Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Olives, & Cilantro

This little 30 minute meal makes an easy supper for weeknights when you’ve had a busy day but want somethinh a little special for dinner. The combination of the bright red tomatoes, green olives and cilantro makes a festive presentation and the zesty flavors burst in your mouth with freshness. I would serve this with orzo or rice, a simple tossed salad and a crusty French baguette.

Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Olives, & Cilantro
Adapted from Everyday Food, Fresh Flavor Fast – serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
½ cup green olives with pimentos (no pits), halved lengthwise
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup packed fresh cilantro, chopped (save some leaves for garnish)

Season the chicken on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If they are very plump, flatten then so they will cook evenly. Heat oil in a 12” non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add chicken and sauté until just cooked through, turning once, about 10 to 15 minutes. If the chicken crowds the skillet, cook in two batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Using the same non-stick skillet, raise the heat to medium and cook the sliced onion, stirring occasionally until soften, taking care not to burn the onions for about 5 to 7 minutes,. Season the tomatoes with a little salt and carefully add them to the pan along with the olives. Cook until tomatoes have softened and released their juice, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Season the mixture lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top the chicken with the tomato, olive and onion mixture and serve.

 This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Happy Halloween everyone. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mediterranean Chicken Stew on Polenta

We were very pleased with the results of this Mediterranean chicken stew. First of all, its flavors are very reminiscent of the Mediterranean with the sultry black olives and tomato bits briefly stewed with the chickpeas and chicken. Second, the appearance of the dish really has a wow factor when you strew the chicken and vegetables across the rich creamy polenta. The most surprising of all is that it was so easy to make the polenta in the oven. It just baked away happily in the oven while the stew went together on top of the stove. Best of all, this dish comes together in thirty minutes.

If you aren’t a fan of chickpeas (that would include my husband), by all means use cannellini beans. I can see shrimp in this stew, briefly sautéed and added at the last minute in place of the chicken. Most any fresh herb would suffice. We chose fresh oregano because we have it spilling over in abundance in our herb garden. Feel free to use marjoram, thyme, or basil. A brief word about fresh oregano – every time we’ve planted it, it has thrived and taken over sections of the herb garden. In the spring it has pretty delicate pink blossoms. It is a perennial that keeps on giving and will reward you for years to come. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about it taking over.

Mediterranean Chicken Stew over Polenta
Adapted from Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart

1 ½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves, cut into ¾” chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas or cannelloni beans, drained & rinsed well
4 – 5 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, & cut into ½” pieces yielding 2 cups
3 tablespoons pitted kalamata olives, cut in half
1 teaspoon champagne vinegar or other white wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Polenta for serving, recipe below

Season chicken with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat in the skillet to medium-low. Add remaining teaspoon of oil to the skillet. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add the drained beans and 1 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cook over medium heat until starting to break down, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the olives, vinegar, and cooked chicken along with any accumulated juices to the pan. Toss until warmed through, about 1 minute. Stir in chopped parsley. Serve over polenta, recipe below.

Printable recipe (including polenta)

Oven Baked Polenta
Adapted from Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart

¾ cup cornmeal, we used yellow
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or marjoram

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In an ovenproof saucepan or (ovenproof casserole) with a lid, whisk together the cornmeal, salt, pepper & water. (If you mix the ingredients together before the oven is heated to temperature, whisk them together again at the last minute.) Cover and bake 30 minutes, stirring half way through. Remove from oven, whisk in milk, butter, and oregano until smooth. Serve immediately.

Printable recipe for polenta

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Wind' Down Wednesday at Dizzy, Busy & Hungry, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper & Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.  
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Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ary Jean’s Red Beans and Rice

Today a group of food bloggers are celebrating the birthday of one of our most famous story tellers and cooks, none other than the witty and ever generous Michael Lee West of Rattlebridge Farm, whose blog features recipes and style for exhausted people. Michael Lee is first and foremost a Southerner who grew up on the Gulf coast and descended from generations of scratch cooks. She is the author of nine books, including Consuming Passions, a delightfully charming and hilarious food memoir, filled with quirky aunts and secret family recipes.

In an easy, talkative style, you’ll soon think you’re chatting about family with a close friend. Characters such as Aunt Tempe, Aunt Dell, Aunt Hettie, Uncle Bun, and her marvelous Mama seem to leap off of the page. They are all old fashioned southern cooks whose greatest pleasure came from cooking for their family and friends, but often they kept their secrets close to their heart.

Photo courtesy of Amazon 

In a family ruled by food that dominated their holidays and get-togethers, Michael Lee’s Aunt Hettie soon realized that with each death their culinary history was vanishing. At one funeral Aunt Hettie pulled her aside and said, “This is a shame. What a loss.” Thinking she was speaking of the relative about to be buried, Michael Lee was shocked when Aunt Hettie moaned, “She’s taken her gingerbread recipe to the grave.”

"Every Sunday, the whole family gathered at Mama Hughes's house in Amite County, Mississippi. They were ferocious eaters and talkers, devouring rumors and innuendo with gusto. Food was their common language, and everyone understood the dialects." -- Aunt Tempe, reminiscing about family dinners

Aunt Dell is an eccentric Southern character and the source of many juicy tales. “Some women are just prone to grease fires. They attract them the way other gals attract men. Both types eventually go up in smoke.” – Aunt Dell, chocolate connoisseur and crazy woman, talking about an insurance adjuster, 1990.

In the chapter titled “Funeral Food,” Michael Lee notes that funeral dishes must be easy to transport as well as appealing to the bereaved. Some foods are simply inappropriate. “I myself have never seen appetizers at a funeral,” she writes. “This is not a time to bring Better than Sex cake of Death by Chocolate.”

Mama is my favorite character in the book. “Just don’t ask her for a recipe,” Michael Lee says. “She likes to be the family’s sole source of perfect food. Mama doesn’t like rivals in the kitchen. Her motto is never share men or recipes because something is bound to get stolen.”

Well, luckily for us, her Mama did share many of her recipes, including her red beans and rice that I’ve featured today. As a southerner, I’ve eaten my share of red beans and rice through the years, but Ary Jean’s is by far THE best I’ve ever tasted. It has a very nice depth of flavor, yet it’s not overpowered by too much of a smoky flavor. I took the liberty of replacing the green bell pepper with some colorful red, yellow, and orange peppers and added some kielbasa for my husband who thinks red beans and rice aren’t complete without some sausage. And whatever you do, don’t forget the rice.

Happy birthday Michael Lee!

Ary Jean’s Red Beans and Rice
From Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West – serves 6 - 8

2 cups dried red beans
Bacon or country ham
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion (I used a yellow onion)
1 cup chopped celery
4 green onions, green tops and bottoms, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped (I substituted a cup of chopped red, yellow, & orange peppers)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & ribs removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine
1 smoked ham hock, optional but highly recommended
1 ½ cups chopped in chunks and sautéed kielbasa or other smoked sausage such as andouille, optional
Your favite white recipe to serve 6
Hot sauce for passing at the table

Wash 2 cups of dried red beans. Soak in water overnight. The next morning, rinse the beans in a colander and drain well. If you forget to soak your beans the night before as I sometimes do, here’s a link to the “quick soak method” that will rescue you.

In a Dutch oven, fry the bacon or country ham in the olive oil. Sauté the chopped vegetables, stirring, until the onions are clear. Add the flour and stir, making a sort of roux. Let it brown, taking care not to burn. ! A ham bone is a nice complement (and I highly recommend), giving depth and smoke to your beans. Add the drained beans, 1 quart water, and the wine. Put on a lid and cook the beans over a very low flame for 4 to 5 hours (mine were done in 3 hours). Stir occasionally. Serve with hot cooked white rice. Pass the hot sauce for those who like their beans on the spicy side.

Consuming Passions is a combination of what I love best – food and reading about people who love food. It’s the kind of book you’ll treasure and read again and again. If you love the South, don’t miss Consuming Passions. You’ll find that all of Michael Lee West’s books are as addicting as her Key Lime Pie.

Join the others as we wish Michael Lee a very Happy Birthday. 

Jain - A Quiet Life
Jacqueline - Purple Chocolat House
Pattie - Olla-Podrida

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This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.  
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti Frittata

The food world lost one of its greats on September 29, 2013, when Marcella Hazan passed away at her home in Longboat Key, Florida. It was Marcella Hazan who first introduced Americans to authentic Italian cuisine and forever changed the way we as Americans cook and perceive Italian food today.

An Italian newlywed, Marcella arrived in America in New York in 1955, speaking no English. When she encountered American Italian restaurants serving what tasted to her like overly spiced ketchup on spaghetti, culture shock settled in. With no cooking skills of her own, she was determined, as all of us are as newlyweds, to cook a proper meal for her husband. She learned English from watching television and, quite by accident, began to teach cooking classes after a course in Chinese food. The rest, as they say, is history. For more about her fascinating life and how she influenced Italian cuisine in America, I highly recommend this article in the New York Times, link here. Included in the article is a video of Mark Bittman’s visit with Marcella in her home where she relates her story of how she first started to write cookbooks. In the same article, Mario Batali is quoted as saying, “I didn’t pay attention to Julia Child like everyone else said they did. I paid attention to Marcella Hazan.” Lidia Bastianich calls Marcella “the first mother of Italian cooking in America.” High praise coming from some of our finest Italian cooks don’t you think.

Marcella’s recipes represent her love for simplicity and precision.  For that reason, I chose to remember her with this recipe for a simple spaghetti frittata from her cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. In the forward to this recipe, Marcella advises, “If you are making a pasta frittata for the first time, you will find this a good with to start with, to get the feeling, look and taste of the finished dish.”

Frittatas are very versatile and can be served sliced into wedges like a pie, or cut into pieces for an appetizer. Either way, they are delicious served warm or at room temperature, making them ideal for a buffet or party.

