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.

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.

November 4, 2016 Pan Roasted Chicken with Harissa and Chickpeas

dsc_8239aI’ve been putting the harissa I made back in September to good use with this recipe that combines browned chicken thighs and chickpeas with a tomato broth infused with onion, garlic and harissa. Harissa is a spicy garlicky condiment native to the cuisines of the northwest African countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The recipe varies by country, ethnicity and even neighborhood. My recipe for harissa included fresh sweet and chile peppers, fragrant spices like coriander, cumin and caraway, dried mint, lemon, garlic and olive oil. You can add some to bring an unexpected kick to a tomato sauce, toss with roasted vegetables, stir into hummus or make this middle eastern inspired chicken dish.

I love cooking chicken thighs for a week night dinner. They are not temperamental like the boneless skinless chicken breast that has its brief moment of juiciness, then dries out and disappoints when held for any length of time. Chicken thighs, no matter what preparation you choose, will wait patiently in a warm oven if dinner is delayed. A combination of chicken thighs and legs works well in this recipe also.

Begin this preparation by finding the correct pan. You will need a heavy bottomed, oven proof skillet that fits comfortably in your oven. No plastic handles please, many skillets are marked oven proof on the bottom. Keep a pot holder over the oven door lest you forget and touch the very hot handle with your unprotected hands. I know because I have done it. Preheat the oven to 425°F or as I do, 400°F for convection cooking. Heat the oil over medium high heat and swirl the pan around to evenly distribute the oil. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces and add skin side down to the hot skillet. You may need to do this step in two batches. If you crowd the chicken it will steam, not brown. Brown the chicken on the first side for about five minutes, or until golden and crisp, resist peeking too soon or the skin may tear. Turn on the other side and cook an additional four to five minutes. Add all the browned chicken pieces to a plate and keep warm. Empty all the drippings from the pan except about a tablespoon full into a small metal bowl or glass measuring cup. Hot oil will eat right through that empty plastic yogurt container you considered using and then you will have the additional clean up of hot drippings on your countertop.

Add onion and garlic to your now empty skillet, cook, stirring often until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring until it begins to darken, about 1 minute. Add the chick peas, harissa and chicken broth and bring the pan to a simmer. As much as I love fresh chickpeas, canned ones are fine for this recipe. They soak up the flavors in this dish and take on a nutty quality. Harissa, can be found in different forms. I’ve seen a powdered version that needs to be reconstituted, a jarred version, a paste in a tube and one that comes in the kind of container hummus comes in. Whatever version you buy or make, it is important to taste it before adding it to the dish. The recipe calls for a quarter cup of harissa and even though the other ingredients round out the flavor a bit, it is best to hold back if you think it will make the dish too spicy. It’s easier to add more at the end of the cooking time.

I have made this recipe several times on a weeknight which classifies it as a keeper for me. I like the fact that it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, and most are pantry staples. Since it is finished in the oven, you have time to make a salad or cook a vegetable while the chicken cooks. I have added vegetables when the dish goes in the oven,  for me, end of season baby eggplants, I think quartered Brussels sprouts or small florets of cauliflower would work as well.

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Pan Roasted Chicken with Harissa and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 lb bone in chicken thighs (6-8 thighs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed
  • ¼ c or more to taste harissa paste
  • ½ c low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, cook until browned, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.
  2. Pour off all but 1 T drippings from the pan. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until beginning to darken, about 1 minute. Add chickpeas, harissa and broth; bring to a simmer.
  3. Nestle chicken, skin side up, in chickpeas; transfer skillet to oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Top with parsley and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

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September 9, 2016 Grilled Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Oregano

dsc_7944aOur summer barbecues often include the combination of ribs and chicken. The ribs are sourced locally from a pork farm less than ten minutes from our home. The rich, succulent meat pairs very well with a sweet hickory barbecue sauce. I didn’t want to duplicate the same flavor profile for the chicken. I was thinking of a nice contrast, lemon, garlic and herbs. My need wasn’t for a method of cooking the chicken, Joe has mastered that quite nicely, I just wanted a different way to finish the chicken.

I found this very well reviewed method from a 2002 issue of Gourmet magazine. What makes this recipe unique is that the chicken is only seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled, and THEN tossed in a dressing of lemon, oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil. My husband was a bit skeptical but was willing to give it a try.

