Monday, 7 February 2011

Super Bowl "Unity" Dinner... Because I'm Not Officially Choosing a Team

After the official coin toss and start of play, I got to work on last night's dinner. For those who don't follow the Super Bowl, or were perhaps less inclined to turn on the game as I was, yesterday saw the meeting of the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the former eventually winning the game. And as alluded to in the title of this post, I had no strong preference either way as to who would win; unofficially, if your team name somehow has my favourite colour incorporated in it and you come from the midwest, chances are my support may lean in your favour. In any case, I attempted (and I think succeeded) in cooking to unite both teams, and using lemon as the common thread in my meal, created a fabric of flavour that was coloured with green, black, and of course yellow.

As has been the case for a while now, dessert typically takes more time to bake than the main dish takes to cook, and who wants to wait around for dessert? What started off as a lemon pound cake recipe became my version of limoncello muffins, both of which require a 350°F oven, so preheat it now. For this recipe, you'll need 1 stick of butter; use some of this to lightly butter and then flour the baking vessels. (Here, I used my 3/4 c ramekins.) For the batter, into one bowl, grate the rind (only the yellow part!) of one lemon. In a second bowl, combine well 1.5 c each granulated sugar and flour. And finally in a third bowl, whisk well 2.5 eggs (yes, half an egg has to go into a mini omelette) and then add in 1/2 c milk, 1/8 c canola oil, 2 tsp limoncello, and 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. Next, take out your electric hand mixer and begin to incorporate on low 1 softened stick of butter into the dry mix, slowly beating in the liquids. The resulting batter should look smooth and creamy, with waves of batter holding their shape. At this point, fold in the lemon rind. Set the ramekins onto a baking tray, as these will slightly overflow. Using a tablespoon, evenly divide up the batter to fill up the prepped ramekins. There's a touch over 3 c of batter here, so you'll most likely have some left over, though the density of the batter should allow you to pile on everything. It takes about 4.5 heaping tablespoons to fill each ramekin. As you can see in the photo above, you're really filling these up. When finished, get these into the oven and bake for 40 min or until a skewer comes out cleanly. At that point, turn off the heat, and leave the muffins in the oven for an additional 10 min.

Until then, work on the rest of the meal. For the protein of yesterday's entrée, I had intended to make a hybrid version of two recipes (here and here); I had settled on calling it lemon pepper chicken scaloppine with limoncello sauce (it fit the Super Bowl colour theme), but research indicates I could (and now do... until someone who actually speaks Italian can confirm this) call it piccata di pollo con una salsa di limoncello (chicken piccata with a limoncello sauce). The scaloppine part refers to the fact the chicken (or whatever meat happens to be prepared) is thinly sliced, or at least pounded in such a way the chicken is even and can thus be cooked more evenly. This typically then gives way to piccata, which is a style of preparation that takes the thin(ner) chicken that is then dredged and then sautéed until cooked. So, after flattening out the chicken (I used my rolling pin) a bit, wash you hands and prepare to dredge them. On a plate, have already combined 1/2 c flour, a pinch of salt and 2 tsp each garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper. In a small bowl,whisk together 1 whole egg and 1 tbsp dijon mustard. Coat each slice of chicken in the egg-mustard mix and then coat this with the flour mix. Then, in a pan, melt 1 tbsp unsalted butter and sautée the chicken in this melted butter until fully cooked, making sure to flip the chicken at least once. You can also cover the chicken during the cooking process to allow the heat to more evenly cook it. Once cooked, transfer to a plate and cover the chicken with either another plate or tin foil to help keep the chicken warm.

As the chicken is cooking, get the orzo cooking. And given I'm using Rachael Ray cookware, why not adapt a Rachael Ray recipe? Into a boiling pot of water, add 1/4 lb (about 3/4 c) orzo (rice shaped pasta). Once cooked al dente, about 9-10 min, drain well and into a metal bowl, toss in a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, a handful of roughly chopped parsley, and the grated rind of one lemon. Transfer this to a plate and cover with another plate or tin foil to keep warm.

With the chicken and orzo done by this point, it's time to make the sauce, as cooking chicken "piccata" style implies serving it with a sauce which, at the very least, contains lemon and capers. First, don't get rid of the pan you cooked the chicken in! All of the browned bits are full of wanted flavour. [An aside: By this point, the muffins should be done.] Deglaze the pan with a mix of 3/4 c chicken stock, 1/4 c limoncello, and a pinch of corn starch that had been well dissolved into the liquids. Allow this to come to a rapid boil, making sure to scrape the pan of the leftover chicken bits. After the liquid has reduced by about half (do keep an eye out for this, as this boils away quickly!), turn off the heat and steep a handful of chopped parsley, 4 slices of lemon, and 2 tsp drained capers. Be sure to transfer the sauce to a bowl before it all evaporates!

After a quick wash of the sauce pan, take a handful of American green beans (or if you're in France, haricots verts, which are thinner and more complex in flavour... lucky) and cut the end of the beans that were attached to the main plant; don't cut the curly bit at the end. Sautée these in a pan, covered, with 1 tbsp melted butter, the juice of 1/4 lemon, and sea salt and ground black pepper.

Time to plate up and eat the meal! Playing with different textures and multiple flavour profiles--from the freshness of the parsley to the saltiness of the capers to the pleasant zing from the lemon to the unmistakable slight heat from the dijon--this meal is extremely filling. Easily a full meal for two, you could certainly serve this as four smaller portions. [Depending on how quickly you cooked everything else, your muffins should have been out of the oven by the start of the meal, if not before. Leave these out to cool completely before proceeding the frosting stage.]

With the muffins now cool, remove any extra bits that overflowed and baked, and then gently wiggle the muffins out of the ramekins (if you prepped them correctly, they should easily pop out). It's best to carefully lift the top of the muffin off the lip of the ramekin about the perimeter to release the whole thing. Transfer the muffins onto a plate (or at the very least, a paper towel; wax paper would work great, too). For the frosting and topping of each muffin, you'll need the grated rind and juice of two lemons. First, prep the topping by adding about 1 tsp granulated sugar to the lemon rind and gently rub these together; lay this out on a paper towel to air dry. The longer you can let these dry, the better. As for the frosting, for each muffin, take half the juice of one lemon and mix in enough powdered sugar (about 1/2 c) to make what looks like a white paste. Actually, it'll be a bit off-white in colour. In two stages, spoon about 1 tbsp of the (now) lemon sugar icing. You want the muffins on a plate/paper towel, as the icing will drip like mad, depending on the viscosity of the icing. Once the icing has begun to harden (and actually appear whiter in colour), spoon on the remaining icing. Doing this in two (or even three stages) will help you maximize the icing and not let it go to too much waste. Experiment on one of the muffins first before you ice the others; try out different proportions until you know what consistency works best for you. Before the icing dries completely, don't forget to top these off with a bit of the sugared lemon rind. (You can be equally fancy and experimental with the garnish; try curled peels, candied slices, etc.) A bit tart from the icing, and having a slight bite from the exterior of the muffin and a familiar soft interior reminiscent of pound cake (especially yellow, I think, because of the limoncello), these muffins are great alone or alongside a cup of coffee.

For more Super Bowl "unity" dinner photos, click here.

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