January 25, 2015 Poached Chicken Breasts with Warm Tomato Ginger Vinaigrette


Poach (poch) verb, to take by illegal methods, in this case, as in taking all the flavor out of a chicken breast, leaving it tough, stringy and tasteless.  Sound familiar? If you were offered a poached chicken breast you might be inclined to decline, and rightfully so.  Cooks Illustrated has taken this classic techinque and perfected it for the home cook. It’s not that difficult or time consuming and will produce consistently good results.

Poaching is a gentle cooking method, best for delicately flavored foods, whether it be an egg, fish, or in this case, chicken. The chicken is cooked in a simmering liquid, just under the boiling point between 160°F and 180°F. Problems occur when the poaching liquid is either too cool or too hot or the cook minding the pot has left the poaching process go on too long.  This method does require some watchfulness but is much easier than traditional approaches to poaching.

As with any recipe, start with the best product you can find. Just like you, your chicken shouldn’t be bloated so look for a brand that has not been injected with a saline solution.  Trim away any excess fat or sinew before proceeding with the recipe. I have found that four 6-8 ounce chicken breasts are optimal. Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound firmly on a stable surface. Your goal is to even out the thickness of the breast so you should be pounding the thicker top part to be more in line with the thinner “tail”. Whatever you do, don’t pound with the jagged side of a meat tenderizer. It will tear the meat and leave you with something unusable. I have a flat mallet expressly for this purpose but a heavy skillet or the flat side of the tenderizer will work as well.

Next step is the poaching liquid, classic French recipes usually include flavorings such as wine, lemon, stock or a bouquet garni. The chefs at Cooks Illustrated have done years of testing for various recipes to determine what flavorings will actually permeate into the cell wall of the meat. With the knowledge they have acquired over the years, they determined that salt, sugar, garlic and soy sauce would flavor the meat and still leave the chicken with a neutral flavor suitable to a wide range of recipes. Soy brings that desired “umami” or meaty, savory flavor.  I chose to use a gluten-free low sodium soy sauce since salt was one of the ingredients in the poaching liquid.

You will need a very large pot to cook the breasts, enough to accomodate four quarts, a full gallon of water plus a little room at the top. A word to the wise, start with your pot on the burner and bring the water and the ingredients to it. In my case, a Le Creuset pot filled with a gallon of water is quite cumbersome and heavy to carry. Whisk the ingredients together in your pot until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Place a steamer basket, metal works best here, in the bottom of the pot. This is used to keep the breast from making contact with the bottom of the pot, allowing for the chicken to cook evenly on all sides.  My steamer has a ten inch diameter when opened and comforably held the breasts without overlapping or crowding. Cover and let the pot sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. This allows the internal temperature of the breast you just recently took from the refrigerator to slowly rise. After the short brine, turn the heat on your stove to medium.

Stir the water occasionally to even out any hot spots. It should take about 15-20 minutes for the water to reach a temperature of 175°F. I used my thermapen to check every five minutes or so but clipping a thermometer to the inside of the pot works as long as you are diligent to check the temperature’s progress. When the water is at the right temperature, turn off the heat and cover the pan.

Now you have a little time to make a salad and a vinaigrette (the one that follows or your own) while the chicken cooks.  Cooks Illustrated suggests that you remove the chicken at 160°F, the suggested internal temperature for poultry. I remove mine at a slighly lower temperature (155°F) knowing that the chicken will continue to rise in temperature even after it is removed from the cooking liquid. Place the chicken breasts on a piece of foil and wrap loosely.

Let chicken rest for 5 minutes. Slice the breast on a slight bias, running with the grain of the meat. I served it with a warm tomato ginger vinaigrette, an excellent accompaniment, inspired by chutney ingredients. Just remember if you are using grape tomatoes, they are meatier with a thicker skin and will not break down as easily as a cherry tomato. Serve the chicken on a bed of greens, stuff in a pita pocket or shred as a last minute addition to a soup recipe.

Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound with the flat edge of a mallet to an even thickness.
Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound with the flat edge of a mallet to an even thickness.


The ingredients that flavor the chicken breast, soy, salt, sugar and garlic.
The ingredients that flavor the chicken breast, soy, salt, sugar and garlic.

Perfectly Poached Chicken Breasts

Cooks Illustrated March/ April 2014

Serves four


  • 4 (6 to 8 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • ½c soy sauce (I used gluten-free, low sodium)
  • ¼c salt (I used kosher)
  • 2T granulated sugar
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled


  1. Individually wrap each breast in plastic and pound thick ends to an even thickness with tail end, about 3/4 inch thick.
  2. Whisk 4 quarts water, soy sauce, salt, sugar and garlic in a Dutch oven until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Arrange breasts, skinned side up in a steamer basket, making sure the breast don’t overlap. Submerge the steamer basket in the brine. Let sit at room temperature to brine for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat the pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally to even out any hot spots. In 15-20 minutes the water should reach a temperature of 175°F.  Turn off the heat,  take it off the burner and cover. Let stand until meat reaches desired temperature, 155°F to 160°F, start checking temperature of the meat in the thickest part of the breast at the 15 minute mark.
  4. Transfer breasts to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice the breast on the diagonal into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices and serve.


