Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow? Who cares?

We got about three or four inches of snow here today,  but since it's the weekend I don't really mind.  It's lovely to sit around in my pajamas all day and watch the white stuff fall.  We have a fireplace insert that works like a wood stove would, and it's been 74* in our living room all day, without the heat kicking on.  Almost balmy.

I made brownies mid-day because I've been jonesing for something really chocolatey.  I have to say, Martha Stewart came up spades.  I spiked the recipe with about 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon and cayenne pepper, and added chopped walnuts, and these may be my new go-to brownies.  They're really easy to make and it seems to me they'd be endlessly adaptable.  If you'd like to give them a whirl, here's the link: .

Though my husband would probably disagree, one cannot live on brownies alone (even when they're this good).  We had some locally made mushroom and cheese stuffed ravioli, so I decided to see what kind of "pantry sauce" I could make.  I was hoping I had fresh mushrooms, but nope.  I do have dried porcinis, though, so I started there.  I'm pretty pleased with the outcome; the only tweak I'll try next time is a small shot of fresh lemon juice at the end to brighten the flavors.

Dried Porcini and Sun-dried Tomato Cream Sauce for Pasta
by Me

1/4-1/2 cup dried porcinis, reconstituted in 1 cup boiling water (save the water)and roughly chopped
3 halves sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/4 cup boiling water (save the water) and chopped small, but not fine
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4-1/3 of a cup)
1 small garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, or 1 tsp fresh, chopped fine
2 tbsp vermouth or dry white wine
1/4-1/3 reduced fat cream cheese  (could use mascarpone, but taste will be a little different)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
squeeze of lemon juice (optional--haven't tried it but think it would be good--if you try it, let me know what you think)

1.  In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the shallots and garlic, a small pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the alliums are softened.  Add the rosemary, and cook, stirring, one minute.  Add the chopped porcinis and tomatoes, and cook, stirring, about two minutes.

2.  Add vermouth to skillet, cook until almost completely evaporated.  Add the sundried tomato water and the porcini water (careful not to pour to the end, since there will be grit in the bottom of the bowl).  Increase heat to medium high and bring to a bubble.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.

3.  Stir in cream cheese until melted and smooth.  If using, add lemon juice.  Add chopped parsley, taste for seasoning, and if the sauce seems a little tight, add some pasta water, a small splash at a time, until the sauce is the consistency you want.  Serve over pasta.  Or chicken, or pork chops.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chicken Extravaganza

I have been reading Cooking Light magazine since 1997, when a friend bought me a subscription for my birthday.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that between reading the magazine and watching Rachael Ray, I learned how to cook.  I mean, I knew how to feed myself before then, but as far as making things that were interesting and learning how to riff on an ingredient, the magazine and the show are primarily responsible.  It's kind of funny, really, since Rachael Ray's recipes would often not make it into Cooking Light.

This month's issue (Jan/Feb) is all about "the bird."  I don't love chicken breasts, mainly because I'm so good at drying them out, but I do like cooking with the whole chicken and I like the dark meat.  I dog-earred a ton of recipes in the issue, and made my first one today (with the dark meat from the whole chicken that I took the breasts off of for yesterday's dinner, and the chicken broth I made with the carcass--this is why I love cooking with a whole chicken.  One bird, umpteen dinners.). 

My husband often teases me for being unable to cook for less than four.  Well, I outdid myself today!  I doubled the recipe, because I had enough of everything to do so, and hate having a half a cabbage lolling around in the fridge.  Seriously, when it's doubled, this soup will probably feed twelve people.  It made a great lunch today, and will be lunch and dinner again this week...and I froze four portions (the texture won't be the same, but on a night that I want to come home and get in my pajamas immediately, I won't care too much).  The soup that kept on giving!

Here's the link:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Citrus and Sunshine

It's a bit hard to believe, but today is January 7th, and it reached 60 degrees.  The sun was brilliant, and it was wonderful to be outside.  We even hung towels on the line to do most of their drying.  (We finish them in the dryer, since they can get cardboard-y if they dry only in the sun.  And I'll tell you what, for me, fluffy towels are one of life's simple luxuries.)

I also picked parsley from the garden today.  As you can imagine, during most winters, by now the parsley is a pile of green sludge.  Strange things are afoot, indeed.  Like I said in an earlier post, though, you won't hear me complaining!

Tonight's dinner, Sauteed Chicken over Wilted Spinach with Kumquat Sauce, is one that I don't make often.  It relies on kumquats, which aren't too common here in New England.  Strangely, I got two pints of them within a week of each other, one as a joke from one of my husband's co-workers, and one from my sister, in my annual Christmas citrus gift box (oh, how that box makes me so happy!).  I knew immediately that this recipe was on the docket.  The nice thing about kumquats, like most citrus, is that they keep for a long time if properly stored (I keep mine in the apple storage drawer of the refrigerator, and they're good for up to two months...if they last that long, of course.)

