December 10, 2017 Chicken with Shallots

In the beginning it was Martha for me. Sure there was Julia, James, Jacques and the Silver Palate ladies, but Martha was my main inspiration as someone who was a novice at cooking, entertaining, and in a few years, a budding caterer. As the Martha Stewart empire expanded, so did the number of magazines published under the Martha Stewart brand. Among those titles was Everyday Food, a pocket-sized digest with recipes that were “fast and easy”. The recipes centered around ingredients that could easily be purchased at the grocery store and usually cooked in less than an hour. Quite a departure from many of the recipes in her many of her earlier cookbooks.

Though there are many good recipes from the magazine and accompanying PBS series, there is one that stands out from the rest, braised chicken with shallots. Over the years this recipe has been modified, updated and tweaked, this is my version.

Braised chicken with shallots is a one pot no fuss dish where the sum is definitely greater than the  basic parts. The original recipe used bone in skinless chicken thighs, you could equally substitute bone-in skin on chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken thighs. I would definitely say choose thighs or chicken quarters (leg and thigh combination) rather than chicken breasts, dark meat holds up much better to braising.

Several versions of the recipe start with a definite no-no, rinse the chicken thighs in water. Washing raw poultry before cooking is not recommended by the USDA. Bacteria in raw chicken (in all meat actually) can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces, also known as cross contamination. Cooking chicken to the proper temperature kills the bacteria. So just pat the chicken very dry with paper towels and proceed with the recipe.

Coat the chicken pieces very lightly with flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Martha recommends (and I heartily agree) using Wondra flour for this step. If you haven’t noticed, it’s that bright blue canister tucked in next to all those alternative flours like coconut and almond. Wondra is an instant flour, precooked and dried. It dissolves quickly in liquids and makes lump free gravies. In this recipe it gives the chicken an extra light and crispy crust.

Melt butter in a large heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Cook the chicken three to four minutes per side, in batches if necessary. You want to develop a golden crust and leave behind brown bits that you will cook the shallots in. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.

Shallots, usually a minor player in most recipes takes a starring role here. If you aren’t familiar with shallots, their flavor is sweet and mild, somewhere between an onion and garlic. This recipes uses about a pound, 12-15 medium to large shallots. Peeling shallots can be a tedious task. You can make this easier by soaking the shallots in boiling water for a few minutes and then putting them in an ice water bath so they won’t continue to cook. Make a shallow cut in the top layer and peel the skin and top layer away.

Sauté the shallots in the butter and rendered chicken fat until softened and caramelized. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add a cup of white wine to bring some acid to the dish and to deglaze the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. I used vermouth, a fortified white wine that is flavored with herbs and spices. If you are going to use vermouth, look for a dry (not sweet) variety.

Stir in the Dijon mustard and add the fresh rosemary sprigs. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for thirty minutes. At the end of the cooking time add two cups of halved cherry tomatoes. Although I am not a fan of out of season tomatoes, there are some I will use as “supporting players” when they are necessary to the dish. With seed sourced from the south of France, Sunset Flavor Bombs are a good choice and available at big box stores.

This is a great dish for the busy cook, cook on a Sunday afternoon, reheat and serve several days later. Serve with noodles or rice to sop up the juices.

Shallots are a member of the onion family, their flavor is milder and reminiscent of garlic.
Chilling off blanched shallots before peeling them.

Chicken with Shallots

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2½ to 3 lbs chicken thighs (6-8 pieces)
  • 2 T flour (I used Wondra)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 12 medium to large shallots, peeled
  • 1 c vermouth
  • 1½ T Dijon mustard
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary
  • 2 c small tomatoes cut in half or quarters

Directions

  1. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and flour.
  2. Melt the butter over medium high in a heavy bottomed skillet large enough to fit the chicken pieces comfortably. When the butter begins to foam, cook the chicken, in batches if needed, 6-7 minutes per side. It should be brown and crisp on both sides. Set the chicken aside on a plate and keep warm.
  3. Sauté the peeled shallots in the butter and the chicken fat until they begin to soften and caramelize, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the vermouth with a large wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Add in the mustard and the rosemary sprigs. Return the chicken thighs to the pan and cover. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir them in to combine. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Reheat and serve in the next two days.

