Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fist 'Fel of Chickpeas

It’s been a very busy week in my little world- my husband and I spent the weekend up in Maine for Fisherman’s Festival with our family and friends, I drove down from Boston on Monday morning after dropping him off at his ship, my Mother-in-Law came for a visit, and work has been a zoo. As a result of all these happenings, I have had very little motivation to cook, at least until last night. I had thinned out our fridge stock before leaving for the weekend, and it finally got to the point where I had to go to the store yesterday and re-stock. I had spent a good portion of the afternoon trying to figure out what I wanted to make for dinner (nothing too time consuming, something relatively healthy and light), when it finally dawned on me: falafel!

I had been trolling one of the cooking chat posts I frequent and Josie of Pink Parsley had posted a recipe for baked falafel that suddenly struck a chord with me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had falafel, and knew it would be the perfect easy dinner, and it was! I made a couple of amendments (noted in italics) to Josie’s recipe for what I had on hand, and they turned out wonderfully. I was thrilled to be able to use some of the fresh herbs I’ve been growing, and the flavor of these little patties was on point. To serve with the falafel, I picked up some marinated olives, mushrooms, garlic and feta off of the olive bar, mixed up a quick batch of Fantastic World Foods tabouli from their mix (my go to for quick items when I just don’t have the energy, with wonderful organic ingredients!), made a quick zucchini Tzatziki sauce (which has been long evolving from various sources) and threw on a little Sabra roasted garlic hummus for good measure with some with some lentil & black bean pappadum snacks and had a perfect light meal! I found the papadum snacks in the world food aisle at our local grocery store (think bright blue Pringles canister, but much more tasty holdings), and I am already addicted to these crispy little lentil treats. They’re about the size of a silver dollar and packed with flavor. As an added bonus, they are already cooked, so you don’t have to worry about frying.

Although this wasn’t one of my usual “from scratch” meals, it was wholly satisfying without being overwhelming to make. I noticed in putting this post together that Josie’s recipe had been an evolution of a recipe from Kate’s World Kitchen, which had come from a recipe on Epicurious. I love that idea within the food blogging community, recipes can be passed down and altered along the way and shared with others, and each time the dish takes on a new personality and a new story. The possibilities for falafel are endless, and I know this will be a go to again and again!

Falafel with Fresh Herbs and Zucchini-Lemon Tzatziki

For the Falafel (adapted from Pink Parsley’s Baked Falafel):

- 1 Cup dried chickpeas or 16oz. can of Goya chickpeas, rinsed & drained
- 1/2 Large onion, roughly chopped
- 4 Tblspns. finely chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf)
- 2 Tblspns. finely chopped fresh dill
- 1 Tblspn finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 Tspn. Cayenne- I upped it to about ½ tspn or so, I like a little extra kick!
- 4 Cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 Tspn ground cumin
- 2 Tspn. dried coriander
- Juice of 1 lemon- also added in ¼ of a lemon’s worth of zest for brightness
- 1 Tspn baking powder
- Up to 4 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour- I used regular whole wheat flour as I had it on hand
- Sea salt & cracked black pepper
- Olive oil

Place chickpeas, onion, spices, lemon and salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse several times to form a paste (I used our Magic Bullet. Don’t laugh- it worked!). Transfer paste to a good sized bowl, check salt & pepper seasoning and adjust if necessary. Mix in baking powder until well incorporated. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, mix in flour until dough comes together in large firm mass (if mixture becomes too dry, you can add a little extra lemon juice or water).

Set oven warm, and place a metal rack over a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Using your hands form chickpea mixture into approximately 2” balls and flatten into patties (work quickly so that mixture does not fall apart). Place patties on parchment paper.

Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Just as oil begins to smoke, add patties in and cook for 4-5 minutes per side, working in batches. Transfer patties to rack in oven to keep warm. Add additional olive oil as needed between batches. Once all patties have been cooked, serve with your favorite accompaniments, either in pitas with fresh greens, Tzatziki sauce and veggies, or as part of a platter with marinated olives, hummus, feta and tabouli salad. Falafel patties also freeze well, as there is minimal moisture and heat up quickly on the stovetop or oven.

