Feta-Brined Roast Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

Brine is a magical thing. Besides its obvious role in pickled vegetables, an overnight brine has the ability to transform your average weekly roast chicken or even your holiday turkey from a bland or dry entrée to a juicy flavor bomb.

DSC_3219That is what I was thinking when I saved the brine from my feta cheese. The cheese was long gone, but it struck me that there had to be a use for that intensely flavored liquid, other than a future down the drain.

Once again, The New York Times Cooking website delivered. A recipe for feta-brined roast chicken, how perfect! Turns out Melissa Clark demonstrated it back in January. Her recipe includes instructions for creating the brine from scratch with chunks of feta cheese. Having some of the actual brine is even better.

What’s my twist? This time of year, it makes sense to make use of fresh greens and herbs and tangy sauces to brighten up rich meats. Herbs are thriving in the garden. I planted the oregano on a hot dry day in May and thought I killed it. Turns out it’s resilient, almost as resilient as the weeds!
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Along with parsley and some leftover cilantro, I blended together some quick chimichurri. You can do the same, with any combination of those three herbs, and with or without added heat.
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Feta-Brined Roast Chicken
from Melissa Clark of The New York Times

Leftover feta brine (7 oz)
Water to bring the total amount over 4 Cups (3.5 Cups)
2.5 teaspoons salt
, divided
1 whole chicken
2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 large or 3 small lemons, including zest
¼ Cup olive oil

DSC_3220To prepare the brine, add feta liquid, additional salt and water to a blender and whiz to combine. Select a container that will allow the chicken to sit mostly submerged in the brine; you can also use a large sealing plastic bag. Pour brine over chicken.

Place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

When ready to cook, discard brine and dry the chicken with paper towels. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
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If you are hand-grinding the pepper now, settle in for the long haul! It took me forever to get 2 Tablespoons. Instead, I suggest using an electric spice grinder.

Combine the pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, oregano and the zest of the lemons.
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Rub the mixture all over the bird. Cut the lemons in half and place at least 3 halves inside the chicken. Tie the legs together with twine.
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While the oven heats to 450 degrees, place an oven-safe skillet on a burner over medium high heat. Turn on your hood vent! Add oil, and once hot, set chicken in pan, breast-side up.
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Place the pan in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes, checking once or twice to spoon the pan juices over the bird.
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The chicken is done when the juices run clear and/or temperature at the thickest parts reaches 165.
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Let chicken rest for about 10 minutes. Slice and serve with the pan juices, a little chimichurri sauce, and vegetables.
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How about some slightly burned yam fries on the side?

How about some slightly burned yam fries on the side?


With any luck, you’ll be enjoying both crispy wings and some of the juiciest white meat you’ve ever had. Enjoy!
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Tastes of Summer – Watermelon and Ice Cream

I bought a whole watermelon the other day. I needed it to make a delicious heirloom tomato watermelon gazpacho recipe I planned to bring to a potluck.

I was surprised that I could actually make such a delicious gazpacho!

I was surprised that I could actually make such a delicious gazpacho!

I tasted the recipe after it was demoed by Chef Harold Deiterle, who recently released a cookbook, Harold Dieterle’s Kitchen Notebook Techniques. It won me over.

But mostly I wanted the watermelon for snacking. Fresh watermelon is one of those distinctly summer foods, a flavor I associate with backyard spitting contests of my childhood. The heat and humidity of summer bring on a kind of thirst that only watermelon can truly quench.

There are a few other flavors I lately connect to summer–even if I may in fact indulge all year long. Iced tea, ice-cold beer, and ice cream.

