Chicken Cacciatore

July 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

I am calling this chicken cacciatori  because I like the way that title sounds, catching on my tongue. Cha-cha-cha-Tori! 

Cacciatori

But if you are a purist of any kind, please forgive me. This recipe is almost entirely improvised, (every time I make it) and was not passed down to me from a Nona or a friend’s Nona or even from a Batali cookbook. It’s really just simmered chicken thighs in tomato broth with vegetables, wine and olives. 

But, oh, it’s so much more than that. The ingredients really mingle and dance. When I cook it, I want to spin around and say its name over and over and over: Cha-cha-cha. Tori! The urge to  sing its praises gets stronger as the days go by, so its best to make a bit ahead. 

This meal has become a favorite in our household for a few reasons. First, it requires just one pot. Second, it’s virtually foolproof. Cooking this is like painting with acrylics: you can make a few mistakes and fix them as you go. Also, it’s excellent in any season. As a stew, it’s comforting in the cooler weather, but it’s also brimming with summer vegetables, and is great for those overwhelmed gardeners with zucchini coming out of their ears. (Emily!) 

Generally, I try to make something more interesting than poultry when guests come for dinner, but this is an exception. If you spoon this over polenta with melted blue cheese, as I did on Tuesday night, you won’t feel at all ashamed of serving something as quotidian as chicken. You might only be ashamed of not making enough for seconds or thirds.

Chicken Cacciatore 

Serves 4

Sauté 2 pieces of bacon or pancetta over medium high heat, and set aside. In the renderings, brown 2 pounds of chicken parts (I like thighs… yeah). You could also use butter, or olive oil, or a combination. When the skin is brown, (after a few minutes on each side) remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, and set it aside.

In the same pan, Sauté 1 chopped red onion until soft. Add a few chopped cloves of garlic. When the garlic is just softening, add a couple of chopped peppers (I used red and orange) and a couple of chopped zucchini. (You may want to add a bit more fat, or wine or liquid from the tomatoes to keep things moving.) When the vegetables are softening, pour in a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes and 1 cup of white wine and bring to a simmer. It never hurts to swirl in a tablespoon of tomato paste, if you have it. Throw in a handful of chopped parsley and a couple of bay leaves.

Before the vegetables get too soft, add back the chicken, skin side up. Throw in a generous handful of olives–I use a mix of Castelvetrano and Gaeta, but any olives will do. Cover the pan and let the chicken and vegetables simmer for a great long while–longer if you’re cooking chicken breasts whole. (Often, I remove the chicken from the pan after a while and shred it with a serrated knife. I might then use the bones along with some garlic and onion to make a chicken broth in which to cook my polenta.) Season the dish as you go–sometimes I like to add red pepper flakes. I throw in some torn basil at the very end.

I like this over polenta cooked in chicken broth with melted blue cheese. If I used pork at the start (either bacon or pancetta) I add it to the polenta before pouring the cacciatori on top. 

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The Real Thing: Hot Cocoa Jars

February 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

A friend of mine came over for dinner last week—let’s call her “Friend”—and brought these craftily assembled jars of hot chocolate mix. What a fantastic idea! I will make these next year for stocking stuffers. (I always have an easy time resolving to make crafts months in advance.)

      Cocoa powder; sugar; dark chocolate chips & marshmallows

      Cocoa powder; sugar; dark chocolate chips & marshmallows

After Friend left, I pilfered a marshmallow, but realized that these mixes were obviously party favors from a fete that took place quite a while back. I know this because the marshmallows are hard as bits of ivory. As you can see, the tag says, “Thank you for celebrating Patti’s 60th!” I’m sure Patti is at least 63 by now.

However, this is my fault. First, because I put off Friend’s visit for a long time, as it is hard to make social plans with Max. That said, I don’t think the marshmallows would have been much softer back in December. No, no: my culpability really lies in the fact that I served Friend a packet of diet cocoa one day last fall. The cocoa was a relic from the days when both of us were trying too hard to be too thin. I thought maybe she was still in that mindset, and wouldn’t want the real stuff, which is what I made for myself (guiltily, I didn’t tell her about the distinction). I tried a sip of hers when she left the mug unfinished and winced at that tinny flavor of aspartame. When she left, I threw away the remaining packets, realizing that they were not fit for anyone other than a hard-suffering anorexic… except, perhaps, someone without taste buds.

I’m not sure if Friend gave me these hot cocoa jars because she doesn’t want them in her house—she is still quite lithe—or because she genuinely felt I needed a hot chocolate intervention, which would be true if I were still hoarding Diet Swiss Miss. But even if I never actually constitute these Ball jars into a pot of cocoa, they’re lovely to look at. At this late date, they may be best suited just for looking. Then again, pebbly marshmallows are imminently re constitute-able. After all, isn’t that how we moved away from fresh cocoa into the packet industry to begin with? Well, I say we move out again, real sugar and all. And Happy Belated Birthday, to you, Patti, whoever you are!

grandma’s cranberry chutney

November 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

chutney ingredients

chutney ingredients

Eventually, I will get all of our family recipes up onto this site, so that we can have a virtual recipe box. This is the first of many, and I think, possibly, my favorite thing to cook this time of year. It makes your mouth pucker and helps everything taste livelier. Turkey, stuffing and cheesy potatoes, which can be so rich and flat on their own, benefit especially from some cranberry zing.

Back to the recipe box. We move around so much, we modern people, and I can’t always take Grandma’s recipes with me. This year, of course, everything is mixed up because of the impending human. If I were doing Thanksgiving with my parents in Connecticut, then the box would be right there, nestled between a dozen cookbooks and stacks of papers and old tchotchke, in that corner of the kitchen known simply as “the credenza.” (Say it in a baritone.) Although it also houses beautiful blue stemware and several propped up china plates, this corner shelf has ended up a repository for all of those doodads one uses at the kitchen table: cell phone chargers; tissue boxes; instructions manuals; rubber band balls; dogeared Hammacher Schlemmer catalogues; SAT prep books from 2001. I worry that the recipe box might get swallowed by that heap. Best to preserve it.

berries & sugar

berries & sugar

Because I’ve been having low-grade labor pains for 2 weeks now and feel that I could, at any point, end up in a hospital bed, I decided to make the cranberry chutney today. And I’m so glad I did–the whole house smells like a holiday, which makes the sensation that there is an intermittent jackhammer in my lower back somewhat less unpleasant. Also, everything tastes better on day 2.

In a funny aside, this morning I typed “Does labor feel like___” into my search engine. (What was I thinking?!)  The second option bing gave me was, “Does labor feel like bones breaking?” All I can hope is that I get to enjoy this and all of the other members of the Thanksgiving feast before the drilling / bone breaking becomes so powerful that I lose my appetite. Can you imagine anything worse than the loss of an appetite on Thursday, November 28th?

Cranberry Chutney
1/2 c apricot or peach preserves
1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
12 oz package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 medium-sized pear, peeled and cubed
1 medium-sized apple, peeled and cubed
1/2 c golden raisins
1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts
In a medium saucepan, combine preserves, brown sugar and spices and bring to a boil.
Cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.
Add berries, fruit and raisins and cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes, or until thick.
Add walnuts and cool.

we had a nice time

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

 photo

I went back to the lake house this weekend. I keep thinking I won’t be able to get there again for weeks, and will never go back without the baby strapped into various seats and haphazardly swaddled. And wailing. But I keep going back  in a contemplative car with Christopher and Lupe, and having another quiet weekend. Maybe I’ll do it again this Friday.

Mom is home. She was gone for a long time, working in Europe. Often when she gets back from such long journeys , I have a primal, peevish need to push her away. I’ll be cool for a few hours, days even, until I feel we’ve found common ground again. There is something really scary about being away from your mother–even at 29 years old, I react. I don’t like it, but it’s a testament to how much it hurts to be separated. Especially as I wait for my own child to be born. I want so badly for Mom to be there, and not across the pond. There’s an invisible chord between us all now, baby, me, my mom. I want us attached.

photo

So the visit was as much about thawing out with her as it was about my last (or second to last, or third to last…) infant-less trip to the lake house. Every time I go, it appears more beautiful, even as the leaves fall and the thin gray branches poke and point at the sky. This time, Christopher and I took a nap together on the big couch in the big white room with the big windows and when I woke up I had a thought that I have every year, but always seem to forget. I thought, “The wintry world is purple!” The colors around the lake are iterations of pale blue, pale violet and gray. Naked trees, especially lots of them in the distance, are always more colorful than I remember.

