Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Flexibility

I love when I come across a recipe with almost infinite possibilities – AND they are ALL EASY! A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for Chicken with Garlic that I saw on the Valerie Bertinelli show. This week, I made a few changes but kept all of the cooking instructions and it was unctuous, comforting and best of all – simple.

If you want a great company dish that requires minimum effort and maximum flavor or if you just want to treat your family, then try this dish. And then make it your own. And while the fresh herbs are removed at the end of the cooking time, you could choose to use either dried crushed herbs or chopped fresh herbs mixed through when the vegetables are added. The herbaceousness of the final product will be more subtle if the herbs remain on the stems and are removed after cooking than if chopped or dried herbs are used. Both will be delicious.

Aren’t You Over Cooking This?

Some of you may be asking how could the chicken be good after such a relatively long cooking time. I can assure you that the thighs end up being succulent and tender with a crispy skin and the vegetables are just right. And while the cooking time may be over an hour, the prep time is minimal. So go read a good book, work out, sip some wine and enjoy time with your partner, children or friends while your oven does the work!

HOT TIP

Whenever you are frying or browning something, there is an easy and inexpensive way to protect yourself and your stove from nasty oil/butter splatters. Treat yourself to a splatter screen guard. They will make clean-up easier (which I am ALL about) and they also will protect you from burns. They come in different sizes to fit your needs and there are versions even cheaper than this one, although those usually don’t last very long….

Recipe

For Chicken – 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

1 cup of halved grape tomatoes (I like the multi-colored variety but any will do)

4 ounces Cremini or other button-style mushroom, quartered

1 baby eggplant, ends trimmed and cut into large dice (about 1-inch)

4 sprigs fresh thyme 

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

1 head garlic separated into cloves and peeled (about 10 cloves)

1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings

Garnish

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (Optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and turn off the heat. Add the wine, then nestle the eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallot around the chicken. Return the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then transfer to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the thyme and rosemary.

Serve the chicken with some of the sauce, garlic cloves and veggies. The garlic has become sweet and oozy with the long cooking so don’t be afraid to eat it. I simply served this with a packed tossed salad but if you want a carbohydrate, it would go well with almost any grain – rice, farro or polenta.

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Kung Pao Chicken at Home

Restaurant vs. Home

I don’t do a great deal of Asian cooking. And eating out is expensive and often disappointing. So when I get a craving for a good stir-fry, ramen, pad thai or a hearty soup, I have to make it.

Good Ingredients

Fortunately, we do live within easy distance of a well-stocked Asian market. Admittedly, I don’t know what three-quarters of the things are, especially since many of the labels are not in English. However, the ever-present “aunties” trolling the store aisles try to be helpful. I love to go shopping there whenever Frances’ mother is in town visiting. She makes all kinds of treats for us after each foray.

While I don’t like sending people to buy special ingredients for a single dish, I have learned that certain spices and condiments really define a culture. Sometimes there just are no good substitutes for the real thing. That’s another reason why I like to shop at the Asian market for these ingredients because the cost is about a fifth of what I would pay in my supermarket – assuming I could even find what I need.

Once you taste this, I have confidence that you will easily use up whatever you buy.

Cooking with Andrew

The blog is called Lisa and Frances Cook and Frances and I do share A LOT of recipes and cook together on holidays. But Frances is busy with a full-time job and a baby on the way. So her energies go into cooking not blogging. But now that my husband is retired, he has taken an interest in cooking. So in fairness, I need to give credit where it is due. Andrew chose the recipe, shopped with me for ingredients and did most of the prep and cooking. Which proves that anyone can make this with just a little effort.

