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'Weir Cooking In The City'

Joanne Weir is the host of the popular public television series, "Weir Cooking in the Wine Country." Her new show, "Weir Cooking in the City," kicks off in April. She'll show city dwellers how to entertain with ease and sophistication.

We asked her to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge and create a meal for four for $30 or less. Chef Weir didn't disappoint, cooking recipes from the companion cookbook to her new TV series, also called "Weir Cooking in the City."

"Weir Cooking In The City" is Joanne Weir's fifth cookbook. Weir says she wrote the book for city folks in America to discover the treasures in their own "mini food meccas." In the book, she writes about the culinary inventiveness, diversity and charm of her town, San Francisco. Weir says these qualities are also found in other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Seattle and many others. "Weir Cooking In The City" contains over 125 recipes.

Joanne Weir cooked for five years at Chez Panisse and also studied with Madeleine Kamman. She was awarded the very first Julia Child Cooking Teacher Award of Excellence in 1996. She was also nominated for a James Beard Award for three of her four previous books, "From Tapas to Meze," "You Say Tomato," and "Joanne Weir's More Cooking In The Wine Country."

Weir's menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: an appetizer of Pea and Carrot Soup with Yogurt and Cilantro; an entrée of Pan-Seared Chicken Breast with Mustard, Rosemary, and Capers; and for dessert, Panna Cotta with Pineapples.

Terminology:

Split Peas: Weir uses yellow split peas for her soup. Yellow split peas are field peas that are specifically grown for drying. These peas are dried and usually split along a natural seam, hence the reason they are called "split peas." You can find whole and split dried field peas in most supermarkets or health food stores.

Capers: Weir cooks with capers in her chicken dish. According to "The New Food Lover's Companion," a caper is the flower bud of a bush that is native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. The small buds are picked, sun-dried and then pickled in a vinegar brine. Capers range in size from the petite nonpareil variety from southern France (considered the finest), to those from Italy, which can be as large as the tip of your little finger. There are also the Spanish-imported stemmed caperberries, which are about the size of a cocktail olive. Capers are generally packed in brine, but can also be found salted and sold in bulk. Capers should be rinsed before using to remove excess salt. The pungent flavor of capers lends piquancy to many sauces and condiments; they're also used as a garnish for meat and vegetable dishes.

Cilantro: Weir uses cilantro in her soup and salad. "The New Food Lover's Companion" says the bright green leaves and stems (of cilantro) come from the coriander plant. Cilantro (also called Chinese parsley and coriander) has a lively, pungent fragrance that some describe as "soapy." It is widely used in Asian, Caribbean and Latin American cooking and its distinctive flavor lends itself to highly spiced foods. Cilantro can be found year-round in most supermarkets and is generally sold in bunches. Choose leaves with a bright, even color and no sign of wilting. Cilantro may be stored for up to 1 week in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Or place the bunch, stems down, in a glass of water and cover with a plastic bag, securing the bag to the glass with a rubber band. Refrigerate, changing water every 2 or 3 days. Just before using cilantro, wash and pat dry with paper towels. Both the leaves and relatively tender stems can be used in fresh or cooked dishes.

Panna Cotta: Panna cotta is Italian for "cooked cream." This dessert is served cold with fruit or a chocolate sauce. Chef Weir served her panna cotta with caramelized pineapples.

Yellow Split Pea and Carrot Soup with Cilantro Yogurt

1 cup yellow or orange split peas, about 6 ounces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro chopped
8 cilantro sprigs

Pick over the split peas and discard any damages peas or stones. Rinse the peas and drain.

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions, cumin seeds and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 10 minutes. Add the stock and split peas, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the split peas are completely soft, 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat. Let cool for 30 minutes. Working in small batches, puree the soup in a blender on high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes per batch. Thin with water or stock if the soup is too thick. Return the soup to a clean pan. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, reheat the soup gently. In the meantime, place the yogurt and cilantro in a bowl. Stir together. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with the yogurt and serve immediately.


Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Mustard, Rosemary and Capers

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 chicken breasts, skin and bone attached, about 8 ounces each
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup capers
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary

Place the vinegar and 8 cups water in a large bowl. Add the kosher salt and stir together to dissolve. Add the chicken breasts and let sit in the refrigerator for 3 hours. Remove the chicken from the water and dry well with paper towels.

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down, until light golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the chicken, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook until golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Place the pan in the oven and continue to cook until the skin of the chicken is golden and the meat is cooked, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a warm platter, cover with foil and keep warm.

Pour off any excess fat from the frying pan. Place the pan back on high heat, (be careful, the handle is very hot after being in the oven). Add the chicken stock bring to a boil. Add the mustard, capers and rosemary and continue to simmer until the stock is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, place one chicken breast on each plate and spoon the sauce over the chicken breasts. Serve salad on the side with the chicken.

Garden Greens with Tomatoes, Lime, Olives, and Cilantro

Mexican restaurants and markets abound in the Mission District of the city. It's a lovely neighborhood and close enough to my own that I can ride my motor scooter there. On one of my foraging ventures recently, I discovered a great market where I can pick up a dozen fresh, hot, flour tortillas, sweet red cherry tomatoes, a big bunch of cilantro, and lots of limes for a very reasonable price. Last time I was there, I found 20 limes for a dollar! I zoomed home and whipped up margaritas, quesadillas, and this tasty, zestful salad.

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
7 to 8 cups assorted baby salad greens
2 cups cherry tomatoes (preferably a variety of colors), halved
1 cup Picholine, Lucques, Kalamata, or Nicoise olives, pitted and halved
1/2-cup fresh cilantro leaves

In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, lime zest, garlic, and jalapeno. Season with salt and black pepper.

Place the salad greens, cherry tomatoes, olives, and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss together. Place the greens on a platter or on the plate with the chicken and serve immediately.


Panna Cotta with Caramelized Pineapple

2 tablespoons cold water
1 1 /4 teaspoons granulated unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 1/ 2 cups canned pineapple, 1 /2-inch dice

Place the water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside until the gelatin is softened, 5 minutes. Place the cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Watch closely so it doesn't boil over. Remove from the heat and whisk in the gelatin mixture and vanilla and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Pour into 4 5-ounce ramekins. Chill in the refrigerator 3 hours.

To make the sauce, melt the butter and brown sugar in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the pineapple and stir until warm, 2 minutes.

Just before serving, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Dip the ramekin into the boiling water just to loosen the custard from the sides of the ramekin. Invert the panna cotta onto serving plates and spoon the sauce around the edges.

All recipes are from "Weir Cooking in the City," published by Simon and Schuster. Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission.