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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Salt + Pepper Chicken and Mediterranean Potato Salad

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Any of you living in Boston will agree that the past winter – and even the start of spring – has been tough.   So to kick off what I’m hoping will be a slightly warmer week, I decided to prepare a lighter, spring-inspired dinner.

And because I didn’t have a lot of time to cook AND track my progress with photos, all I have to show for myself is the above shot of the final product: simple salt+pepper pan-seared split chicken breast with a warm Mediterranean potato salad.

This potato and green bean salad is really one of my favorite things to make.  It pairs beautifully with any protein – chicken, fish, beef… and is also really good on its own.  It’s hearty, thanks to the potatoes and chickpeas, and has big flavor that comes from the acidic bite of the dressing, and the brightness of the olives and capers.

Potato Salad

  • 1/4 pound haricot verts (or the finest green beans you can find)
  • 1 lb small red potatoes
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley and mint
  • 2 TBSP capers
  • 2 TBSP chopped green olives
  • 1 TBSP each of extra virgin olive oil, grain dijon mustard, good red wine vinegar

Clean the green beans and boil for 2-3 minutes in salted boiling water.  Drain (with a hand strainer – keep the boiling water for the potatoes!) and immediately immerse them in a ice water bath to stop cooking and preserve the bright green color.

If using small red potatoes, quarter them so they’re about an inch and a half big (if using larger potatoes, cut them so that they get to that size).  Place them in the same boiling water used for the green beans and boil for 10-15 min or until a knife pierces through the center easily.

While the potatoes are boiling, take the green beans out of the cold water, pat dry, and place in a large bowl.  To the bowl, add the red onion (chopped), chickpeas (rinsed), capers (chopped), olives (chopped), and herbs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard and red wine vinegar.  When the potatoes are ready, drain, and add (while warm) to the mixture already in the bowl.  Pour over the dressing and toss well.

Salt + Pepper Chicken

This recipe is super simple.  But to get it right, the key is PATIENCE.  First, let 2 lbs of bone-in, skin-on split chicken breast rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Then pat dry, brush with olive oil, and generously sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Second, put 3 TBSP olive oil (or canola oil – it can get hotter without burning) into a 12″ cast iron skillet (or any other large skillet you have – that can easily fit all the chicken pieces) and heat until you see the oil start to smoke.  Then place the chicken in, skin-side down.  Let sear for at least five minutes until a golden brown crust has developed and it pulls away easily from the skillet.  Don’t attempt to move or flip the chicken before that crust is fully formed – if you do, you’ll rip away the skin, leaving parts of it in the pan, and be left with a torn-up looking chicken with a golden color, but no crispness.

Once flipped, let cook for another 5-7 minutes, and turn every so often until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees.

Let rest for 5-10 minutes so the juices can redistribute and settle back in, and serve with a generous portion of the salad (at room temperature) along with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc – a nice French Sancerre would be fabulous!

Happy eating!

Best. Vodka sauce. Ever.

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I recently watched an episode of The Barefoot Contessa in which she featured a recipe from Joe Realmuto, executive chef of Nick and Toni’s, an Italian restaurant in the Hamptons.

I’ve never been particularly interested in making or eating anything with a vodka sauce.  I don’t know why, but for some reason the idea of putting vodka in my food really threw me off.  But after seeing the way Chef Realmuto prepared this dish on the program, and watching both he and Ina Garten “ooooohhhhh” and “aaaaahhhhh” about how amazing it was, I figured I had to try it out.  And boy am I glad I did.  This will absolutely, without a doubt be a go-to of mine for dinner parties (and lazy, rainy Sunday evenings) for a long time to come.

Although time-consuming, with the exception of a couple tedious steps the preparation of this sauce is fairly easy.  First, simply chop up a medium-sized yellow onion and finely mince 3 garlic cloves.  Throw them into a large dutch oven (that has a cover and is oven-proof) with 1/4 cup olive oil.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Next, add in 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes and 1 1/2 tsp oregano and cook for about 1 minute more.  Now, this may seem like a lot of oregano, but this makes a lot of sauce, and the flavor really adds a lot to the final product.  After a minute, add 1 full cup of vodka and cook until the mixture reduces by half.

While the mixture is reducing, strain two (2) 28 oz. cans of whole, peeled tomatoes.  I use San Marzano because I personally think they are the most flavorful, but any brand you like will be just fine. (Helpful tip – save the juice you strain from the tomatoes and either freeze it into cubes for future flavoring of soups, stews, and sauces, or for homemade bloody mary mix).

After the mixture has reduced by about half…

… using your hands, crush the tomatoes into the pot – being very careful to do so slowly, lest you end up with a shirt covered with tomato juice/seeds (like I did).  For those of you not used to working with your hands, this may seem sort of gross, but there’s something actually really nice about doing something with your hands instead of a kitchen tool.

Once all the tomatoes have been crushed into the sauce, add in 1/2 tsp of black pepper, 2 tsp of salt, stir well then cover the pot and place into a pre-heated 375 degree oven.  Cook covered for 1 1/2 hours, after which the tomatoes will look something like this.

Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes or so, and then using a food processor, puree everything in batches until smooth.

Return the pureed sauce to the dutch oven and reheat, adding another 2 TBSP oregano and enough heavy cream (3/4 cup to a full cup) to give it a silky consistency and deep pink color.

