Monday, September 17, 2012

Best. Chicken. Salad. Ever.

This is my new favorite chicken salad recipe. The vinegary pickled vegetables provide a counterpoint to the typical mayo-heavy chicken salad. 

Best Chicken Salad Ever
(adapted from a recipe by Mary Klonowski for Bon Appetit)

2 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken (approximately 2-3 breasts) (See Perfect Poached Chicken Every Time)
1 cup drained giardiniera (I used this recipe, but a jarred version works fine if you want chicken salad in less than two days!) chopped fine (about 1/4" dice).  If you're concerned about salt intake, you may want to rinse the giardiniera briefly before continuing.
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ c Greek yogurt (I used 0%fat, which worked fine)
1/4 cup (lightly packed) chopped fresh basil

Mix all ingredients together well.  You'll notice this recipe doesn't call for any salt -- giardiniera is salty, so definitely taste before adding additional seasoning. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Long-Simmered Roma Beans with Ham Hock

At Montgomery Farmers' Market this past weekend I bought a quart each of yellow and green Roma beans (also known as Italian green beans, Romano, or flat beans) from White Oak Valley Farm and a ham hock from TS Farms.  This is one of my favorite after-market dishes.  I've made it nearly every week since the Romas started coming in.  It's simple and while the cooking time is long, the prep is quick. 

Long-Simmered Roma Beans with Ham Hock

2 quarts Roma beans (I love it when I can use yellow and green -- they look pretty together.)
1 t olive oil
1 c finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ham hock
1/4 t cayenne (optional)
1/4 t salt plus more to taste
Ground black pepper to taste

Snap the stem end of the bean off.  The other end you can leave -- it's the end with the little curl on it like this (I forgot to photograph a raw bean, so this one had already been cooked):

Then snap each bean into pieces about 2" long.

In an 8-quart pot, heat oil and saute onions and garlic until the onion is translucent.   Add the beans, the ham hock, 1/4 t cayenne, and 1/4 t salt.  (Don't oversalt at this point -- the pork hock contains some salt, too, which will be released into the broth as the beans cook.) I usually start the onions and garlic, then once they're cooked I turn off the heat and just snap the beans right into the pot.

Fill with water to barely cover the beans (if the ham hock is sticking out, no worries -- just turn it over a couple of times during the cooking process), bring to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer (you want to see the smallest amount of bubbling you can manage while still seeing some bubbling), and let simmer for 3 hours -- yes, THREE HOURS -- adding additional water as needed to keep the beans barely covered.

Amazingly Roma beans won't turn mush with this length of cooking.  They just become very tender. 

Once the meat has pulled away from the bone, remove the hock from the water, pull the meat from the bones, and shred the meat, removing any fat or gristle.

Return the shredded meat to the pot to continue cooking.  Taste and add fresh ground black pepper plus additional salt if needed.  Serve beans in their 'pot liquor' -- the broth.  I like to serve it with a salad and good bread to mop up the broth for a rustic light (and very cheap) dinner.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Green Bean Delivery: a Review

Recently I was contacted by Green Bean Delivery, a local service offering delivery of fresh produce and prepared foods to your doorstep, asking if I would review their service.  Full disclosure: Green Bean provided a one-time free delivery of one of their bins of produce and prepared foods. 

Green Bean Delivery operates in Cincinnati and multiple surrounding cities with a mission of making healthy and sustainably grown local food affordable, accessible, and convenient.  The concept is simple: for each delivery, a customer goes online to make any changes to that week's default order, adding extra items as they choose.  The orders are packed into insulated bins and delivered the customer's doorstep, allowing busy people and those with limited access to fresh produce and high-quality prepared foods to access these items.  The company was a 2007 startup in Indianapolis and has spread to Cincinnati, Louisville, and Columbus. 

Green Bean set up a default single-time produce order for me and asked me to log in to customize it.  Then they selected several of their prepared-foods vendors' products and added them on.  

There was initially some confusion over when the bin would be delivered.  The interface asked me to choose a week, and on July 7th I chose the week of July 16th to give me time to go in and customize the produce bin ahead of time.  But on July 9th, I got an email saying my bin would be delivered July 11th.  I emailed back to point out that on the form I’d indicated I wanted the bin the following week, and that I hadn’t had time to customize my bin yet.  They fixed it and all was well. I suspect the confusion was caused by the fact I was not a new regular customer (who I'm sure generally want their bins to start right away) but was receiving a single special order, so it may not hold true for new customers in general, but I found the process a little confusing.  

The default order for July contained limited local (which their website defines as from Indiana, Kentucky, or Ohio) produce -- cabbage, bell peppers, summer squash, and cucumbers.  As locally-produced food is my primary interest and I placed my order when local produce season was in full swing, I would have loved to see a default order that focused on local, seasonal items rather than on produce that was being sourced from further away.  

By customizing the bin, I switched out the non-local items the default bin contained to instead choose local sweet corn, new potatoes, bibb lettuce, and kale, but it would have been nice if these were in the default bin.  I would also have liked to see more locally sourced produce among their offerings -- the farmers' markets had a lot more than just cabbage, peppers, squash, cucumbers, corn, potatoes, bibb lettuce, and kale in mid-July.