For Zucchini- Tzatziki Sauce:

-1 ½ cups plain Greek Yogurt
-1 Small zucchini, minced (you can sub with a small cucumber, seeded and chopped too)
-2-3 Tblspns fresh dill, minced
-1 Large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
-Juice from ½ a lemon
-1-2 Tblspns fresh lemon zest
-Sea salt & cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adjust salt and pepper to taste, and let sit as long as possible to allow flavors to come together. In addition to being an excellent falafel accompaniment, this sauce is wonderful when served as a dip with fresh vegetables or homemade pita chips. Also great on grilled lamb as well!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adjust the OCD to Your Liking...

"Just let me add a little more paprika to this while he's in the bathroom..."

I was recently on one of the cooking chat boards I frequent, and someone posted the question: “Are you a control freak in the kitchen?”. Instantly, I thought of an article a friend sent to me a few years back from The New York Times entitled “He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love.”, and I had to laugh. Throughout the thread of this board posting, there was a resounding reply of “Yes!” amongst the posters. Grievances ran the gauntlet from relatively mild (the significant other that leaves a trail of mess behind) to technical (lack of proper knife skills,indifference towards foods burned beyond recognition) to personal OCD attacks (using improper measuring apparatus, misuse of specialty ingredient, misprouncing a tool/ingredient/style of cooking) and everything in between. I posted this same article on my local chat board, and the responses were similar, although a few posters noted that they cook well with their significant others, and on the extreme, both were alphas and couldn’t even be in the same room with an open flame together.

I found the thread so amusing as I have been accused of being an alpha in the kitchen. I’m not sure if it stems from my seasons cooking in restaurant kitchens, or my general need to be in control, but I have been making a genuine effort in the past few years to curb some of my alpha tendencies. About two years ago, while attempting to execute a flawless Thanksgiving feast for twelve friends in family in our small townhouse kitchen, my alpha tendencies reared their ugly head. I had done a pretty good job of planning out my menu and working my way through my prep list, all the while doling out tasks to those that I thought could handle them. In spite of this, there were a few moments where I wouldn’t allow a single pot to be touched. At one point while prepping pearl onions (damn you, onion skins!), someone attempted to help or perhaps suggest a better technique (hello, family of alphas), and I’m pretty sure I bared my teeth, snarling “I’m fine- I know what I’m doing!”, and everyone who had been in the kitchen slowly backed out without making eye contact.

I think I have gotten a lot better about my alpha-ness when cooking with my husband, although there are still moments when I catch myself questioning something he’s doing in my head. I have to remind myself that it’s not my dish, and I should be enjoying spending time with him. It’s not that he’s not a good cook- quite the contrary actually- but more so that I just can’t let up that control. For the sake of our marriage, I won’t go into the details of my alpha triggers, but they’re getting better. He used to get frustrated when I wouldn’t let him help me cook, and it wasn’t always that I didn’t want his help, a lot of it had more to do with I was still thinking through recipes in my head, or what task I was doing next. But as I said, I’m working on this. On the positive, now that it’s just the two of us in our little home, we are discovering that we can take turns being the alpha, and let the other person take the helm (I’ve mentioned his prowess for baking, and he’s also stellar at homemade mayonnaise and our new love, sausage making). We’re not perfect, but at least we’re not throwing knives- possibly because we like our knives too much. ;-)

Is there an alpha in your kitchen, or a pair of alphas fighting it out for total kitchen domination? How do you work through your battles for control, or what techniques do you employ to maintain a balance?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Brights of Spring

My husband has been out to sea for the past ten days or so, and as per usual I try to do my best not to have a ton of food in the house since I hate to see anything go to waste! I have been thrilled to see my container garden take off, and have really enjoyed being able to use some of my hand-grown treats in recent dishes. Now that the rain has (finally!) stopped, and the weather is getting warmer, I tend to lean on fresh, lighter meals such as large salads when I’m making dinner for myself. A big salad is easy to make, has endless possibilities and are extremely filling after a good run or workout (another part of my spring afternoon routine). I’ve got a bit longer before my tomatoes start producing, so I’ve been relying on getting my produce from the local market, and  have been lucky enough to find locally grown organic tomatoes at a decent price. My baby arugula pot has come along beautifully, and I love the peppery bite of it in salads. Keeping in the mindset of using what is on hand, I made this fantastic salad out of what was already in my kitchen, and I will surely be making it many times throughout the warmer months. As noted in a previous post, I adore a good poached egg, and I’ve recently seen them paired with cool salads on seasonal restaurant menus. The creamy texture of the yolk makes an ideal dressing, and the play of warm and cool elements really satisfy. A great salad is a perfect way of combining color, texture, and flavor simply and quickly enough for any weeknight dinner or casual lunch.