December 3, 2017 Creamy Kale and Goat Cheese Gratin

 

Kale and goat cheese gratin is the ultimate winter comfort food and a great addition to any potluck or holiday feast. The original recipe from Fine Cooking called for dandelion greens but I have made it with baby chard greens and spinach as well, depending on the season. This time I used the bounty of fall kale from our garden. Joe planted several varieties, for this recipe I used a combination of Lacinato or Tuscan, Red Russian with its purple veins and stems and curly Dwarf Blue Curled. If we’re lucky, some of the plants that don’t die off this winter will provide us an early spring kale crop.

When shopping for kale look for moist, crisp, unwilted bunches, unblemished by tiny holes, which indicate insect damage. The leaves should not be yellowed or brown. Wrap unwashed kale in paper towels, then store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper for a few days. When you are ready to cook, submerge the leaves in a sinkful of cold water, swishing them around to remove any dirt. To trim for cooking, lay a leaf bottom side up on a cutting board and run a paring knife along each side of the center stem. I like using a Cutco steak knife in this step for the traction it gives. Repeat until all the stem are removed. Then cut the leaves in the size your recipe calls for, in this case, 2 inch strips. If you are so inclined, chop the stems into smaller pieces, store them in freezer bags and add them the next time you make a vegetarian stock.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil and cook the kale for 3-4 minutes or until tender. You can do this step in batches if necessary. If you are doing this in batches, remove the kale with a Chinese strainer and allow the water to come back to a boil before adding the next bunch of leaves. Transfer the blanched leaves to a colander to drain well and cool. Put the cooled leaves in a clean cotton dish towel and gently wring the greens and get rid of any excess moisture. There’s nothing worse than a watery gratin!

Chop the greens coarsely and put in a large mixing bowl and combine with Parmesan and a creamy goat cheese. Combine well, don’t be afraid to use your hands for this. Spread the greens in a buttered baking dish and add cream that has been infused with garlic and lemon. Be sure to use a shallow gratin dish rather than a deeper, smaller one. The larger surface area helps reduce the cream. Top with the breadcrumb mixture and bake until the crumbs are brown and the liquid is bubbly and has reduced below the crumb level.

The kale and goat cheese gratin can be prepped in advance. Prepare the kale filling and add the cream to the dish but hold off on adding the crumb topping until right before you bake it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If you have refrigerated the dish, bring it back to room temperature, or if baking right from the fridge, add a little extra time to your cooking.

Creamy, cheesy greens topped with a crunchy Parmesan crumb crust, what’s not to love? This flavorful dish is great served with lamb or turkey (of course!) and makes excellent leftovers.

Lacinato, Tuscan or Dinosaur kale.
Dwarf blue curled kale
Red Russian kale
It takes a lot of kale to make a pound.
Trimming the leaves.
It just needs a breadcrumb crust now.

Creamy Kale and Goat Cheese Gratin

Serves six or more

Ingredients

  • ½ t unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. kale, stemmed, leaves cut into 2-inch strips
  • 1 c coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 T plus ¼ c finely grated Parmesan
  • 1-1/3 c heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • ¼ t finely grated lemon zest
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz fresh soft goat cheese

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Coat a shallow medium-sized gratin dish with the butter.
  2. Bring an 8-quart pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, boil the kale just until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Use a dish towel to gently wring the greens and get rid of any excess moisture.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, 3 T Parmesan and a pinch of salt.
  5. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, bring the cream and garlic to a boil, about 5 minutes. As soon as the cream has come to a vigorous boil (but before it boils over), remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lemon zest and season with a little salt and pepper. Stir well and remove the garlic cloves.
  6. Transfer the greens to a cutting board and chop them coarsely. Put them in a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ¼ c Parmesan and the goat cheese. Using your fingers, mix well. Spread the mixture in the prepared gratin dish. Pour the cream over and stir gently with a spoon to distribute evenly.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top the gratin evenly with the breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake the gratin until the crumbs are browned and the liquid has reduced below the crumb level, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

November 26, 2017 Butternut Squash Gratin with Rosemary Breadcrumbs

 

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner I am a traditionalist. For the main course, it’s always a juicy roast turkey and another one hot off the smoker. Not to mention the additional variations we tried in previous years, wrapped in puff pastry à la Martha or cooked outdoors in a deep fryer, not advisable on a windy day on a wooden deck. But when it comes down to it, I am most excited about the side dishes. For many years we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends and I was driven to make countless side dishes featuring every fall vegetable I could think of.