The recipe comes from Christine Gallery of TheKitchn.com and appeared in the Chicago Tribune Food and Dining Section.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Chicken and Sauce

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black or rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek or chile-garlic paste

Stir-fry

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 medium bell peppers, large dice
  • 2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced on a slight diagonal (optional)
  • 1 baby bok choy, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 4 medium scallions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Steamed rice for serving

Directions

  1. Marinate the chicken. Place the chicken in a medium bowl or a one-gallon freezer bag. Place the tamari or soy sauce, wine or sherry, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the mixture over the chicken and toss to combine; set the chicken aside. [You do not need to refrigerate it while preparing the remainder of the dish.]
  2. Make the sauce. Add the vinegar, sugar, and sambal to the remaining marinade and whisk until the sugar is dissolved; set this sauce aside.
  3. Stir-fry the chicken. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the wok or large frying pan. Add the chicken and spread into an even layer. Let cook undisturbed until golden-brown and seared on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir-fry until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Stir-fry the vegetables and aromatics. Heat the wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot (a flick of water should sizzle and evaporate right away), about 2 minutes. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the bell peppers, bok choy and celery, and season with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir-fry with a metal spatula until crisp-tender and browned in spots, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Return the chicken to the pan and stir-fry with the sauce. Add the reserved chicken and peanuts to the pan. Re-whisk the reserved sauce to dissolve the cornstarch. Pour into the pan and stir-fry until the sauce thickens, is glossy, and evenly coats everything in the pan, about 1 minute more. Sprinkle with the scallions if using and serve immediately with rice.

Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Olives and Kale Salad with Lemon Anchovy Dressing

My Addiction

I love to watch cooking shows. Not the contests – I hate those. Just good old-fashioned cooking shows with a pleasant host and accessible recipes. Sometimes I watch things on YouTube, especially if they are for Middle Eastern or Indian cooking. The two dishes that I made for dinner tonight came from Valerie Bertinelli. They are perfect for a summer evening and the prep time is minimal with no crazy techniques. If you are really not a fan of olives, you could substitute mushrooms. While you could serve this chicken dish with an accompanying grain, I served it with some crusty bread. Dessert was fresh cantaloupe melon and ripe strawberries. Okay, there were also some dark chocolate caramels.

The Perfect Pan

A few months ago, Frances and Matthew gave me a gift certificate and I used it to buy this Staub multi-use braising pan that I had my eye on. It’s just the right size for so many dishes when you are cooking for 4-6 people. Staub makes very high quality cookware that will last forever if you take care of it and I definitely recommend making the investment. However, a heavy-duty, deep cast-iron pan will also work for this recipe and the Lodge cookware is very budget friendly.

Fads

I mentioned in a previous post that I am not into food fads. So while kale is no longer the “IT” vegetable, I still love it. This kale salad is easy to make especially because it actually is better if made a couple of hours ahead. It’s a great foil for the chicken but would be good with any grilled or roasted meat or fish. While I pretty much stuck to the recipe, my version is ever so slightly less fussy to make. And because I didn’t make any grain with the chicken, my husband and I polished off what easily could have been a salad for 4 to six people! And if you think that you are not an anchovy fan, you MUST give this a try. You won’t see the anchovy as it melts into the garlic but it gives a wonderful briny flavor that you don’t get from anything else.

Recipe

For Chicken – 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved 

4 sprigs fresh thyme 

1 head garlic separated into cloves and peeled (about 10 cloves)

1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and turn off the heat. Add the wine, then nestle the olives, thyme, garlic and shallot around the chicken. Return the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then transfer to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the thyme.

Serve the chicken with some of the sauce, garlic cloves and olives. The garlic has become sweet and oozy with the long cooking so don’t be afraid to eat it.