On the day I had about a quarter of my watermelon left, I heard someone mention watermelon rind as one of those trimmings that you’re going to be stuck composting, since there’s not much you can do to make it edible, sellable, and appealing. Not that I disagree. But I took it as a challenge. I was going to make watermelon rind pickles.
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Watermelon Rind Pickles
Adapted from Food.com for 1/4 watermelon
About 2.5 lb watermelon rind (flesh mostly removed, shell included)
For the brining:
1⁄4 Cup salt
1 quart water

For the pickling syrup:
2 Cups white vinegar
2 Cups water
4 Cups sugar
1/3 lemon
, sliced thin
Spices:
1 cinnamon sticks
1/3 teaspoon whole cloves
1/3 teaspoon whole allspice

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Remove all the juicy watermelon flesh and reserve for another use. (Admittedly, I will miss having the rind as a handle when I eat the remains later. Oh well.)

At this point, I had 2 lb 8.5 ounces.
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Next you will need to peel the outer hard rind from the softer white portion. It took a fair amount of muscle power and time to remove the green shell. I used a combination of peeler and knife. Your knife should be very sharp for this, and it’s important to be very careful. Cut away from yourself and always keep hands and fingers behind the direction you are cutting!
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After 5 minutes of labor, the green parts were gone. The next step is to remove any remaining pink, and slice into 1 to 2 inch by 3/4″ pieces. This took about 7 minutes.
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Final weigh in? 1 pound 8.6 ounces of rind. So 1 pound was still going to the compost, but if I had planned to use the whole watermelon’s rind (which would make more pickles than I would know what to do with), I would have saved more than 5 pounds.
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Make a brine by dissolving 1/4 cup of salt into 1 quart of water.
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I could have used less for this rind, and you may need to scale up for more.
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Allow to brine in refrigerator overnight.

Drain and rinse soaked watermelon rind.

At this point, I used the scale of 0.375 to approximate the other ingredients: allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and lemon. I could have scaled down a little less on the sugar, water, and vinegar that made up the syrup; in the end it would have helped to have more for inside the jars.
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If you’d like, combine the spices together in a cheesecloth.

Combine the syrup and spice ingredients and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes.
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Add half of the rind and simmer until it becomes translucent. It took about 36 minutes for my first batch.
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Spoon rind out of the pan and into a clean jar. Be sure to sterilize, if you plan on preserving longer term.
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Repeat the simmering step with remaining rind.

Remove spice satchel and discard. Pour boiling syrup to cover the rind in jars. Why not include the lemon?
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Taste test results: Not bad. The cloves were a little more noticeable than I would like (I’ve complained about this before). Otherwise, the flavor resembled those Vlasic sweet and crunchy pickles, which were once the only type I could tolerate.
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Looking for other ideas for the watermelon flesh? Real Simple posted this yesterday:

onethread design via Real Simple

onethread design via Real Simple

Returning to the topic of ice cream….this same week, I thought I better make some before National Ice Cream month ends!

Ice cream (or sorbet) is another dish that can incorporate whatever you have around. Even cucumber. This time, I’m went to the herbs in my garden, and incorporated them into a rich base made with egg yolks.

Is tomato ice cream in my future?

Is tomato ice cream in my future?


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Mint Ice Cream
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe

1 Cup mint leaves
⅔ Cup sugar

1.5 Cups heavy cream
1.5 Cups milk
(I used my skim)
⅛ teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
6 large egg yolks

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Combine mint leaves and sugar in a food processor. Grind together until fully combined and green.
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Pour cream, milk, sugar mixture and salt into a small saucepan and cook until the sugar dissolves. Whisk yolks in a separate heat-proof bowl.

When the sugar has dissolved, remove pan from heat and slowly whisk in about a third of the hot mixture into the yolks.
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Then pour the yolk mixture back into the pan and whisk with the remaining hot cream.
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Place pan back on a medium-low burner and cook slowly, thickening at about 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Turn off heat and allow mint to steep in the mixture for about 30 minutes.
Pour through a sieve to catch any solids.
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Cool mixture to room temperature and then chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
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Follow the directions for your ice cream machine and churn away.
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After 20 minutes in this frozen-bowl style, you’ll have soft-serve.
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Transfer to a freezer container to harden.
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Happy summer!
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Christmas in July

This is embarrassing.

I still have a Panettone I received as a holiday gift.