Taste and add more salt/cream if necessary.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then toss in cooked pasta. (Let’s be honest, this meal is ALL about the sauce, so the pasta is totally secondary.)  This time around I chose rigatoni, but any large shape with a lot of space to fill like penne or shells, will be just fine.  If you’re a cheese lover, add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan.  But even without, it will be DELISH.  Make this dish… seriously.  It’s that good.

Serve with slices of country bread and a light green salad with a simple vinaigrette.  Good wine pairings for this would be a light bodied red such as Beaujolais, Cote du Rhone, or even a Rose.  Verdicchio would be a nice white option.

Happy eating!

5 kitchen essentials

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As anyone with a passion for cooking will attest, we love our “stuff”.  My apartment’s small kitchen is stuffed to the brim with all sorts of gadgets, cookware, utensils, and electronics all designed to help me be better cook or – better yet – designed to make me FEEL like a better cook.  Because really, when you’re using a top of the line Global spatula to ease some salmon out of your Calphalon saute pan don’t you think, “wow – I’m JUST like Eric Ripert”?

But lately I’ve been thinking about what it is I really use the most in my kitchen.  You know, the things you couldn’t live without.  The things that always seem to be dirty because you use them for 80% of what you cook.  So here I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite kitchen items.  Sure there are plenty more things I use a lot, and that I could have added if this list was my “top 10”, but I wanted to stay focused.  So for those of you who don’t know what you really NEED, here is a good place to start.

Lodge 12″ Cast Iron with cover: $30

My lovely friend, Lisa, gave me this for my birthday a couple of years ago after we had taken a Mediterranean cooking class together.  Our instructor recommended that we all buy a good cast-iron pan.  She said we would use it for everything.  And since getting one, I have. It’s so versatile that it would probably be easier for me to list the things I can’t prepare with it than the things I can.  What I will say is that it sears meat beautifully, and is really the only way to make a proper Spanish tortilla                                              (recipe to come later).  Take care of it, and it should last the better part of a lifetime. 

Le Creuset 5 1/2 qt round dutch oven$245 (can be a little more or less)

Oh Le Creuset… even your name is fun to say.  But you’re even more fun to cook in!  This particular item was a very generous gift from my mother and is one I go to so often for preparing my favorite dishes.  It heats evenly, goes smoothly from stovetop-to oven-to table (and then to the fridge), and clean-up is a breeze.  It’s perfect for slow-roasting or braising meats, or making things like soups, stews, risottos, and even lasagnas – yes lasagna!  The 5 1/2 qt size is, in my opinion, is juuuuust right.  Any smaller and you’d be hard-pressed to fit a large chicken into it, but any larger and it becomes cumbersome and useful only on those rare occasions when you need to feed 10+ people.

Wooden spoons – from $2.00 each Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here.  I said 5 kitchen essentials, but now I’m saying “spoons” plural.  Because these are all of the same family, I’m counting them as one.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get holding a well-used wooden spoon.  It feels sturdy yet soft, cozy yet capable.  I simply love this tool and if I had my way, I’d probably have 50 at home.  But 2 or 3 will suffice.  I’d suggest picking up one fully round, one rounded with a slight edge (for getting into the corners of pans) and one that’s straight across, to be used more as a spatula.  These three will cover you for all your cooking needs.  But beware – do NOT ever put these into the dishwasher.  Warm soap and water is the only way you should clean them.

8″ Chef’s Knife. Good ones start at $50.

I use my 8″ chef’s knife for a lot – slicing, chopping, dicing, mincing – really everything.  When shopping, look for one with a blade made of high carbon stainless steel, and make sure the handle is riveted to the blade.  Ever had the handle of one of your cheap knives  crack off? That’s because it wasn’t riveted.

Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on this item. It will last you forever with yearly sharpening and a little TLC – e.g. hand-washing , always using it on a wooden cutting board, storing them in a knife block (only if they’re clean and DRY- no mold thank you!).

8 qt. soup/pasta pot. $75

We’ve all been there.  Attempting to cook a lot of pasta in a pot that is not quite large enough.  Remember that pasta loves to swim through the water with freedom.  So if you want to cook it well, you need to cook it in LOTS of water (heavily salted, like the sea of course).  The one I’d recommend is from Calphalon, and it comes with bonus items, too.  Fun, right?! For $75 bucks, (or less depending on where you shop), you get the 8 qt. pot that is perfect for cooking all types of pasta – particularly long form types like spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle – as well as a full pasta insert (to make sure you get every one of those pesky strands out of the hot water), plus a smaller stainless steel steamer that fits on top of the pot.  This, my friends, is what we call a good deal.

So there you have it.  My top five picks, for kitchen must-haves.  Like I said, there are many more things you’ll need to be properly prepared for anything in the kitchen (3 1/2 qt. saucepan, set of measuring cups and spoons, good pair of tongs, strong wooden cutting board, half sheet pans for baking…) but writing about all of that could take me another week!

If you have any of these items, I hope you agree on how indispensable they are.  If you don’t, go pick ’em up!  Even the pricier ones will be a good investment since you’ll probably never have to buy another one again 🙂

Happy eating (and cooking)!

P.S. Stay tuned for a post on how to make the most unbelievable vodka sauce you’ve ever tasted courtesy of her highness Ina Garten.