With What Remains of Summer: Two Salad Dressings

Something like you find at a pizza shop, made of Romaine and iceberg  lettuce cut into chunks, mini-wedges meant to soak up a heady dressing and topped with everything but the kitchen sink, this salad is a simple summer salad.

It doubles as a full on dinner salad or as a side.  It is laced with shredded red cabbage and carrots added every bit as much for taste as color.  It is topped with your hearts desire, in this case crisp cucumbers, muddy black olives, protein rich eggs,  raisiny grape tomatoes, and sharp red onions.  I even threw in a little bit of last nights roast chicken but chopped ham, bacon bits, or whatever you have on hand works good too.

Sometimes I like it dressed with Thousand Island, other times Ranch, and occasionally Catalina but whatever I use it is always homemade.  Today I made a Blue Cheese Vinaigrette.  Feel free to use whatever dressing you like but I am begging you with what remains of summer to make them homemade.

DSC_0179

Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (makes 1/2 cup)

1 TBS. shallot, peeled and grated on a micro-planer

1 tsp. garlic, grated on a micro-planer

1/2 tsp dried oregano

3 TBS. red wind vinegar

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (don’t like blue cheese, use goat cheese)

1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

a pinch of kosher salt

1. Combine all the ingredients in a pint Ball Mason jar.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake like hell.

note: this dressing is best if made in advance.  An hour will suffice but as it ages it gets better and better.

 

Thousand Island Dressing (make 1 cup)

2/3 cup mayonnaise

3 TBS. ketchup

2 TBS. bread and butter pickles, minced

1 TBS. shallot, peeled and minced

2 tsp. pickle juice

pinch of kosher salt

1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1. Place everything into a mixing bowl.  Combine with a whisk.  Store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed glass jar.

 

Garden Salad (serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as an entree)

1/2 large head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks (about 2 cups)

1 romaine heart, outer leaves removed, core discarded, and cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks

1/3 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (8 rounds)

1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on the large wholes of a grater (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup shredded red cabbage

10 California black olives

8 grape tomatoes, halved

8 thinly sliced rings of red onion, minus any paper skin

2 hard boiled eggs, shelled and quartered

1. Place the greens in a large salad bow.

2. Attractively arrange the vegetables over the top of the greens.  Dollop with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dressing.  At the table mix the dressing into the greens and vegetables using a pair of salad tongs.  Serve.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Pressure Cookers + Chicken and Dumplings

Next to farm fresh brown eggs, nothing conjures up an image of the farmhouse kitchen quite like the site of a pressure cooker. It’s Rockwellian in that it brings to mind iconic images of the aproned farmer’s wife peeling home grown carrots at the counter while on the stove behind her sits a huge pot-like contraption whistling and blowing steam through a small whole in its lid.

The image leaves you with a feeling of wholesomeness much like homemade whole wheat bread. It’s as if the pressure cooker does something magical that only the farmer’s wife knows. After all, for some reason, we always equate wholesome home cooking with the country kitchen. Continue reading →

Thai Collard Wraps (day 5 )

Today was supposed to be a day off from running or lifting but sometimes you just know it’s best to go ahead and put on your favorite running shoes, put your favorite song list on the iPhone, and get it done.  It feels better to do it than not.

My nature is not that of a runner.  It goes against everything I can think of about myself.  But I have been and with consistency.  Some days it is much harder then others but running is always better then not running at all.

Lunch today! Continue reading →

A 90 Day Fitness Challenge (Breakfast Day One)

I ran out of booze last night.  It is a rare occasion that I would let that happen but I did it on purpose.  Even though I miscalculated by a day or two and because I have no intention of replacing it for a while, this does nothing but allow me to start my fitness challenge early.

I am still not comfortable with those words, fitness challenge but I decided to take on the task for a lot of reasons.   There is money that will be donated to school lunch programs for one but mostly because I started my fitness journey almost 1 1/2 years ago and I have hit the wall over the past months.  As with everything in life lots of things get in the way, we loose interest, or gain interest in other pastimes but nonetheless it is easy to move onto other things.

I kept chiding myself though.  I wasn’t ready to give up on my fitness goals, I am not ready to settle for less then what I told myself I would accomplish,  nor am I ready to go into a maintenance mode where I don’t loose what I have gained but don’t gain anything either.  I want more.

Of course if you know me, or haven’t been around me for a while,  you would know these are foreign words coming out of my mouth but somehow I have really taken to the idea of being healthy from an exercise standpoint.

So the journey continues and for the next 90 days I am going to lift myself up each day and exercise, go the the gym, and run.  I am also going track my diet, make sure I am on track to eat healthy well rounded meals so that I don’t hurt my, uh hum, 50 year old body.

I think you will see I don’t plan on changing my diet a whole lot.  I do want to track my macro intake so I know my percentages of carbs, fats, and protein.  I want a good balance.  I also have no intention of weighing myself.  This challenge is about Body Mass Index (BMI) for me, it is not about losing weight.  The goal is to change my body shape by gaining muscle mass and building a stronger core.

My ultimate goal isn’t that I might live longer but my hopes are I will live better.

Poached Eggs, Roasted Asparagus and Crispy Prosciutto

4 eggs

1 bunch of asparagus

4 pieces of prosciutto, real prosciutto is cured with salt only and the ingredients list should reflect that, if you are trying to avoid sugar or additives make sure you read the list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place the asparagus onto a sheet tray and drizzle it with olive oil.  Roll, or toss them around being sure to give them a good coating of oil.  Salt and pepper the asparagus.

3. Separate the thin slices prosciutto and place them on top of the asparagus making sure to keep them from overlapping.

4. Fill a 3 1/2 quart sauce pan 2/3 full with water. Add 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar.  Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to low.

5. Place the asparagus and prosciutto into the oven.  Roast for 15 minutes, or until the prosciutto is crispy and the asparagus tender.

6. Crack your first egg into a small bowl.  Using a slotted spoon stir the water vigorously so you create a water spout/tornado kind of effect.  As it slows carefully lower the small bowl to the center of the vortex with out letting the bowl touch.  Gently pour the egg into the center of the vortex.  Let it spin.  Poach the egg for 3 minutes.  Remove it to a plate and continue to poach the remaining eggs.

7.  When you have finished poaching all the eggs place them all back into the water to gently warm them.  Don’t leave them in the water to long or they will become hard.

