Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Tale of Two Meals: Citrus Roasted Chicken and Greek Chicken Soup

It's finally sunny today and not a minute too soon. We’ve been living through the monsoon season on Cape Cod – the frigid version. With the weather still firmly in comfort food territory, I decided to bring in some Florida sunshine in the form of citrus to brighten my usual weeknight repertoire.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

Yeah, I think so too, and they sure did make a plain old chicken shine. This is such a simple dish, it shouldn’t even need a recipe. But just in case, I did provide one at the bottom of this post.

Dinner number one:

This winter I've started making my own chicken stock. We use so much of it, it’s a must have in our pantry or fridge – and free is good.

It’s so easy I don’t why I haven't always done this. After I roast a chicken, I just throw the leftover bones in a pot. I rough cut an onion and some celery stalks and add any pan drippings leftover from dinner on the nights that I don’t make gravy. I let the chicken stock simmer for about three hours and then I strain it.

So simple, but the citrus element of this dinner made me wonder what to do with the stock. I had a pan full of rich looking juice that I did not use for gravy, and I wasn’t about to waste those lovely bones.

I remembered that Greek chicken soup has lemon in it, so I decided to create my own version using ingredients I had on hand.

It turned out just fine and had more flavor than my usual chicken soup. We originally had enough leftover chicken to make the soup, but I live in a house full of teenagers (who mimic locusts every time they open the fridge), and that chicken was gobbled up in quesadillas as an afternoon snack the next day.

Determined to make my soup anyway, I used two boneless chicken breasts instead of the leftover chicken, which still made it an affordable dinner.

Dinner number two:

Citrus Chicken
Serves 4 – 6

5 pound chicken
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 line, juiced
1/2 orange, juiced
2 teaspoons French herb blend
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Wash chicken and pat dry. Place in dark enamel roasting pan. Mix three citrus juices together and ladle over chicken. Stuff leftover citrus rinds in chicken cavity. Season chicken with herb blend, salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Reserve pan juices and carcass to make stock.

For printable recipe click here

Greek Chicken Soup
Serves 4 - 6

3 cups homemade chicken stock, preferably from Citrus chicken
2 cups water
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked, diced chicken
1 cup chopped onion chopped (1 large)
1 cup diced celery, including leaves (about 3 stalks)
1 cup sliced carrots
2 cups chopped baby spinach
2 cups cooked orzo

In a large Dutch oven, heat up chicken stock and water. (If using raw chicken, poach two breasts for 30 minutes in broth. Remove to cool and then dice and reserve.) Toss in the oregano, salt and pepper, and add the onion, celery and carrots. Give it a good stir and then simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Add diced chicken (either fresh cooked or leftovers) and heat for about ten minutes. Stir in the baby spinach and orzo and cook 2 – 4 minutes, until spinach is wilted and orzo is heated through.

For printable recipe click here

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicken Pomodoro in a Pinch

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry and that’s never a fun thing when dinner guests are on the way. I had a big ole pork roast in the fridge and the Kitchen Genius suggested we invite my Mom and my step-father Tom over for dinner because Tom loves a nice pork roast.

Good call - until I opened the package of meat a little after 4 p.m. and a bad smell wafted up. Uh oh!

In a panic, I called KG, because he’s the first person I call for pretty much every disaster or triumph - no matter how minor. Lucky him, huh?

We needed a new dinner plan and my mind went blank. KG was working and distracted, so he wasn’t much help. Even though Mom and Tom would have happily eaten scrambled eggs, that menu wasn’t going to make ME happy. I grabbed a pile of magazines and leafed through them to find a recipe that wouldn’t require a major shopping trip.

I found one in the drool worthy sample copy of Cuisine at Home that mysteriously appeared in my mailbox a while back. (If you click on the link, you can get a free preview issue too. It's a great magazine with no ads and a photo of every recipe.)

The issue I received was full of yumminess that I can't wait to try like fresh pasta made into gorgeous dishes like Classic Cannelloni, and Pappardelle with Three Mushroom Ragu, but those would have to wait for another day when I had more time.

Luckily, the magazine also had a recipe for a fast and elegant dinner called Chicken Pomodoro. A quick peek in the pantry and fridge confirmed I had all the ingredients except boneless chicken breast, so (a once again helpful) KG picked some up on the way home.

