Behind the Dish: Old-Fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Shell Pasta

For tonight’s James Beard featured dish, we’re going to get the blogging train back on the tracks by posting about a dish which, in Mr. Beard’s recipe, calls for a form of pasta called rotelle. What are rotelle? Sounds fancy, but it’s just Italian for “little wheels.” In his original recipe, the dish is served over what generations of Cleveland children came to know and love as “Choo Choo Wheels.” Maybe you even remember the train printed on the back of the box of Ideal Macaroni that you could cut out and glue some uncooked Choo Choo Wheels onto, if you got the chance to swipe a few before Mom used them all to make your lunch.

Well, nostalgia is fun, but given that most of our diners here at the Bistro are past the age of sitting at the table playing with their Choo Choo Wheels, we’re substituting shell pasta in our Old Fashioned Chicken Fricassee. Trust us, it’ll still taste the same. Our chicken is a mixture of white and dark meat, with some of it thigh meat still on the bone for richer flavor. And you’ll get a lot of chicken along with this rich sauce that includes butter, flour, heavy cream, onions, celery, shallots, egg yolks, and some spicing courtesy of salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg and lemon juice.

This is dinner just like Mom used to make…assuming Mom used James Beard’s cookbooks, that is. If not, you owe it to yourself to taste what you’ve been missing, especially on a day like today on which the snowflakes are starting to flutter down. Put your wheels down at the Bistro tonight, and enjoy some real comfort food.

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The James Beard Project: Week 5

Our apologies for the skimpy blogging on the Beard dishes this past week. We’ve had some assistance getting those posts to you regularly, and last week our assistance got sick. However, recovery is in process, so we look forward to being able to bring you regular “Behind the Dish” posts this week as usual.

For now, here’s the delicious lineup of dishes we have planned for Week 5 of the James Beard Project:

Monday, Nov. 30 — Old-Fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Shell Pasta (Beard on Pasta, p. 108)

Tuesday, Dec. 1 — Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Tomatoes (James Beard Celebration, p. 115)

Wednesday, Dec. 2 — Filet of Sole Casanova (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 194)

Thursday, Dec. 3 — Navarin (French Lamb Ragôut) (The New James Beard, p. 395)

Friday, Dec. 4 — Le Plaisir’s Truffled Pasta (James Beard Celebration, p. 140)

Saturday, Dec. 5 — Roast Duck with Peaches and Bourbon (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 84)

So, when you stare into your fridge this week at that turkey carcass, and the prospect of more turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey casserole, or turkey whatever just isn’t doing it for you, join us for more of the best of James Beard. We guarantee: no turkey on our menu!

Our kind of Thanksgiving

We’ll have tonight’s Behind the Dish post for you a little later. In the meantime, we thought we might satisfy your curiosity about what kind of Thanksgiving we’re planning for our day off tomorrow. Maybe you’re envisioning our family sitting down to an elaborate feast of authentic traditional foods lovingly prepared together. Well…not quite!

The truth of the matter is: When you cook six nights a week for a living, and even more on top of that for a catering business, the last thing you feel like doing on a holiday is COOKING! On the contrary, you can’t wait to sit back and let someone else do the cooking for you!

Normally, that might mean going out and looking for a restaurant where someone else is serving up a traditional Thanksgiving feast. But here’s another secret: In our family, most of us aren’t crazy about turkey. So what do we do? We go to the Siam Cafe on St. Clair Avenue and order up a Peking duck and all the trimmings for a great Chinese dinner.

We hope you have a terrific Thanksgiving tomorrow, however you celebrate it. Remember, if leftover turkey loses its appeal quickly for you, we’ll be back Friday, ready to help out, and with another great James Beard dish in the lineup. And if you just feel like doing something different tomorrow, or your original plans for the day should fall through, you’re welcome to take your cue from the Parker family in A Christmas Story and give something different a try, just like we do. Take it from us: there’s nothing like that “Chinese Turkey”!

Behind the Dish: Halibut with Crab

Tonight’s James Beard special is halibut with a lump crab and artichoke velouté sauce (a stock-based white sauce). To prepare it, we made a shrimp stock from shrimp and lobster shells that were simmered with carrots, celery and onion, then strained and reduced the stock. We then made the basis for a white sauce and added the shrimp stock with a little black truffle paste and Parmesan cheese. We are serving the entree with a basil pesto torte. A truly elegant and delicious fish dish!