Now we are part of a collaborative effort of family, friends, and friends who feel like family. Our offering is a smoked turkey and a few side dishes. Fortunately I was able to draw from the bounty of our garden to make a butternut squash gratin. At Thanksgiving dinner I was asked what a gratin is and I shared the following. A gratin is always baked and/or broiled in a shallow dish. The topping is traditionally cheese and/or breadcrumbs that should get crispy in the cooking process. Gratin is derived from the French word gratiner-to broil.

This recipe begins with lots of thinly sliced onions sautéed in butter until softened and golden brown. Butternut squash cubes are added next and sautéed along with the onions until both are caramelized. This recipe can be made much easier with the advent of peeled, seeded and cubed butternut squash, available in many supermarkets. As for me I will be hacking away at my stash of butternut squash all the way to spring.

Pour the vegetable mixture into the buttered baking dish, cover and bake. Another plus is this step can be done a day ahead, just cool and refrigerate until you are ready to finish the dish. Make the breadcrumb mixture ahead as well and store separately in the refrigerator. If you are making components ahead of a special dinner, label them well so that your well-meaning kitchen help doesn’t mix them up! On the day you are cooking the dish, reheat for about 10 minutes, sprinkle with breadcrumb, cheese and herb mixture. A sharp cheddar is a good contrast to the sweetness of the butternut squash. Not just for your holiday table, this would be great as a side dish for weeknight suppers, any fall gathering or even as a brunch dish.

Saute the onions.
Next in is the cubed butternut squash.
The vegetables are placed in a 13×9 glass baking dish
Joe picked fresh rosemary for the breadcrumb topping.

Butternut Squash Gratin with Rosemary Breadcrumbs

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • ¼ c (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 c thinly sliced onions
  • 2½ to 3 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾ inch cubes
  • 1 t sugar (optional)
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ c chicken broth
  • 2 c bread crumbs made from soft white bread
  • 2 c packed grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 ½ T chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ t dried thyme

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
  2. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add onions; sauté until onions are light golden about 8 minutes. Add squash; sauté 4 minutes. Sprinkle sugar, salt and pepper over vegetables; sauté until onions and squash begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes
  3. Spread vegetable mixture into prepared dish. Pour chicken broth over. Cover tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes. (Squash mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat in a 350° oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.)
  4. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, rosemary and thyme in a medium bowl. Sprinkle over gratin.  Bake uncovered until top is golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.
Delicious!

November 18, 2017 Curried Butternut Squash Soup

 

A reluctant fall has finally settled in and made itself at home in Bucks County. We have experienced our first killing frost, officially ending the growing season. One of the last survivors of the garden is the kale. Cold weather just seems to make it sweeter. I have a sinkful soaking right now, reviving it for tonight’s dinner. We also have a wheelbarrow full of butternut squash in the garage that was harvested before the frost.

Fortunately butternut squash stores well in a cool basement, so I will be able to use it through to next spring. I cube and roast it to add to our green salads, butternut squash lasagna is a new favorite, and of course, soup. Smooth and silky butternut squash soup is a cold weather favorite. I have shared several recipes for butternut squash on this blog but this is the original, the recipe I have been making for over thirty years.

When I first discovered my love for cooking one of the first cookbooks in my library was The Silver Palate cookbook. Silver Palate’s recipe for curried butternut squash soup was a constant on our Thanksgiving table for many years. This velvety rich soup has just the right combination of sweet, tart and spicy and was met with rave reviews from friends and family alike.

Begin the recipe by sautéing chopped onions and curry powder in sweet (unsalted) butter. If your curry powder has been sitting in the back of your spice cabinet for longer than you can remember, it’s time to invest in a new jar. There is no one formulation for curry powder and each variety can have different component spices in differing amounts. For this soup the best choice is sweet curry powder. It will give you a wide range of flavors without too much heat. One large onion yielded the two cups I needed. The covered pan will allow the onions to cook slowly,  give them a stir every five minutes or so to keep them from sticking to the pan.

While the onion is cooking, peel and cube the butternut squash. The medium-large squash I used weighed in at 3.3 lbs and yielded about 6 cups of peeled, cubed squash. Add squash cubes, apple and chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook until squash and apples are tender. Purée the soup in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the pot, add apple juice or cider and season with salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with a garnish of a tangy freshly grated green apple.

Over the years this recipe this soup has become less of a project for the home cook. Don’t feel like chopping a large unwieldy squash? You can buy peeled and chopped squash at most grocery stores. Does the thought of straining and pouring hot soup into a blender make you just a little nervous? An immersion blender eliminates this step. If you make this soup ahead of time, cool it and store in the fridge.  When you reheat the soup you may thin to thin it out a bit with a little more stock.