For the Kale salad – best made 1 to 2 hours ahead

Ingredients

2 to 4 tablespoons pine nuts that have been lightly toasted in a dry frying pan

1 bunch purple or red kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces

2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons) 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

1/3 cup grated Parmesan 

Torn fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Directions

  1. Fill a large bowl or pot with very hot tap water. Add the kale and stir for a few seconds just to slightly soften the leaves. Drain and squeeze well to dry. [If you have a salad spinner, this will make this part a snap.] If you want to get fancy, gather and stack the kale leaves on top of each other on a cutting board, roll them up and thinly slice. [This is what is known as chiffonade.]
  2. Mash the anchovy and garlic to a paste on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife. Transfer to a small bowl and add the lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and about 25 grinds of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil.
  3. Toss the kale with the Parmesan and pine nuts in a salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette to coat, tossing well to combine. Top with the basil. Taste and add more Parmesan if desired.

Mina de Carne (Meat-Potato Matzah “Pie”)

The In-Between

So we are now in the in-between days of the Passover holiday, which lasts eight days in the Diaspora and seven days in Israel. I could simply broil or roast some meat or fish, make a salad and potatoes and call it a day. However, I like to make the holiday special and there are certain dishes that I only make during Passover even if I could serve them at other times.


Flexibility

This Sephardic dish is wonderful because it is so flexible. The simplest version of it is ground beef or lamb, mashed potatoes, matzah and eggs with a bit of seasoning. But with a little bit of imagination and time this dish can become something really special. And a little bit of meat will feed a family. I guess you could say that it is a Sephardic Shepard’s Pie.

If you are not feeling ambitious at all, then just use the basic technique that is given and season it to suit your tastes.

Recipe

Yield: 4-6 dinner servings or more if used as part of a multi-course meal

Ingredients

1 roasted eggplant* (optional)

1 pound lean ground beef or lamb

1.5 pounds Yukon Gold or “new” potatoes (They are the smallish red ones)

3 sheets of square plain matzah (NOT EGG Matzah)

Non-dairy “buttery” sticks (margarine)

2-3 Tablespoons olive or other oil, divided

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

2-3 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro or dill

2 rounded teaspoons hawayij or ras el hanout or other spice mix (Make your own or they can be purchased online and through spice shops). You could even use Garam Masala for an Indian twist.

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

3 large eggs

Paprika for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

If using the roasted eggplant, make this first and set aside to cool. Chop it coarsely.

I don’t bother to peel my potatoes. The skins not only have nutrients, but they are relatively thin and add extra flavor, in my opinion. Simply cut each potato into quarters and then each quarter into half so you en up with eight pieces. Place them in a 3 quart saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook them uncovered for 20 minutes or until quite tender. Drain the potatoes well and then mash them with a potato masher or a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the potatoes aside to cool.

Place some warm tap water into a deep 9-inch square baking dish and then add the whole squares of matzah. Allow them to soak for about 1+ minutes. You want them flexible but not falling apart.

Carefully lift each sheet of matzah out of the water and place it flat on paper or a tea towel to drain. Then dry the baking dish and grease it well with the margarine and then 1-2 Tablespoons of the oil. If you only use the oil the matzah won’t crisp up and it will stick. Set the pan aside.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add one Tablespoon of the oil and brown the ground meat, chopped, roasted eggplant, if using, the onions and the garlic. Break up the meat as you brown it. I used a very lean meat so I did not have any extra fat or liquid to pour off. Add your spices, about 1 teaspoon of salt and some cracked black pepper. Add the chopped fresh herbs and mix everything through.

Lightly beat 2 of the eggs and add it to the mashed potatoes. Stir about 1/2 cup of the potato mixture into the ground beef mixture to bind it together.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat the remaining egg and pour it into a platter with a slightly raised edge. Coat both sides of one softened matzah sheet lightly with the egg. Lift it out carefully and allow any excess egg to drip back into the platter. Place the matzah in the bottom of the prepared pan. Use part of a second slice of matzah, if necessary, to cover any gaps so that the bottom is completely covered. Repeat with a second layer of matzah. Reserve any left-over egg. (I didn’t have any.)

Spread the meat mixture on top of the matzah in the dish. Spoon the potato mixture over the to and spread it evenly. Pour any left-over egg onto the potato mixture. Sprinkle with some paprika.