8. Plate up the asparagus and prosciutto, top with two warm eggs and serve.

A Simple Smoothie

DSC_0444“Last night I had a glass of wine. Not so much to celebrate the new year but more to bury the last, there have been better years.”  This is what I had to say on New Year’s Day.  I am still mulling over my words.

As is my usual, I didn’t make a resolution.  I am more likely to sit in a chair and assess last year rather then try to change the new one.  Assess I did, and of all the good things that happened, and good things did happen, I made a conscious decision in October of 2013 to become physically fit. Continue reading →

Let’s Talk Turkey

Hen and Tom Broad Breasted Bronze As with anything in cooking there are many ways to cook a turkey. It is only limited by your imagination. Beer can, the Louisiana Turducken, deep fried, you name it and someone has attempted it, some with better results then others. Simply put, I am from the midwest. When it comes to the holidays I want to know what I am getting into. On the holidays I don’t like change, I am good with tradition and see no need to break with it. Continue reading →

Barbecue Chicken Pizza (+ How You Should Think About Prep)

 

This recipe is a throwback. It was extremely popular in the 1990s — along with duck confit and tuna steaks, seared rare. I still see it now and again on menus, but it has largely disappeared due to overexposure; we became bored with it simply because it was everywhere.

But, it’s been long enough. Let’s dust off the recipe for barbecue chicken pizza and give it another taste. I can practically make this pizza in my sleep — it was a bar special at a restaurant I worked in, and I made so many of them that I still have dreams about it.

I also realize that I no longer cook like I did at the restaurant. I only have four mouths to feed at home, and the prep for any given dish needs to be relatively quick.

As such, I’m a firm believer in this theory: If you are going to take the time to make one of something, you might as well make two or more. This belief holds water especially when it comes to baked potatoes, doughs, and most of all, whole chickens.

To save time, it also helps to organize and think like a chef — this involves weekly menu planning and daily ingredient prep.These simple steps help me to run an efficient home kitchen, reduce overall waste, and improve time management. Before I adopted this philosophy, I wasted an awful lot of time.

I still cook what I want, but I make those decisions on Monday when I menu plan. Ultimately, I aim to complete the prep work for five meals while cooking the first three dinners of the week. That means that planning ahead can be a lesson in patience: If I want to eat this pizza, I have to wait until the end of the week when most of the prep is done. But once you are in the habit of planning ahead, you’ll find yourself with more time — and better dinners.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Author Notes: I make my own pizza dough, and I always make enough for two to three pizzas. I divide the dough into portions after the first rise and freeze what I don’t want to use immediately. When I want to use the frozen dough, I simply thaw it (this counts as the second rise), roll it out, and assemble the pizza. This particular dough is based on Alice Waters’ recipe from “Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone”. It is the same dough I always use and trust.

Makes one 10 x 12-inch pizza

3/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups mixed onions, sliced
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cup Gouda (some people like smoked Gouda but I find it too strong)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 to 2 serrano peppers, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup Memphis-style barbecue sauce
Olive oil, for sautéing the onions
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl. Let the yeast dissolve, then add the rest of the ingredients. Use the dough attachment on a stand mixer (or a heavy-duty wooden spoon) and mix the dough until smooth; add more flour if the dough seems too wet, but don’t add more than a 1/4 cup at a time. Place the dough on the counter and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough into a bowl, cover it with a damp, warm towel, and let it rise for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

2. Punch the dough down and knead it for a minute. Divide the dough in two, place one half in a plastic bag, and freeze it. Place the remaining piece back into the bowl, cover with the damp towel, and let it rise for another hour.

3. While the dough is rising for the second time, place a sauté pan over medium heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions. Let the onions wilt, get gooey, and caramelize slowly. Remove them from the heat.

4. After the second rise, remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it out into a small disk. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

5. Heat your oven to 500° F. This is a good time to use your pizza stone; if you don’t have one, use a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.

6. Roll the dough into a 12- by 10-inch square, place it onto a piece of parchment paper, then put it onto a peel or sheet tray. Pour 1/3 cup of BBQ sauce onto the center of the dough. Working from the middle and, using the back of a spoon, spread it in a spiral motion until the sauce reaches the edges of the dough.

7. Combine the remaining BBQ sauce with the shredded chicken and stir until the chicken is evenly coated.

8. Spread a layer of red onions onto the pizza, followed by the chicken, Gouda, mozzarella, and finally, the serranos. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and salt over everything, then slide the pizza onto the stone.

9. Reduce the heat to 450° F. Bake for 15 minutes. Once it has browned to your liking, remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before cutting. Top with cilantro and parsley and serve.

Poulet á l’ Estragon (Chicken Tarragon)

_TJH7671

Spring always seems rushed. It’s as if we spend months climbing a mountain called winter, and when we finally reach the peak, we’re so grateful that we run as fast as we can down the other side — past spring and directly into summer. It’s even true for the vegetables we’re attracted to — the fleeting cool weather crops that are harvested and eaten before spring has truly begun. Continue reading →

5 Tips for Better Grilled Chicken Breasts

Grilling boneless skinless chicken breast presents a set of problems. I’m a firm believer that leaving the skin on and the bones in your chicken goes a long way to alleviating tough, dried out breast. But it’s an unpopular decision, because of the convenience and the ease with which we can gobble up the boneless skinless kind.

There are ways, however, to defend yourself against dry chicken.

Bigger is not better when it comes to grilling a chicken breast.
They don’t grow them like they used to. Today’s standard meat bird is a hybrid designed to grow big breasts and nice thighs.

The birds of yesteryear, however, were all about the thighs, and the breast was almost non-existent. These days it’s not unusual to find a double lobe breast that weighs in around two pounds — or bigger. Chicken breast can be the size of a turkey breast if you want it to be.

But you can get chicken breasts in any size you want. Restaurants, for example, will often serve two 4- to 6-ounce breasts as a single serving because seeing two on the plate makes you feel as if you’ve gotten your money’s worth. Your butcher should be able to order these small breasts for you. I prefer a single 6-ounce breast per person because it seems like an appropriate portion size — especially if, like me, you like to serve lots of side dishes.

Shape matters as much as the temperature of the grill.
A chicken breast tapers at each end, more so at the tail end than the neck end, which means the tips are either cooked perfectly while the middle is rare to raw, or the tips are burnt to a crisp and the middle is perfectly cooked. It is a lose-lose scenario.