Sounds too simple but resulted in a surprisingly moist and flavorful dish that we will definitely be making again. We had plenty of fresh oregano from the garden for this, I would imagine that fresh rosemary or thyme would work as well. It’s a dish that can be done out of season as well. Put the chicken, skin side up in a shallow baking pans in the upper and lower thirds of a 500°F oven, switch the pans halfway through baking. Bake until the skin is crisp and chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. The lemon slices can be grilled in a grill pan. Toss the chicken pieces in the dressing and serve.

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Grilled Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Oregano

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons cut crosswise into 1/3 inch slices
  • ¼ c fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ c finely chopped oregano
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • ½ t coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c good quality olive oil
  • 6 lbs or more, chicken parts, breasts, thighs and legs

Directions

  1. Whisk together lemon juice, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a  slow stream.
  2.  Season chicken parts with salt and pepper. Grill chicken according to your usual method on a gas or charcoal grill. Transfer cooked chicken to a tray and keep warm.
  3.  Transfer chicken parts to the bowl and turn to coat the pieces
  4. Grill lemon slices until grill marks appear, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to platter with the cooked chicken.

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April 16, 2016 Chicken Stew with Chickpeas and Tomatoes

DSC_6681aThe slow cooker I received as a Christmas gift from my hubby has inspired me to look for new and great tasting recipes that utilize this handy appliance. Many of the recipes that interest me start with chicken thighs. They are an inexpensive cut of meat, full of flavor and hold up well to slow cooking. This easy to assemble chicken stew gets great flavor from smoked paprika, oregano and just a dash of saffron. The original recipe from The Great American Slow Cooker Book called for bone in skinless chicken thighs that went directly in the slow cooker. I like to brown the meat first, it only takes a few minutes and I think adds a real depth of flavor. Also, I leave the skin on, I think it protects the meat, whether you choose to eat it or not.

The recipe is so simple. Drained diced tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, parsley and spices are stirred together in the slow cooker. A paste of garlic, oregano, salt and olive oil is rubbed on the thighs, whether you have browned them first or decide to go the skinless route. Place the thighs in the cooker. Set your timer for 4 hours on high or low for 7 hours. I put the thighs under the broiler for a crispy skin. Serve with toasted Israeli couscous with pine nuts and apricots for a delicious satisfying supper. Definitely a recipe I will make again.

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas and Tomatoes

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1¼ c drained canned diced tomatoes
  • 1¼ c drained and rinsed chickpeas
  • 3/4c chopped onion
  • ¼c minced parsley leaves
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • ½ t ground cloves
  • ½ t ground cumin
  • ¼ t ground cinnamon
  • ¼ t saffron threads
  • ¼ t freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 2 T olive oil, one for the pan and one for the paste
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 3 lb bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

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Directions

  1. Stir the tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, parsley, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and pepper in a 4 to 5½ quart slow cooker.
  2. Warm a large skillet set over medium high heat and swirl in the olive oil. Add the chicken thighs skin side down, as many as will fit in the pan without crowding. Brown on one side, about 4-6 minutes, turn over and brown another 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and continue browning in batches. Alternately, remove the skin and place thighs directly in the slow cooker.
  3. Mix the oregano, olive oil, garlic and salt into a paste and rub a little on each chicken thigh. Set them into the cooker until they are submerged about halfway.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7 hours.
  5. If desired, remove the thighs from the cooker and broil for about 2 minutes to crisp up the skin.

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January 13, 2016 Smoky Indonesian Style Chicken Curry

DSC_5680aSmoky Indonesian style chicken curry gets it’s intense heat from pasilla chilies, smoked paprika and sambal oelek balanced with the fragrant warm spices of ginger, coriander and cumin. This is another recipe from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s article, Slow Cooker Secrets in Fine Cooking magazine

The dark meat of chicken thighs is a natural for the long simmer in the slow cooker. In this recipe, no browning is required,  the skin is removed before cooking and the thighs are coated with a rich complex chile paste.

Pasillas are the chile of choice for this recipe. A variety we have grown for many years, pasilla roughly translates “little raisin” from the Spanish, referring to the way the dark green fruit turns a reddish brown and slightly wrinkled when mature.  I especially like it for it’s mild heat and versatility for use in Mexican and Asian cuisine.Pasilla chiles can be used in chili sauces and pastes as well as moles. They are wonderful fresh on the grill in summer along with a steak.  Pasillas are rich, earthy and mildly spicy with just a hint of sweetness.