In this recipe, Marcella starts with freshly cooked spaghetti, slightly undercooked because it will undergo further cooking. We’ve been making spaghetti frittatas for years and often use left-over cooked spaghetti as the base of the our frittatas, but they require a bit more liquid than this recipe. If this is your first time to use pasta in a frittata, I suggest you follow her recipe to a T. Although the recipe calls for only Parmesan cheese and parsley as flavoring, I couldn’t help but improvise by adding a big handful of colorful sautéed sweet peppers for appearance. Once you get the hang of pasta frittatas, you’ll think of all sorts of ways to incorporate different ingredients from your favorite pasta dishes.

Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti Frittata 
Adapted slightly from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marella Hazan – serves 4

1/2 pound spaghetti, we like to use thin spaghetti
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 large eggs, beaten to blend and placed in a bowl large enough to hold the cooked spaghetti
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Added for color and flavor if desired:
½ cup finely chopped, sautéed red, orange, and yellow sweet bell peppers

Drop the spaghetti into 3 to 4 quarts of boiling, salted water and cook until firm to the bite. It should be a bit more al dente – more underdone – than you usually cook it because it will undergo further cooking. Drain and toss immediately into a large bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter, grated cheese, and chopped parsley, sautéed peppers if desired, and toss well. Set the mixture aside to briefly cool to avoid cooking the eggs in the next step. In the meantime, preheat the broiler.

When the spaghetti mixture has cooled for a few minutes, add it to the bowl of beaten eggs and mix thoroughly, distributing the eggs evenly throughout the pasta.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a nonstick skillet with a broiler proof handle. Before the butter starts to color, add the spaghetti/egg frittata mixture to the skillet. Cook the frittata on top of the stove for 3 to 4 minutes without disturbing the pan. Then tilt the pan slightly, bringing its edge closer to the flame of the burner. Keep the pan in this position for about 1 minute, then rotate it at a shade less than a full quarter turn, always keeping it tilted so that its edge is close to the flame. Repeat until you have come around full circle. Take a look at the underside of the frittata, lifting the edge gently with a spatula, to make sure it has formed a lightly golden crust all around. If it has not, cook a little longer where needed.

Run the pan under the broiler until the top has formed a lightly colored crust. Remove and loosen with a spatula. Slide onto a cutting board and cut into serving wedges as you would a pie. Alternately, cut into pieces or squares and serve as an appetizer. Good either warm or at room temperature.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dark Chocolate Mousse topped with cassis flavored whipped cream

Chocolate mousse is one of the all time favorite French classic desserts. If its decadent and richness doesn’t lure you in, surely its silky smooth, light texture will. Even thought chocolate mousse sounds sophisticated, it’s really quite simple to make. Because it can be made in advance, it’s perfect for dinner parties, plus your guests will love the fact that they get their very own serving.    

Our recipe calls for dark or bittersweet chocolate. Perhaps you are as confused as I am by the percentages of cocoa found in different chocolates. I found this guide in Better Homes & Gardens to be very helpful, link here. If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, by all means substitute semi-sweet chocolate or a combination of bittersweet and semi-sweet.

The chocolate can be spiked with all sorts of spirits such dark rum, bourbon, amaretto, or whatever suits your fancy. For a twist of tastes, instead of flavoring the chocolate, we spiked the whip cream with a dash of crème de cassis, a sweet French liqueur made from black currants. As you can see from the color of the whipped cream in the photos, the cassis’s dark red color turns the white whipped cream into a luscious creamy beige. You probably recognize the name cassis from the popular French aperitif the Kir or a Kir Royale. A Kir is made with a dash of crème de cassis topped with white wine and the Kir Royale is made in the same way but topped with bubbling champagne.

Although chocolate mousse can be made in advance, it’s best to make it not more than a day or two before you plan to serve it. The whipped cream can be refrigerated, covered, for up to two hours before serving.

Dark Chocolate Mousse topped with cassis flavored whipped cream
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman – serves 6

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons sugar
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon good vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate chunks and the butter in the top of a double boiler over low heat. Just before the chocolate mixture finishes melting, remove it from the stove and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth, then transfer to a clean bowl and set aside and let cool.

Separate the eggs and set the whites aside. Add the egg yolks to the bowl with the chocolate and beat in the yokes with a whisk. Beat the egg whites with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until the whites hold stiff peaks, but are not dry. Beat the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla until it holds soft peaks.

Stir in a couple of spoonfuls of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit, and then gently but thoroughly fold in the remaining whites. Fold the cream into the mousse.  Divide the mouse into six individual cups or ramekins and refrigerate. Serve within a day or two of making.

When ready to serve, top with your favorite whipped cream recipe, spiked with a dash or two of crème de cassis. Martha Stewart has an easy to follow recipe, link here, with excellent tips. Whipped cream can be made in advance and refrigerated, covered, for up to two hours before serving.

This recipe will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Food of Friday at Carol's Chatter, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

Have a great weekend everyone.