I always buy the breast still connected in double lobes.
It assures pairs of evenly sized paillards, but I always cut them before pounding them out. It is important to note that sometimes in the middle of a double lobe is a piece of cartilage that needs to be removed. Cut along each side of the center line of fat to get it out.

Choose your instruments of destruction.
I have four pictured in the photo below; any will work fine. I prefer the flat side of a meat cleaver because it’s heavy and gets the job done. If you use a mallet, you will have to start in the middle and work your way to the edges in order to end up with an evenly pounded chicken breast. The pan is a last resort, but it is by no means a slacker.

For sanitation and clean-up purposes I like to use multi-layers of plastic wrap. I place a breast to one side then fold the wrap over the top before I get out my daily aggression.

Keep it hot, but not too hot.
I like the grate to be hot but to use coals that are on their way down from their highest heat. You want grill marks that caramelize without blackening. Chicken flesh becomes stringy and chewy if it is left to dry out on the grill, so use your common sense: preheat your oven if you think you might want to finish cooking the chicken at a low temperature.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(recipe adapted from the Fog City Diner)

Serves 4

The Adobo Marinade:
  • 3ancho chiles
  • 3guajillo chiles
  • 1/2cup reserved soaking water
  • Juice of one lime
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1/4cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4cup olive oil
  • 3garlic cloves, minced
  • 1tablespoon oregano
  • 2teaspoons thyme
  • 2teaspoons cumin seed, ground
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
To finish the dish:

  • 4single lobe chicken breasts
  • 1red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1lime
  • Sour cream
  • Cilantro
  1. Cut the tops off the dried peppers and shake out the seeds into the trash can. Place the peppers into a bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for two hours, making sure they stay submerged. Remove the peppers from the water and place them into the bowl of a food processor. Add a 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid to the bowl. Process until you have a pepper paste. Pass the paste through a strainer set over a bowl. You are removing the skins and seeds. Don’t skip this step or you will be severely disappointed.
  2. Combine 3 tablespoons of the paste with the remaining marinade ingredients and mix to combine. Season it with a healthy pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper.
  3. The marinade can easily be made a day or two in advance and stored in a jar in the fridge. The leftover pepper paste is great for enchiladas, black bean soup or chili. Store the paste in a jar in the the fridge. It holds for a long time.
  4. Pound out the chicken breasts so they are of an even thickness, then place the chicken into a casserole. Use half the marinade and coat the pieces of chicken. Let them marinate for two hours. Be sure to flip them after an hour.
  5. While the chicken marinates, make the lime pickled onions by tossing the red onion rings with the lime juice. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the marinade into a small sauce pan and heat it over low heat. Heat the marinade to a brisk simmer.
  7. Fire up the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the chicken breast. Cook them till done. Serve on rice, spoon the hot marinade over the chicken, top with sour cream, then pickled onions, and garnish with cilantro.

The Art of Honest Fried Chicken (A Lifestyle Choice)

Frying chicken, at its best, is a state of mind formed much in the same way as the quiet back beats of a porch-sitting session with a dear friend. It has a rhythm. It is good company on a sunny summer afternoon. It is pointless to rush. Futile, even. Besides, the comfort of a good friend comes from the effortlessness of meaningful conversation and is further heightened by the knowledge you have nothing you would rather do. Continue reading →

Kebabs Come of Age

Burmese-style wings with Shallot, Lime and Cilantro Salsa

Inside the house a Frank Sinatra record blares loudly from the phonograph, a big stereophonic console meant to look like a fancy sideboard. The family room windows of the atomic ranch-style house are open wide. The music makes its way through the open windows to the patio, soft enough to be background music for the adults socializing on the small concrete patio.

There are tall, slender glass pitchers of Tom Collins set on a picnic table bar next to a faux gold ice bucket, highball glasses, and an assortment of potluck appetizers. The parents sip cocktails and have lively chats. Their laughter can be heard four houses down at the babysitter’s, where all the children are being housed for the evening. Tiki torches release black citronella smoke meant to keep mosquitoes at bay, and in the belly of the kettle-shaped grill the coals glow the color of the suburban sunset. Continue reading →

A Delicious Roast Chicken for Any Night

I have a simple rule, whenever I figure out what good restaurant cooks like to make at home I follow suit.  It’s because most professional cooks like simple but deeply satisfying meals, roast chicken is one of those, it is a cook’s meal.  When I say simple I don’t mean in flavor and not necessarily in ease of cooking but more that it falls into the category of not being fussy.

And really, that is it isn’t it, that roast chicken is delicious, very satisfying and not at all fussy. Most importantly though it is easy on the cook and that is always something to grasp hold of and learn how to do.    So this is how I do it, I try not to complicate roast chicken, I use only a few dried spices  and I try to follow some simple guidelines I have come to trust over the years.

Roast Chicken Know-How:

  • Season the chicken with salt the day before you want to cook it.  Then set it into a tray with sides.  Place it uncovered into the refrigerator to dry out the skin and soak up the salt.  This drying of the skin makes for a deeply colored crispy skin.  The salt helps keep the chicken moist.
  • Trussing the chicken helps the chicken to cook evenly.  Besides we eat as much with our eyes so why not make it pretty.
  • You can cook the chicken on top of vegetables if you like letting the juices drip down onto them making for a wonderful side dish.  I do this as often as not but I never throw out the pan juices.  The pan juices make a wonderful addition to all sorts of things from pasta to…well, anything.
  • Adjust the top rack of your oven so the top of the bird is 5 to 7 inches from the top of the oven.  If it is to close to the top it will brown the skin well before the meat is cooked.
  • Avoid buying birds that are more the 4 or 5% juices added.  The birds that are 12% are brined and they are very, very salty.
  • Save any and all pan juices.  Use them in a vinaigrette to dress a salad, in pasta or in chicken salad but don’t waste them.

Cost to roast a chicken:  it depends on what kind of chicken and where you buy it but anywhere between 6 and 10 dollars for a 4 pound bird.  It should feed four with the added bonus of making soup from the carcass.

Click here for a pasta recipe using roast chicken leftovers: Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To Roast a Chicken:

kosher

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 chicken, about 4 pounds

1. Salt the chicken the day before you want to cook it or at least 4 hours before you want to cook it.  To do this sprinkle salt onto all sides of the bird including inside the cavity.  Place the bird onto a tray with side and put it back into the fridge.

