Pollo in Chianti

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My mother and I used to make this for fancy dinner parties all the time when I was a kid.  I DO have the recipe written down somewhere, but that somewhere is likely in the bottom of a sealed box in my storage unit.  Fortunately for me, this recipe is pretty easy to remember, as it only has five ingredients (including the string).

As recipes go, it is a little time-consuming to make, but it’s totally worth it.  Think of it as sort of a fancy chicken tournedo — in reverse.

Start with some boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  As many as you want — I used 24 thighs for this.

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You’ll need a corresponding amount of prosciutto, which is a thinly sliced ham-like substance.  I usually use half a slice for each piece of chicken, though it’s so thinly sliced it tends to fall to pieces when I pull it apart so it’s hard to say how much I really use.

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Gren thinks he needs prosciutto.  Gren is wrong.

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And you’ll need a big bunch of fresh thyme.

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Then you’re going to need some butcher’s twine or kitchen string.  It’s helpful if you’ve already got it pre-cut into the number of pieces you need.  You’ll need about 8″-10″ pieces to wrap around each piece of chicken.

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First you’re going to need to strip all the wee leaves off your thyme.  This is annoying and takes a while.

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Then you’ll need to cut off all the excess fat on your chicken thighs.

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Open up the thigh so the cut side is up (this is where the bone used to be).  Line this side with a piece or two of prosciutto.

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Sprinkle on some of your thyme (yes, I know that I didn’t succeed in getting it all off the stem).  I like to also garnish it with some pepper.  These pink peppercorns make a nice contrast.

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Then roll the thigh back up and hold it closed.  Get your string ready.  The reason you want your string to be pre-cut is you don’t want to have chicken fingers all over your ball of twine.  That is gross.

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Wrap the string around the thigh two or three times and tie the ends into a simple but loose knot.

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I showed you the steps for one thigh but usually I approach this with a Fordist mentality and do it all in an assembly line.  Doing all of each step at once helps me to budget my use of thyme — otherwise I end up running out at the end.

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I actually prepped these the day before I cooked them and kept them in a sealed container in the fridge.  It saved me precious time during the day of the dinner party.

Your final ingredient will be a nice bottle of Chianti, an Italian red wine.  Any red wine will do, but Chianti is in the name of the recipe so it makes sense to use it.  I picked up the cheapest bottle I could find at the LCBO and I think it was about $13.  You’re going to be cooking with it, so it doesn’t have to be excellent or anything.  For 24 thighs I used the whole bottle, so you’ll probably only use half that if you’re making less.

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I also purchased especially for this day a new electric skillet.  We’d always used an electric skillet before to make this dish, simply because it was large and we could put it elsewhere and save room on the stovetop.  I got a good deal on this Hamilton Beach one from Home Outfitters.  You can easily make this in one or two skillets on your stove top.  Don’t feel you need to buy a new appliance if you’re not going to use it often. I am going to use this a bunch, which is why I bought it, and I made sure to read many reviews before I did!

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Anyway, heat your skillet to medium-high and plop in your chicken.  This skillet fits EXACTLY 24 rolled chicken thighs, which is an added bonus.

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Let those cook, rotating occasionally with a pair of tongs, until they are nicely browned on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.

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Lower the heat to medium and pour in the Chianti.

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The liquid level should come to about 1/2 to 2/3 the height of the chicken.

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Cover and let that simmer for about 20 minutes, until the wine is reduced somewhat.  Rotate the thighs halfway through so that the colouring will be even (the wine will dye the chicken purple).

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I used an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thighs, which will be done when they read at 165°F.

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Use a pair of scissors to cut the string on all the thighs and serve them on rice or noodles.  So decadently simple!

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Savoury Beef with Shiraz Gravy

This recipe is an improvisation from start to finish, and if I hadn’t taken photos of it on the slight off-chance that it was going to work then I would never be able to tell you what I did.

Fortunately for you it got the Pie’s Official Seal of Approval (in that he nodded with his mouth full and muttered, “this is really good”), and I have the photographic evidence to jog my memory.

Beef I get on sale is never the best that red meat has to offer.  More often than not it contains a lot of gristle and tends to fry up awfully tough.  However, I am willing to put up with a lot for three dollars.  These three steaks cost me $3.47 in total, which wasn’t bad at all.

Rather than simply fry them up, as per Pie’s plan, and then drown them in barbecue sauce (also as per Pie’s plan), I decided to cube them up instead and make something a little … saucy.