We had a bumper crop of peppers this year and to preserve the harvest, I dry some of them. Start with whole, unblemished peppers that have been washed and dried. Place the peppers on a wire mesh rack over a large baking sheet with room between each pepper for air to circulate. I used the lowest convection setting (140°F) in my oven. Drying time varies and I check them every now and then to see how they are progressing. Smaller peppers will dry quicker, the larger ones could take a day or more.  It is important that the peppers are completely dry before storing. Partially dry peppers will turn moldy and ruin the whole container, I know from prior experience.

To use dried chilies, reconstitute by placing them in a bowl and covering them with boiling water. Check at about twenty minutes to see if they are soft. To make the chili paste, the reconstituted pasillas are combined with shallot, lemongrass, tomato paste, spices, brown sugar and sambal oelek. I am fortunate to have a large supply of lemongrass at my disposal. Our lemongrass plant grows large and bushy in the garden every summer. Joe harvests a large portion of the stalks that I freeze for recipes like this. The significantly cut back plant is brought indoors for the winter where it’s only predator is Cody, our Golden Retriever who enjoys nibbling on the leaves. Lemongrass has a mild citrus flavor with a floral aroma. Sambal oelek is a ground paste made only of chili peppers and salt.  It is less acidic than sriracha and is chunkier and thicker in texture.  It is readily available in the Asian section of most supermarkets.

The chili ingredients are combined in the blender and chicken broth is added to make a thick sauce. I needed more broth than the original recipe called for, use as much broth as you need to make the sauce smooth, not chunky. Layer the potato pieces at the bottom of the slow cooker. Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. I found it easier to spread the chili paste on the chicken after it was in the slow cooker. Put the lid on and cook until the chicken and potatoes are tender, 2 to 3 hours on high, 6 hours on low. Turn the slow cooker on high (if you were cooking on low) and sprinkle the green beans evenly over the chicken and cook until crisp tender, 30 minutes. Add peas and cook until heated through, 10 minutes. They suggest serving it with rice, but one starch (potatoes) is sufficient for me.

Dried pasilla bajio chilies from the garden.
Dried pasilla bajio chilies from the garden.

 

Smoky Indonesian Style Chicken Curry

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 5 dried pasilla or New Mexico chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 small shallot, quartered
  • 2 Tbs. thinly sliced lemongrass
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs. sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. sambal oelek
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried coriander
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. lower-salt chicken broth
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3-1/4 lb.), skin removed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/4 lb. waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3-1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup thawed frozen peas
Ingredients for the chili paste.
Ingredients for the chili paste.
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The ingredients are blended together.
Chicken thighs are coated with the chili paste before cooking.
Chicken thighs are coated with the chili paste before cooking.

Directions

  1. Put the chiles in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water; set aside to soften for 20 minutes. Drain, then transfer the chiles to a blender.
  2. Add the shallot, lemongrass, tomato paste, smoked paprika, ginger, brown sugar, sambal oelek, cumin, coriander, and 2 tsp. salt. Blend the mixture until smooth, drizzling the broth through the hole in the lid and stopping occasionally to scrape down the inside of the jar.
  3. Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread evenly with the chile mixture. Layer the potatoes in the bottom of a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker and arrange the chicken in an even layer on top. Cover and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender and the chicken is tender but not falling off the bone, 2 to 3 hours on high and 6 hours on low. (The curry can stay on the keep-warm setting for up to 3 hours.)
  4. About 45 minutes before serving, turn the slow cooker to high (if it was on low or keep-warm), sprinkle the green beans evenly over the top, cover, and cook until crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Add the peas and cook until heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir to combine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

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November 21, 2015 Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Delicata Squash, Fennel and Grapes

DSC_5102aHere is another no fuss sheet pan supper, this time from the Epicurious website. The star of the show, bone in chicken thighs, are paired with a different cast of characters, red grapes, fennel and delicata squash.