Bake the Mina for about 40 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is firm. Remove the Mina from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Cut it into large squares. I serve mine with a large tossed salad.

Chicken Khao Soi

Spice Up Your Life

So it’s not winter but it’s also not quite Spring. It’s the “drears.” I don’t know about you but I desperately need a bit of spice in my life. This recipe showed up in my inbox and I had to have it. It’s a Thai dish so I cannot speak to its authenticity, but I can tell you that it is delicious – after a few small tweaks. The soup is pretty rich and VERY satisfying. So while it may not seem as if it would feed six people for a dinner, I found that a relatively small amount goes a long way.

Pet Peeves

I don’t know about you, but I really hate when a recipe calls for a tiny amount of something that I otherwise would not have in my pantry – and which isn’t available in my local stores. And which I may never use again.

Since I do a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, I’m always happy to buy the right spices or grains to complete my recipe. I will even grind my own spices for those dishes because they are so integral to truly experiencing the food. But I do not make a great deal of Asian or South American dishes.

So when this recipe called for a type of dried chili pepper that three well-stocked grocery stores didn’t carry I said ENOUGH! I know that each pepper has its own flavor profile but surely the dish could be made with some more easily available option. And while I would have liked to use bean sprouts, the only ones around were very sad looking… Yet despite these small disappointments, the final dish was so yummy that I have to share it with you. The smell of the khao soi paste alone was intoxicating.

A Word About Measuring

Spices and herbs make a dish. I recently made my Christmas Lamb Shanks and made the mistake of not tasting it before serving. It needed salt. It would have made all the difference. In the case of this dish, do NOT skimp on the spices. This isn’t baking. I generally measure spices, garlic, onions, cilantro etc. with a heavy hand. I know what I like and rarely do I regret my choices. If you don’t feel comfortable, start out with even measuring and add more as you taste. Otherwise you can pretty much assume that I used somewhat rounded measurements.

Recipe from Bon Appetit

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

Khao Soi Paste

4 large dried chiles, stemmed with seeds (I used a combination of Poblano and Negro Chiles. The original recipe called for large dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded. )

2 medium shallots, halved

8-10 garlic cloves

1 rounded tablespoon of grated ginger

1/2 cup chopped cilantro stems

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon curry powder

Soup

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 14-oz. cans unsweetened coconut milk (Use the regular – not “lite”)

4 cups chicken broth (low sodium or unsalted)

1½ lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise

1 lb Chinese egg noodles

3 tablespoons (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)

1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges (for serving)

RECIPE PREPARATION

Khao Soi Paste

  1. Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened, 25–30 minutes. Alternatively, heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes and cover the bowl for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 Tbsp. soaking liquid in a food processor or blender, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth. (I ended up using almost all of my soaking liquid.)

Soup

  1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4–6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 20–25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat.
  2. Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
  3. Add chicken, 3 Tbsp. fish sauce, and sugar to soup. Season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. Divide soup and noodles among bowls and serve with toppings.

Beef Stufato with Buckwheat Pilaf

You Say Stufato

A stufato is simply the Italian way to say stew. The version that appears below comes from my handwritten notes dating back about 40 years. Since writing a blog was the furthest thing from my mind then, I did not write down the author. Soooooooo, my apologies to the person(s) who came up with this delicious and easy peasy beef stew. For an old-fashioned Irish beef stew check this out.

So What is Kasha?

You could serve this warm and welcoming dish with some good chewy country bread, over rice, pasta or mashed potatoes, but I am serving it with a kasha pilaf. Kasha is roasted, whole grain buckwheat. And buckwheat is a great source of healthy fiber anti-oxidants and is rich in minerals. Best of all, it tastes great! While I am not in any way gluten-free, buckwheat is. I always make a lot because it is great as left-overs and stuffed in pita with chopped tomatoes and lettuce for a vegetarian or vegan lunch.