How terrible is that? For one, it’s an embarrassment of riches to be able to say “woe is me, I have extra cake/bread that I haven’t felt like eating!” This problem is not unique to me, as I confirmed from subsequent Googling. The part that makes it so embarrassing is that I have come to JULY without touching it.

At one point, the cake was tucked in a cubby of a shelf while the months ticked by. Oh, it wasn’t hidden from sight. Just from my apparent consciousness.

Now I’m determined. Cautiously excited. I’m not sure how wise it is to eat the cake so late, and I’m not sure if it would be accepted as a donation. I will justify using it by pointing out that the cake was labeled by someone to be good for about 5 months. What’s another 2.5?
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I slowly removed it from the packaging, inspecting for decay. So far, so good.
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The perfumey smell of fruitcake hit me as I removed the paper covering around the sides and bottom. Determination: good to go.
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French toasts and bread puddings are the top ways to use this sweet, cake-like bread studded with dried fruit. Since I love soaking bread until it becomes a custard consistency, I’m all for it. But with whom am I going to share a large, rich casserole any time soon? To my delight, PJ Hamel’s blog and recipe came up in my searches. It transforms the cake into the form of moist bread loaves, a much more convenient way to keep (i.e. freeze) and share!

The original recipe calls for 9 to 10 cups of diced bread. The full cake totalled about 13 cups for me, so I scaled the recipe accordingly.
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Panettone Bread Pudding Loaf
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

4 large eggs
2 2/3 Cups
of some combination of milk and cream (I used 2 Cups skim milk and 2/3 Cup heavy cream)
1/4 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 panettone or about 13 Cups panettone or other bread
, diced into 1″ cubes
about 1 1/4 Cup fresh lemon curd, split (recipe below-prepare ahead of time to allow for chilling, or purchase pre-made)
coarse sparkling sugar, for sprinkling on top; optional

Microwave Lemon Curd Recipe
Also from King Arthur Flour
Makes at least 2 Cups (more than needed; feel free to halve the recipe, if preferred)

1 Cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup (8 Tablespoons) butter
, melted
2 large eggs

I ended up using 2 large and 3 small lemons to reach 1 Cup of freshly squeezed juice.

I ended up using 2 large and 3 small lemons to reach 1 Cup of freshly squeezed juice.


In a large microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, melt the butter. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.
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Place bowl in microwave and cook in 1-minute increments. After each minute, remove from the microwave and stir to combine.

The curd is done when it is thickening and coating the back of the spoon. Or, when it reaches 185°F – the instant-read thermometer is your friend!
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Mine took about 6 minutes to reach 185, but after 3 minutes some of the egg already cooked! Straining is required in this case. I happen to notice my new pasta scoop might have the right size holes for simply scooping out the solids–and it was!
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Stir, transfer to a container, and refrigerate (or freeze, if in a rush) until firm.

    On to the bread pudding!

Prep your bread by cutting or tearing into pieces.
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In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, dairy, and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the bread and stir. Allow the bread to absorb much of liquid-anywhere from 30 minutes to, in my case, 90+ minutes.

When the soaked bread and curd is ready, preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter up some loaf pans.

Mix the soaked bread some more, and then scoop 1/4 of it into each pan. Plop a heaping 1/2 Cup of lemon curd on top of that layer.
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Cover with the rest of the bread/custard.

Now more fun stuff: the recipe calls for sprinkling with white sparkling sugar. It makes me laugh how out of season this is!
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Put the pudding loaves in the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top becomes golden brown.
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Allow to rest and cool at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour.

Another reason why the title of this post is so appropriate: one of my go-to loaf pans has this festive design!

Another reason why the title of this post is so appropriate: one of my go-to loaf pans has this festive design!


Slice the loaf and top each slice with a little sifted confectioners’ sugar, for good measure.
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The verdict? Delicious. The lemon curd adds some nice freshness to counteract the intensity of the dried fruit. The richness of the dessert goes a long way. The recipe author suggests serving the pudding with some less-sweet vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. To me, it begged for an espresso or coffee or black tea on the side.
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Now I just need some classy holiday dinner party guests. Are you in?