Warm Tomato-Ginger Vinaigrette


  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 ½t freshly grated ginger
  • ¼t ground cumin
  • 1/8t ground fennel
  • 12 ounces of cherry or grape tomatoes (halved if cherry tomatoes, quartered if grape)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1T red wine vinegar
  • 1t packed brown sugar
  • 2T chopped fresh cilantro or parsley


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a  10-inch skillet until shimmering. Add shallot, garlic, cumin and fennel and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes have softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Off heat stir in the vinegar and sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste, cover or put under a heat lamp to keep warm. Stir in cilantro or parsley and remaining oil just before serving.


January 17, 2015 Hazelnut-Orange Biscotti

DSC_0769aWhen it comes to cookies, at the top of the list of my personal favorites is biscotti.  Almond biscotti were on the menu  for a light nibble after our seven fishes dinner and I am making hazelnut orange biscotti for a pasta making dinner this weekend. Biscotti originated in medieval Italy as a long shelf life food for Roman soldiers and travelers. It is thought that both Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo relied on biscotti for sustenance on their long journeys. The word derives from bis, Latin for twice and cotto for baked. The basic recipe is simple, dough is formed into logs, baked and cooled, sliced and baked again.

Hazelnuts, are also known as filberts.  Twenty five percent of the world’s hazelnut production goes to the manufacturing of Nutella, a very popular creamy chocolate hazelnut spread. Hazelnuts may a bit harder to find than, lets say walnuts or almonds, but many large supermarkets stock them. When I can I like to buy nuts from a bulk bin to ensure their freshness. I baked the hazelnuts in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every few minutes and rotating the pan each time. The nuts will start to exude their oil and your kitchen will smell heavenly.  Transfer lightly toasted nuts to a tea towel to cool, then fold over half the towel and rub gently, back and forth to remove as much skin as possible. Don’t worry if some of the nuts refuse to be skinned, the toasting has made the tannins in the skin less bitter and will add some color and depth of flavor. The nuts should only be lightly toasted since they will be going back into the oven to be baked again in the biscotti. Some of the toasted nuts are finely ground and added to the flour mixture, the rest are coarsely chopped and are folded in at the end of the recipe. Be sure not to take the finely ground nuts too far or you may be left with hazelnut butter.

A little bit of fresh rosemary is included with the dry ingredients. If you don’t have access to fresh, a smaller amount of dried will do or you could eliminate it all together. Flour, rosemary, baking powder and salt are combined in bowl of a food processor. Be sure to check the expiration date on your baking powder.  If the date has passed or is soon approaching, there is a simple test you can do to see if it will still do the job. Baking powder  is a chemical leavener that reacts to temperature so just drop a little into a glass of hot water. If it bubbles up, you are good to go! Process these ingredients then transfer to a bowl.

Two eggs are now added to the empty bowl  and  processed until light in color and doubled in volume. I improvised a paper cone for the feed tube to make it easier to add the sugar gradually. This was much neater than using a measuring cup. The melted butter, orange zest, orange liqueur and vanilla extract are added and processed until combined.  The wet ingredients are transferred to a bowl and the flour mixture and hazelnuts are gently folded in.  I find that a large bowl and the largest spatula you have will make this easier. Lift up from the bottom of the bowl and fold over. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to stir the ingredients!

Flour your hands before forming the dough into two logs the size of the 8×3 inch template. Brush the logs with egg white wash, this will give the cookies sheen. Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, cool and cut into 1/2′ slices. I find a serrated knife works best for this. Time for the cookies to go back into the oven. Bake cookies until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Cool completely before serving.  The cookies will be great at this point but you can also take them one step further by dipping the cookies in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkling with toasted hazelnuts.