Herbed Green Salad with Poached Eggs and Crispy Turkey “Lardons”

Per Person:

-1-2 Large fresh eggs
-1 ½ Cups fresh salad greens (I used a mix of baby spinach & arugula)
- ¼ Cup fresh herbs, chopped (flat leaf parsley, dill, cilantro, etc.)
- ½ Cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ Cup sweet Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
- 2 Slices turkey bacon, cut into bite sized pieces
- 5 Kalamata olives, quartered (optional)
- 1-2 Tblspns toasted pine nuts (optional)
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

Heat skillet over medium high heat and cook turkey bacon until crisp, about 12 minutes, and drain on paper towels. Toss greens, herbs, tomatoes, onion, olives and pine nuts together. Poach eggs (refer to my recommended instructions in previous post, A Little Comfort) and nestle eggs on top of salad. Top with cooked turkey bacon and season with salt & pepper to taste. Serve & enjoy immediately for best texture- goes great with a glass of crisp white wine!

A Lovely Spring Sunday

(I would like to state that this is probably the least attractive food photo I have posted to date. It goes without saying that I do not claim to be photo whiz, but I can confirm that the dish was delicious!)

Last weekend, Kyle’s mother came for a visit while on her way down to Georgia for a pearl show she was participating in. Before her arrival, Kyle and I had spent the day outside enjoying the beautiful weather out on Ocean Drive- we went for a jog, watched the kite fliers and he taught me how to take sun sights with a sextant. Before we headed out, we had made a trip to the grocery store to pick up dinner supplies so we wouldn’t be scrambling at the last minute. It had finally felt like spring for the majority of the weekend (after what seemed like an eternity of rain in Newport!), so I didn’t want to make anything too heavy or weighty after a day of enjoying the weather. I had also had a craving for veal and thought a Picatta with braised zucchini and mushroom risotto would be ideal. It was a cinch to throw together (the veal cutlets were thin and cooked quickly while the zucchini braised) and was a great light supper for a spring Sunday. There was plenty to feed four (although it was only three of us that night), and the leftovers were just as good. I’m leaving the risotto recipe out, as I’ve posted a few before, and you can really substitute any starch you like in place: a pilaf with pine nuts, wide noodles or whipped potatoes. Kyle was crazy about the zucchini, and I will definitely be making that again soon! I would recommend starting the zucchini about 25 minutes before you start the veal, as it take a bit longer to braise than it will take to make the Picatta. Additionally, this picatta technique works well for chicken (cooking time is understandably longer) or any firm whitefish.

Veal Picatta with Braised Zucchini

For the Zucchini:

-4 Medium zucchini, well cleaned with stems removed
- ½ Large sweet onion
- ¾ Cup chicken stock
-2-3 Tblspns olive oil
-2 Sprigs fresh Thyme
-Sea salt & cracked black pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle position. Split cleaned zucchini in half lengthwise, and then again width wise. Slice each quarter into ¼” strips. Slice onion into similar size pieces. Toss zucchini and onion with olive oil, salt & pepper (to taste), thyme and chicken stock until evenly coated. Place in oven covered & cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove cover, still & cook for an additional 10-12 minutes uncovered. Can be left in a warm oven until ready to serve.

For the Veal:

-1-1 ½ lbs. Veal cutlets, pounded thin
- 1 Cup flour
- 2 Tblspns capers
- Zest of ½ lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½ Lemon, thinly sliced
- ½- ¾ Cup white wine (I used Sauv Blanc, as that’s what we were drinking)
-1 Cup chicken stock
-2 Cloves garlic, minced
-3 Tblspns chopped flat leaf parsley
-Olive oil
-Sea salt & cracked black pepper