The Sum of Its Parts

I often find recipes with multiple parts and after I have made them, it turns out that I really only like the topping or the base but not what was in between. That’s how I came to make my Sriracha Cashews. So while beef stew definitely would not be appealing to a vegan, the buckwheat pilaf would. I have found inspiration in some unlikely places. I have successfully turned non-vegan recipes into vegan ones and clearly non-Kosher recipes into Kosher acceptable meals. So before you go dismissing a recipe, see if you can’t find some take-away that you can use.

Recipe for Stufato

Yield: 4-5 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 Tablespoons EVOO
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
  • Up to 2 cups of a dry red wine like a Cabernet (use whatever you plan on drinking)
  • 14.5 ounce can of a quality diced tomato (preferably San Marzano)
  • About 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1.5 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 2 bay leaves, dried or fresh
  • 1 teaspoon each dried basil and thyme
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Additional chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish (Optional)

Directions

  1. Heat EVOO in a heavy-duty saucepan with a cover. Add meat in a single layer, without crowding and brown on all sides. (I did this in batches. If you crowd the pan, the meat won’t brown.) Remove the meat to a dish while you prepare the rest of the stufato.
  2. Add the onion to the same pan that you browned the meat in and sprinkle with the brown sugar and about a teaspoon of salt. Saute the onion until it becomes soft, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you go. (The juices from the onion should be sufficient to de-glaze the pan and all of those browned bits from the meat add flavor.)
  3. Once the onion has softened, add the wine to just cover the meat (you don’t want to drown the meat – just barely cover it), tomatoes, garlic, and herbs and stir through to mix. Now add back your meat and any juices and give another stir. Add some cracked black pepper and stir once more. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook on low for 2 hours. Adjust your seasonings and discard the bay leaves before serving.

Recipe for Buckwheat Pilaf (Vegan)

Yield: About 4 cups (Can be doubled)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of roasted whole grain buckwheat (Kasha)
  • 2 Tablespoons of EVOO or butter
  • 2 cups of hot broth (Vegetarian, chicken or beef, preferably unsalted) (If using salted broth, eliminate the additional salt mentioned below.)
  • 1/2 cup each: chopped yellow onion, sliced mushrooms, celery and carrots
  • About 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the butter or oil and add the vegetables. Saute the vegetables until slightly softened.
  2. Add the hot broth (and salt, if adding) and bring to a boil. Add the kasha and stir through. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 12 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed. Uncover the pot and fluff the pilaf with a fork before serving.

Zucchini Bake

I have been hesitant to add recipes like this to the blog because they seem so obvious to me and because I really don’t measure when I make them. However, I realized that what may appear obvious to me just may not be to someone else.

Just Plain Good

This zucchini bake doesn’t have strange new combinations of ingredients or use sous vide techniques. It is simple to make, very flexible and the results are delicious almost no matter what you do. The fact is that the zucchini bake is just plain good. Zucchini bake goes beautifully with any grilled meat, poultry or fish. It could also be a main feature of a vegetarian meal.

East Does It

When my son was little, I always looked for new ways to get vegetables into him. Since most children – and adults – like pizza, I took the basic elements of a vegetarian pizza but changed the emphasis of the ingredients. Even though my son thought that he wasn’t a fan of zucchini, he always gobbled this up. Below are some basic guidelines for this easy and delicious side dish. However, feel free to add or change the cheeses or switch up the herbs to make it your own. You can also easily double or triple the ingredients to serve a crowd.