I had a package of Codino’s Stuffed Rigatoni filled with spinach and ricotta in the freezer, so that became an easy side dish. I love the unusual shape of these little babies. They’re like tiny pillows with a ruffled edge. Simply delightful! Add a tossed salad and I had dinner on the table in about 45 minutes.

Does anyone have an easy recipe, good enough for company, for times when dinner plans fall apart? If so, please share…

Chicken Pomodoro
(Adapted from Cuisine at Home magazine)
Serves 6

6 boneless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup vodka
1 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 cup zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then sliced
4 tablespoons heavy cream

Place chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness. Season breasts with salt and pepper and dust each side with flour. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Brown chicken in two batches (don’t overcrowd pan) about four minutes on each side. Remove browned chicken and set aside.

Take skillet off the burner and allow to cool slightly. (If you have a gas stove, turn off the flame.) Add vodka to pan and whisk to deglaze bottom of skillet. Return pan to burner and lower heat to medium low. Cook vodka until it is nearly gone. Add chicken broth and lemon juice. When the sauce is heated, add browned chicken, zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer for about ten minutes, until chicken and zucchini are done to your taste.

Remove chicken and place on a platter. Scoop out tomatoes and zucchini with a slotted spoon and spread on top of chicken breasts. Add cream to skillet and whisk to blend. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve with your favorite pasta. Top with fresh grated Romano cheese.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Thyme Drizzle

Our daughter Jess was having a dinner party tonight and wanted a recipe for scallops. The Kitchen Genius came up with a new recipe for scallops recently that made me want to lick the plate. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I did run my finger across my empty plate when no one was looking for one last taste of this amazing sauce. Seriously, it was that good.

I love scallops, but for years cooking them intimidated me. It doesn’t take much to overcook them and if you do, the tender morsels turn into rubbery hockey pucks.

Luckily for me, KG is an expert at cooking scallops and showed me how it’s done. The trick is to sear them over medium high heat, making sure you don’t overcrowd the pan. I know from experience if you crowd the scallops they will never turn a nice golden brown.

And trust me, you want that lovely golden shade, not just for eye appeal, but because scallops are naturally sweet and searing them properly caramelizes the surface to bring out the best flavor.

So make sure your scallops don’t touch each other while they’re cooking. It’s a bit like taking a car trip with kids – you want to give them enough space so they don’t drive you crazy. Even though it takes slightly more planning, it’s more than worth it.

The most important kitchen tool for this dinner (and many others) is a handy dandy pair of spring release tongs. If you don't have a pair (or three) go out and buy some now. They’re as precise as fingers but they don’t burn when they touch hot food. You will use them to flip the scallops and move them to the baking dish. And then you will be amazed at how many other things these babies can do.

Have I mentioned how good this sauce is? It bears repeating, because sauces are another thing that used to intimidate me. I grew up eating gravy, not delectable sauces, so this is not a natural for me. I’m still learning, but even after all these years I watch in awe as that man whips together dishes like this.

We served the scallops on top of a turnip puree with a side salad.

Our daughter replicated that exact meal tonight and I just got off the phone with her. She was impressed by how easy this was to make (perfect when you have a house full of guests) – and yet it was so tasty that everyone was impressed with her culinary skills.

Don’t you love it when you can be a hero for your kid like that? It’s why I started this blog…

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Thyme Drizzle
Serves 2

1 pound sea scallops
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
1/4 cup honey

Pat scallops dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil. In small batches making sure they don’t touch in the pan, sear scallops 2 to 3 minutes per side until brown, but still medium rare inside. Use tongs to flip them. Place seared scallops in a baking dish and continue until all scallops are seared.

Turn heat down to medium low and add 1 tablespoon butter, lemon juice, zest, thyme, and honey. Cook, whisking constantly until thickened, about five minutes. Add the last tablespoon of butter and whisk briskly.

Drizzle sauce over scallops and bake in 350 degree oven for 5 – 7 minutes until heated through, but still tender.

For a printable recipe click here

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thai Inspired Mussels

As much as I love cooking, eating out is a real treat. Of course it is lovely to have someone else prepare a wonderful meal for me, but it also reminds me of an artist visiting an art museum. It provides inspiration and insight into new techniques and flavor combinations that I would have never come up with on my own.