The most amazing thing about this recipe is you have made a rich, creamy soup without a drop of cream or milk. Perfect for the holidays or great alongside a sandwich of leftover turkey.

The primary players.
A three pound squash yielded about 6 cups of cubes.
Simmering on the stove top.
I pureed my soup in the food processor but a blender or immersion blender works too.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 2 c finely chopped onions
  • 4-5 t sweet curry powder
  • 3 lb butternut squash
  • 2 tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 3 c chicken stock
  • 1 c apple juice or cider.
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 shredded unpeeled tart apple (garnish)

Directions

  1.  Melt the butter in a 5 quart Dutch oven. Add chopped onions and curry powder and cook, covered, over low heat until onions are tender, about 25 minutes.
  2. While the onions are cooking peel the squash, scrape out the seeds and chop the flesh into 1″ cubes.
  3. When the onions are tender, pour in the stock, add squash and apples, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until squash and apples are very tender, about 25 minutes.
  4. Pour the soup through a strainer, reserving the liquid, and transfer the solids to a bowl of a food processor. Add 1 cup of the cooking stock and process until smooth.
  5. Return the puréed soup to the pot and apple juice and the remaining cooking liquid, about 2 cups, until the soup is of the desired consistency.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper, simmer briefly to heat through, and serve immediately, garnished with shredded apple.

November 9, 2017 Buckeye Candy

We had the pleasure of a visit recently from our dear friends Bill and Wilma. The main reason for their trip from sunny south Florida was to attend the wedding of a friend’s son. Along with wedding festivities, they spent time enjoying some Bucks County sightseeing, dining and spending time with friends, including us. Wilma was also fortunate enough to get excellent tickets to see her beloved Ohio State Buckeyes football team play Penn State on their home field in Columbus Ohio.

The Ohio Buckeye is one of 13 tree species of the genus Aesculus, also known as buckeye or horse chestnut and the state tree of Ohio. Ohio State adopted the buckeye as its official nickname in 1950 though it had been in common use for many years before. The name came about because the nuts of the tree are shiny dark brown with light tan patches resembling the eyes of a deer, a buck eye. The nuts are inedible but folklore says carrying one in your pocket wards off bad luck.

Though the buckeye nut is “mildly” poisonous, its namesake confection is quite delicious. Buckeye candy has a peanut butter fudge like filling that is partially dipped in melted chocolate, leaving a circle or “eye” of peanut butter visible. They are very easy to make and you may already have the ingredients in your pantry. The first step is to combine peanut butter, butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and salt with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.

The most time-consuming, but not hard, part of the process is rolling the peanut butter mixture into balls. Give the balls a short chill in the freezer to firm them up before the next step. Melt chocolate, morsels are fine, with a tablespoon of coconut or vegetable oil. Adding a little oil makes the chocolate glossier and makes the buckeyes firmer when they’re outside the fridge.

Stick a toothpick into a peanut butter ball and give it a generous dunk in the chocolate. Don’t submerge it, leave the top quarter undipped. This spot is what makes a buckeye a Buckeye! Transfer the buckeyes to the prepared baking sheet. Pull out the toothpick and carefully smooth over the hole. Chill the buckeyes overnight in the fridge for the best results. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

The game? Ohio State pulled off an exciting fourth quarter come from behind win beating Penn State, final score 39-38.

Dipping the buckeyes.
Ready for a chill.

Buckeyes

Makes about 30 pieces

Ingredients

  • 2 c confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 c smooth sweetened peanut butter
  • 4 T melted unsalted butter
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • ¾ t kosher salt
  • 6 ounces semi sweet chocolate
  • 1 T coconut oil

Directions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium, beat the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt until smooth and uniform, about 1 minute.
  2. Portion the mixture into 1 tablespoon balls. Roll the balls into neat circles between your palms. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.
  3. At the end of the chilling time, prepare the chocolate. In a small microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate and coconut oil in short bursts, stirring often. If the chocolate becomes too thick during the dipping process, it can be liquefied again in the microwave.
  4. Use a toothpick to skewer one ball at a time, and dip it into the melted chocolate, leaving a small circle of the peanut butter mixture exposed at the top and allowing any excess chocolate to drip into the bowl. Transfer buckeyes to the prepared baking sheet and remove the toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining balls, returning them to the freezer for a few minutes if they become too soft to work with. Smooth over the holes left by the toothpick with a small offset spatula or your finger. Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes but if you can, overnight is best.