In a shallow bowl or paper bag, mix flour with salt and pepper to taste and ½ of the lemon zest (I prefer the bag method, as it gives you even flour coating and is easily disposed of). Add in veal pieces one at a time and shake to coat well after each addition. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When oil is to temp, remove veal from four mixture, shake over bag to remove excess flour and sear off for 2-3 minutes per side. Cooking in batches is best, so as to not crowd cutlets and ensure even browning. Keep a watchful eye for overcooking- veal can get tough quite quickly, and burning the flour will render it unable to be used for the sauce! Remove cooked cutlets from pan and place on a wire rack set on a cookie sheet in a warm oven (zucchini can keep warm as mentioned above). Repeat process for all cutlets. Once veal has been cooked, add in wine to de-glaze pan. Add in garlic, chicken stock, lemon juice, capers, reserved lemon zest, parsley, and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until sauce comes together and reduces a bit. Settle veal cutlets over starch, top with a couple of slices of fresh lemon, and spoon warm sauce over veal. Garnish with additional chopped flat leaf parsley if desired.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shameless Plug

So as some have probably figured out, I just launched a second blog, The Humble Home. It was born out of the idea that I wanted to write a bit more on lifestyle in addition to my cooking, and so I decided to step up and start Humble Home as a secondary place for thoughts and ideas on all aspects of trying to live a realtively simple life. So if you get a chance, please check out The Humble Home, share it with others, and share your thoughts with me- all feedback and suggestions are always welcome! Cheers all!

Ours Go to Eleven

In getting further acquainted with my little treehouse kitchen, I have been doing my best to not over-buy pantry items as, well, we don’t actually have a pantry, but rather a very small built-in cabinet (half filled with glassware) and a small wire rack. With minimal space, and half of it being in plain sight, I have done my best to be conscious of my dry goods and non-perishables and what I really “need” to have in order to be able to throw together a quick meal in a pinch. In this thought, I have come up with the eleven pantry (seven in the dry goods category, and four in the long shelf life realm) items that I almost always have on hand that have saved my neck when time is of the essence. In no particular order:

 1) Pepper Creek Farms French Grey Sea Salt: I had first encountered this French salt when I purchased it as part of a holiday gift basket for my mother. As I have mentioned before, I would install a salt lick in my apartment if I could, I am a huge salt fan (occasionally to my husband’s dismay). Pepper Creek has produced a wonderful, earthy salt that is perfect in just about any dish. This salt has a high moisture content, which helps to retain nutrients.

2) Pastene Kitchen Ready tinned tomatoes: I advocated the versatility of Pastene in my tomato sauce recipe and with due reason- in a cross comparison of fresh taste, value and shelf life, this brand is a winner. Some other brands seem to have a more metallic taste, but something about Pastene’s crushed tomatoes always taste a bit fresher to me, perhaps for nostalgia’s sake. One tin can make plenty of sauce for four, and are also great when employed in stews.

3) Carr’s Water Crackers: Although more of an entertaining staple, these water crackers can always be found in my cabinet, thanks in no small part to discovering the 5 sleeve variety pack available at wholesale markets. Kyle and I are both huge cheese aficionados, and anytime guests are in the house, or we just don’t feel like really cooking, a plate full of cheeses, fruits, and cured meats is bound to be on our coffee table. I’ve tried other varieties of water crackers, and I hate to say it, but they all pale in comparison. They are light, airy and the perfect vessel for presenting a good cheese. The toasted sesame and cracked black pepper are my favorites.

4) Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet (2006): I first came across this blend about 3 years ago back in Maine when it was discovered by both my family and Kyle’s at about the same time. Upon discovery, I think we all bought up as much of the ’06 as we could find, as it seemed to have a better, more well rounded flavor and mouth feel than the ’07. Sadly, we have drank the rest of our stash of the ’06, which is still available in some areas, but the ’07 is still a good find. It retails for around $10/bottle so it’s a guiltless wine that is not only drinkable but great for cooking with, making it a double whammy. Not strictly a pantry item, but since I use a lot of wine in my cooking I figured it was a good addition!

5) Barilla Fettuccine Rigate: A bit more difficult to find than regular fettuccine, but worth the hunt. Like it’s close relative, penne rigate, this fettuccine has small ridges, which make it ideal for being paired with light sauces, and given that it has the classic flat shape of a fettuccine noodle, it doesn’t buckle under more robust sauces to boot. It holds any sauce beautifully, gives you a full even bite of flavor and cooks to al dente quickly and evenly.