Fall is prime season for grapes, the fruit that is harvested now has been hanging on the vine all summer. This translates into succulent fruit with high sugar content and complex flavors. Roasted grapes are delicious and I doubled the amount from the original recipe. Crunchy and a little bit sweet, fennel is in season now and through early spring. I love it’s licorice flavor raw in salads and roasting fennel caramelizes it and mellows out it’s sweetness.  Delicata is the smallest of the winter squashes, usually weighing between 1/2 to 1 pound each. They are cylindrical in shape with yellow or cream colored skin with slight ribbing and dark green stripes. Unlike other winter squashes, the skin of the delicata is edible and has fewer seeds, making them easier to prepare.

The recipe starts with a flavorful rub that includes cumin, coriander, (my addition) brown sugar, salt, black and cayenne pepper. Half of the rub is tossed with the vegetables, the other half with the chicken thighs. You can do this step ahead earlier in the day and assemble the ingredients on the sheet pan before you are ready to roast. Space the components evenly on the baking sheet so all the ingredients get nice and brown. For even cooking, rotate  the pan halfway through the cooking time.  Be sure to use skin on bone in chicken thighs, even if you don’t eat the skin, it protects the meat while it is cooking.  As I previously posted, an instant read thermometer will give you the best results.

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Sheet Pan Chicken with Delicata Squash, Fennel and Grapes

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1T brown sugar
  • 1T ground cumin
  • 1T ground coriander
  • 1T kosher salt
  • 1T freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼t cayenne pepper
  • 1 delicata squash, about 1½lbs, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into ¼” half moons
  • 1 fennel bulb, about ½lb, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and cut into half moons
  • 2c seedless red grapes
  • 1T olive oil
  • 2 lb. bone-in skin on chicken thighs (5-6 pieces)
  • 1/4c torn fresh mint leaves

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F with the rack in the lower third of the oven.
  2. Mix the first six ingredients in a small bowl. Toss squash, fennel and grapes with oil and half of the spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan.
  3. Rub chicken thighs evenly with the remaining spice mixture. You can prepare both components several hours in advance and store in the refrigerator. Bring the chicken out about 20 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
  4. Arrange the chicken thighs skin side up on top of fruit and vegetables. Roast until skin is browned and an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F, about 25 minutes to one half hour.
  5. Divide chicken, fruit and vegetables between four plates and top with mint.

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November 8, 2015 Curried Chicken with Cauliflower, Apricots and Olives

DSC_5012aStep aside slow cookers, move over microwaves, there’s  a new method for getting dinner on the table in a hurry, sheet pan suppers. It provides the busy weeknight cook with easy preparation, the convenience of cooking everything on one pan and makes clean up a snap.

The sheet pans I have stood the test of time, they have served me well for over 25 years.  They may have a little more “character” than a new one but they still do the job. As a caterer I used them constantly, for roasting vegetables and meats, baking cookies, rolls and countless hors d’oeurves. Actually the correct name is a half sheet pan, usually 13″x18″ in dimension,  just the right size to fit in most standard ovens. A full sheet pan is18″x26″, the size fits the rack in a commercial oven. Don’t confuse a jelly roll pan with a sheet pan, jelly roll pans are flimsy and you would need to double them up and you still wouldn’t achieve the same sturdiness. A sheet pan is an inexpensive addition to your cooking equipment. You will find them in both restaurant equipment stores or in the catering aisle of any big box store. Choose one that is aluminum or stainless steel, they hold up well under high heat cooking. I would not recommend a non stick sheet pan, the surface will eventually erode and could possibly contaminate the food you are cooking.

Curried Chicken Thighs with Cauliflower, Apricot and Olives is from Molly Gilbert, author of Sheet Pan Suppers. She calls this a riff on the classic eighties Silver Palate recipe for Chicken Marabella. In Ms. Gilbert’s version the flavor profile moves from Meditteranean to Moroccan, the capers in the original recipe are gone, the olives remain and the prunes have been replaced with dried apricots.

Start the recipe by combining the chicken thighs with half of the curry powder and smoked paprika, oil, vinegar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. I think it’s beneficial for a  recipe that uses an ingredient in two different steps to read, 4 teaspoons curry powder, divided. That would be helpful for the cook, (and we all do it) who maybe isn’t reading the recipe that carefully.

Next is the issue of curry powder, a blend of many spices that can range in flavor from very mild (sweet) to the Madras blend which is quite hot. I think the sweet curry powder is the right choice for most palates making this recipe. The paprika called for in the recipe is smoked, giving another interesting flavor dimension to the dish.