We recently had the pleasure of dining at the most excellent Abba Restaurant in Orleans. If you're in the neighborhood, I highly recommend it.

The chef, Erez Pinhas, combines the Pan-Mediterranean flavors of his native Israel with elements of Thai cuisine in a fusion that is sophisticated and unique. Our whole meal was simply sublime, but one appetizer was especially tempting to try at home.

Pinhas made a dish of Thai steamed mussels with green peppers, coconut and basil cooked in curry and coconut milk broth. Total yum in every bite, with tender mussels and a spicy sweet broth.

When I tried to recreate the dish, I substituted red peppers for green peppers because I like them better, and I played with the sauce until it tasted just right. (I find it's better to start with less and add more with flavorful ingredients like curry paste and fish sauce when you're working without a recipe.)

I was thrilled with the results on my first try! This recipe only takes about 15 to 20 minutes from start to finish. It's a one pot meal that's elegant enough to serve to company.

I’ve made it twice so far and our oldest daughter Jess also made it for dinner for two of her best girlfriends. They loved it so much they wanted the recipe too. So Ryan and Kelly, this one’s for you.

When I make it, I use fresh pineapple, sliced like this:

Jess made it with canned pineapple because that’s what she had and she said that it was still very good. Add a salad and some nice crusty bread and this "appetizer" becomes an easy main course.

Thai Inspired Mussels
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 dozen fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 cup red bell pepper slices, julienne size
1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
1 (14 ounce) can of lite coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh pineapple, sliced into matchsticks
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed with beards removed

Heat olive oil in heavy Dutch oven over medium low heat. Fry basil in oil until crisp, turning once (about 2 minutes per side). Drain on paper towel. Add garlic and ginger and red pepper slices and cook over medium low heat for 3 minutes, until crisp tender.

Add red curry paste to Dutch oven and stir with a whisk until evenly spread out in bottom of the pan. Pour coconut milk into pan. Add fish sauce and salt and whisk until well blended. Return fried basil to pan and bring to a bubbling simmer over medium heat. Add mussels and cook until mussels all are open, about 5 minutes.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, March 16, 2009

Corned Beef and Cabbage Leads to a Truly Yummy Hash

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

When I was growing up, New England boiled dinner was a treat that my grandmother served fairly often. My Mom made it occasionally too, but it is really a dish I associate with Grandma Palmer. I can still remember how thrilled she was that I loved “ham and cabbage,” as she called it.

Yep, that’s right. Ham. A smoked picnic ham to be precise. I never tasted corned beef until I was in my late 20's, and I have to say, I was not impressed. I don’t think I cooked it long enough because it was tough and fatty – my two LEAST favorite things. Plus it made my whole house smell terrible!

Last week I found a good sized hunk of corned beef for $4 and some change and decided to give it another try, simply because it is the season AND it fit my budget. Plus I had corned beef on the brain – literally.

I had spent the week working on a story about all the St. Patrick’s Day events on the Cape and you can imagine how often the words, “corned beef” came up. I learned that my Grandma’s recipe is actually closer to a real Irish boiled dinner than the corned beef variety.

Falmouth pub owner Liam Maguire, a native of Ireland, told me he had never tried corned beef until he came to this country. Joe O’Shea at O’Shea’s Olde Inne in West Dennis said that his grandmother made the same dish as mine with a picnic ham as a substitute for “Irish bacon,” which he describes as a fresh cured pork loin. He will try to replicate it at his pub tomorrow.

Apparently corned beef is an Irish American food, and not an Irish one. Liam explained that it was a cheap food introduced to the poor Irish immigrants by their Jewish neighbors in cities like New York and Boston.

I’ve gained a whole bunch of more experience cooking since my first corned beef disaster, so this time I decided to boil the corned beef for 2 and a half hours in water and then roast it for an hour, while I cooked the veggies in the corned beef liquid on top of the stove.

I suspect I’m never going to be a huge corned beef fan, but this one was actually tasty. Roasting the corned beef gave it a wonderful crispy exterior and helped render a lot of the fat (but alas not all of it – diet food this is not).

Here come the eggs! Seriously, the best part of the corned beef dinner for me was the hash I made from the leftovers. In fact, I would consider cooking corned beef again just so I could make this hash again.

