Here I am on a bright late summer afternoon, sitting at a courtyard table taking in the sights and sounds of Little Italy in San Diego. The food has been inspiring, eating out breakfast, lunch and dinner while my lovely wife spends time commuting back and forth from a medical conference. I recently had some networking cards printed and have been passing them out to anyone who shows an interest in cooking. I was talking to one of the local restaurants and they seem quite interested in my Bacon Cannoli so I started thinking about other breakfast dishes with an Italian theme. I needed to go no farther then translate my chicken parmesan sandwich I had for lunch and reinvent it for breakfast. I looked at the menu and there was no hash dish so why not make a chicken parmesan hash. The rest is simple; take a brined chicken breast and dice it into cubes then bread the cubes and fry until golden. I previously roasted some red potatoes and let them cool. While I cooked the chicken breast, I started sautéing the potatoes in one pan and some vegetables in the other. When the potatoes were crispy add the veggies and let the flavors merge, then add the chicken, grate some parmesan cheese and drizzle with a little marinara to complete the flavor palette. This is a great example on how to take a bunch of themes; here Little Italy, breakfast and a chicken parmesan, and come up with a dish to fit all three. I just can't wait to get back to my kitchen and work out all the details. Until then here is a photo taken later that night and a preliminary recipe.
I can't wait to get back home and try this out (and add some pictures). I dedicate this to my new friends at Trattoria Fantastica in Little Italy in San Diego. Buon Appetito!
Well I finally made it home and tried out the idea for my Chicken Parmesan Hash making relatively very few changes. I added some sugar and acid to my marinara sauce (my wife's idea) which really perked the flavors up. I decided to use two chicken breasts (both sides of the same bird)
4 medium to large red potatoes
2 chicken breasts boned and skinned (brined overnight if you have the time)
1 large onion large dice
1 small red pepper large dice
1/2 small zucchini large dice
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
3-4 sprigs fresh parsley
5-6 basil leaves rolled and thinly sliced (chiffonade)
6-8 Tbsp. cooking oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
3-4 Tbsp. marinara sauce (add sugar if needed and a little white balsamic vinegar)
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Standard breading station
1-2 cups seasoned AP flour (add a little salt and pepper)
1-2 cups milk mixed with 3 beaten eggs
1-2 cups seasoned bread crumbs (I used panko with Italian seasoning)
One day ahead, halve four red potatoes, sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated 350 degree oven until a fork is easily inserted with little resistance. Cool and refrigerate overnight. If you are brining our chicken overnight or even the same day, add one tablespoon of both salt and sugar to a zip-lock bag with about 2 cups of water. Add the chicken breast and if you dare a couple of dashes of your favorite hot sauce, then close the bag and place in a shallow dish in your refrigerator.
In three small shallow dishes, add the flour to the first and season with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in the second with the of milk. Add seasoned bread crumbs to the third. Cut the chicken breast lengthwise into half, then cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Dry off the chicken cubes with paper towels then dredge in the flour fist, shaking off any excess. Next dip in the beaten egg and milk then into the bread crumbs. Let rest on a wire rack for about a half an hour. Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a medium skillet, then fry the chicken in the oil in batches, turning until golden brown on all sides. Reserve warm until needed. Clean then reheat the skillet to medium heat and add 2 tbsp. oil heating until it shimmers. Add the diced onion, zucchini, thyme and red peppers, season and cook until the onions are just starting to brown (about 10 minutes). Remove any thyme stems and transfer to a bowl and reserve.
Dice the potato into 1/2 inch dice. Add 2-3 tbsp. of the oil to the pan on medium heat and heat until the oil is hot. Add the potatoes and toss to coat in the oil. If the mixture is dry add some more oil. Season with salt and pepper. The secret is to let the potatoes brown and crisp slowly turning only when brown on the bottom. When the potatoes are brown and crispy, add the reserved chicken tossing to combine. Add the reserved vegetable mixture, more thyme and chopped parsley; toss and remove from the heat. Sprinkle with a little marinara sauce and garnish with the basil. Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese over the top and serve immediately.
Although I have been concentrating on breakfast and brunch dishes, I like to digress a little and talk about appetizers. I was talking to the owner of one of our local Mexican restaurants and the conversation turned to the food that could be served for groups. We discussed the possibility of serving Mexican style tapas and I said I would work on coming up with some ideas for some small appetizers. With my recent discussion of form, some of my ideas did not fit into changing shapes but scaling down regular dishes into an appetizer handheld form. I am adding to Form the subgroup scale, which would be defined as keeping the same shape but increasing or decreasing the size. For example, I might serve chicken wings instead of a whole piece of chicken or scale down a chimichanga to a bite sized version. After some thought I made a preliminary list of possible appetizers.
Chicken Wings -
1. Chipolte Honey Lime – chipolte, honey and lime juice with lime zest
2. Mole – mole sauce slightly diluted with chicken broth
3. Sweet Prickly Pear – prickly pear, lime sweetened with sugar
Mini Tostadas – refried bean, guacamole, lettuce, cheese
Mini Chimichangas – Shredded pork,beef or chicken, onions and shredded cabbage in egg roll skins
Small stuffed Peppers – piquillo peppers stufed with chorizo and cheese, a play on a chile rellano
Mexican Bruschetta – small rounds of grilled bread, topped with pico de gallo
Lettuce cups – filled with ceviche
Open face mini tamale – small circle of fried masa with pork topping with salsa verde
Mexican rice balls – mexican spiced risotto cooled, stuffed with cheese, formed into balls, breaded and deep fried
Shrimp and spiced polenta skewer – spiced shrimp and chile dusted polenta squares
My first attempt was to tackle the chicken wings and I decided to combine the chipolte honey lime with the sweet prickly pear because I felt after tasting the prickly pear, it needed a little spice to balance the sweet citrus taste. I normally like to prepare everything from scratch but due to time constraints I used a bottled mole sauce from my local Mexican market and added some embelishments to achieve the taste i wanted. I promise to add my mole recipe later for another dish.