Having their online interface default to locally-grown items would also help educate people on what's in season locally.  They note in their online descriptions which items are local, but to me it felt as if there was an education component lacking.  If the default setting were the locally-produced items, it would encourage people to at least think about using those items while still allowing the haters out there to choose bell peppers instead of kale.  I suspect a lot of people think of Green Bean Delivery as similar to a CSA -- I know I did -- and it's really not focused as much on sourcing local produce as I'd assumed.  

The prepared-foods items they selected for me were intriguing.  Some vendors -- Fab Ferments, for example -- I'm familiar with, but I'd never tried their Cosmic Curry Sauerkraut.  (Delicious, as is most everything I've tried from this terrific artisan fermented foods maker.)  Others were new to me but also very good -- the Frog Ranch Hot and Spicy Pickles were fantastic, crisp and garlicky, and the Five Star Foodies Artichoke Burgers was something I'd seen around but never tried because while I like artichokes and I like veggie burgers, "artichoke burgers" just never sounded appealing.  But they turned out to be much better than I expected -- I'd definitely try them again.  Green Bean also included Sweet William's Bakery breads, Dean Farm chicken breasts, Seven Hills coffee, Carfagna's vodka pasta sauce (the only thing I haven't gotten around to trying yet, as it's been too hot for pasta), Grateful Grahams Cinnamon Raisin Graham Cracker Bites (get thee behind me, Satan!  These are like crack!), Carriage House Farm honey, Hartzler Family Dairy milk and butter, and Blue Jacket Dairy chevre. All were uniformly excellent products and delivered in excellent condition with perishables well-chilled. Likewise the produce I received was well-packed and fresh and arrived in excellent condition.



1 c green bell peppers in 1/2" dice
1 c red bell peppers in 1/2" dice
1 c fresh jalapenos or other hot pepper (I like to use one of every hot pepper I can find that day) sliced thin
1/2 c celery in 1/2" slices
1/2 c carrot in 1/4" slices
1/2 c onion, chopped
1 c fresh cauliflower florets in 3/4" pieces
1/2 c salt
water to cover  
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1 T dried oregano
1 t red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
1/2 c green olives, sliced in half
1 c white vinegar
1 c olive oil

Place into a bowl the green and red peppers, jalapenos, celery, carrots, onion, and cauliflower.  Stir in salt and fill with enough cold water to cover.  Cover and refrigerate overnight, stirring occasionally.

The next day, drain the salty water and rinse the vegetables.  Do not skip rinsing -- this will be extremely salty otherwise.  In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients and pour over vegetable mixture.  Cover and refrigerate at least two days, stirring occasionally.  Keeps two weeks or more in the fridge. 

Perfect Poached Chicken Every Time

Hands-on prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: a little over an hour

I used to overcook boneless skinless chicken breasts all the time.  I was so concerned about undercooking them that time after time I'd end up drying them out.  Even using a thermometer didn't seem to help.  I was so consistent at it that if I was planning on making a recipe using cooked chicken, I'd either roast up a whole bird the day before or if I was short on time, resort to buying a roasted bird. 

Then I discovered this nifty trick.  It's not ready-to-use in minutes like a traditional poach or saute, but the hands-on time is about 2 minutes and I can now produce perfectly cooked chicken every time.  It's completely foolproof.  If you can boil water, you can make perfect chicken.   

Choose a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid that is large enough to allow 3 or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts to lay flat on the bottom without overlapping and deep enough to contain enough liquid to cover the chicken breasts by 2".  I use a deep 4 qt saucepan:

Fill with chicken stock to about 3" -- it'll take about two quarts of stock.

Trim your chicken well of any fat -- poaching with this method won't render the fat off like sauteeing in a very hot pan would.

Bring stock to a full rolling boil and with a pair of tongs slide the chicken breasts into the boiling stock, moving them around slightly as you set them on the bottom of the pan to prevent them from sticking.  Don't put in any more breasts than will fit on the bottom of the pan.  You don't want any overlap, and they shouldn't be crowded.  Return to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and remove from heat.  Allow to sit until the pot has cooled just to the point you can place both palms flat on the sides of the pot for a second (the liquid inside will still be a food safe 140+ degrees).  This will take about an hour or so.  Et Voila!  Your chicken breasts are perfectly poached and ready to be diced for chicken salad or casseroles, sliced for sandwiches or salads, whatever.  Remove breasts from stock.  Look how perfectly cooked they are -- if you click on the photo to get to the larger version, you'll be able to see the meat is still juicy:

Use or wrap and refrigerate immediately. 

Bring the stock back to a boil, then strain (I use a cheesecloth) and freeze for the next time you use this method.  You can reuse the stock nearly indefinitely, adding more as needed to replace what's been lost to evaporation during boiling -- it just keeps getting chickenier -- but be aware of salt levels becoming concentrated.  I taste mine every so often, and once it's gotten to the point I don't want my cooking liquid any saltier, I add only unsalted stock or water to replace evaporation losses.