A little extra chocolate and some chocolate dipped potato chips.

October 17, 2016 Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Mushrooms

Several rows in our garden are always reserved for leeks. It all started years ago with the classic book, Crockett’s Victory Garden, a month by month guide to all things (well most) gardening. It was in those pages Joe set his eyes on them for the first time, leeks that looked like they could almost double as baseball bats, actually they were Crockett’s exact words. It inspired him to give leeks a try. In addition, as cooking enthusiasts in the eighties, finding leeks in the supermarket was often futile, or if they had them, very expensive and not that good.. So growing leeks was a logical conclusion.

Leeks are a cool season vegetable that require 120 to 170 days to harvest. Joe starts them indoors and transplants them in the garden anytime after the last frost. At that point the leeks look like skinny blades of grass. He plants them closer together than they should be, so that we have thinnings that can be used like scallions before the mature leeks are ready. We will harvest most of them in the fall but some will winter over until early spring.

Even though we haven’t had much of a stretch of fall weather and it may get up to 80°F today, I am craving the stews and braises that are a natural in the cooler weather. In this dish versatile chicken thighs are slow cooked on top of a bed of leeks and mushrooms. The mild onion flavor of leeks pairs nicely with the savory earthy flavor of the mushrooms.

If you choose to brown the chicken first as I did, pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. This helps keep the chicken from steaming instead of searing. You can also substitute chicken leg quarters for the thighs, that’s the thigh and the leg in one portion. Boneless skinless thighs are another option, add those directly to the slow cooker without browning. I chose bone in and skin on for better flavor. I like the skin on and browned, it protects the chicken during the cooking process and makes for a more attractive presentation. You don’t even have to eat the skin if you don’t want to.

It has been stated countless times but is worth repeating. Do not rinse chicken, it just splashes bacteria all over you, your countertops and any other food that is nearby. The heat from cooking is enough to kill any bacteria that are present on the chicken.

The recipe is very simple, you can serve the chicken with the leeks and mushrooms as-is or after removing the chicken, thicken up the sauce a bit. I ladled out some of the broth and stirred in a little flour to thicken it up and added a little sour cream and half and half to make a more substantial sauce. Serve with white basmati rice to absorb all the juices.

A row of leeks.
Not quite baseball bat size but still fine.

Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Mushrooms

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs skin on and bone in chicken thighs
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 4 c assorted sliced mushrooms, white, shiitake, cremini
  • 3 c leeks white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, washed well to remove any dirt and sliced thinly
  • 1½ T fresh thyme leaves
  • 1½  T minced fresh sage leaves
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2/3 c dry white wine (Chardonnay or Burgundy)
  • 2/3 c chicken broth (homemade or low sodium canned)
  • 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c sour cream
  • 1-2 T half and half or heavy cream

Directions

  1. Heat a large non stick skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Pat dry the chicken thighs well with paper towels. Season with kosher salt.
  3. Add olive oil to skillet and add chicken thighs skin side down. Do not crowd, this  should be done in batches. Cook skin side down for three minutes then flip to other side and cook for an additional two minutes. Remove to a plate.
  4. Place the mushrooms, leeks, thyme and sage to the slow cooker. Season with a  little salt and some fresh ground pepper.
  5. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and pour the wine and broth  around them.
  6. Cover and cook on low for six hours. If desired, at the end of cooking remove the chicken pieces to a platter and keep warm. Ladle out about a cup of the broth into a glass measuring cup. Whisk in a tablespoon of flour to thicken and stir in sour cream and half and half or heavy cream. Stir this back into the slow cooker taste and add more salt and pepper as desired. Serve chicken and sauce over rice.
Leeks, mushrooms and herbs into the slow cooker first.
Place chicken on top.
Serve with rice to sop up the juices.

October 9, 2017 Arugula Salad with Pears, Beets, Blue Cheese and Walnuts

The vegetable garden doesn’t end at our house just because summer is over. Joe’s new crop of salad greens, planted in the greenhouse are ready to be harvested. I typically use a variety of greens in our salad but this time I let arugula take the starring role. Nutty and just slightly peppery arugula is combined with a finely sliced Chiogga beet also courtesy of the fall garden, creamy blue cheese, walnuts and some of the Asian pear slices that I made in the last post.