I finely chopped the corned beef and sautéed it with some of the leftover potatoes that I diced. I had one carrot left over and a tiny bit of cabbage so I chopped them up too and threw them into the skillet. Cook until golden brown crust forms. Top it with a couple of poached eggs - Now that was truly delicious!

New England Boiled Dinner
Serves 4 - 6

4 – 6 pound corned beef brisket (red, not grey)
1 tablespoon pickling spice (usually comes in corned beef package)
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
6 white potatoes, peeled
6 – 8 carrots peeled and cut in half (halve big pieces once more)
1 small head of cabbage, cut into quarters and cored

Rinse corned beef off under cold water and place in Dutch oven. Fill pan with water until corned beef is almost covered. Add pickling spice and pepper to water and bring to boil. Turn down to low heat and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Remove corned beef from cooking liquid and place in dark enamel roasting pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare the vegetables and add to cooking liquid. Simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Slice corned beef and serve with veggies on a platter.

For a printable recipe click here

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Supper Sandwiches Featuring the Monte Cristo

One night last week I found myself cooking for my band of teenagers. KG was working late and it’s never tempting to cook imaginative food for that fussy (but always starving) bunch. Sometimes you just have to cook for the crowd you have. After a quick inventory of the fridge and pantry (lots of bread, eggs, milk, ham and cheese) I decided to make Monte Cristo sandwiches.

I have no idea where the idea came from. I have never made them at home and the only time I’ve ever ordered one in a restaurant was at the Homeport Restaurant in Orleans when I first moved to Cape Cod more than twenty years ago.

But somehow I knew that the combination of a ham and cheese sandwich, grilled French toast style would appeal to my crowd. It did. In fact they loved them. I topped them with a fried egg because that’s the way we roll. Drizzled with a bit of pure maple syrup, it was a surprisingly satisfying meal that I will definitely make again.

I did a little research about Monte Cristo sandwiches and learned that the history of them is up for debate. They are believed to be a variation of a French dish called Croque Monsieur, served in a Parisian café in 1910. Those sandwiches were made with Gruyere cheese and thinly sliced ham – and get this (!), there is even a variation called Croque Madame that came with a baked egg on top. Pretty cool, huh?

On this side of the pond, variations of Monte Cristo sandwiches appear in cookbooks from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, but the name Monte Cristo appears to have originated in California, notably the Coronado Hotel in San Diego (date unknown) and Gordon’s on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles on their 1941 menu.

It took Mickey Mouse to make them truly famous. They appeared on the menu at the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland in 1966 and became a very popular standard that they still serve today.

I learned all of the above information at www.foodtimeline.org, a dream website for food geeks like me. Created by Lynne Olver, a reference librarian at the Morris County Library in Whippany, New Jersey, the website is an extensive compilation of foodie facts with cross links to other sites and reference notes for true food historians.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches
Serves 4

8 slices of your favorite bread
8 slices of deli ham
8 slices of mild cheddar cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
4 tablespoons real maple syrup

Make four ham and cheese sandwiches. Beat 2 eggs, add milk, salt and pepper and mix well. Heat griddle to medium. Put butter on non-stick griddle and spread it with a spatula to cover surface. Dip each sandwich in egg and milk mixture, flipping then over once to saturate both sides and place them on the griddle.

Cook until golden, about 4 - 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4 - 5 minutes. Bread should be golden brown and firm to the touch on both sides. Transfer to plates and cook four eggs over easy or to taste. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and drizzle each with 1 tablespoon of real maple syrup.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, March 9, 2009

Results from the Bog Throw-down and a Blogger’s Worse Nightmare

First the food, then the tragedy…

I left off with a bog Throw-down between my husband, the Kitchen Genius, and my lovely sister-in-law, Dana. Sorry it’s taken me so long to give you the results – which of course are quite subjective.

When my brother Chris read my previous bog blog about the challenge (see below), he immediately, wrote back:

“Who the hell puts red pepper in chicken bog?? Yuck!! Picture just throwing capers or something into Cape Cod chowder. Some things are just wrong ... even if you love capers,” he said, adding:

“Dana wins!!