6) Goya Cannellini Beans: When I have the time, I prefer to soak my cannellini beans overnight for cooking. However, when time is of the essence, I go for the Goya. With a quick drain and rinse, these beans are extremely versatile- they can be added to soups, cooked with tomatoes, served with any meats and have a beautiful texture when blended with fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil for a quick cocktail spread. They are also great tossed in a salad for an easy protein boost. At around $1.50/can, you really can’t go wrong.

7) Panko Bread Crumbs: This probably stems from my days as an actual restaurant chef some years ago, but I do have to agree that I like the texture of panko so much better than the standard bread crumb. They are a little coarser, very light, and take on any seasonings very well. I use them predominantly in fish breading, as they let the flavor of the fish really shine, and maintain a crispy coating. They also work well as a binder for anything from meatloaf to crabcakes.

8 Garlic: I always have at least one head of garlic on my “island” (I use that term loosely, as you can tell by the photo of my galley that it’s really just a re-purposed leaf table) at the ready. There really isn’t any dish that I won’t throw garlic into, as it is such an easy way to get a lot of fresh flavor into a dish for very little money. In addition to classic sauté and sauce application, it becomes wonderfully sweet and soft when roasted as a whole clove with olive oil for a spread, or it can be ground down raw and salted to add to fresh vinaigrettes to perk up simple greens. For a perfect add on to fresh wilted greens, I am a fan of crisping up thin slices in a little olive oil to make garlic chips.

9) Lemon Zest: Kyle has been poking fun at me for my recent obsession with lemon zest. Like garlic, there really isn’t anything I won’t add it to. When I finally got the chance to unpack my four sided Microplane greater, there wasn’t any dish that was safe from a zesting! I love the bright, subtle lemon flavor the zest adds, especially in the winter time when produce can be a bit bland. Added to cannellini beans, sautéed garlic and a little wilted spinach, you’ve got yourself a great side dish, all out of the aforementioned staples! The dexterity of lemon zest can range from the sweet to the savory, and with a good fresh lemon, you can get pretty good shelf time out of it.

10) Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese: A good turn of the grater over any dish can perk up just about any simple dish. I prefer this variety over straight Parmesan, as it has a little bit more of a nutty flavor. It is much more worthwhile to spend a little extra on this cheese, as the payout will be in the flavor. Regular pre-grated cheese in a can has a lot of additives to give it unrefrigerated shelf life, and has a flavor likeness of unseasoned bread crumbs in my opinion. Freshly grated cheese incorporates well into sauces, melts evenly over pasta and lends itself well to crusting under the broiler. As an added bonus, rinds can be added to soups and stocks for extra flavor.

11) Flat Leaf Italian Parsley: For most of this winter, I was buying bunches of fresh Italian parsley at the market, and storing it in damp paper towels with a little water in a pint glass on my kitchen windowsill. Most of the time I’d end up losing half of the bunch as I couldn’t get to all of it before it started to turn. Now that I am the proud grower of a beautiful herb container garden (check out The Humble Home for tips), I never worry about it going to waste. It is extremely easy to grow, even in a small pot in a window, and well worth the 10 minutes to sow, as there is minimal upkeep, just a little watering. Once you have gotten your herb plant started, it’s so easy to maintain, there’s really no reason not to keep a few pots around to jazz up pantry meals. I find the flat leaf has much more flavor than the curly and is a ridiculously easy way to add a little color and fresh crunch to absolutely any dish. It’s an old trick employed by pretty much every restaurant out there, but there is something I find really appealing about a fresh spray of chopped herbs across a plate of food. The same theory goes for cilantro, chives, baby arugula or any other fresh varieties.

So those are the staples for my kitchen- what are your go to pieces that have bailed you out in an emergency, or the items that are standby for those weeknights when your energy is low?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Provencial Evening