Switching It Up

If you decide that you like the zucchini bake but want to switch it up a bit, you could try the following:

  • Change the herbs – use thyme instead of basil and oregano
  • Change the cheeses to match. Use a good Gruyere, Comte or aged Cheddar cheese instead of one of the Italian cheeses
  • Add some sauteed onion to the layering
  • OR use feta or other goat cheese mixed with some Swizz, Mozzarella or Greek Kaseri cheese and Za’atar and Aleppo pepper

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 1 pound zucchini, cut into 3/8-inch rounds
  • 14.5 ounce can stewed tomatoes
  • EVOO (preferably garlic flavored) for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper, to taste
  • About 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • About 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup (or more, to taste) of shredded or grated cheese (I like a mix of Mozzarella, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Fontina, Provolone or Asiago. Use cheeses with flavor – not like that soapy stuff that you get on some pizzas.)
  • About 1/4 cup of dried bread crumbs, plain or seasoned

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the zucchini and partially cover the pot, if necessary to maintain a good simmer. Cook the zucchini for 3-4 minutes and immediately strain the zucchini under VERY cold water. Spread the zucchini out on a tea towel and pat dry. You want to just barely blanch the zucchini. (What you want to absolutely avoid is mushy zucchini.)
  3. Use a heavy baking dish that is large enough to hold the zucchini when layered. (The shape of the dish is irrelevant.) Drizzle the bottom of the dish with EVOO. I like to use garlic-flavored EVOO but plain is fine if that is all you have.
  4. Place a layer of broken up stewed tomatoes on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of zucchini. Sprinkle with cheese and bread crumbs. Crumble some of the basil and oregano over the bread crumbs, along with a sprinkling of salt and cracked pepper. (I never measure, but don’t be stingy with the herbs.) Drizzle a little EVOO on top and then repeat the layering until you have used everything up. I like to end with tomatoes.
  5. Spoon the liquid from the tomatoes over the top. Add a bit more cheese and drizzle with EVOO. (There is no magic here, so it is hard to mess this up. If this is part of a main dish vegetarian meal, I might add more cheese than if it is simply a side.)
  6. Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheeses are melted. The zucchini bake can be made ahead and reheated.

Tuna Puttanesca

When the Weather Outside is Frightful

Well, we had four easy winters so I really can’t complain – too much. But this winter has seesawed between a polar vortex and just plain dreary and wet. So going shopping – even when it is from my garage to the supermarket’s – holds little to no appeal. This pasta tuna puttanesca is the perfect answer because it is made almost entirely from pantry staples. And the best part is that it can be thrown together in under an hour.

Good for Your Health and Your Budget

We all know that it is healthier and more budget-friendly to cook at home than to order in or go out. This dish is so flexible and so quick to prepare that it can feed a crowd or a couple. There is no need to buy fancy canned tuna, although it’s certainly fine if you do. Use what you have on hand or would normally buy. Whether you like tuna packed in olive oil or water – chunk “light” or albacore – it all works.

This pasta dish is low in fat, high in flavor. Make it as puttanesca-like and spicy as you like or add just enough hot pepper flakes to tickle your taste-buds. If you have fresh parsley – great. And if you don’t, it will still be good. However, you do need a flavorful pitted olive (I usually use pitted Kalamatas myself) and I personally think that briny capers are a must. Mario Batali said that you should never use cheese on pasta dishes with fish or seafood. It may be breaking one of the sacraments of Italian cooking, but
I happen to like cheese with fish. There is no judgment here. I leave that decision in your capable hands.

So Easy!

Don’t even measure. I will give you some measurements below, but please use them only as a guide. If you want more tuna, use more. More olives – go for it. If you really enjoy anchovies, they can be added when you are browning the onion and garlic. The anchovy will break down, again adding a bit of briny flavor.

Let’s Get Started

Ingredients for Dinner for 4-6 People

  • 2-3 Tablespoons EVOO
  • 12 ounces of canned tuna, drained
  • 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 28 ounces (or 2 smaller cans) of chopped tomatoes in their own juice
  • 2 Tablespoons good quality tomato paste
  • About 1 Tablespoon, finely chopped garlic
  • About 6 ounces coarsely chopped, flavorful pitted olives
  • 1-2 Tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2-3 strips of anchovy, drained (optional)
  • Hot pepper flakes and salt, to taste (you can always add more but you can’t remove it once added)
  • 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water
  • One bunch of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped and divided in 2 parts
  • 13 ounces to 1 pound of a firm pasta like a penne or rigatoni, preferably rigate (with ridges)