The original plan was to create some panang-like concoction with red curry and coconut milk.  Upon closer scrutiny it came out that I had no coconut milk so had to go with a more European approach.  I picked four herbs to accompany me on this journey: ground corriander, dried parsley, Hungarian paprika (which, after tasting the completed recipe, I would have left out, as it was overpowered by everything else), and pure Newfoundland savoury, grown at Mt. Scio Savoury Farm, not ten minutes from where we live.

In a small bowl, mix together about 3 tablespoons flour with your paprika, coriander, parsley, and savoury.  Use whatever amount you feel is appropriate.  I probably added 2 teaspoons or so of each.

Before you cook your meat, make sure to pat it dry with a paper towel.  I learned that from Julia Child, and it’s totally true.  If your meat is damp it won’t brown properly.  And yes, that is totally a Spiderman Band-Aid.  I had a run-in with my bread knife and now it has a taste for blood.

In a cast-iron skillet sear the beef at high heat until the cubes are browned on all sides.  A non-stick pan won’t give you half the brownness you’re looking for on this, and if you have the skillet super hot, with just a drop of butter sizzling in there, you don’t have to worry about the meat sticking at all.

Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle the browned meat with the flour mixture and stir until the cubes are evenly coated with the flour.  You will notice that it sticks to the bottom of the pan at this point, but that’s a good thing.  The reason you add the flour mixture at this point is so it forms a paste with the meat juices, and when you add more liquid to it, it doesn’t get all clumpy and gross.

Pour in about a cup of beef broth.  For this I dissolved a bouillon cube in a cup of boiling water.  Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon and make sure to scrape up all the pasty stuff from the bottom of the pan.

Let that simmer for a bit until it starts to thicken. That’s the flour working away.  Aren’t you glad you mixed it in early so you have no lumps?

Add about a cup of Shiraz or any other red wine (sorry enthusiasts/aficionados/snobs, but I can’t tell the difference with reds – they all taste like cat pee to me) and let it simmer until the sauce is a thick, dark brown and is reduced by about half.

This should take about twenty minutes from start to finish and serves three or four, depending on how hungry you are.

The Pie has suggested also substituting for the red wine with a nice porter or stout beer.  Could work.  Maybe we’ll try that next time.

Serve over rice (we used our favourite Brown Rice Medley my parents smuggle us across the border from Trader Joe’s) and accompany with your favourite vegetables (in this case, imported broccoli and local rainbow carrots).

Roasted Garlic and Mushroom Soup

If you know me, you’ll know I don’t like soup.  Seriously.  Considering the number of soups I make I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. If I wanted to sip hot liquids I would rather have a cup of tea.  Blended soups, however, are a different story.  To me they’re like hot, savoury pudding.  Plus they look uber-fancy when in reality they’re not, which is a good way to easily impress your dinner guests.

I do like mushrooms, however, and I like garlic.  If you like mushrooms as well, perhaps you will enjoy this.

This one I made up, having never made soup with mushrooms before in my life.  But it turned out okay.  The Pie doesn’t like mushrooms all that much, so I don’t have any real objective feedback at the moment, but I will shunt some of this off to The Lady Downstairs (Kª) and see what she and Kº and Il Principe think.

Slice up about a pound or some other ridiculous amount of mushrooms.  Don’t worry about getting them too thin – after you sauté them you’ll be mushing them up anyway.

Visit Massive Mushroom Mountain!

Melt a bit of butter in a pan and add a drop of olive oil to keep the butter from burning.  Sauté up your mushrooms.  I did it in three batches, because if I’ve learned anything from watching Julie & Julia, it’s that butter is one of the greatest innovations known today, and that you don’t crowd the mushrooms.

Always cook butter with a bit of olive oil to prevent burning.

While you’re at it, why don’t you go ahead and sauté up a sliced onion?

In a pot, bring about 4 cups of stock to a boil.  I used chicken broth, but of course you can use vegetable stock as well.

Plop in your mushrooms, onion, and a couple heads’ worth of roasted garlic.  Splash in some red or white wine and leave to simmer for about half an hour.

Wine is optional, yet encouraged.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Using an immersion blender, food processor, or stand blender, blend your soup until you have a fine mushy mass.  I love my immersion blender.  My mother calls it the ‘brzzht’, because that’s the noise it makes.  She’s an artist.

Pour in whipped cream or coconut milk as desired and heat to serve.

Stir in the cream if desired.

Then you eat it!

Serve with stuff that goes with soup.

*** EDIT: Kª called it a ‘soup-tasm.’  I’m not sure I want to know. ***