I decided to commemorate my “Christmas in July” in yet another way: dropping off donations to the Salvation Army. It was probably around the holidays that I last dropped off my extensive collection of rejected clothing and shoes.

The cat sitting on the sweatshirt? That's Riley. I didn't give her away.

The cat sitting on the sweatshirt? That’s Riley. I didn’t give her away.


The piles were doing no good in my closet. Here’s hoping they find a good home!
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Championing Food Waste Reduction

Have you noticed the flurry of activity and media coverage about food waste? At some point during this recent lull in my blog, it felt like everywhere I turned I encountered an article or conference or event related to individuals, companies and governments making efforts to use what is normally tossed.

A few highlights:

  • At the Blue Hill WastED pop-up in March, I dined on fried fish cartilage, salad made from discarded fruit and vegetable peels, and a vegetable burger that was a total mashup of scraps — from the vegetable pulp to the bread trimmings that made the bun. Nearly every regional media outlet reported on the restaurant.

    Chefs across the world are following suit — this past June, a Barcelona restaurant served an inspired four-course “Gastro-Rescue Dinner” that took advantage of tomato squeezings, misshapen eggplant, and the meat scraped from skeletons of filleted salmon, to name a few.
  • “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” is the theme of Expo Milano 2015, the Universal Exposition which runs from May 1 – October 31, 2015 in Milan, Italy and expects to have more than 20 million visitors. For three months, some of the Expo leftovers are being served to needy people in an abandoned nearby theatre, in partnership with the local Catholic charity. 40 prominent chefs will pitch in for one of the months, creating gourmet meals out of the leftovers.
  • Chef Dan Barber is being recognized further for his book, The Third Plate, now a James Beard Foundation Book Award winner. From reading it, I learned how complicated it can be to fish, farm, cook, serve, and eat responsibly, and how deeply connected our menu preferences are to the earth’s ecological system.
  • Kangaroo tail, anyone? Chef Curtis Stone is a champion for maximizing ingredients, which he showcases at his James Beard Nominated LA restaurant, Maude, also a James Beard Foundation Award Nominee.
  • Governments are taking action to reduce food waste! France’s legislative body passed a measure that bans supermarkets from destroying or tossing edible unsold food. When foods were nearing “sell by dates,” supermarkets found them difficult to sell and therefore threw them away–and sometimes went to extreme measures to keep foragers out of the bins. The law requires the stores to donate food to charities or for animal feed; otherwise they face fines and jail time. Here in the U.S., Massachusetts’ commercial food waste ban went into effect on October 1, 2014. The regulations require institutions and businesses disposing more than one ton of organic waste per week to donate or reuse the edible food and compost the rest. (One ton still seems like a lot, does it not?)
  • Blue Apron continues to expand its following. It announced $135 million in new funding this June. According to Eater’s published analysis of its prominence, “Blue Apron built its empire on the idea of reducing food waste.” Not only does it help customers be more efficient, it also supports sustainable farming practices among its farmers.
  • I’m encouraged to think that public awareness is increasing. The issues aren’t brand new, of course, and have been in the news for many years. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) released the results of its 2014 research on U.S. Consumers’ perception of food waste. In terms of knowledge and awareness, 42% of respondents said they saw or heard information about wasted food in the previous year. 16% looked for information about reducing food waste. 24% of respondents characterized themselves as “very knowledgeable” about ways to reduce their personal levels of food waste, and 38% say they are “fairly knowledgeable.” Do more people know more in 2015?

    It can get lonely to sit at my computer and read and write about food waste concerns and my personal quests. I’m thrilled to reach any one person with my blog, and to encourage any friend or acquaintance in person. But do enough people really care? What else can I be doing?