Toss the chicken with the spices, cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours but preferably overnight. The recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken thighs, I used bone-in thighs because I felt they would hold up better to the high heat cooking. When you are ready to cook, place the rack in the center of the oven. The recipe calls for a 450°F oven but I reduced mine to 425°F since I was roasting with convection heat.

A large head of cauliflower translated into about eight cups for me.  I like to cut the head in half and then into quarters through the core. Then I separate the florets from the central stem and break the florets into smaller, relatively equal sized pieces. Toss the cauliflower with the remaining oil, curry powder, paprika and salt to evenly coat. Spread the cauliflower evenly on the sheet pan in a single layer and add the chopped apricots and olives. Soak the apricots for five minutes to soften, anything longer will turn them mushy. I used Castelvetrano olives, my personal favorites and easy to find on the Mediterranean bar of any good supermarket.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and space the pieces evenly over the cauliflower. Add the apricots and olives to the baking sheet. You might want to tuck some of them under the chicken since they get quite brown. Roast, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. I used an instant read thermometer and my chicken pieces were done in a little less than a half hour. If you are not using a convection oven it may take a little longer but no matter what, the instant read thermometer is always key to getting the best results.

This is a great weeknight supper because everything can be ready in advance, chicken marinated, cauliflower, apricots and olives prepped. At dinnertime get everything ready to cook while your oven preheats. A simple salad will complete the meal.

Curried Chicken with Cauliflower, Apricots and Olives

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 2lbs)
  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil, divided,  2T chicken, 2T cauliflower
  • 1T apple cider vinegar
  • 4t sweet curry powder, divided, 2t chicken, 2t cauliflower
  • 1t smoked paprika, divided, ½t chicken, ½t cauliflower
  • ½t ground cinnamon
  • ¼t cayenne pepper
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • ¾c chopped dried apricots, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained
  • 1c pitted green olives, halved
  • ½c chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 1 large lemon cut into wedges
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Toss the cauliflower with curry powder, cinnamon, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and salt.
Everything ready to go on the sheet pan.
Everything ready to go on the sheet pan.

Directions

  1. Combine the chicken thighs with 2T oil, the vinegar, 2t curry powder, cinnamon, cayenne and ¾t salt in a medium bowl, tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to overnight.
  2. Position the oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 450°F (425°F if using convection heat). Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Combine on the pan, the cauliflower with the remaining 2T oil, 2t sweet curry powder, ½t paprika and ¾t salt, tossing to coat. Be sure the cauliflower is spread out evenly.
  3. Add the apricots and olives and spread them evenly on the pan.
  4. Remove the chicken thighs from the marinade and place them evenly spread over the cauliflower. Roast, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time, between 30-35 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and toss the cauliflower with the pan drippings. Serve chicken and cauliflower with a sprinkle of cilantro or parsley  and lemon wedges on the side.

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April 14, 2015 Beet Chutney

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The good thing about cooking a ton of food for a holiday is that chances are, you will have lots of leftovers.  The challenging part is finding ways to repurpose those leftovers into something different and delicious. Smoked turkey was good on a salad, leftover roasted vegetables topped our homemade thin crust pizzas. In previous years I made moussaka with leftover lamb, this year we decided on lamb wraps. In addition to the usual tzatziki sauce that I would serve with lamb, Joe suggested  “something spicy.” I had some ideas but after googling it, found an interesting recipe for beet chutney.

As a beet lover, I enjoy their earthy quality and thought the sweet and sour quality of a chutney would be a nice contrast to the creamy coolness of tzatziki. The chutney comes together quickly and benefits from being made ahead, allowing the flavors to blend together. The recipes calls for a two inch diameter beet, which turned out to be just a little bit less than a cup. Tweak the sweet and sour elements to your own liking. I used golden raisins because that’s what I had on hand, dried cranberries might be nice as well. Dried cranberries would fit the color scheme and would fit right in with a Thanksgiving menu. The chutney would also be good  as a appetizer on top of a cracker spread with goat cheese or Brie.