And we prepared: we made my favorite chicken dish, layered with mushrooms, marinara and béchamel and also an incredible curried squash soup, which I’ve put up. It’s so fun to put up food when there’s a reason behind the effort. I feel like a lady bear, gathering herself up for the long winter ahead. And yet, I keep on leaving the den, poking my nose around, smelling and smiling at the world before the big retreat.

baked spaghetti squash & turkey meatballs

October 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Image

When you are pregnant, say, 35 weeks along, and suddenly you are on bed rest, you think, just maybe, the appetite you’ve developed, which can only be likened to that of a starved hog, might abate. This has not been my good fortune.

I haven’t been especially careful about my diet because I generally like fruits, vegetables, yogurt, whole grains and all of that good stuff. So, to supplement, I’ve allowed myself the inclusion of an ice cream every day now and then. But, even if it’s healthy, the amount of food I need to put into my system is alarming at times. I have not been one of those ladies whose heartburn slows her feasting down towards the end…no ma’am.

In fact, I first suspected I might be pregnant because it seemed that no amount of dinner could make the hunger go away. The change was extraordinary and immediate. I distinctly remember wondering whether I might be with child when, about 10 days before I could take a pregnancy test with any success, I chomped into my second ice cream bar in front of the open freezer. “Nah,” I thought. No way. No way that just needing right this minute to go buy a box of ice cream bars was indicative of anything peculiar. Nor was eating more than one at a time. No way.

Way. But I was delighted. Obviously, for so many reasons. One of which, I admit, was that the bagel and cream cheese habit I’d recently developed to get through the afternoon had not been for nothing.

This is a long way of saying that it’s important for me to keep food in the house (where I am trapped) that appeals to my  healthier inclinations. Especially now that the task of returning to my normal clothes is looming imminently before me. Spaghetti squash pasta it is!

But seriously, this dish is really good: even a very non-pregnant Christopher was oohing and ahhing. I ate up all the leftovers this afternoon and plan to make this well beyond my hallowed state.

Baked Spaghetti Squash With Turkey Meatballs

Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut a spaghetti squash in half (or in slices if you’re in a hurry) and cover with a bit of oil and a bit of salt. Bake for 30 -45 minutes, and when you can easily pierce the squash with a fork, remove the seeds then pull the squash from the rinds. Keep the squash on half of the baking tray to stay warm.

In the meantime, finely chop 1/2 a large yellow onion in the food processor along with 2 cloves of garlic. (These will add a lot of flavor and keep the meatballs moist.) Toast a handful of pine nuts on the stovetop and chop them roughly (they give a nice consistency to the meatballs, but not if they’re too fine). Chop 1/4 cup of parsley and 1/4 cup of basil. Transfer the onion/ garlic mixture, the pine nuts and the herbs into a large mixing bowl and add some spices (I used a Penzy’s spice blend called Northwoods fire) and/ or 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes and mix thoroughly with 16 ounces of ground turkey. Roll the meat into rounds, about golf-ball size.

Chop the other half of the onion and 2 additional cloves of garlic and sauté in olive oil until just softened: set aside. Brown the meatballs, adding small amounts of white wine and/or chicken broth to the pan to keep the meat from sticking. Sauté about 5 minutes on each side then transfer to the baking sheet to stay warm. Add more oil to the same pan and sauté 8oz of sliced mushrooms, adding broth and wine letting the liquid periodically reduce. This will make a very yummy sauce because it will pull up all of the brown bits from the turkey. Add 3 cups of spinach and wilt. (This takes about 1 minute.)  Salt to taste.

Just before serving, put spaghetti squash in a mixing bowl and add 1c of shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese and mix. If the squash seems dry, add a bit of olive oil. Season to taste. To serve, place a heap of squash in a shallow bowl with mushrooms, spinach and their sauce on top. Add 3-5 meatballs to each plate and serve immediately, maybe with additional grated cheese or chopped herbs.

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