    I’ve been fortunate to meet and discover a growing community of regular people who are creatively and smartly making things happen. They keep me inspired:

  • Finally, a grocery store chain in the United States (out in California of course) and a start-up venture called Imperfect Produce plan to sell less-than-perfect produce at a discounted rate. This adds value to the perfectly edible product farmers sometimes find easier and cheaper to throw away (Via NPR)
  • Others are creating a marketplace for surplus food; through a website or app, they connect those with excess food with organizations poised to use it. In Massachusetts, there’s Spoiler Alert. In Northern California, there’s CropMobster.
  • What about all that packaging we waste? A pair of entrepreneurial designers created a product called Loliware, which are flavored, edible, biodegradable cups that serve as an alternative to single-use cups that get tossed into a landfill.
  • These are the champions! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Bok Choy, Bean, and Tomato Stew

I keep meaning to make soup. It’s so simple and productive for using up leftovers. For some reason, I continue to be intimidated. I wish I could be more like my Mom, who, hours after I had left her with a bunch of green tops from leeks, produced a lovely puréed leek green soup.

In my defense, I recall bad experiences cooking soup. I added a variety of ingredients, mixed things in at different times, seasoned initially, and what was I rewarded with? Bland taste. I’m also a big texture person–I love some crunch and chew to most of my meals. So I’m not necessarily drawn to the idea of cooking down my pantry to mush. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are ways to achieve texture in a soup. And if you don’t incorporate crunch in the soup itself, you can always get satisfaction from the toast you serve alongside!

Speaking of soup, check out this Edible Manhattan article about the ladies of the Soup Club. “Formalized food-sharing,” how great is that? If I started a soup club, I’d probably get pretty comfortable with making soup.

Last week I had my eye on some CSA bok choy that I had blanched and frozen in the fall. I was also scraping the bottom of a bag of dried Great Northern beans I wanted to use. Time to get creative! Except I couldn’t resist the urge to scan the internet for recipes using bok choy with beans. The selected recipe inspiration happened to help me use up some green onions, tortillas, and cheese too!
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Bok Choy, Bean, and Tomato Stew with Homemade Tortilla Chips and Gruyere
Adapted from The Kitchen Paper

1 tsp olive oil
2/3 sweet onion
, chopped
2 small carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic
, minced

Diced heirloom carrots I had to use up.

Diced heirloom carrots I had to use up.


2 Cups stock, (I used chicken)
1/2 Cup dried Great Northern beans , cooked and then incorporated with the bean broth(about 2 Cups cooked beans)
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
¾ tsp ground coriander
⅛ tsp ground cloves
2 corn or flour tortillas
, or prepared restaurant-style tortilla chips
3 Tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp white pepper
salt to taste
about a handful of sliced bok choy
, fresh or previously blanched
2 green onions, sliced
Gruyère, gouda or sharp cheddar cheese for topping (at least 1/2 Cup shredded)

If you’re starting with dried beans, you’ll need to start well in advance to have them cooked. I did both my soaking and cooking the day before, and had the cooked beans in their broth ready to go.
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In a Dutch oven or large soup pot set over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add the onion and carrots and cook for about 2 minutes.

I didn't realize that the purple in the carrots would be so dominant!

I didn’t realize that the purple in the carrots would be so dominant!


Stir in the garlic. Saute for a few more minutes to soften the vegetables. Pour in your stock.
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Add the beans, tomatoes, ground coriander, and cloves.

Raise the temperature to bring the soup to simmer. Taste for seasoning and add a little salt. At this point, I also added a little dried basil and oregano.

This would be an excellent time to toss in one of the Parmesan rinds you have in your freezer. Of course I forgot. I might need to resort to the old post-it-note-reminder-stuck-to-the-stove-hood trick!

While the soup simmers, cut up your tortillas in to wedges to cook.
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Turn the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or coat the tortillas with a little olive oil and put on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, checking frequently and turning once, halfway through.
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Remove and sprinkle with salt.

Taste the stew and add more salt and pepper. Add the bok choy and bring up to temperature to finish.

Yep, that's an interesting color.

Yep, that’s an interesting color.