2. Crush the fennel seeds either using the bottom of a heavy pan to grind it or with a mortar and pestle.  Combine the fennel with the rest of the spices and, again, sprinkle the spice rub all over the bird including the cavity.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

I like to slice the chicken before serving. I like to slice the breast off the bone so I have a carcass for soup at the end of the night.

3. Let the bird sit at room temperature for a half an hour or up to an hour.

4. Heat the oven to 400˚ F.  Place the chicken, still on a tray with sides, into the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes.  Bast the chicken with the pan juices.  Bake another 35 minutes.  Check to see  if it is done.  I can usually tell by the legs.  If the meat has pulled away from the knee bones then there is a good chance the rest of the bird is done.  Wiggle a thigh.  If it seems loose then you are probably good to go.  Tilt the bird backwards and see if the juices running out from the cavity are red.  If  all three of these test are passed letting the bird rest will finish the cooking.   Let the bird rest cover with foil for 15 minutes.

5. Carve and serve.

Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy

You can make meatloaf out of anything, from lentils to venison to duck.  You can get fancy and have the three meat combo made from equal parts beef, veal and pork or even a seafood loaf made from salmon.  The possibilities are endless.

From what you choose to make your meatloaf isn’t as important as how you make your meatloaf.  The steps you use will ultimately influence the outcome of the final product.

Meatloaf, in technical cooking terms, is a forcemeat.  A forcemeat comes in a few variations, from sausage to paté but is really nothing more then ground meat.  Sometimes it is emulsified until it is smooth such as in hotdogs and other times it is left coarse as in Italian sausage.  A binder is needed, bread crumbs, oats, rice might be typical and even eggs are sometimes used.

As you can see when making forcemeat you have options.  The one option I don’t stray from though is the ratio of fat to meat.  Without the right ratio for fat to meat you will more then likely end up with a dry meatloaf.  While it probably would still be edible it would be less then desirable.  So here is the ratio, 3 parts meat to 1 part fat.

Arguably this is tough to figure sometimes but generally grocery stores are good about marking such things as their ground beef with percentages of fat.  After ground beef though it is up to you to figure out.  I just apply a general rule of the thumb, the leaner the meat the closer to the ratio I stay.  Venison for example is very, very lean.  If I am making meatloaf from it I use 1 1/2 lbs venison to a 1/2 lb of pork belly.  On the other hand if I want a pork loaf I just by pork butt and grind it,  it always seems to be somewhere in the neighborhood of the ratio.

The other thing about meatloaf is it is designed to use less meat but feed more people or as we say it was meant to stretch out the protein and number of mouths it can feed.  To do this a filler is added.  Bread crumbs and oats are the first two that come to mind.  I used to use only breadcrumbs but over time I switched to oats and have pretty much stuck with oats ever since.  What the filler does is as important as how much fat you add.  It absorbs the fat and juices as the meatloaf cooks, hence retaining moisture.

When it comes to seasoning I find 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat works pretty well.  After salt you can spice your meatloaf however you want but I would be careful not to over spice it.  You need to find a balance.

Turkey Meatloaf with Peas and Gravy (Serves 6 to 8)

Turkey can be tricky in that it can become very dry.  I have found if I use equal parts ground thigh to breast meat it stays moist and succulent, of coarse the 1/2 and 1/2 soaked oats doesn’t hurt one bit either.  This is currently my favorite go-to-quick-to-prep meatloaf.  Here is why, more often then not I gently sauté any vegetables that will go into the loaf.  I do so for several reasons but the main reason is because I don’t like half cooked veggies in my meatloaf.  Sweating them before adding them to the meat keeps this from happening.  The two main vegetables I add to meatloaf are generally onions and garlic.  For this recipe I grated the onion and used garlic powder and it worked beautifully without any extra sautéing.

Note: of course you can add peas to the gravy along with the shoots or omit the shoots altogether and just add the peas.

1 pound ground turkey breast

1 pound ground turkey thigh

1/2 cup oatmeal, coarsely ground

1/2 cup half & half

2 teaspoons kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

2 teaspoons sage

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoon grated onion, grated on the small whole of a grater

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

1 quart homemade chicken or turkey stock or no salt store bought broth

2 tablespoons rice or wheat flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

ketchup (for the crust)

Pea shoots

1. Heat the oven to 325˚ F.

2. In a 2 quart sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir it constantly with a wooden spoon until it smells nutty and becomes tan in color.  While stirring, and stirring is very important here to keep from getting lumps, add the chicken stock.  Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and let the gravy simmer till reduced by half.   Taste the gravy and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

3. While the gravy is reducing combine the cream and oats.  Add the seasonings and stir.  Now add the turkey and using your clean hands spend a minute or two mixing the forcemeat until everything is well combined.  It will be sticky.

4. Making sure you pat out any air bubbles pack the turkey forcemeat into a 4 x 4 x 8 loaf pan.  Top evenly with a layer of ketchup and bake the loaf in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165˚ F when inserted to the middle.  Slice and serve with gravy.

The Unctuous Possibilities of Pan Juices

Spaghetti with Chicken, Black Olives, Lemon and Au JusWe all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul but it isn’t so good for our heart health. After all we are doing nothing more then adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume. So we have deemed it less healthy which to me means it is an occasional treat and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonights dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t get me wrong I am no health nut. In fact I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my waste not want not way of thinking. Nevertheless all this made me think. pan jelly

When I make my own stock I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat free, although I haven’t calculated it and I have know idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean and I also know it has very little salt because I didn’t add any. So looking at it in this light I started refrigerating the roasting pan and the next day I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrap all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar. I have already made a plan for its use, did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken, so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it but I don’t like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or loose it.

The jelly is infinitely better then bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris(meat bits and spices) and other times I don’t but it is easy to heat and strain, if you need too, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have too I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups.  Added to the broth it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices:  Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper, take a couple big hand fulls of baby Bibb lettuces  and toss it with the dressing.  Just before serving heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef:  You could make Grits and debris.  Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork:  Ramen noodles.

Pasta with Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon

(serves 4)

12 or 16 ounce box of spaghetti noodles

extra virgin olive oil

half a can of black olives, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

4 cloves of garlic, trimmed, peeled and slivered

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 to 3 tablespoons pan juices

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

parmesan cheese

1. Place a large pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water over high heat.

2. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the garlic and let it gently cook until it just begins to turn golden, be careful because browned garlic can be very bitter.  Add the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Now add the lemon juice, stock and pan juices.  Bring them to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reduce the heat and let the liquid reduce.

