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Category Archives: Meals worth making

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!

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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!

Yummy Brunch – in 5 minutes!

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Oh how I love Monday holidays.  I get up late.  I brew some coffee.  I eat brunch!

Today, not really having a plan for my meal, I decided to see what I had in my fridge… hmmm, potatoes (leftover from brunch the other day at The Friendly Toast), some cherry tomatoes, onions, eggs, a couple of pieces of prosciutto, some Port Salut cheese…  I could work with that.  A scramble would be just the thing to start my day (um, afternoon) off right!

I started off by putting the two pieces of prosciutto in the toaster oven and toasting them until they got nice and crispy.  As that was cooking, I chopped up the already cooked potatoes and onions, and sauteed them until crisp (along with some salt + pepper).  To that, I added some butter + two eggs, and scrambled it all together for about 30 seconds.  (While that cooked I quickly chopped up the tomato.)

After the 30 or so seconds, I shut the burner off and threw in the cheese, tomato, and broke the prosciutto into bits over the top and covered the pan.

A minute or two later, when I took the cover off, the cheese had melted thanks to the residual heat, and the tomatoes had warmed through.  I mixed it together again and sat down for my super quick, super frugal and super delish brunch.

Happy eating!

Oh Baby! Bolognese

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My friend Winston gave me Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan for my birthday a couple of years ago.  He, who, by the way is an incredible cook,  said that was THE book that taught him everything he knows.  After making this Bolognese, I believe it.

A warning to any that want to try this recipe out for themselves, it’s a traditional Bolognese sauce, which means it takes hours (as in more than 2) to prepare, so I’d suggest picking a lazy Sunday afternoon to prepare it.  But if you feel like “going home sick” from work one day when you just need a cooking break, I fully support that as well… it’s THAT good.

Couple of tips – I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil (which is what the recipe calls for).  I also used about 2/3 cup onion and an entire 28 oz can of tomatoes (vs. the 1 1/2 cups).  As for pasta, I’d definitely recommend going with something fresh if possible.  I picked up some fresh pappardelle from DePasquale’s in the North End, but honestly, it was a little too thick for my liking.  Next time, a more delicate tagliatelle would be better.

Ray and I enjoyed this with a nice glass of Syrah, but the Pinot Gris we had opened to use in the sauce was good, too.

Happy Eating!

Marvelous Marcella’s Bolognese Recipe

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • ¾ pound ground beef chuck
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Whole nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I had Pinot Gris on hand, so I used that)
  • 1-½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, torn into pieces, with juice
  • 1-¼ to 1-½ pounds pasta, cooked and drained
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table

1. Put oil, 3 tablespoons butter and chopped onion in a heavy 3-½-quart pot and turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent, then add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.

2. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until beef has lost its raw, red color.

3. Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating, about 1/8 teaspoon, fresh nutmeg and stir.

4. Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.

5. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add ½ cup water as necessary. At the end of cooking, however, the water should be completely evaporated and the fat should separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

6. Add remaining tablespoon butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.  (I am a firm believer in incorporating cheese into everything I eat, but this was so savory, it wasn’t even necessary – UNBELIEVABLE!)

Spanish Chicken Bake… 7.5 out of 10 stars

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I love Nigella Lawson.  I love her English wit.  I love how honest she is with her cooking, and how realistic she is about how much time certain things take (or shouldn’t take).  But most of all, I love the way her descriptions of food and the process of cooking sound like poetry.  If you haven’t watched her program on the Food Network, or visited her site (www.nigella.com), I strongly encourage you do.

It was actually on a recent trip to Borders bookstore that I found this Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes recipe.  I picked up her new book – Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, and couldn’t put it down.  There were so many recipes I wanted to try!  But which to make first?!?  I contemplated making fish with pan-fried gnocchi (how smart is that as a time saver for crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside potatoes?!) but ended up making this one-pot meal on a cold Tuesday night.  It turned out pretty well…  it didn’t exactly rock my world, but it was very tasty and it hit the spot with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc.   I think next time I may add a little brown sugar, and even some orange juice to give the meat a little more flavor.

Recipe: Spanish Chicken and Chorizo with Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons regular olive oil, plus a bit more
  • 1.75 lbs chicken thighs (bone in, with skin)
  • 2-3 links chorizo, chopped into 1″ chunks
  • 4 medium potatoes, cut into 1.5″ chunks
  • 2 small or 1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano grated
  • zest 1 orange
  • Directions

    Preheat the oven to 425°.  Put the 2 TBSP oil in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan, and rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin-side up, salting both sides liberally with salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

    Toss the chorizo and the potatoes with the chicken (adding a bit more olive oil and salt and pepper).  Sprinkle the onion and the oregano over, then grate the orange zest over the contents of the 2 tins.

    Cook for 1 hour, basting every 10 minutes after the first half hour to make sure everything gets golden and crispy!

    To cool off the heat of the chicken dish, as well as complement some of the flavors, I made a naval orange salad with olives and red onion.  The vinaigrette was a simple: 2 parts olive oil to 1 part orange/lemon juice with a dash of honey, salt + pepper.  Delish! 

    Happy eating!

    Dinner at Tony + Melissa’s

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    On Saturday night after working up QUITE an appetite thanks to the Deval Patrick and Obama rally we attended earlier that day, Ray and I went to dinner at Tony + Melissa’s house (wonderful friends with amazing boys – Anthony + Alex).  Melissa had prepared a feast for us!  First, we had crostini with different toppings – roasted vegetables, olive tapenade, and sun-dried tomatoes… oh my!  Then she brought out an incredible home-made bread — how a woman with two sons under 3 has the ability to make bread at home is BEYOND me, but believe me, she does it well!!  Next, we had spaghetti with a hearty meat sauce.  It wasn’t just any meat sauce either, it was made with buffalo and turkey sausage.  A very nice change of pace from regular ground beef.  Now, meat sauces can often be really heavy and fill you up fast, but this one was light and had lots of pureed veggies to keep it tasting fresh and bright, and to keep us feeling healthy.  Simply delish!  Last, she served up an apple pie.  No Pillsbury piecrust to be found here… the one she made was good enough to eat on it’s own.  (I actually told her she should use leftover dough to make cinnamon + sugar twists.)  Mmmm.  We were totally spoiled and left feeling really lucky to have friends so wonderful (and so good in the kitchen!).

    Happy eating!