Fall is a good time to get in another crop of some root crops like radishes, turnips and beets. Along with the salad greens, the root vegetables prefer cooler temperatures. This year has been tough, summer like heat and humidity has stayed around well into October (I’m not complaining) and it has affected the plantings, especially the radishes. I’ve started to harvest some beets while they are still small and sweet for salads.

I especially like the Chiogga (kee-OH-gee-uh) beet for its deep pink and white spirals, it adds a pretty pop of color to an otherwise dull salad. I like them raw, shaved as thinly as possible on a mandolin. The sweet earthy flavor contrasts nicely with the arugula. Blue cheese and toasted walnuts are always a natural with arugula. I chose a buttermilk blue that is described as tangy yet mellow. It has a creamy taste and texture and doesn’t overwhelm the other elements of the salad.

The dehydrated Asian pear slices I made in the last post are great for snacking, and for a bite of fruity sweetness in salads like this one. Dehydrating intensified the already sweet pears.The pears resemble mushroom slices so they would be quite a surprise for an unaware diner biting into one. If you didn’t make the dehydrated pear slices, substitute a thinly slice fresh Asian pear.

I dressed this salad with a simple vinaigrette using a Tubby Olive Gravenstein apple white balsamic vinegar with a good extra virgin olive oil with just a touch of walnut oil. You could substitute a white balsamic vinegar with just a touch of honey.

Arugula Salad with Pears, Beets, Blue Cheese and Walnuts

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 2 T white balsamic vinegar or Gravenstine apple balsamic
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • ½ t honey (not needed if using apple balsamic)
  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T walnut oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 large handfuls arugula (about 12 ounces)
  • ¼ c dried Asian pear pieces or 1  ripe pear, cored and sliced thin
  • 1 small beet, scrubbed and trimmed, sliced very thinly on a mandolin
  • 3 ounces soft blue cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and honey. Gradually pour in the olive and walnut oils, and continue whisking  until the dressing has emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Divide the arugula between plates. Top with the beet slices, walnuts, sliced pear and blue cheese, then drizzle with vinaigrette.

 

October 6, 2017 Dehydrated Asian Pears

In addition to the gardens, we have a small orchard that includes a pear, apple, persimmon, Asian pear and most recently, fig trees. We are usually so busy harvesting from the garden that the orchard is all but forgotten and most of the fruit that falls from the trees goes to the deer. The persimmons are Cody’s special treat, I can honestly say I don’t understand that at all. The Asian pear is the most productive of the trees and this year I wanted to find a different way to use the fruit. Several years ago I canned about a half dozen jars of Asian pear chutney, this time I was looking for something new. My inspiration came at the local farmers market. A local orchard was selling dehydrated apples. Why not Asian pears?

The task at hand now was to pick the pears. Some were accessible by hand, for the pears that were higher up the tree I needed a different approach. I turned to the aptly named fruit picker, a wire basket attached to a long pole. There are bent prongs at the top of the basket that allow you to pull the fruit off the branch. The bottom of the basket is cushioned with foam to prevent the fruit from bruising.

The Ball canning book states that drying food is easy but may require some trial and error. Various factors, the quality of the produce, drying methods, pretreatment techniques and climate can all affect the finished product. So it is necessary to follow the general guidelines and then make the necessary adjustments.

Successful home dehydration depends on three factors: heat, enough to force out moisture but not enough to cook the food, dry air, to absorb the released moisture and air circulation, to move the moisture away.

I started by washing and drying just a few pears, since this was just a test batch. I don’t own a dehydrator, but the lowest heat on our convection oven is 140°F, only 5 degrees higher than the recommended temperature of 135°F. I lined two large half-sheet pans (18″ x 13″) with parchment and began slicing the pears. Since the Asian pears from our tree were relatively small, I wanted to maintain the largest piece possible. I cut the pears in half lengthwise through the core and removed any blemishes. I discovered a melon baller was the right tool to scoop out the core.

To peel or not to peel? That was the next question and for the first batch I decided not to. Another step that is optional is dipping. Dipping the fruit in diluted lemon juice prevents oxidation, which turns the fruit brown. I sliced the fruit with a sharp knife, about an quarter of an inch slice and spaced them evenly on the baking trays. I baked them in the convection oven for 5 hours, rotating the trays half way through the drying process. Then I turned the oven off and left the trays in the oven overnight. I was very pleased with the results. Most of  the pieces look like slices of a mushroom cap and I will continue not peeling them. Asian pears are super sweet and drying them intensifies the sweetness. The consistency should be pliable, not crisp with no moisture pockets. Your time may vary, so check frequently. Great for snacking, store the pear chips in quart bags in the fridge and freezer.