Behind the Dish: Basil Lasagna

Making James Beard’s Basil Lasagna takes, as you might guess, lasagna noodles and basil — more properly, basil in the form of pesto, the sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, parsley, oil and Parmesan cheese. It also, as you might similarly guess, takes some eggs and ricotta cheese, as well as more Parmesan and mozzarella. From there, we build on his recipe a bit. For one thing, it calls for only two layers of lasagna noodles; we’re using four. For another, we’re kicking up the cheese factor by alternating layers of fresh provolone and mozzarella with layers of fresh Parmesan and mozzarella between the noodles and the pesto-ricotta mix. Third, we’re adding just a touch of lemon zest to heighten the flavor. We even drizzled a little Mornay sauce around the edges for a finishing touch. Come in and see what a hint of lemon does for a pesto lasagna!

Enjoy our latest Wine Dinner video

The video from our latest wine dinner, the Spanish Regional Wine Dinner, is ready for your enjoyment:

Details to follow on our next wine dinner. (It was originally planned for December 15, but that date is changing. We will let you know when we reschedule.)

The James Beard Project: Week 4

Here are the menus for Week 4 of the James Beard Project. (Of course, we will be closed Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving — Gobble Gobble!):

Monday, Nov. 23 — Basil Lasagna (Beard on Pasta, p. 157)

Tuesday, Nov. 24 — Halibut with Crab (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 107)

Wednesday, Nov. 25 — Sole with Shrimp Sauce (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 192)

Friday, Nov. 27 — Chicken Sauté with Figs and Cognac (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 166)

Saturday, Nov. 28 — Steak Au Poivre (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 159)

Behind the Dish: Braised Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage

Here’s a secret: we’re swapping out the main element in a James Beard recipe tonight to bring you Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage. Because, truth be told, his original recipe calls for veal shanks. However, we feel that the flavor will be even richer using lamb shanks — truly exceptional — so we’re subbing them for the veal.

The dish calls for braising the shanks in tomatoes and white wine, parsley and basil, then adding partially cooked sausages (we’re using Italian sausages) during the final cooking time, until they’re cooked all the way through. We’re serving our shanks, tomatoes and sausage with an assortment of fall root vegetables including parsnips, turnips, carrots, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and purple potatoes — and a little fennel and rosemary. Now that’s hearty — and the flavor is exquisite!

Warning to those who can’t resist dessert: we still have Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce available, and now you can choose them filled not only with ice cream, but with pastry cream. Either way, you will be amazed.

Behind the Dish: Viennese Goulash with Pappardelle Pasta

Tonight, the Bistro takes on an Austrian variation on a Hungarian dish. How? Well, James Beard’s Viennese Goulash includes the essential ingredient that makes Hungarian goulash Hungarian goulash — namely, Hungarian paprika, which is more flavorful than other kinds. But it also includes a twist by way of Vienna: a paste of crushed caraway seeds, garlic and lemon zest added at the end of the cooking time.

It starts with sautéeing onions in butter and oil, mixing in the paprika and white wine or cider vinegar, then browning the beef cubes in the mixture. After all the cubes are browned (a few at a time), the mix is seasoned with salt and pepper, and thyme and tomato puree are added and simmered down. Flour then gets sprinkled onto the beef, beef broth is added and there’s more simmering. The caraway-garlic-lemon zest paste is stirred in when the beef is thoroughly cooked, for 10 minutes or so.

The resulting goulash sits on a bed of pappardelle pasta like many a good goulash, waiting for you to experience the fresh and spicy flavor lent to it by the last-minute Viennese touch.

Behind the Dish: Sautéed Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Madeira

Disclaimer: In James Beard’s recipe for sautéed calves’ liver with shallots and Madeira, we’re improvising on one of the main elements. Oh, don’t worry, we’re not skipping the calves’ liver — but the dish really should be called Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Sherry (try saying that five times fast), because we’re subbing sherry for the Madeira.

It’s pretty simple: finely chopped shallots (red onions can sub in a pinch) are sautéed in butter and oil, then the floured calves’ liver is added and sautéed, then seasoned with pepper, sherry and parsley.

Our liver enjoys a bed of mashed potatoes and an accompaniment of shoestring vegetables — carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, slivered fennel and green onions. If you’re a liver fan but never had it served up this way before, this is your night!

Another option: if you missed last night’s Chicken Kiev but would like to try it, it’s back on the menu tonight.