3. When the water is at a roiling boil add the spaghetti.  Cook according to the directions on the box, I am guessing 10 minutes or so.  Once the pasta is just tender remove a cup of pasta water and reserve it, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan along with the chicken, olives and lemon zest.  Season the pasta with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Taste and make the necessary adjustments.  If it is to dry add a little bit of pasta water.  This is the kind of pasta that should have a broth.  Toss to combine and once the chicken is hot add the parsley toss again and serve with lots of parmesan.

Chicken, Sausage and Red Pepper Paella

chicken sausauge and rd pepper paella_1Paella to me is the ultimate one pot meal. It also is the time of year where I am not ready for a stew but want something more substantial than the usual summer fare. Paella is a great answer. Although paella is considered Spanish I think this one is more Mediterranean. I use Italian sausages but fresh chorizo would be good, the important part is that the sausage isn’t dry cured or it would just be drier in this case. I also use arborio rice, but you could use the Spanish version of this as well.

SERVES 4-6

2 bell peppers

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 chicken legs, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 Italian sausages

2 chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 onion, julienned

1 fennel bulb, tops trimmed, core removed and sliced very thinly

1/4 cup garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

2 bay leaves

3 1/2 cups warm water

pinch of saffron, crumbled

3 Roma tomatoes, cut in half from top to bottom, and grated, large whole of a box grater, leaving the skin behind

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 cups arborio rice

1 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons green onions, sliced into thin rings

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. Sometime during the day or when ever you have time, turn a gas burner to high. If you don’t have a gas burner turn your oven to broil and place a rack at the highest level you can. Char the peppers, top, bottom and all on sides. The idea is to char or blacken the skin without cooking the pepper through.
  2. Place the peppers into a container with a lid. Set aside for at least 20 minutes. Crumble the saffron into the warm water.
  3. If you roasted them properly the skins will easily peel right off with out running them under water.
  4. Peel, seed and core the peppers and then julienne them into thick strips.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 16 inch paella pan or a 14 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and once it is hot add the chicken, skin side down, and then the sausages. Brown them thoroughly and then remove them to a plate. You do not want them to cook all the way through. They will finish cooking in the oven so you just want to brown them.
  6. Turn the heat to medium and add the onion and fennel. Season them with healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until they start to soften. Add the garlic, aleppo pepper and bay leaves, once fragrant add the white wine and grated tomatoes and cook for a minute or two letting the alcohol burn off. Add the saffron water and rice. Season again with a healthy pinch salt and pepper. Gently shake the pan to level out the rice. Place the chicken into the pan and arrange the red peppers around the chicken.
  7. Bring to a boil, place the pan into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Cut the sausages in half. Once the timer goes off add the sausages and place the pan back into the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
  8. Once the timer goes off remove the pan from the oven and place a clean towel over the top. Let the dish rest for five minutes, remove the towel and garnish with parsley and green onions, then serve.

Sautéed Chicken with Pepperoni and Olives

I can tell you, with great certainty, how good a restaurant is going to be by the temperature of their plates.  If I get a stone cold plate with hot food chances are the dinner will be average.  If I get a cold salad on a warm plate just out of the dish machine, again, I know the rest of my dinner has more of a chance being bad then good.  It tells me whether or not the kitchen cares.

When I worked in commercial kitchens it was a bone of contention with me and those who worked for me.  Your plates needed to be hot for hot food and cold for cold food, period.

There was a time at home, back before we had kids, when I would always warm our plates in the oven.  Probably sounds completely retentive, for all I know it might be, but I have never really given a rats butt what others think.  I did it because my wife and I enjoyed being at the table together, taking our time eating, and having some quality conversation.  Hots plates keeping your food warm is a nice touch.

We had this for dinner the other day, I warmed the plates.

Serves 2

olive oil

2 each 6 ounce boneless skinless chicken breast

1/4 cup pepperoni, 1/4 inch dice

1/4 cup Picholine olives, pitted and halved

1/4 cup tomato, diced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 tablespoon currants

2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, minced

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Season the chicken on both sides with salt. 

2. Place a heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot but not smoking add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Gently lay the chicken breast, what would be skin side down, into the pan being careful not to splash hot oil.

3. Brown the chicken on both sides.  Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil from burning.  Once both sides have caramelized remove them to a plate or pan and let them rest.  Pour out any excess grease.

4. Meanwhile put the pan back on the heat and add the pepperoni, olives and tomato.  Stir and toss it around until fragrant then add the white wine to deglaze the pan.   Using a wooden spoon scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Once the wine has reduced by half add the pine nuts and currants.

5. Give everything a stir and then place the breast back into the pan.  If the liquid in the pan seems at all dry add a 1/4 cup of water.  Braise the breast until they are cooked through which shouldn’t be long if you browned them well.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, add the parsley and stir to combine. 

6. Place the chicken breast onto warm plates skin side up,  top with the sauce, serve immediately.

Coq au Vin

I think this is one of the best dishes in the Classic French Cuisine repertoire.  This dish is amazing with any kind of chicken but if you can lay your hands on a young heritage breed rooster of about 28 weeks of age do so.  Depending on the breed the meat can be very dark and very rich.  I like this kind of chicken over the run of the mill Cornish Rock meat bird.  It has character, has a different flavor depending on the kind of bird and for me is a welcome change.

Serves 4

clarified butter

1 rooster or fryer 3 1/2 pounds, cut into quarters, wings and back removed and reserved

1 bottle burgundy or pinot noir

2 onions, trimmed, peeled and quarted

2 carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch hunks

2 celery stalks, trimmed, washed and cut into 1 inch hunks

1 leek, white and light green part only, trimmed, rinsed and halved lenghtwise

6 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs curly leaf parsley

5 cups rich goose, duck or chicken stock

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

a parchment round

For the garnish:

8 carrots, peeled and trimmed

8 boiling or pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

a handful of mushrooms, royal trumpet, crimini or white

8 oz. piece of unsmoked slab bacon or pancetta

A parchment round, it should fit inside the pot snuggly

your favorite mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Place a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold the chicken so you can easily brown it on all sides over medium high heat and add enough clarified butter to coat the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the chicken quarters and brown them nicely on all sides. Take your time, adjust the heat lower if necessary but brown it deeply without burning it. This will pay off in flavor later. Once the chicken is brown remove it to a plate.