Oh, by the way, biscotti is the plural form of the word, like a batch of cookies. If you only have one left it’s a biscotto and it’s time to fill the cookie jar again.DSC_0672a

Hazelnut-Orange Biscotti

from Cooks Illustrated November 2012

Makes 30 cookies


  • 1 1/4c hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skinned
  • 1 3/4c all purpose flour
  • 1/2t finely minced dried rosemary
  • 2t baking powder
  • 1/4t table salt
  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white beaten with a pinch of salt
  • 1c granulated sugar
  • 4T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1T grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2t orange flavored liqueur (Grand Marnier, Triple Sec)
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
  • Vegetable oil spray


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325°F. Using a ruler and marker, draw two 8 by 3-inch rectangles, spaced 4 inches apart on a piece of parchment paper. Grease baking sheet and place parchment on it, ink side down.
  2. Pulse 1 cup hazelnuts in food processor until coarsely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Process remaining 1/4 cup hazelnuts in food processor until finely ground, about 45 seconds.
  3. Add flour, rosemary, baking powder, and salt; process to combine, about 15 seconds. Transfer the flour mixture to a bowl.
  4. Process 2 eggs in the now empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Add melted butter, orange zest, orange liqueur and vanilla; process until combined, about 10 seconds.
  5. Transfer egg mixture to a large bowl. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and, using a large spatula, gently fold until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and chopped hazelnuts and gently fold until just combined.
  6. Divide batter in half. Using floured hands, form each half into an 8 by 3 inch rectangle, using the lines on the parchment as a guide. Using a medium rubber spatula lightly coated with spray, smooth the tops and sides of the rectangles. Gently brush the tops of the loaves with the egg white wash. Bake until the loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  7. Let loaves cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Transfer loaves to cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice each loaf on a slight diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Lay slices, cut side down, about 1/4 inch apart on wire rack set  in rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 30 minutes, flipping slices halfway through baking. Let cool completely before serving. Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

  8. To further embellish the cookies, melt some bittersweet chocolate, about four ounces in a small pan over another pan of simmering water. This is known as a double boiler.  Line a small dish with a sheet of waxed paper to catch the drippings. Hold the cookie in your non dominant hand over the dish. Use a wooden spoon to evenly drizzle melted chocolate over half of the cookie. Then immediately sprinkle some finely chopped hazelnuts on top. Let the chocolate dry thoroughly on a rack over a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment to catch any additional drippings. Store cookies in an airtight container.


After three minutes the eggs are light in color and doubled in volume.
After the cookies cool cut into 1/2″ slices.
The cookies are placed cut side down on a wire rack set in a baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides.




January 10, 2015 Turkey Zucchini Meatballs


It’s a new year and it’s time to put the emphasis back on healthy meals. But healthy doesn’t have to equal boring. Meatballs are lightened up with ground turkey and fresh herbs in this recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem.  Originally from Jerusalem, Ottolenghi is a London based chef restaurant owner, food writer and cookbook author known for his vibrant, fresh, multi cultural cuisine. His recipe takes ground turkey and zucchini, two ingredients with not much flavor going for them on their own and combines them with fresh herbs, cilantro and mint, along with garlic, cumin and spicy cayenne pepper to make a delicious meatball.

In July, I would be making this recipe with herbs and zucchini fresh from the garden. But it’s a bitter cold day in January, so like everyone else I have to bite the bullet and plunk down several dollars for a small bunch of herbs I would have buckets of in the summer. Don’t get me started with the zucchini…  When I purchase herbs at the supermarket I try to treat them as a precious commodity. How many times have you (or I) brought home a bunch of herbs, used the tablespoon or teaspoon we needed and the rest was sentenced to the crisper drawer. The next time you notice it, you’re not even sure what it is. My favorite method of preserving fresh herbs as long as possible in the fridge, is to trim the stem ends and place the bunch in a glass with several inches of water. I place a loose plastic storage bag over the herbs and not only can I successfully store them for a week or more, I am more likely to use them since they are not tucked away in a drawer.

This is a wet meat mixture to work with so use a minimally processed product, the extra water added in some brands of ground turkey is not your friend.  Check the label, the turkey I purchased was 93/7, lean to fat with no water added. I used a hand grater for the zucchini and lightly wrung it out in  a cloth towel to eliminate extra liquid. I like to taste the leaf of the herbs I am using to see how pungent (or not) they are to see what adjustments I might need to make for the recipe.

Put all the ingredients in a large enough bowl so that you can combine your ingredients thoroughly. Take off your rings and roll up your sleeves to do some serious mixing.  Put some non stick spray on the sheet that you will place the meatballs when formed and also on your hands to minimize the herbs from sticking to your fingers (some will). Ottolenghi’s original recipe called for these to be made as small burgers, but I thought meatballs were better suited for this January night.

Cook the meatballs in a large (12inch) heavy skillet. I used a Le Creuset cast iron type skillet. Just a thin film of a neutral oil, canola, safflower, is all you need to coat the bottom of the pan. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan, I cooked 18 meatballs in two batches. I shake the pan halfway through to make sure they don’t stick.  Finish your browned meatballs in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes to finish cooking them.

