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Grill Like South America's Star Chef

If chefs were pop stars, Argentina's Francis Mallmann would fit right in.

Both the London Times and USA Today say Mallman's three restaurants are among the top ten places to eat in the world.

Now, the man widely considered South America's top chef has reinvented the art of cooking over a fire, and he lets us all in on his secrets in the rustic cookbook he co-authored with Peter Kaminsky, "Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way."

Read an excerpt here

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But for all his accomplishments, can this culinary biggie prepare a three-course meal for only $35? "The Early Show Saturday Edition" viewers found out when Mallmann accepted our "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge.

And when he did, he automatically tossed his chef's hat into our "How Low Can You Go" ring.

The "Shoestring" chefs whose ingredients totals are lowest will be invited back to prep our big, year-end holiday feasts.

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Smashed Beets with Greens, Goat Cheese, and Garlic Chips
Chicken Breasts with Burnt Brown Sugar, Orange Confit, and Thyme
Potato Dominos
Burnt Oranges with Rosemary

FOOD FACT

Beets: This firm, round root vegetable has leafy green tops, which are also edible and highly nutritious. Beets are available year-round and should be chosen by their firmness and smooth skins. Small or medium beets are generally more tender than large ones. If the beet greens are attached they should be crisp and bright. (Source: "Food Lover's Companion")

RECIPES

Smashed Beets with Greens, Goat Cheese, and Garlic Chips

The beauty of beets isn't apparent when they're boiled into tasteless submission. But if they're cooked in a broth enriched with olive oil and vinegar, then smashed and griddled, their natural sugar content results in a chewy, crunchy burnt crust and soft, sweet insides. Scrub the beets well with a brush, but don't peel them - they're most delicious served with the skin on.

INGREDIENTS:
8 equal-sized red beets, scrubbed and stems trimmed to 1 inch (reserve the greens)
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for the pan
5 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A large handful of beet greens (reserved from above), trimmed, washed, and dried
3 cups mixed greens, arugula, or spinach
8 ounces Bûcheron or similar goat cheese
Crispy Garlic Chips (see below), made with 10 garlic cloves and 1 cup oil

METHOD:

Put the beets in a large saucepan with 1⁄2 cup of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the peppercorns, bay leaves, and 1 tablespoon salt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and boil gently for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the beets, until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain in a colander.

Beets are messy, so use paper towels to prevent stains. With the palm of your hand, gently smash the beet between the towels: you want it to yield just enough to flatten slightly but not crumble apart. Use a wide spatula to transfer the beet to a tray lined with foil (for easier cleanup). Repeat with the remaining beets. Brush the beets with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Brush a chapa or large cast-iron skillet with olive oil and heat over high heat. When it is hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle on the surface, add the smashed beets (you may need to do this in two batches) and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, letting them blacken. Transfer the beets to the foil-lined tray and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To make the vinaigrette, pour the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar into a small bowl and gradually whisk in the remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, toss the beet greens with the mixed greens and place a mound of greens on each plate. Place the smashed beets alongside the greens and crumble the goat cheese over them. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and scatter the garlic chips over all.

Crispy Garlic Chips

INGREDIENTS:
4 garlic cloves, as large as possible, peeled
1 cup olive oil

METHOD:

Using a small slicer or a mandoline, slice the garlic very thin.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Line a plate with two paper towels. To test the temperature of the oil, add a slice of garlic. If it sizzles, add the rest of the garlic and cook until just crisp and light golden brown, a matter of seconds. Use a flat slotted skimmer to keep the slices from sticking together as they cook, and transfer them to the paper towels to drain the moment they turn color. (The oil can be strained and used for another batch or reserved for another use.)

For more recipes, go to Page 2

Chicken Breasts with Burnt Brown Sugar, Orange Confit, and Thyme

INGREDIENTS:
4 large chicken breasts
6 pieces Orange Confit (see recipe below), about 2 inches long, plus 2 tablespoons oil from the confit
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon coarse salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons light brown sugar

METHOD:

Lay the chicken breasts on a work surface. Tear the orange confit into 1⁄2-inch pieces and scatter over the top of the meat. Sprinkle with the thyme and half the salt, then sprinkle the brown sugar on top and pat it down firmly with your hand. Drizzle with the oil from the orange confit.

Heat a chapa or a large square or rectangular cast-iron griddle over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles on the surface. Using a wide spatula, lift each chicken breast and invert it, sugar side down, onto the hot surface. Cook them, without moving, for 5 minutes. If the sugar begins to smell unpleasantly burned, adjust the heat by moving the griddle and/or lowering the flame. When the sugar side is well-browned, turn the breasts and cook, turning to sear on all sides, for 5-7 minutes more, or until done to taste.