Using the fruit picker.
Success!

 

Dehydrated Asian Pears

 Makes 70-80 pieces

Ingredients

  • 4-5 Asian pears
  • Dipping solution of 1 c lemon juice to 1 qt water to prevent oxidation  (if desired)

Directions

  1. Place oven racks in upper and lower positions. Preheat convection oven to the lowest setting possible, 140°F in my case.
  2. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.
  3. Wash and dry pears, peel if desired. Remove any blemishes. Cut the pears in half lengthwise. Remove the stem and core. I found a melon baller worked well. Slice pears with a mandolin or sharp knife into ¼ inch pieces.
  4. Soak fruit in dipping solution if desired, no longer than 10 minutes. Drain before drying well with paper towels.
  5. Evenly space out the slices on the baking trays and dehydrate for about 5-6 hours. Leave in turned off oven overnight. The slices should be pliable and chewy with no moisture pockets.
  6. Store in plastic quart bags in the refrigerator or freezer.

September 24, 2017 Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatillo Sauce

When is a tomato not a tomato? When it’s a tomatillo. Yes, their aliases include Mexican husk tomato and “tomato verde” and both tomatillos and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, but that’s where the similarities end.

Years ago tomatillos were one of those “let’s try this and see” additions to the garden. I certainly wasn’t familiar with the sprawling bushy plants that first produce lots of leaves and little yellow flowers. These flowers eventually turn into bright green papery Chinese lanterns. The tomatillo grows inside this husk and when the fruit is mature, the husk dries out and turns a tan color and the tomatillo splits the husk open. Under that husk they look like hard little green tomatoes. They have a bright fresh flavor, a little citrusy and herbal. I have used them for salsa verde and a  chicken tomatillo soup. This time I wanted to use tomatillos in a sauce for braised chicken thighs. I found my inspiration from Mexican cooking authority, Rick Bayless. His recipe for a braised pork loin in tomatillo sauce could be adapted for chicken so I knew I would be getting the direction I needed.

Start the dish by making the tomatillo sauce or salsa, remember, salsa is the Spanish word for sauce. Turn the broiler to high and move the oven rack to the highest position.Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue, that residue is a natural deterrent to insects. In this case it took 28 tomatillos to make a pound. Put them on a foil lined baking sheet, stem side down so they won’t roll around as much. It is a good idea to double up on the baking sheets so they won’t buckle under the broiler from the heat. Add one green jalapeno to the sheet and broil until the tomatillos are roasted, even blackened in spots and very soft. Transfer everything, including the juices to a blender and process until smooth. Set the sauce aside while you brown the chicken.

In a 4-5 quart Dutch oven, brown the chicken pieces. You will need to do this in batches, the chicken should be golden brown, not stewed. Rick instructs that you use either all white meat (breast) or all dark (thighs) because the cooking times will be different, I find that dark meat holds up better to the braising process. After the meat is browned it is removed to a plate. No need to rinse the pot, now it’s time to finish off the sauce.

Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and cook the onion and garlic. Raise the temperature to medium high and add the tomatillo puree. Cook until it is dark green and thickened, this concentrates the flavors of the sauce.  A little water thins out the sauce, Rick feels the addition of stock would make the sauce too rich. Now is the time to add some heavy or sour cream if desired. It lightens up the sauce and I liked it with the chicken. Add some fresh cilantro or the more traditional purslane also known as verdolagas in Mexico. I will definitely try that when purslane makes an appearance in the garden again. Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce, put the lid on and cook in the oven for thirty minutes.

Potatoes add an earthy element to the dish. Parboil some red potatoes while the chicken is cooking, close to the end of the cooking they are nestled in the sauce between the chicken pieces. Serve the chicken topped with sauce with some potatoes on the side. The end result is a rich, warm satisfying dish and the perfect transition from summer to fall cooking.

Tomatillo on the vine, not ready for picking yet.

Ripe green and purple tomatillos.