President - Team Dana”

Well since he is the President of Team Dana (and Dana’s husband), I hardly think that makes him objective. But he did offer the following great background on Chicken Bog:

“By the way, when concerning bog it's not a "throw-down" it's a Bog Off! They actually have a huge competition every year in Loris, SC (The Loris Bog Off) with all the bog you can eat, live music, rides and games for the kids ... big fun.”

The next night I got a text message from Dana, saying, “I’m making some bog!” and the real contest was on. A few hours later this photo came through:

Doesn’t it look yummy? Dana told me that there are a million different variations of bog. Some people leave the chicken on the bone like we did. Others pull it off like she does. For the record, she didn’t have any problem with our addition of red peppers, but she know that CERTAIN people in her family will hate it so she abstains.

She boils the chicken and removes it from the pan to let it cool. She then adds the rice and kielbasa to the chicken stock in the pan for really great flavor.

Here’s my brother, the President of Team Dana’s response to the meal:

“Dana out did herself tonight! It was awesome! She cooks the rice in the water she boiled the chicken in and then takes all the meat off the chicken and adds it back in with the kielbasa! Yum. No bones. No peppers, no celery. The WAY IT WAS MEANT TO BE!!!”

I’ve tasted both bogs and they are both delicious. So in the absence of a real contest or judges, I’m declaring a tie. The bottom line is Chicken Bog is like any other recipe – best made just the way YOU like it.

Now the tragedy:

I’ve missed my blog and my Internet friends SO MUCH this week! Just two hours after I expressed my sympathy to another blogger whose computer crashed, my own beloved laptop crashed too! And of course I did not have a backup – of anything.

This even after I have read about countless other crash and burn stories where people lost everything. The worse thing is I had plenty of warning this could happen. Before the scary blue screen took over, my laptop had been working slower and slower.

I could shower (and even shave my legs, and blow dry my hair) faster than I could retrieve my morning email. A few weeks before the tragedy, I bought a pen drive with every intention of backing up my files. And then I got busy and didn’t do it. Foolish me.

Thankfully, my uncle is a computer expert and he was able to retrieve all of my data. Since I couldn’t afford to buy a new laptop, he offered to fix my old one. The short version is, he installed a new hard drive, ordered more memory and ran the start up disc to restore everything back to the day I first bought it.

So far, so good, EXCEPT - when I bought the laptop I paid extra for Microsoft Office 2003 and that disc is no where to be found. Not at my house, not at Dell, not at Microsoft (but very expensive on Ebay). So for now, I have a very old word processing program and no Outlook for my email. All of my saved email files are useless unless I find a copy of that disc or splurge and buy Office 2007.

Having a whole week without my laptop has forced me to analyze my attachment to it. Unnatural? Unhealthy? Maybe, but I sure am glad to have it back. The first few days it was gone, I paced around my house, stopping each time at the empty space where my beloved usually sits with tears in my eyes. (I really wish I was exaggerating here.)

Then I realized it was truly gone and got depressed. I read three books during this phase because reading is always my first response to depression. When my life sucks, I love the opportunity to fall into someone else’s.

Then I got restless again and began to watch TV - an activity I haven't regularly done since I started the blog and realized something had to give timewise.

I found the exact perfect avenue for my mood – “Saving Grace” on TNT. Have you seen this series? I can only say, I must have passed into the anger phase of grief and the episodes I watched allowed me to vicariously live out every naughty impulse I’ve ever had and a whole bunch I’ve never dreamed of.

“Saving Grace” is the story of one very crazy cop, played brilliantly by Holly Hunter. The show is overflowing with an abundance of anger and every dysfunctional behavior you can think of. I LOVE IT.

On the two episodes I watched (from last season), there was crazy wild sex, including a smearing of condiments all over naked bodies (who knew plain old catsup and yellow mustard could be so arousing?), tons of drinking (beers and shots flow freely) and good friends who are always supportive even when you mess up (sign me up for some of them).

Since it’s a cop drama there is also a puzzling murder mystery – and then there’s the resident angel, Earl. Yep, an angel to let you off the hook for watching such smut to begin with. (Warning: Earl is not a Michael Landon kind of angel).

But then even my anger faded and after my walk on the wild side with Grace, I was once again back to missing my peeps and the blogging world. Even though I don’t have email yet, I do have the Internet, and I can’t wait to see what’s been cooking in all of your kitchens while I’ve been away.