Directions

  1. Heat a large pan and add the EVOO. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the edges are just beginning to brown. Add the anchovy, if using, It will break down, melting into the EVOO and garlic.
  2. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir through.
  3. Add all of the ingredients (half of the parsley) except for the starchy pasta water. Mix through and cook on simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes. This can be made ahead and reheated or made right before eating while the pasta cooks.
  4. When you are ready to eat, cook your pasta according to directions. Just before the pasta is al dente, remove 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water and add it to the puttanesca sauce. Stir through and continue cooking while you drain the pasta.
  5. Toss the drained pasta into the pan of sauce (if the pan is large enough) or pour the sauce over the pasta when you serve it. Garnish with the remaining parsley and grated Reggiano Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano or Asiago cheese, if desired. I like to serve a salad alongside, but if your fridge is bare, this will satisfy on its own.

Cider-Braised Duck Legs with Leeks, Prunes and Apple

A Wet Wintery Sunday

This past week in Chicago we went from a polar vortex to a spring thaw. In the span of seven days, there was snow, ice, rain, wind and slush. So the idea of spending Sunday snuggled at home with my husband while something delicious bubbled away on the stove seemed like the perfect antidote. While the duck slowly cooked, I happily needlepointed while my husband tinkered.

I came across this recipe in our local newspaper a few weeks ago and knew that it was something that I wanted to try. All I needed were the duck legs and leeks. Little did I know that I would not only get this wonderful meal, but I was able to render almost a quart of lovely golden duck fat to enjoy throughout the coming months. More on that later.

Chasing Away Those Blues

With a little bit of planning, this delicious recipe will yield four generous servings along with the aforementioned duck fat and cracklings. I served it with polenta, a green salad a lovely fruity red wine. Chase those winter blues away with this rich and flavorful duck stew. The duck falls off the bone and is juicy without being fatty. The apples and prunes are the perfect complement to the dark duck meat while the Calvados and cider cut through any overt sweetness of the fruit.

While the stew simmers, you can use that time to get those nasty little chores done around the house. Or better yet, take a long soak in a warm tub or curl up with a good book and a better companion.

Recipe from Chicago Tribune, Food and Dining January 16, 2019 and tweaked by me

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 large duck legs, about 10-12 ounces each
  • 1.66 cups apple cider, preferably fresh
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1 generous teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 dried or fresh bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 7-8 ounces of pitted prunes
  • 2 flavorful apples, cored and sliced with the skin left on (I used Honeycrisp. Fuji or Braeburn would also be good.)
  • 1/4 cup good quality apple brandy such as Calvados (If you don’t plan on actually drinking the brandy, you don’t have to buy the most expensive Calvados on the market. Any decent bottle will do and closed tightly, it will last for some time. It’s great to use with apple tarts, by the way.) 
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Trim the excess fat and skin from the duck legs. [Do NOT throw this away. At the end of the recipe are directions how to render the fat and make cracklings.]
  2. Prick the skin on the legs all over with a fork and season the legs generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven or covered braising pan over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the duck legs in a single layer, skin-side down. Cook until the skin is a lovely brown and the duck has given off excess fat. Turn over the legs and cook the underside until brown. The second side will cook much faster than the skin side so don’t walk away and leave it. Remove the browned legs to a platter and loosely cover with foil. Allow the fat to cool down slightly and then CAREFULLY pour the fat through a fine sieve into a clean glass jar. This is just the beginning of the duck fat that you will render.
  4. Deglaze the pan, using 2/3 cup of the cider, scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the leeks, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in the herbs and spices. Add the chicken broth and remaining 1 cup of cider. Stir through and then add back the duck legs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook for 2 hours, untouched, until the duck legs are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife. [The braise can be made ahead up to this point. It can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days, if desired. I didn’t do this, but it’s good to know that you can.]
  6. When you are ready to serve the duck, remove the legs from the pan and skim as much fat as you can from the braising liquid. [I actually didn’t have that much at this point, because of judicious trimming and pricking and browning the duck initially.] Add in the prunes and sliced apples and stir through. Add back the duck legs. Bring the mixture to a lively simmer and cover the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes and then add in the apple brandy. Cook for 5 minutes more. Serve over polenta or a sturdy noodle like a spaetzle so that you don’t lose a drop of that wonderful braising liquid.