The accompanying sauce is very simple, Greek yogurt, sour cream, lemon peel and juice and an interesting middle eastern ingredient, sumac.  I discuss sumac at greater lengths here. Sumac is extracted from the berries of the sumac bush and it adds an astringent, fruity taste to dishes. I purchased mine from Penzeys. I am over my Meyer Lemon envy of 2013 now that Joe is growing several trees that are producing fruit. They are inside now for the winter. This is the season for harvest and I was able to pick a fresh lemon from one of our trees.  More information about Meyer lemons is in this post.  Meyer lemons are not as acidic as regular lemons but the sumac added another layer of flavor complexity to the sauce.

Herb substitutions could be made, parsley for the cilantro, finely snipped chives for the green onions. A tzatziki sauce would also be a good accompaniment. Serve with a tomato sauce and zucchini “noodles” for a family-friendly spaghetti and meatballs substitution.  This one definitely goes in the “I would make this one again” column.

Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs

Makes about 18

Ingredients for Meatballs

  • 1lb ground turkey
  • 2c grated zucchini
  • 3 scallions, white and green, thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg
  • 2T chopped mint
  • 2T chopped cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1t ground cumin
  • 1t table salt
  • 1/2t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2t cayenne pepper
  • about 1/8c of a neutral cooking oil, canola, safflower

Ingredients for the Sour Cream and Sumac Sauce

  • 1/2c sour cream (regular or low fat)
  • 2/3c plain Greek yogurt (regular or low fat)
  • 1t grated lemon zest
  • 1T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • 1T sumac
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/4t freshly ground pepper


  1. Make the sour cream sauce by placing all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside or chill until needed.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs, except the cooking oil. Mix well with your hands. Shape into 2″ balls. Place meatballs on a well greased baking sheet to ready for cooking.
  3. Pour enough oil into a large heavy frying pan to form a layer about 1/16 inch thick on the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium heat until oil is shimmering, sear the meatballs in batches on all sides. Cook each batch for about 4 minutes adding oil as needed, until browned.
  4. Transfer the seared meatballs to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until just cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature with the sauce on the side.
Mint, scallions and cilantro bring a lot of flavor to the meatballs.


I grated zucchini on a box grater and wrung out the extra moisture with a tea towel.
I grated zucchini on a box grater and wrung out the extra moisture with a tea towel.
Why yes, I pick my lemons fresh from the tree.
Why yes, I pick my lemons fresh from the tree.
Meyer lemons have thinner skin and are sweeter than the usual lemon.
Ready to go into the frying pan.
Ready to go into the frying pan.
Cilantro in a half filled glass of water, ready to put the bag on top and store in the fridge.




January 3, 2015 Spicy Sausage, Escarole and White Bean Stew

DSC_0506aTwo cups of chopped leaves barely put a dent in the head of escarole staring back at me in the fridge.  I needed it for our Seven Fishes seafood stew, now the remainder of it’s girth was contained in a plastic bag. I knew it would burst out like a jack-in-the-box  the minute I opened it. The question now was, what should I do with the rest of this bitter green? I decided on a quick and easy escarole, sausage and white bean stew.

Chicory, escarole, frisee, what’s in a name? They are all forms of one plant, endive, that has two primary forms; one with curly feathery leaves, the other with broader more flattened leaves.

The curly feathery variety is marketed as curly chicory or curly endive.  Some specialty growers press and keep curly chicory from light during the later stages of the growth process and the green is brought to market as frisee.  Frisee is fragile in appearance, but in actuality, is quite sturdy. Because of the extra pains growers must take to produce frisee it is quite expensive.  One of the dishes I made for Seven Fishes, sauteed scallops with mushrooms, called for a bed of frisee. The almost ten dollar price tag for one head was even too pricey for me!

Escarole, also referred to as broad leafed endive, is the form that has a large, comparatively flat head. It is a nutritional powerhouse, high in fiber, minerals, vitamins A,K and C and beta carotene. It is like lettuce in form, the outer, darker leaves are more bitter and best suited for cooking. The innermost pale leaves are not as bitter and are an interesting addition to a salad. Escarole can be very sandy so wash it well in several changes of water.

This stew is a classic combination of bitter greens with white beans and sausage. Cooked sausage and canned beans help this dish to come together with minimal  fuss and shows that a soup doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. Like many soups it tastes even better after a few days in the fridge.

The darker outer leaves of escarole are best suited for cooking, the inner leaves are an interesting addition to a salad.


Spicy Sausage, Escarole and White Bean Stew

Serves four


  • 1T olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 15-oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 head escarole, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces, washed and lightly dried
  • 1c low salt canned chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 12oz cooked Andouille sausage, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2t red wine vinegar, more to taste
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy 5 to 6 quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then stir in the beans.
  2. Add the escarole to the pot in batches using tongs, wilting it before adding each addition. Add the chicken broth and the cooked sausage to the pot.
  3. Cover the pot and cook until the beans are heated through and the escarole is tender, about 8-10 minutes. Season to taste with vinegar and salt.
  4. Transfer to bowls and sprinkle each portion with some of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.