Sunday, July 26, 2015

Smoked Chicken Pesto Stuffed Shells

Here’s a simple yet tasty dish that utilizes one of the most versatile of all smoked foods, smoked chicken. 

Unlike pork and beef, chicken doesn’t really have a long history as a smoked food.  Historically, it was boiled, but at some point in the early Twentieth Century, someone got the bright idea to throw a chicken into a smoker, and the results were fantastic.  Unlike tough cuts like beef brisket and pork shoulder, which need a lot of low and slow cooking to become tender, chicken is natively tender, unless of course you overcook it.  It’s also very moist and porous, which means it takes on smoke flavor readily, and doesn’t need a long time to cook.  I usually buy lots of chicken when it is on sale, smoke it, and freeze the pieces for later cookery.  You can find more info on my yard bird smoking technique here.

Anywho, for this dish, I’m utilizing some of the smoked chicken I’ve pulled from the freezer and thawed.  You could of course make this dish with chicken you’ve cooked any old way (hopefully not boiled, though), but I think the smoke flavor combined with the cream cheese and other ingredients really makes this dish sing. 

Smoked Chicken Pesto Stuffed Shells

2 Cups Smoked Chicken, Diced
6 Oz Mushrooms, Sliced
1 Medium Onion, Diced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 or so Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Package (8 oz) Cream Cheese
1 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan cheese
1 Cup Freshly Grated Asiago cheese
1/2 Cup Prepared Pesto
Salt and Pepper to taste
12 or so Jumbo Pasta Shells, Cooked Just Under Al Dente
Parsley, for garnish

Start water boiling for your pasta shells.  Preheat Oven to 350˚F.  Sauté mushrooms and onion 

until cooked and just start to turn golden.  

Add minced garlic and cook one minute more. 

Meanwhile, tend to that chicken breast.  

This recipe uses a breast that I’ve presmoked.  You can use whatever you like, but the smoke flavor really makes the dish.  Dice the fully smoked breast up into small pieces. 

Add the chicken and the cooked mushrooms and onions to a food processor.  Pulse a couple times to chop everything up.  Add to this the cream cheese, 3/4 cup of the Parmesan, 3/4 Cup of the Asiago and the Prepared Pesto.  Salt and Pepper to taste.  

Pulse a few times until everything is mixed up, but don’t do too much, or you’ll end up with a paste.  We still want some small chunks of chicken and mushroom in there. 

Cook your pasta shells until they are firm but not cooked through.  This will help them hold their shape and stay together while you stuff them.  They will finish cooking in the oven. 

Stuff the shells with a tablespoon or two of the mixture.  

Place the shells in a greased casserole dish.  

Cover with foil.  

Bake 30 Minutes at 350˚F, then remove foil and dust the shells with the remaining Parmesan and Asiago.  Increase temp to 450˚F and bake another few minutes, until cheese topping melts and starts to turn golden brown.  

Remove from oven and serve. 

These go great by themselves or you can drizzle some red sauce over them, or serve with a side salad, or whatever.  This one’s all about simplicity. 

Until next time,



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Carbonade of Beef

This rich beef stew is a traditional Belgian dish that you'll find on the hob at most decent pubs around Brussels and similar towns.  It's a great complement to the hundreds of different Belgian beers one is wont to imbibe when traveling through Europe's unofficial capitol.  Yes, Belgium is a beer mecca even more than Germany or the Czech Republic.  I've been to some pubs in Belgium offering in excess of 700 distinct beers.

With so much liquid refreshment to try, you'll probably want to put a little something on your stomach.  This dish works quite well, particularly since its made with some of said beer.

Carbonade of Beef

1-2 Pounds Beef, Cubed (Chuck or Round)
1/4 Cup Flour
4 Tablespoons Butter
1 Large Onion, Diced
4-5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Bottle Dark Beer (Belgian Style Oud Bruin or Flanders Red, if possible)
2 Cups Beef Stock
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
A Few Sprigs Thyme
Bay Leaf

Use a nice quality piece of beef.  I'm using eye of round today as it is nice and lean yet still pretty flavorful.  Cube it up,

Then toss the cubes of beef in flour.  Melt the butter in a good-sized Dutch oven and sauté the beef cubes until nicely browned.

Reserve the beef

and add the diced onion to the butter/beef drippings in the pot and cook until translucent and somewhat caramelized, perhaps fifteen minutes or so over medium heat.

Add garlic about five minutes before the onions are done.

When the onions are perfect, add the beer

and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen browned bits.  As I mentioned above, this beef stew should really have a proper Belgian beer like an oud bruin or Flanders Red to make it authentic.  Today I was fresh out of Belgian beer, so I subbed the next best dark beer I could find, a Guinness.

This is okay, but really, don't be like me and instead plan ahead and find a decent liquor store and get a proper Belgian beer.

Anyhoo, add the beef stock and brown sugar.

Return the beef to the pot.

Next, add the vinegar.

Yes, I know I called for Red Wine vinegar in the ingredients list, but I was fresh out of that too, so I subbed Balsamic.  I'm really bastardizing this today, eh?

Add the fresh thyme and bay leaf.

Cover the pot with its lid and place in a 350˚F oven and let it cook away for at least an hour and half, two if possible.  Check the pot from time to time to make sure there is still some liquid in it.  Add more beef stock if it is running low.  Remove the bay leaf and thyme when dish is finished.

Serve this dish simply, with some good crusty bread or maybe some butter noodles, as we've done here.

And don't forget that beer to wash it down with!

Until next time,