4. Add the wings, back onions, celery, carrots and leek. Brown them lightly.

5. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Add the thyme and parsley and let the wine bubble away the alcohol and begin to reduce. Season the pot with a heavy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Not to much though you are going to reduce the sauce and as it reduces it will get saltier.

6. Tuck the chicken quarter back into the pot. Add the stock and tomato paste. Bring the whole thing to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.

7. Place the parchment round onto the surface of the stew then put the lid on and tuck the whole thing into the preheated oven.

8. Set a time for 1 1/2 hours making sure after 45 minutes to check and turn the chicken.  Now is the time to make your mashed potatoes but be prepared to keep them warm. I find an ad hoc double broiler works well for this.

9. After 45 minutes to an hour has passed place a large saute pan over high heat. Add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan and then add a little more. The mushrooms will soak the fat up like a sponge and you want them to do so. Once the pan is near smoking hot add the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper and brown them.

10. Remove the mushrooms to a plate and then add the carrots and pearl onions. Swirl them around in the pan. Add the slab bacon and enough water to just cover the carrots but not the bacon. You want the bacon to braise on the bottom but get crisp on the top so don’t cover it completely. Season the with salt and pepper.

11. Bring the water to a boil and then slide it into the oven along side the chicken.

12. Once the chicken is tender but firm, not falling off the bone, remove the pot from the oven, then remove the chicken to the plate you used before and  strain the stock into a bowl. Discard the solids and defat the stock. Wipe out the pot if you need to and then add the stock back to the pan.

13. Using pot holders, remember the pot just came out of the oven,  place the pot with the stock over high heat and reduce the sauce to your desired thickness. Taste and season appropriately. If it reduces to much just add a little water back to the pan.

14. Add the chicken back to the pot and turn it to coat it with the sauce and to rewarm it along with the mushrooms.

15. Check the carrots and pearl onions to see if they are done. If so remove them from the oven. Slice the bacon into four pieces.

16. Plate it up and serve.

Bodega Chicken Curry

I like to use a wok for these kinds of dishes. Besides everyone should own a good wok. By good I am not talking about those little non-stick thingies hanging from the wall at the five and dime. Those aren’t even big enough to make a half order of fried rice for a toddler.

What I am talking about is wandering down to your local restaurant supply store and heading for their wok section. They have blue carbon steel woks that are cheap, will last forever, are non-stick by nature and come in all sizes. I have seen one big enough that I could take a hot bath in it if I wanted but all we are looking for is a 16 to 18 inch wok. That is the measurement from one side of the rim to the other. It will seem huge but when you go to make fried rice for a family of four it all the sudden won’t seem big enough.

I use a wok for deep frying, making stews like this, fried rice and countless other dishes. It is the shape of the wok that makes it work so well.

In the end you can use a heavy bottomed pot, cast iron pot or enameled Dutch oven to make this. I just happen to like a wok.

I serve this with rice and peas and pot roasted collard greens. Roti is a must.

Serves 4

Island style curry powder:

1 tablespoon each, whole cumin, coriander, black pepper, anise seed, and brown mustard seeds

2 teaspoons whole allspice berries

1 tablespoon ground tumeric

1. Toast all the seeds and berries until fragrant in a skillet placed over medium heat. Remove them from the pan and let the spices cool.

Once cooled place everything including the turmeric into a spice grinder and grind to a fine grind.

For the curry:

peanut or canola oil

8 chicken drumsticks or thighs, skin on or off your call

2 yellow onions, about 3 1/2 cups, julienned

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1/4 cup fresh garlic, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly

4 to 6 tablespoons curry powder

8 to 10 fingerling potatoes, peeled and chunked

6 to 8 sprigs of thyme

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

if you want to add heat add habanero, jalapeno or whatever diced hot pepper you want.

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Place a wok or heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add enough oil to coat the pan. Add the drumsticks or thighs and brown them on all sides. Then remove them from the pan to a plate.

2. Add the onions and more oil it needed and cook until the onions begin to soften. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder (if you want heat add peppers now). Cook until fragrant.

3. Add the stock and water. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the potatoes and thyme. Season with salt and pepper

4. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover, stir now and again and simmer until tender. About 30 to 45 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

5. Serve.

Okra and Sweet Corn Purloo

It is the time of year, at least for me, where I have remnants–odds and ends–coming from the garden.  A few rebellious plants refusing to be defeated by a light frost are still putting forth small amounts of tender vegetables.  The real fall plants, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts haven’t yet committed to blooming.  In my garden basket I have Silver Queen sweet corn, okra, and a few green peppers.

I make purloo, a simple but very satisfying one-pot of vegetables, rice and some sort of meat (meant more as a seasoning then an entree.)

Purloo is a dish of economy.  It is a dish of diversity.  It is a dish that tells many a family history simply by ingredients the cook chooses to use. It is of Low Country origin.  Most likely a slave dish.  It is meant to serve many and it is meant to be comforting.  It is.

Serves 6

3/4 cup onion, small dice

1/3 cup green pepper, seeded and small dice

1/3 cup celery, small dice

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 cups okra, cut lengthwise or into stars

1 cup sweet corn, such as silver queen

2 cups smoked turkey thighs, skin removed, chopped (or ham)

1 cup short grain white rice

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

 

1. Heat the oven to 400˚ F. Place a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to the pot to barely coat the bottom.

2. Once the oil is hot add the onion, pepper, and celery. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not brown.

3. Add the thyme, basil, marjoram and garlic. Saute, being careful not to brown the garlic, until they become fragrant. Add the okra, corn and turkey. Season the purloo again with salt and fresh ground pepper. Taste and adjust any seasoning necessary.

4. If the pan seems dry add a little more oil. Then add the rice and stir it around to coat the grains with the oil. Add the broth.

5. Grab the pot by the handle and give it a sharp shake so everything evens out and is distributed evenly. Bring the broth to a boil.

6. Turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and slide the whole thing into the oven. Immediately turn the heat to 325˚ F.

7. Set a timer for 35 minutes. At the end of thirty five minutes remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid and using a tasting spoon check the rice to see if it is done.

8. If it is not done, cover the pot and return it to the oven for 10 more minutes.

9. If the rice is tender, serve.

Chicken, Basil, and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

Chicken and Basil Sausage with Cavatelli

The sausages used in this dish come from the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn and is a book I highly recommend if you want to make sausage and any charcuterie in general.  Pictured at left are trays of home made ricotta cavatelli.  The essay The Great One that generated this recipe can be found and read at foodquarterly.