It took 28 tomatillos to make a pound.
Roast tomatillos until soft and blackened in spots. Make sure the juices go in the blender too.
Blended tomatillos.
Chicken thighs are browned, then nestled in the tomatillo sauce.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Tomatillo Sauce

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh tomatillos
  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 8 medium skin on, bone in chicken thighs, 2½ to 3 lbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped’
  • 1/3 c chopped cilantro
  • A little crema or heavy cream if desired
  • 1¼ lbs red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

Directions

  1. Roast the tomatillos and chile on a baking sheet four inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast on the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Tomatillos should be splotchy black and the chile soft and cooked through.
  2. Cool a bit then transfer everything, including the juices that have accumulated on the tray to a blender. Process until smoothly pureed.
  3. Set a 4-5 quart Dutch oven over medium heat, when the oil is hot add chicken pieces skin side down. It is best to do this in batches, you want the chicken to brown, not stew. Brown the chicken on the first side for 5 minutes, then turn over and brown on the other side. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate and keep warm.
  4. In the same Dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer. Raise the heat to medium heat and when the oil is sizzling, add the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir until it is darker and noticeably thicker. Add 1 ½ cups of water and the cilantro. If you desire a mellower sauce add about a ½ cup cream or sour cream to the sauce. Taste and season with a little salt. Stir the sauce well to combine.
  5. Heat oven to 325°F. Nestle the chicken pieces in the warm sauce, cover the pot and set in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, simmer the potatoes in a pan of salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  7. When the chicken has cooked for thirty minutes, nestle the cooked potatoes into the sauce around the meat. Recover and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
  8. Serve the chicken and potatoes with the sauce over it.

September 17, 2017 Salmon with Heirloom Tomato Scampi Sauce

It’s still officially summer for another week or so but it’s easy to see that fall is in the air. We haven’t experienced a ninety degree day in several weeks and the days are sadly growing shorter. The tomatoes are making their last gasp, maybe not quite tomato salad worthy but still so much more flavorful than anything a supermarket might have to offer.

This recipe, courtesy of Top Chef season two semi-finalist, Sam Talbot uses a combination of heirloom tomatoes, garlic, shallots, capers and fresh basil. The original recipe used sea bass but I substituted salmon with excellent results.

Scampi is the Italian word for a hard shell prawn or langoustine. Prized in the Mediterranean, they are pink in color and more closely related to lobsters. The traditional method of scampi preparation in Italy is to saute them with garlic, onion, olive oil and white wine. Italian American chefs adapted the preparation using more readily available shrimp. The dish was called shrimp scampi, as in “shrimp prepared in the style of scampi” and the name stuck.

This is a scampi sauce in the broadest sense of the term, it does have garlic, onion, in this case shallots, olive oil and white wine. It also includes celery, which gives some textural difference, briny capers and fennel seed that adds just a hint of anise.

Heirloom tomatoes aren’t necessarily part of a scampi preparation either but they are a nice addition to this dish. Some of the varieties Joe grew this year included Garden Peach, Marvel Stripe, Cherokee Purple and both Red and Green Zebra, just to name a few. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated; pollen is carried by natural mechanisms like bees or wind. Heirlooms are varieties that are capable of producing seed that produce seedlings like the parent plant. In agriculture, the word “heirloom” doesn’t have a precise definition but usually refers to varieties that are at least 50 years old.

As always, we cook our fish according to the Canadian fisheries method. Popularized by legendary chef, James Beard, it is very simple and quite foolproof. Measure your fillet at the thickest part, one inch of thickness equals ten minutes of cooking time at 450°F. If you prefer your fish a bit translucent, deduct a minute or so off the cooking time.

 

An assortment of late season heirloom tomatoes.

Salmon with Heirloom Tomato Scampi Sauce

 Ingredients

  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 1 T fennel seeds, toasted in a dry skillet
  • 4 celery ribs, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 T drained, chopped capers
  • ¼ c dry white wine
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 3 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut in wedges
  • 1 cup tightly packed hand-torn fresh basil leaves
  • 1½ lbs salmon filet, cut into 4 six ounces portions

Directions for the Sauce

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic, shallots, and fennel seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the celery and capers and cook until the celery has softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the wine to the pan and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar, lemon zest and juice, tomatoes and basil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to incorporate the flavors and heat the tomatoes through.

Directions for the fish

  1. A half hour before cooking bring the fish out to bring it to room temperature. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 450°F.
  2. Measure fish at the thickest part of the fillet with a ruler, one inch of thickness equals about 10 minutes of cooking time. Evenly space fish fillets in a lightly oiled baking pan and transfer pan to the preheated oven. Bake for the designated time.
  3. Serve the salmon fillets topped with tomato scampi.