A few weeks back, Kyle’s mom and stepfather came to visit our new digs for the first time while on their way down to New Jersey. It was awesome to finally be able to show them our little treehouse, and I was excited to cook them a family meal. Kyle’s stepfather Don had is recently on the backside of heart surgery, so and I wanted to take a classic dish I had done a few times before and give it a more healthy, heart friendly spin. I made a Coq Au Vin, which I had started the night before, and it turned out beautifully. Due to the way my memory works, I’m providing my standard instructions for the dish, but for a more heart-healthy version I used 50% boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 50% bone-in chicken thighs (trimming out all of the fat and leaving just a little skin on for flavor), reduced sodium/low fat chicken stock, whole wheat flour, natural sea salt, minimal olive oil, and a small amount of turkey bacon. Instead of serving it over buttered mashed potatoes (as I am usually inclined to do) or wide egg noodles, I served the chicken over yolk-free whole wheat noodles for an added boost of good grains. The noodles were a great accompaniment, and starting the Coq t he night before made all the difference in making a very rich dish that tasted more guilty than it was, and was enjoyed a by all.
This recipe has been drawn out of a couple of collaborators (namely Bon Appetite, The Silver Palate and my mother), and once again covers all of my bases for great entertaining: wonderful rustic flavors, easily made before hand and can be done all in one pot. I had good intentions of taking photos before we ate, but we were so wrapped up in catching up and having a great evening (not to mention enjoying a pitcher of my husband’s renowned Margaritas!), that I didn’t get around to it until the next day while enjoying leftovers, which I am happy to report were just as good the first time around!

Coq Au Vin

-1 4lb. Whole chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces, excess fat removed (leave some for flavor!)
-4-5 Slices of thick sliced bacon chopped (the fresh sliced found at most deli counters is best)
-20 Baby carrots, sliced in half, or 4 large carrots cut into similar sized pieces
-2 Cloves of garlic, minced
-1 Shallot, minced
- 1 ½ -2 cups pearl onion (see note on peeling technique below)
-12-14 Crimini mushrooms, wiped clean & quartered
-3/4- 1 cup good chicken stock
-1 Bottle French red wine (if you like your sauce a bit sweeter, you can also add in some Congac)
-1 ½ cups flour
-2 Bay leaves
-2-3 Sprigs fresh thyme
- ½ tblspn poultry seasoning
-Olive oil
-Fresh cracked pepper & sea salt
-Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

As mentioned before, this dish is best when it is started the night before, so that the flavors can really come together. As an added bonus, you won’t be busy cooking the whole time guests are there- just simply re-heat and you are ready!

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven (large enough to hold all ingredients) over medium heat. Once to temp, add in bacon and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally so as not to burn. While cooking bacon, toss flour into a large paper bag and season salt & pepper and poultry season, and shake to mix. Add in chicken pieces, close tightly and shake well to coat chicken. When bacon is cooked, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Increase heat slightly to medium-high. Brown chicken in batches in reserved bacon fat/olive oil on each side for 5-6 minutes- be sure not to overcrowd pieces or proper browning won’t be achieved. Remove cooked pieces from the pot and set aside on a plate. Continue process until all chicken is cooked, and be careful to watch your temperature control- you don’t want to burn the exterior of the chicken, or the pieces of flour and fat in the bottom of the pan- that’s where a lot of the flavor for your sauce resides. You may have to mess with your temp settings a bit, depending on your range to maintain an even heat, as well as adding a bit more oil to keep chicken from sticking and burning- use your best judgment.

Return heat to medium, and add in mushrooms, carrots and onions. Sautee vegetables until they begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Add in garlic, shallots, bay leaves and thyme sprigs and continue cooking for 2-3 more minutes until the mixture becomes aromatic and season with salt & pepper. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of flour over vegetables and stir to coat well, cooking for a few more minutes to cook out any “raw” flour flavor. Pour in 1/3 of the wine, increase heat a bit and stir to deglaze the bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook mixture for 10-15 minutes or so stirring occasionally until sauce begins to thicken a bit. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Add in reserved chicken, bacon, and wine- stir to coat chicken. Add in chicken stock to your discretion to achieve a proper consistency (shouldn’t be as heavy as a gravy, but sauce should have some good body). Bring pot to a full boil, stirring for about 10 minutes. Cover pot and transfer to heated oven and let sit for as long as possible (I would recommend 1 ½ to 2 hours) to meld flavors. Remove from oven, let cool completely, check and adjust salt & pepper seasoning and transfer entire pot to refrigerator overnight. About an hour or two before serving, reheat either on stove top over medium heat or in 350 degree oven until heated all the way though. Once re-heated, the dish can stay in a low oven or on a low burner setting until ready to serve. Serve over simple mashed potatoes and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