.

Serves 6

Chicken Basil and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

6 sausages, Italian sausages would be great too

olive oil

3 onions, peeled, halved and julienned

9 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped, about a 1/2 cup

36 ounces strained tomatoes or sauce

1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup cream

a handful of fresh basil

1 1/2 lbs of fresh cavatelli or dried gemelli pasta

lots of grating cheese of your choice, parmesan, romano etc.

1. Place a 4 quart pot over medium high heat and add good glugs of olive oil, a little more than just coating the bottom of the pan. When it is hot add the sausage and sear it until is is deeply browned but take care not to over heat it and split the sausage casings. Remove the sausage to a platter.

2. Add the onions to the pot, season them with salt and pepper, and let them cook until they become tender then add the garlic. Cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant and then add the tomato sauce.

3. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. You will want to stir it occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. You want the sauce to reduce slowly and the sugars in the tomatoes to break out and concentrate. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and taste. Let the sauce simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. What I call mato gum will form on the sides of the pan and the sauce will be thick. Add the cream to the sauce, stir and raise the heat a little to get the sauce good and hot. Be careful with the sauce though it will burn easily at this point because of the concentrated sugars. You can either add the sausage back to the sauce or you can finish cooking them in a 400 degree oven.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions. When it is done, strain it and put it into a large bowl and toss it with the tomato sauce. Plate it, dress it with the basil, sausages, cheese and serve.

The Great One

Recently, for what seems like the millionth time, I sat down and watched the original The Hustler. Not because of the story, although it’s a great story; or Paul Newman’s blazing good looks, although his blue eyes are piercing, even in black and white.

No, this time I was watching the Great One: Jackie Gleason. He completely captivated my attention. He’s not in many scenes, but he steals the ones he’s in, hands down. You can almost see Newman studying him right there on-screen, as though his blue eyes are fixed, mesmerized, on the great acting Gleason is doing.

Their first scene together might be one of the best in any movie. Gleason comes up the stairs, enters the pool hall through a set of double doors, and there he is: the presence, the clothes (who else could wear that hat?), the je ne sais quoi. Newman’s eyes might pierce, but watch the banter between the two and notice the moments when Gleason smiles and his eyes are nothing less than sparkling. That sparkle in Gleason’s eyes has fascinated me for months. I’ve gone back and watched old footage of him on talk shows and other clips of him talking with folks. I thought “je ne sais quoi” was about the best way to describe the sparkle, but then I realized it was much more.

Jackie Gleason knew how to live. I never met him, of course; I don’t even know much about him except for what I’ve seen in those clips; and I have no idea what he was like in his personal life. But when I see that sparkle in his eyes, I can tell that he knew how to live.

And it’s not just Gleason. Others from his time seemed to have living down, too. The Rat Pack comes immediately to mind, but so do many others. Maybe their whole generation lived life to the fullest, having come through the Great Depression and World War II. I don’t know–maybe they were all jerks–but their collective persona had a “live each day like it’s your last” attitude, and if they had a few regrets they got past them.

Even if you accept that this was their stage persona and life behind the scenes was very different, they still personified something that has gone missing in today’s culture. What might be responsible for that, in my mind, is how every time you blink someone’s telling you what you can’t do and why not. It’s becoming oppressive to so much as eat a steak, have a smoke, drink one too many, or buy food that wasn’t grown by you or the farmer next-door. And this doesn’t even include all the old-school stuff like riding a bike without a helmet or driving without your seatbelt. Of course, you shouldn’t blow cigar smoke at the next table while you’re enjoying your steak and scotch, but that shouldn’t stop you from living.

But this isn’t really new. People have always been told what not to do, and rarely have they been given complete freedom to live on their own terms. The ’40s and ’50s weren’t exactly prime eras for civil liberties and personal expression. I guess what Gleason’s generation had was the ability to let go. They knew how to compartmentalize. They busted their butts while they were working, and when it came time to enjoy themselves, they shut out all that other stuff and truly, fully enjoyed themselves.

It’s a gift to be able to focus on what’s in front of you, be it work or pleasure, so that the task at hand and the people you’re with are always, at that moment, the most important thing in the world. The dinner table is the perfect forum for this, as long as the people, not the food, are the primary focus. I used to focus so much on the food, hoping each dish would be properly prepared and revered, that I sometimes forgot about the dinner. It’s like going to a top-tier restaurant. You go there for the food, not a bunch of banter and laughter–and that’s why chefs, generally, would rather just go to a bistro or a sushi joint, where the food is just as great but the experience is centered on the people and the reverence is for the atmosphere, not for each perfectly presented dish.

This pasta recipe is just the dish to enhance, rather than distract from, that kind of dining experience. A big platter served to a group of friends, along with a few sides, great bread, and some wine, it’s just the capper for the evening. Sure, I put some time into creating this dish for my guests, but there’s nothing serious or formal about this food. It lets you focus on your friends and it lets them relax and enjoy the meal.

Hopefully, as the night progresses, everyone will be living in the moment, experience life at its fullest–and maybe, should luck be a lady tonight, you’ll catch that sparkle in everyone’s eyes. How sweet it is!

click here for the recipe Chicken, Basil and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

Chicken and Rice Soup with Saffron

Good soup is hard to come by but it isn’t hard to make good soup.  It’s only as difficult as you want to make it.

While I know there are all kinds of prepared soups on the shelves of every supermarket I just can’t bring myself to do anything other than make it from scratch.  I beg of you to do the same.  You will be all the better for it and your health will be too.

If you are new to the kitchen it might take you a while to get the prep down.  There is cutting and chopping but as you practice and as your skill level increases your time in the kitchen drops.  Trust me.  I like to spend time in the kitchen some days but not all days.  I want to do things with my kids more than I want to make some three-day dish out of Modern Cuisine but that doesn’t mean I don’t eat flavorful good food

The one thing for which I am grateful is I worked in a from scratch restaurant where not only did you work the line but you did all of your own prep.  I became efficient because the Bob-Knight-of-Chefs boss I had demanded it.  I am eternally grateful to him for his persistence and for making me a better cook.