The other  nice thing about kumquats, if you're not familiar with them, is their mouth-puckering taste.  I think they seem to have a little bit of all citrus flavors in them; while the first hit is a bitter/sour thing, if you don't immediately spit it out (which I did the first time I ever had them) you get notes of lime, orange, lemon, meyer lemon, and grapefruit...all in one tiny fruit no bigger than a walnut.  They're seedy little devils, so while you can eat them whole (and I do, especially since the ones we've gotten are organic--but rinse them well) you may want to chew carefully, kind of like with seeded grapes.  This recipe calls for slicing them thinly, which means you need to stop frequently to pull the seeds out--some of the ones I used tonight had eight seeds in them!

My dad found the recipe for the chicken dish in the much mourned, late, great Gourmet magazine.  He raved about it, so naturally I had to give it a shot.  And, oh...just yum!  I usually serve it with a side of mashed potatoes, or with crusty bread to mop up the sauce that's left.  Barring that, I'd be willing to lick the plate clean.

Sauteed Chicken over Wilted Spinach with Kumquat Sauce
from Gourmet magazine
(I followed the recipe to the letter, except I doubled the kumquats.  Go with the original three if you're afraid it will be too tart.)

6 kumquats, thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 large shallot, thinly sliced into rings (about 1 cup)
2 bonless chicken breast halves, skin on; patted dry
1 tbsp butter (I used 1/2 tbsp butter, 1/2 tbsp olive okay, I didn't follow it to the letter)
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup water
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 cups packed spinach leaves, washed and dried (about one bunch)
salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat; melt butter and olive oil.  Season both sides of the chicken breast with salt and pepper and saute, skin side down, until skin is golden and crisp, about 5-7 minutes.  Turn chicken over and cook until just cooked through, another 5-7 minutes.  Lower the heat if it seems the bottom is browning too fast.

2.  Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm.

3.  Add shallot to fat remaining in skillet and cook, stirring frequently, for one minute.  Sprinkle sugar over shallot and cook, undisturbed, until sugar is melted and golden.  Immediately stir in kumquats, water, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved.

4.  Stir in parsley, and salt to taste.  If sauce is too liquid, simmer until thickened to desired consistency, between 1 and five minutes.

5.  Transfer two-thirds of sauce to a small bowl.  To remainder of sauce in skillet, add spinach and salt to taste, turning with tongs til just wilted.

6.  Divide spinach between two plates, top with chicken.  Spoon reserved sauce over top.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Steaming Bowlfuls

We're settling into winter's groove around here.  It hasn't been so bad; most of our days have been in the 40's, and we've actually had some 60 degree days in December.  While native New Englanders are a little disconcerted, you won't hear me complaining.  I can't garden, but walking the dogs isn't painful, and for that matter, neither is breathing outside.  Not a fan of the deep-breath-turning-moisture-in-my-lungs-to-icicles phenomenon...

I am, however, a fan of the long, slow cooking this season entails.  Earlier this week, on a visit with my brother's family, two of my nieces and I made turkey soup from their Christmas leftovers.  It was so lovely, I decided to make it again yesterday for me and Larry.  There's something about a steaming bowlful of broth and vegetables, with a little meat, that makes me happy.

Today's steaming bowlful is a version of Hoppin' John, in honor of the New Year.  I didn't have all of the ingredients to make the traditional version, but I cobbled together a respectable substitute.  I think that might be the best thing about soups and stews, really.  Don't have or like one ingredient?  Leave it out.  Have less of something the recipe calls for?  Add it with something complimentary.

The "recipes" below are approximations of the soup and the black-eyed peas I made--I didn't keep accurate measurements.  Feel free to make them your own!

Turkey Soup
serves 4

4-6 cups of turkey and/or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups diced onion
2 cups chopped carrots, a little more than a 1/4 inch thick
1 cup chopped celery, or diced, peeled celeriac  (about one small)
1-1 1/2 cups chopped parsnips, same size as the carrots
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1-2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chopped, leftover cooked turkey
2 cups cooked short-cut noodles, optional

1.  Bring the broth to a boil.  Add the vegetables and herbs, and return to boil.  Reduce heat to low, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
2.  Stir in turkey, salt and pepper to taste, and heat through, about 5 minutes.
3.  If using noodles, portion in to bowls and ladle soup over top.

Hoppin' John
serves 4-6

3 slices bacon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup small diced carrot
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1-2 cups black-eyed peas, rinsed
4-6 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice or cornbread, for serving (optional)

1.  Cook bacon in a medium saucepan over medium heat until crisp.  Remove, leaving fat in pan.
2.  Add all vegetables and herbs to bacon fat, and cook until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
3.  Add black-eyed peas and 4 cups of water, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until beans are tender.  This will vary widely depending on how old the beans are; mine took about an hour or so.  Add additional water if the beans start to dry out; you want them to be a little soupy (better sauce for the rice!).
4.  When beans are almost tender to your liking, add salt and pepper to taste.  When done to your liking, ladle over rice, if using.  Cornbread is brilliant, too.