*A note on peeling pearl onions- Anyone who has been saddled with the chore of peeling pearl onions knows that it can be a royal pain, often resulting in eye strain, frustration and the assistance of a stiff martini. I don’t remember exactly where I picked up this tip, but it is the easiest way to get the little stinkers out of their jackets without resorting to the frozen bagged variety. In a tea kettle or pot, bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil. While water is boiling, you can take the tops off of the onions if you wish, or leave them intact for later removal, and place onions in a heat proof dish and pour boiling water over. Let sit in water for about 1 minute. Drain onions quickly and plunge into an ice bath to shock. Once cooled, the onion skins should slide right off, and they will still retain their integrity, and you won’t be chasing tiny onion skins around your kitchen floor for days to come.

Chicken Thigh on FoodistaChicken Thigh

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Simplicity of Sauce

A good tomato sauce is the cornerstone of any cook’s repertoire. In addition to being the perfect go-to recipe on a busy night, a tomato sauce is the ideal way of showcasing your own personal flavor palate, which in the world of cooking is like a fingerprint. I make no claims to being of Italian lineage, and would never put my sauce up against an “authentic” version, as I think it all comes down to what you know, what you’ve grown up with and what satisfies your cravings.

Growing up, tomato sauce was a perpetual staple in our household- from quick weeknight meals filled with rehearsals and sports practices, to all day simmered pots of Chicken Cacciatore, there were always a half dozen cans of crushed tomatoes in our pantry. Both of my parents had a similar style to their basic sauce (one of my father’s first cooking jobs had been in the only Italian restaurant in Bangor), and it is what I have built my own off of. Many people might scoff that tomato sauce is too basic to be interesting or refined, but I would argue that its beauty is in its simplicity. Not only can you highlight wonderful seasonal vegetables in prime growing season, but you can also make a cold weather comfort food with good tinned tomatoes, and on the cheap!

This last evolution of sauce making was on a Friday night after a very busy week of work. Kyle was driving home from Kings Point after giving a talk to a group of officers, and I was charged with putting together something quick, and was less than motivated to hit the market, so I went with what I had on hand in the house. A few weeks back I had taken up container gardening, and had fresh basil and flat leaf parsley, which were perfect for balancing against the acidity of the tomatoes. The result was a comforting bowl of shared pasta on a relaxed Friday night. Although my sauce does differ from time to time, this is what I find to be my favorite unpretentious tomato sauce that can be made year round. I’m not a fan of adding tomato paste or sugar to my sauce, as I like it a little bit more loose and chunky, and if you’re using fresh tomatoes, you are going to more than likely have a sweet sauce. If you’ve got fresh tomatoes, herbs and any other vegetables, use them! When working with fresh as opposed to canned, use equal proportions of chopped fresh tomatoes, and just simmer a bit longer. Skinning and de-seeding is up to you, I leave it all in, as I’m a fan of a more rustic texture, and if you want to break down the flesh more, a handheld potato masher does the trick. In line with my cooking philosophy, if you use simple, fresh, great ingredients to start with, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s all about finding what works for your taste, and using what you’ve got.

Basic Tomato Sauce (easily doubled for freezing)

- 1 28oz. can of Pastene “Kitchen Ready” tomatoes (or any similar good quality)
- 3-4 tblspns Extra Virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced finely
- ½ of a sweet onion, halved and sliced thinly
- 4ish tblspns. Red wine (I used Merlot, as that was what I was sipping on after work)
- 3-4 tblspns minced fresh herbs (I had flat leaf parsley, basil and baby arugula on hand)
- Good sea salt & cracked black pepper
-1-2 tspns Crushed red pepper (optional)
In the base of a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in onions and sweat, stirring regularly so as not to brown, until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add in garlic and continue to stir for another minute or two. Add in tomatoes & stir to combine. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and crushed red pepper, if using. Stir in wine and allow sauce to come together over low heat for as long as possible. Depending on your desired thickness, you can add a little more wine, water, pasta water (if you’re cooking pasta to serve with sauce) or even stock to thin out a bit. About 5 minutes before serving, stir in fresh herbs (basil will turn brown if added to early), check seasonings and adjust if needed. Wonderful served over pasta, with grilled sausages, simply on toasted bread with olive oil.