Mustard Chicken with Bacon and Cream

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This is not a recipe for the faint of heart. It’s a recipe you can only get away with in cold weather–VERY cold weather–and even then you may hear that spiky haired fitness guru from the 90s, Susan Powter, in your head screaming: “Stop the insanity!”

Susan Powter has a point: you’re about to bake chicken with cream (almost 2 cups) and bacon (1/2 a pound). The recipe, like the recipe below this, also comes from David Tanis’s “A Platter of Figs” only I substituted chicken for the originally intended protein: rabbit.

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Salt and Pepper Shrimp

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Let’s talk about shrimp, baby, let’s talk about you and me…

Ok, that was a Salt-N-Pepa joke. If you don’t get that joke, click here (I couldn’t embed it!)

Now then, salt and pepper shrimp. What are they? I’d never had them until I went to Brooklyn Fish Camp last week with Robbie Baitz. They are shrimp, fried with their shells on, and then dusted in salt and pepper. Hot from the fryer, you crunch through that skin and it’s like a perfectly cooked shrimp wrapped in a potato chip. To quote the Barefoot Contessa, “How bad could that be, fool?”

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Tuesday Techniques: Cooking with Demi-Glace (Hunter Chicken)

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Tom Colicchio, that most formidable of judges on “Top Chef,” shocked me the other night when, during an interview on PBS’s series Chef’s Story (with Dorothy Hamilton) he revealed that he hadn’t gone to cooking school, he taught himself everything he knows using Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique” and “La M├ęthode.” (This is corroborated on his Top Chef bio page.) “Let me get this straight,” I said to myself. “To cook on the level of Tom Colicchio, to be that formidable, all I have to do is buy two books by Jacques Pepin?”

The answer was a resounding “no.” No, I wouldn’t have to buy two books; I’d only have to buy one–those two books have been consolidated!

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Yes, this is THE book that Tom Colicchio worked his way through to become the toppiest of Top Chefs. When you open it, you feel like you’re looking at a physical fitness textbook from 1965. Every technique is broken down photographically the same way that an old P.E. book would break down a jumping jack: Stand legs apart (photo), lift hands over head (photo), leap in the air (photo), spread arms and legs (photo), land (photo) and repeat.

There’s something musty about this book, something incredibly dated (there are chapters on making orange baskets and apple swans). And yet, that’s all on the surface. Underneath that surface are the core fundamentals of French cooking, fundamentals that have launched thousands of careers, that are responsible for some of the finest food being prepared in this country and around the world. For example, just opening the book randomly, I find Technique 158: “Cleaning Squab and Other Poultry.” Most of us don’t find ourselves with a dead squab on our kitchen counter on a regular basis but many of us have dined in restaurants that serve squab. When that squab shows up at the kitchen door, does the chef shriek and moan: “How in the world will I clean this domesticated pigeon?” No: he knows his technique. That’s why fundamentals are so, well, fundamental. They’re at the core of all great cooking; they are the wings that allow the greatest dishes to soar.

I want my dishes to soar. I get asked all the time: “Are you always going to be an amateur? Are you ever going to go to cooking school? Who’s your favorite Golden Girl?”

The answers–maybe, no and Dorothy–suggest that I embrace my lack of experience while showing an absolute willingness to advance. My Colicchio revelation–that you can teach yourself French techniques by practicing from this book at home (“I used to cut up stalks and stalks of celery practicing my knife skills,” he said on the show) leads me to declare Tuesdays to be Technique Tuesdays. Each Tuesday we will attempt a new technique from this book and hopefully, through my own experimentation, you will be inspired to try them too. Maybe, after a few months, we’ll be master chefs and we’ll open a restaurant. Or maybe we’ll realize we have no natural talent and quit cooking and become accordion players. Only way to find out is to begin…

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Molly Stevens’ Braised Monkfish with Cherry Tomatoes & Basil

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“Now is the winter of our Molly Stevens,” I wanted to say at the start of this winter. I wanted to say that because Molly Stevens’ book, All About Braising, is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. I love this book because the recipes are flawless and, not only that, the results always exceed my expectations. Craig will never think of parsnips the same way again after Molly’s Chicken Breasts Braised with Hard Cider and Parsnips–Molly can transform anything with the flick of her magical wrist. So this winter I wanted to Molly out; I wanted to braise the whole winter through, browning, deglazing, and simmering until our kitchen itself was a braise. Only it never really got that cold and, truth be told, I was often so tired from Food Network meetings and tapings that a long braise didn’t really appeal to me when I came home. (Hence the popularity, I suppose, of 30 minute meals, etc etc.)

But recently at the Chelsea Market, where Food Network is located, I met a monkfish. There’s a fish store there and sitting on a counter, extravagantly arrayed, were fillets of monkfish–a truly ugly fish–and suddenly my mind leapt over the rooftops back to my bookshelf in Brooklyn where Molly’s book rested. “Molly has a recipe for monkfish!” I recalled. “Monkfish braised with cherry tomatoes and basil.” I bought 1 1/2 pounds of monkfish fillets and brought them home and sure enough Molly’s recipe called for 1 1/2 pounds of monkfish fillets.

The recipe was a cinch to put together–the whole thing was prepped and cooked in approximately one hour–and the results, as expected, were tremendous. As I placed the plate before Craig, I felt like I was serving restaurant quality food. And, essentially, I was. “The fish is so moist and tender,” said Craig, digging in. “And the sauce is so flavorful.” Monkfish is called the poor man’s lobster, but we didn’t feel like poor men eating this. We felt like kings.

Let Molly work her magic in your kitchen after a hard day’s work. Here’s how you make it…

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Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps

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When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.

Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.

It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.

Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

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Braised Duck Legs For Idiots

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The dish you see above is a dish from a four-star chef and yet it’s among the easiest you will ever prepare. It comes from Jean-George’s “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” which was co-written by Mark Bittman. As many of you know, Mr. Bittman is The Minimalist and it might seem strange, at first, that a man who prides himself on simplicity would co-author a book with a chef renowned for his complexity, innovation and flair. But this recipe proves that two opposing forces, working together, can generate electricity: it’s astonishingly good and amazingly easy. Click ahead and behold the splendor of Jean-George’s Braised Duck and Vegetables with Asian Spices.

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Flank Steak Story

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Of all the food and drink pairings, the greatest, I think, is the pairing of red meat and red wine. Sure, you have your champagne and oysters, your blue cheese and port. But give me a caramelized cut of ribeye and pair it with a spicy Syrah and I’m in heaven–a very red heaven.

On Saturday, then, I wanted to bring this combination home after spending the afternoon cleaning with Craig. I ventured out to Union Market which is Park Slope’s more high-end mart. I go there when I buy meat and fish; everything else, I do ok at Key Foods. I was all set to buy ribeye but then I remembered: ribeye is expensive. $25/pound expensive and each ribeye was one pound.

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How To Roast A Chicken

Of all the dishes in my repertoire, this is the one that gets the biggest wows, the one that Craig requests the most often, the one that never fails to impress: it’s the roast chicken from the Chez Panisse cookbook with a few touches of my own (namely: potatoes and garlic). This video will show you how easy it is and then, after the jump, I’ll post a recipe and a few more tips.

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