Transfer the meat to a carving board and allow to rest, tented loosely with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing. Season to taste with the remaining salt and serve.

Orange Confit

INGREDIENTS:
4 oranges
3 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
About 2 ¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons coarse salt

METHOD:

Cut the oranges in half. Squeeze the juice and reserve it for another use.

Put the squeezed orange halves in a large saucepan and add the bay leaves, peppercorns, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the white wine, and salt. Add enough water to completely cover the oranges and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook until the orange peel is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the liquid.

Drain the oranges and tear the peel into rough strips about 1-inch wide. Place a strip of orange peel skin side down on the work surface and, using a very sharp paring knife, scrape away every bit of the white pith, leaving only the orange zest. Repeat with the remaining peel.

Put the strips of orange zest in a small container and cover completely with olive oil. The confit will keep tightly covered in the refrigerator, for at least a week.

Potato Dominoes

My favorite potatoes are grown by descendants of Irish settlers near the town of Trevellin, in Patagonia. You can always count on Irish farmers for a magical touch with potatoes!

These stacked potato squares look like a line of dominoes that have toppled over. This way of arranging the potatoes, then slow-roasting them, yields slices that are well-crisped around the edges, slightly crisp on the upper half, and soft on the bottom half.

Start with long Idaho potatoes of even thickness, then trim and slice them just before cooking. Don't rinse or place in water after slicing, or they'll lose the starch that is essential for holding the arrangement together and browning the edges.

You can partly prepare an hour or two in advance: Cook the potatoes halfway through (about 20 minutes), and set aside at room temperature. Then return them to the oven 20 to 30 minutes before serving time. The potatoes should be served as soon as they are done, while the slices have varying degrees of crispness; if you let them stand, they will all become rather soft.

INGREDIENTS:
4 Idaho (baking) potatoes
4 tablespoons chilled Clarified Butter
Coarse salt

METHOD:

Heat a horno or home oven (with the rack positioned in the center of the oven) to approximately 400°F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat or use a nonstick baking sheet.

Cut off the two ends of one potato and reserve them. Trim the 4 sides of the potato to form an even brick. Slice the potato about 1⁄8 inch thick on a mandoline, keeping the slices in order if you can (just like a line of shingled dominoes).

Hold the stack of potato slices in the palm of one hand and use the other to shape them back into a brick (as you would a deck of cards). Lay the stack on its side on the baking sheet, and put the reserved potato ends, cut side down, at either end to keep the stack aligned.

Then, with the palm of your hand, angle the slices slightly to resemble a line of dominoes that has tilted over. Adjust the end pieces to keep the stack in shape, and align the slices if necessary.

Dot the top and sides with 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, keeping the stacks at least 2 inches apart.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are browned on the edges and tender in the middle when tested with a skewer. Serve immediately.


Burnt Oranges with Rosemary

Burnt oranges with a sugar-and-rosemary crust is one of my simplest recipes. But the flavors and texture-bitter, sweet, fruity, floral, herbal, and smoothly creamy-are supremely intense and complex. The amount of smoke involved makes this a dish you definitely don't want to do indoors.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 cup plain thick Greek yogurt

METHOD:

Cut both ends off the oranges. One at a time, using a sharp paring knife, remove the peel and all the white pith from each orange in strips, working from top to bottom all the way around the orange. Cut the oranges crosswise in half and place them on a plate cut side up.

Sprinkle the rosemary leaves over the oranges, and push some of the rosemary leaves into them so they adhere. Sprinkle half the sugar on top.

Heat a chapa or large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Spread the remaining sugar on the cooking surface and when it begins to melt, put the oranges cut side down on the sugar. Do not move them for 3 to 4 minutes, and adjust the heat so that the cut side burns nicely but does not smell acrid and the oranges are softened.

Transfer "burnt" side up to individual plates. Spoon the yogurt next to the oranges. Drizzle the burnt sugar and juices from the pan over the oranges and yogurt, and serve.

So, how did Francis do in our "How low Can You Go?" competition?

Beet Salad
Beets $3.98
Bay leaves $.79
Mixed greens $2.99
Goat cheese $3.99
Garlic $.39
Total $12.14

Chicken Breasts with Orange
Chicken breasts $5.96
Thyme $1.49
Potatoes $2.38
Oranges $2.76
White wine $3.99
Total $16.58

Burnt Oranges
Oranges $2.76
Rosemary $1.49
Greek yogurt $1.49
Total $5.74

Grand total: $34.46

Our current leaders:

1. Robert Carter $32.24
Peninsula Grill

2. Paul Liebrandt $32.35
Corton

3. George Mendes $32.49
Aldea

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