3 to 4 pounds chicken wings
brine - 1 quart water, 2 Tbsp. salt, 2 Tbsp. sugar, 2 Tbsp. favorite hot sauce
1/2 cup corn starch
1 tsp. each salt and pepper
Cut off the chicken wing tip (reserve for stock) and separate at the joint into 2 pieces. Prepare the brine and brine overnight. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drain well and dry the wings with paper towels, dust with the corn starch shaking off any extra. Season with the salt and pepper and place on a rack on a baking sheet. Brush with the olive oil and cook until browned on the top (about 15 to 20 minutes), turn over and brush with more olive oil and return to the oven until browned on the second side (10 to 15 minutes). Reserve warm until ready to sauce.
Prickly Pear Honey Chile Sauce
Four or five prickly pear fruits
1/4 cup honey
Four or five limes
1 Tbsp. light chili pepper powder
1 Tbsp. chipotle chili pepper powder
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. Salt
Cut off the tops and bottoms of each of the fruits and cut the rind or skin off. Cut into medium pieces and put into a blender. Zest the limes and reserve. Juice the limes and add to the blender. Add the honey water and salt to the blender and blend into a puree. Strain into a sauce pan and reduce a third. The mixture should just start to thicken. Add the chile powders to your taste. Reserve warm until the wings are ready. When the wings are ready, add the sauce to a metal bowl then the wings and toss to coat then serve.
Mole Wing Sauce
1/2 Cup of your favorite mole sauce
1/2 Cup chicken broth
Dark chocolate (at least 70 percent) to taste
Cinnamon to taste
Hot Sauce to taste
Prepare the mole sauce as directed then add to a sauce pan. Thin with the chicken broth, taste and add chocolate, cinnamon and hot sauce to taste. Reserve warm until the wings are ready. When the wings are ready, add the sauce to a metal bowl then the wings and toss to coat then serve.
One of the first dishes I learned to make was French toast. Over the years I have gradually changed the recipe, adding spices, sugar and vanilla to the mix; but with the use of the technique of Translation opens a multitude of new possibilities. Since I am concentrating on form; how can I change the form of French toast? I found some mini spring-form pans at my local kitchen shop and this idea naturally developed. If you do not have these mini pans you may use any small cake pan or even large muffin tins may be used. You may even go a step further and make your own form using a can that has its top and bottom removed (just remember to remove any sharp edges). Let your imagination run wild experimenting with different types of bread or perhaps even using leftover donuts or cinnamon rolls cut into pieces. You can further customize your creation by adding fresh or dried fruits, chopped nuts or even bits of chocolate.
4 Slices of Bread (preferably day old)
4 Large Eggs
1 Cup Half and Half
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
pinch Ground Cloves
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
Maple Syrup or your favorite toppings such as fresh strawberries
Optional: Dried fruit such as raisins and or chopped toasted nuts
2 Mini Spring Form Pans
Round Cutter slightly smaller than Spring Form
Baking Sheet pan with parchment paper or Silicone baking sheet
Cut a circle slightly smaller then the spring form pan out of two of the slices of Bread and dice the rest into ¾ inch cubes. You can optionally cut four circles and use one for the top and one for the bottom but I prefer just two so the dish is a bit more rustic looking.
Beat eggs in a bowl with half and half, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla.
Preheat a skillet to medium heat add a small amount of butter. Dip the round cut pieces of bread in the egg mixture and brown on one side.
Place the rounds browned side down into the spring form pans. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes and fill the spring forms with the moistened bread cubes (if you have cut extra circles for the top, finish with the tops browned side up. Optionally you can also add toasted nuts, chocolate pieces or dried fruit such as raisins to the moistened bread cubes).
Bake in a 325 degree oven until done (about 30 minutes).
Variation - Use a small circle cutter (I use my cannoli form) to create a well in the center which can be filled with fruit, nuts, and preserves and into which warm syrup could be added.
To assemble unmold each and serve with your favorite toppings, or my favorite, a good quality warm maple syrup. Serves two or cut each in half for four smaller servings.
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How does a good chef think? What is the creative process a
chef uses to come up with new and exciting dishes? What do I need to know to enable that creative process? These are the questions I want to explore in this series of articles. As a chef and an avid cookbook collector I am drawn towards
ideas and techniques of cooking rather than just a collection of recipes. I believe to grow as a chef, I need to continually learn and hone new techniques along with perfecting each technique I use every day. Whenever I go to a restaurant, whether fine dining, neighborhood pub, avant garde, or even fast food, I continually ask myself how can I do this better, what works and more important, what doesn’t? Feel free to send me comments, ask questions. Together, we can explore and make creative cuisine.
Spending almost thirty years in the computing field, I was able to travel experiencing a wide variety of tremendous cuisine. First I became a foodie, and when the opportunity arose, I was able to attend culinary school following my passion. I work as a part-time private chef and volunteer time at the community café in North Bend Oregon providing affordable meals in a restaurant setting to my community.