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Beet Chutney

Makes about a cup

Ingredients

  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1 ½c red onion
  • 1 2-inch diameter red beet, peeled, cut into ¼ inch cubes
  • ½c water
  • ½c red wine vinegar
  • 3T raisins (I used golden raisins)
  • 3T sugar
  • 2t chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 1t yellow mustard seeds
  • Pinch of cumin seeds

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Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan  over medium heat. Add chopped red onion and beet cubes. Cook until onion is tender but not brown, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes
  2. Add ½c water. Increase heat to high and boil until mixture is thick, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, raisins, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beet cubes are tender and the chutney is thick, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool.
  3. Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

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February 6, 2015 Mediterranean Style Pan Seared Chicken Breasts

DSC_1136aMy yearly “pantry purge” brought to my attention some items that would expire in the next few months and needed to be used sooner rather than later.  The jar of marinated artichoke hearts I bought at Trader Joe’s last year would reach it’s expiration date in a month.  Not wanting to waste them, I started with the artichoke hearts as a foundation. I looked for other items on the shelf that would add some complimentary Mediterranean flavors.  Also in the pantry I found jarred sun dried tomatoes and roasted peppers. In the refrigerator I found a container of olives, a previously opened  jar of capers and some fresh parsley. I was set to put together an improvised combination that would work well as a topping for the chicken breasts I planned on cooking that evening. I was calling it a “salsa” though Joe pointed out there was nothing sauce-like about it.

To make this dish I started with the marinated artichoke quarters, draining and reserving the marinade in case I needed to add some to the finished dish. The sun dried tomatoes were next, and even though I drained some of the oil off,  they retained enough to give the right balance.  Capers add a salty element to the dish so I made sure to rinse them well before adding them to the dish. I used Kalamata olives and Castelvetrano, an olive with a mild buttery flavor and one of my favorites. The red and yellow roasted peppers,  just needed to be drained and chopped. Combining all of the ingredients in a medium bowl I tasted for seasoning and in this case, a little bit of lemon juice and  a splash of balsamic vinegar was the right addition.

So what should I call this? It’s not quite a sauce, but is a versatile topping for fish, chicken, pasta, it could also be used as an omelet filling or even as a topping for a flatbread pizza.  The ingredients are interchangable as well. Petite diced canned tomatoes could be substituted for the sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms for the artichoke hearts, a little pesto would be a good addition, you can see what I mean. It’s just important to taste as you go to achieve the right balance of flavors.

This would have been great over the poached chicken breasts I made from the last post but I decided to learn another method.  In this recipe, also from Cooks Illustrated, boneless chicken breasts are lightly salted, then parcooked in a covered casserole in the oven. The chicken is then pan seared in a moderately hot skillet and kept moist with a slurry of flour, butter and cornstarch that is brushed on at the end. It gives a nice coating to the chicken and helps it stay moist. As with all meat, poultry and fish recipes, an instant read thermometer takes away the guesswork  and is essential for the best results.

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The ingredients for the topping.

Mediterranean Topping

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2c marinated, quartered artichoke hearts from a 12oz jar, drained (save liquid)
  • 2T capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2c sun dried tomatoes, drained, chopped and lightly patted dry
  • 1/2c olives, combination of green and black, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3c chopped roasted peppers
  • 1/4c chopped fresh parsley
  • Balsamic vinegar and lemon juice to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl combine the artichoke hearts, capers, sun dried tomatoes, olives, roasted peppers and parsley.
  2. Add balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

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Pan Seared Chicken Breasts

From Cooks Illustrated March 2010

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, 6-8 ounces each, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2t kosher salt (1t regular salt)
  • 1T canola oil
  • 2T unsalted butter melted
  • 1T all purpose flour
  • 1t cornstarch
  • 1/2t freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Place oven rack in the lowest position and heat to 275°F. Poke the thicker end of the chicken breast with a fork five to six times and sprinkle evenly with the salt. Place the chicken, smooth side down in a 9×13″ baking dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until the thickest part of the breast registers 145-150°F on an instant read thermometer, start checking at the 30 minute mark, it could take as long as 40 minutes.
  2. Remove pan from the oven and transfer the chicken with tongs to a towel-lined plate and pat dry. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until smoking. While you are waiting for the pan to heat up, whisk the melted butter, cornstarch and flour together. Brush the top of the chicken with half of the butter mixture. Place the chicken in the skillet, coated side down and cook until browned, 3-4 minutes. While the chicken is browning, coat the other side of the chicken with the remaining mixture. Flip the chicken over with tongs, reduce heat to medium and cook until the second side is browned and the thickest part of the breast registers 160°F, another 3-4 minutes. Transfer chicken to a serving plate.
  3. Serve chicken with Mediterranean topping.

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