Makes 6 servings

For the broth:

1 yellow onion, trimmed, peeled and chopped

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 celery stalk, washed, trimmed and chopped

4 leg/thigh chicken quarter, skin removed

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

6 cups water

For the soup:

1/2 cup yellow onion, peeled, trimmed 1/4 inch dice

1 cup carrots, sliced

1/4 cup celery, 1.4 inch dice

1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked

1 tablespoon Italian or curly leaf parsley

1 heafty pinch of saffron

1. Place all the broth ingredients into a three quart heavy bottomed pot and place it over medium high heat.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer the broth until the chicken is very tender, the meat should have pulled away from the leg joint bone on its own.  Remove the chicken quarters to a plate and let them cool.  Once they are cool pick the meat from the bones and break it up into spoon size pieces.

2. Strain the both.  You should have anywhere from 4 to 5 cups.  If it is less add some water.

3. Discard the vegetables from the stock.  Clean the pot and pour the strained stock back into the pot.  Add the soup vegetables, saffron a heavy pinch of salt and some pepper to the pot.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook until the vegetables are tender.

4. Once the vegetables are tender add the chicken, cooked rice and parsley.  Make sure everything is good and hot.  Serve.

Asian Honey Ginger Fried Chicken

This is a straight up rip of Momofuku’s Asian Fried Chicken.  I won’t even call it an adaptation but it isn’t plagiarism.  This is credit where credit is due.

The Momofuku cookbook has been around for a couple of years now and it is still, hands down, one of my favorite resources of inspiration.  I think I have made, or at least made a version, of everything in the book.

There are a few things different from the original recipe here, the honey for instance instead of sugar and I shortened up the brine time.

FOR THE CHICKEN:

1 chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs., cut into 9 pieces, the whole breast should be cut across the back bone not with it into three pieces

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup salt

4 cups ice water

peanut oil for frying

FOR THE HONEY GINGER SAUCE:

1 tablespoon ginger, extremely finely minced

1 tablespoon garlic, extremely finely minced

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup green onions, sliced into thin rounds

1. Combine the salt, sugar and ice cold water in a large bowl and mix till the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the chicken, making sure it is submerged, and let it brine for one hour. After the hour remove it to a tray lined with paper towel and dry the chicken completely.

2. Place a large pot onto the stove. Fill the pot no more than a third full with oil. Turn the heat to medium high. Place a fry thermometer into the oil.

3. While the oil is heating to the magic 375˚ F combine the sauce ingredients minus a quarter cup of the green onions in a bowl that will eventually be large enough to carefully toss the hot chicken with the sauce.

4. When the oil is to temperature carefully add the chicken. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy and the chicken is done, ten to fifteen minutes.

5. Remove the chicken from the hot oil to the sauce bowl and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the remaining green onions and the extra sauce for dipping chicken and sticky rice.

Smothered Chicken

The tiny bright green stars of okra and the fresh lima beans, so tender the veins show through their thin skins, are nestled into a bed of bi-color sweet corn just shaved off the cob. Together they simmer in a liquid that is mostly melted butter, seasoned quietly with salt and black pepper.

Succotash is a poor man’s dish, made popular during the Great Depression. Somehow I never feel poor when eating it — but then, I feel that way about all soul food.

While succotash is comfort food, not all comfort food is soul food. I can find comfort in foie gras, but foie gras is not soul food. Succotash is.

At the back of the stove, the chicken thighs simmer away. Their crispy brown skin breaks the bubbling surface of pan gravy made with peppers, onions, and celery. There is a reason they call this mix of vegetables the trinity. It goes beyond the Southern flavor they bring to the dish — something distinct, even ethereal.

I am feeling sad. Sylvia Woods, of Sylvia’s Soul Food fame, has passed away. Over the years, her collard greens recipe became my recipe, her Northern-style cornbread a family favorite at Thanksgiving. It was with her recipe in hand one sultry Friday afternoon some years ago that I lost my red velvet cake virginity.

I pick up the paring knife used to peel the potatoes. It is dirty with powdery white potato starch. Fishing for one of the larger chunks of potato, I stick it into the boiling water, find one, and poke it with the knife, which slips to the center of the potato like it is room temperature butter.

Carrying the potato pot to the sink, I pour it into the strainer. Hot starchy steam rushes up and around my face before disappearing upward toward the ceiling. I let the potatoes sit in the strainer to steam out excess moisture and turn to the stove to stir the succotash.

The oven timer goes off.

I grab a kitchen towel to use as a hot pad and remove the black skillet cornbread from the oven. I can smell the thin, crispy bacon fat-and-cornmeal crust that forms when the batter hits the hot skillet, hiding now under the tender yellow interior. I set the skillet on top of the stove and cover it with the dish towel.

I like this point in the meal preparation.  The point where everything is coming together and there is a final rush to get everything done at the same time so all the food comes to the table hot.

I rice the potatoes.

It isn’t a coincidence the corn, okra, and lima beans are all at their peak out in the garden today.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

I always add the butter first to the riced potatoes so the fat gets absorbed by the starch.  Then I add the heavy cream, salt and pepper.
I like that soul food is about coming together not just as a family but as a community, even more so then it is about eating.  Not that the food isn’t important– it is about the value of sharing, too — but even the food shouldn’t trump the socialization that happens around it.

I taste the potatoes.  They are just the right texture and need no further seasoning, cream or butter.  I scoop them into a serving bowl, and do the same with the succotash, and put the smothered chicken on a platter with its gravy ladled over the top.

It is always lively at our table.  This evening, it might even be more so.

For the spice mix:

2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the chicken:
6 to 8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
2 cups yellow onions, julienned
3/4 cups green bell peppers, julienned
3/4 cups celery, julienned
water
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1.    Combine all the spice ingredients in a small bowl. Season the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and then with the spice mixture. You may or may not have extra spice depending on how heavy your hand is and whether or not you season 6 or 8 thighs.
2.    Place a heavy, large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add enough oil to the pan to easily coat the bottom completely. When it is hot add the thighs skin side down and brown them deeply. Once they are brown do the same to the other side.
3.    Remove the thighs to a plate. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery to the pan. Season them with salt and pepper. If the pan is to hot turn down the heat and cook down the vegetables until they are brown and soft. Add the flour and sauté everything for a bit longer to cook out the flour flavor.
4.    Add the garlic cloves and give the veggies a stir. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan and add enough water to cover the thighs by three quarters. The crispy tops should just be peeking out of the gravy. Add all but a tablespoon of the green onions to the sauce.
5.    When the gravy comes to a boil reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, this should take about thirty minutes. Season the gravy, stir and taste.
6.    If the gravy is reducing to fast and getting to thick add more water and stir.