Directions

How to Render Duck Fat and Be Happy All Year

Duck fat is possibly the eighth wonder of the world. Okay, I exaggerate. But it is a slow-burning fat that makes a humble pot of beans or potatoes or simple scrambled eggs into something truly special. Stored in the fridge or freezer it lasts almost indefinitely and a little goes a long way. It’s easy to prepare and while it takes a bit of time, it requires little effort and supervision. Here’s how:

Remember all of those trimmings of excess skin and fat? Coarsely chop them and place them in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add 1/2 cup of tap water. Cook low and slow, allowing the trimmings to render the fat (liquefy) while the water evaporates. Any bits of skin will turn toasty, crunchy brown and these cracklings can be used in salads or however you like. Don’t be impatient. This takes about an hour or more. Once all of the fat has liquefied and the skin has browned, carefully remove the cracklings to a paper towel using a slotted spoon. Allow the duck fat to cool slightly. Then carefully pour it through the fine-meshed sieve into the bottle with the other reserved fat. Cover the jar. Once the jar cools, it should be refrigerated.

Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs (galbi-jjim)

While you will never catch me sitting down to eat a rare steak or roast beef, I do enjoy eating meat – especially when it is slow roasted or braised. I recently bought some beautiful short ribs on the bone even though I wasn’t quite certain what I wanted to do with them. I came across this recipe for Korean slow-cooker short ribs and decided that in honor of Frances I had to try them. Only Frances or her mother can tell me if this is authentic; I can simply say they are delicious! This is real Korean comfort food. The flavors only get richer the more you eat!

If you are feeling lazy, just serve it over some cooked rice so you don’t lose a drop of the yummy sauce. If you are feeling more ambitious, you could choose to add some carrots and potatoes or water chestnuts, dried red dates and ginkgo nuts to the slow cooker about half-way through the cooking time or serve with sugar snap peas that simply have been steamed or stir-fried. This is a wonderfully easy and delicious dish to make for a relaxed dinner with friends. And wouldn’t you rather be taking part in the evening instead of stuck fussing in the kitchen?

Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs by Chungah Rhee from Damn Delicious and Eating Korean by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Yield: 6 to 8 servings, depending on the number of banchan served

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup beef broth

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

3 cloves garlic, minced, about 1 good tablespoon

1 rounded tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces (Although don’t fret if the short ribs are cut differently. Do try to get them on the bone, however, as the bones lend flavor and gelatin to the sauce.)

1/4 cup water or broth

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Optional Additions

1 pound baby carrots

1 pound red baby bliss or other small potato

For Garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

3 scallions, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes, if using.
  2. Place short ribs into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in soy sauce mixture until well combined. Galbi jjim3
  3. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours.*
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup water or beef broth. Before stirring in the slurry of cornstarch, use a spoon to carefully skim off as much of the fat that has risen to the top as you can. Then stir the cornstarch mixture into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. If you don’t remove the fat first, your sauce will never appear to get thicker – to say nothing of the fact that the fat has done its job of keeping the meat moist and adding flavor, but eating all of it is neither tasty nor healthy.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley or scallion and sesame seeds, if desired. Galbi jjim1

NOTES:

*To test for doneness, pull on a bone as it should slide out freely. In a Korean home, this dish would be served with the ubiquitous kimchi and a choice of banchan. Left-overs will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Simply gently reheat.