oven and bake until they’re hot all the way through, about a half hour. Give yourself a 15-minute break (just enough time for a cigarette and a fresh Diet Coke!).

Throw the carrots into a medium saucepan with 1″ of water, 1 tbsp of butter and a pinch of herbs de Provence, and set the heat to low. Put 2 tbsp of butter in your largest (flat) pan and set it over medium-high heat. Let the butter melt and froth, then add the steaks. You need an equal ratio of free space to meat in your pan to do this correctly, so cook them simultaneously in 2 pans if necessary. Fry the steaks over medium-high for 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the mushrooms to the pan, and give each steak another 4 minutes on each side, turning the mushrooms frequently. You’ll need to adjust the time slightly since it’s difficult to convey flame strength, but you want to end up with rare, not raw.

The carrots are done when they’re al dente, and that should be right about now, along with the potatoes, steak and mushrooms. By your thirtieth time making this meal, you’ll have perfected the timing, so don’t worry about being a basket case for the first one. Drain the carrots and plate everything up, generously topping the steaks with mushrooms.

The dishes are going to be a bitch for this one, but the acclaim and self-satisfaction more than compensate.

It’s snowing in October, so I’m harvesting the shepherd early.

Lambykin’s Shepherd Pie

When I die, bake me into this.

1 lb ground angus and 1 lb ground lamb, or 2 lbs ground shepherd
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large package white button mushrooms, sliced
2 packets McCormick Brown Gravy mix
2 C water
salt and pepper
olive oil

4 large Russet potatoes
1/2 C grated cheddar
1/2 stick butter, cut into small chunks
1 C milk
1/4 C finely chopped parsley

Set the oven to 350. Stab the potatoes all over with a fork and rub them with olive oil before putting them on the middle rack.

Heat the oil in your pan (2 or 3 generous tbsp) over high. I’d specify that you use an enamel-lined cast iron, and that your olive oil be Berio, and that you heat the oil until it quivers but doesn’t quite smoke, but I’m not an arrogant asshole. Cook the onions until they begin to soften, then add the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the ensuing water released from the mushrooms evaporates. This will take a little while, as opposed to a while, defined later. Once the “vegetables” are soft and browned, transfer them to a bowl and set the bowl somewhere on the stove to keep it warm.

Add more oil to the pan and brown the meat, all the way. “The oven will finish it off” have been someone’s last words. Once the meat is completely cooked, toss the onions and mushrooms back in and combine gently. Get the 2 C water ready and have them in arm’s reach. Sprinkle the gravy mix over the meat mixture with one hand and stir with the other to distribute evenly. Immediately drop the empty packets, grab the water, and start stirring in, pouring slowly enough to maintain the pan’s heat. Once the gravy is bubbling nicely, turn the heat down to medium, add salt and pepper (however much you think is a good idea) and cook until it looks as thick as it’s going to get, about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into any shaped casserole dish, size dependent on how thick you want to go (I prefer a deep glass pie plate).

The potatoes are going to be a while. Fortunately, you read the recipe in its entirety before beginning and either started the potatoes about 45 minutes earlier, or planned a good use of the next hour.

Once the potatoes yield little resistance when poked with a fork, take them out but leave the oven set to 350. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and, holding a half in a folded cloth or paper towel, scoop out the potato and run it through a ricer into a large mixing bowl. When all eight haves have been riced, add the butter, and bury the chunks in the hot potatoes to quicken melting. After about 30 seconds, add the cheese and stir to combine. With either a hand-held or preferably a stand mixer, beat the potatoes on medium speed and slowly add the hot milk. Increase the speed to high and whip until fluffy.

Drop the potatoes in dollops evenly over the now set meat mixture. Brush the dollops together to form a blanket over the casserole, spreading all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika for an Ice Storm affect, and bake until the potatoes are piping (the meat will heat up faster), about half an hour.

A few notes: if you use butter instead of oil to cook the meat and vegetables, elastic pants merit consideration; if you can’t bring yourself to use lamb or shepherd, a 50/50 combination of beef and pork works almost as well. I only have one of these left in me before I reach my guilt threshold.

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