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Top with some shredded cheese and a few tortilla chips.
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Braised Leek with Chickpeas, Saffron and Marjoram

Today’s recipe is brought to you by this lonely leftover leek.
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This leek has a story, as many of my leftovers do. It traveled back from Central New York, where Matt and I spent the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. Saturday was Valentine’s Day, and our original plan was to dine at a restaurant a few miles outside of Ithaca. First we spend a little time at my sister’s house, gathered cozily around the family’s large rustic table, blazing wood burning stove nearby, celebrating my niece’s 6th birthday. As Matt and I started to head into town, the snowstorm began. This particular weekend’s snowstorm (because anyone in the Northeast can attest to the fact they have been weekly occurrences) featured periods of whiteout conditions. The drive was challenging. Glumly, I agreed to nix the plan for dinner out. Our sensible revised plan was to enjoy a leisurely stop at Wegman’s to shop for dinner ingredients!

We opted to plan for fish and vegetables steamed in parchment hearts (how appropriate!), which required a bunch of leeks. And that brings me to this leek! And the recipe from the leek section of Alice Waters’ cookbook, The Art of Simple Food II.

Only a few pantry additions were required for my to make this little dish. I recommend keeping cooked chickpeas on hand for times like this, because they can enhance other leftover vegetables to make a more solid meal meal.
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Braised Leeks with Chickpeas, Saffron and Dried Marjoram over Couscous
Adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food II
Makes 2 large servings

1 large leek
1/2 sweet onion
, sliced or chopped
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 Cup light chicken stock, or water
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
dried chile flakes
salt to taste
1.5 Cups cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove
Couscous
, cooked according to taste/package instructions
additional extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Prep your leek and onion. In my case, I had leftover chopped onion that needed to be used.
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Cut off the root end of the leek, and most of the greens, leaving about 1 inch.
Slice in half lengthwise and dip in cold water to swish out any dirt or sand. Pat dry. You could slice the leeks in half lengthwise again, to quarter.
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Prep the saffron mixture.
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See my saffron? It might be as old as the number of years I have been living on my own…seven plus? *Gasp* That means that the expensive price of $17.50 seems much more reasonable if you calculate its per-year value.

Of course dried herbs aren’t supposed to be kept that long, to be truly flavorful. But the old saffron will still be effective at adding the golden color. And hey, we eat with our eyes, right?

With a mortar and pestle, crush the saffron threads.
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If the vessel is large enough, stir in the 1/2 Cup broth, a generous pinch of salt, and 2 teaspoons of EVOO and set near the stove.

DSC_2404Smash the garlic clove and set aside for heating with the chickpeas.

Set a large pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat; pour 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Arrange the leeks cut-side down and allow to brown slightly, about 6 minutes. After about 4 minutes of the leeks cooking, add in the onions.
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Turn the leeks over. Sprinkle with salt, marjoram, and a pinch of dried chile flakes.
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Pour in the saffron stock. Add more water to be sure the leeks are sitting in liquid, but not submerged. Partly cover the pan, and cook about 12 minutes, until leeks are tender. Remove the lid and allow the liquid to reduce for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat together the chickpeas and puréed garlic.
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Season the leek mixture with salt as needed.

To serve, plate some couscous and spoon chickpeas over top. Spoon some of the leeks and onions, and the braising juices, on top of that. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
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Pumpkin Grits with Sausage and Onion

This week, the Northeast suffered a MASSIVE weather event. HUGE amounts of snow were predicted from Monday night into Tuesday. “Be prepared,” we were warned. “Stock up!”

Even if it had turned out worse in my area, which only saw about 10-12″ and no power outages (some areas nearby were worse off), I sincerely question any large-scale concern about having enough food. Caring for babies, people with medical conditions, etc.? Yes you need to take precautions. But most of us? So the power is out for a couple of days. Most people’s stock of pasta and peanut butter would last them weeks!

I didn’t have to resort to peanut noodles…though that actually sounds good right about now. Earlier in the week, I had come across a great recipe that could incorporate more of my freezer stash: a half of a package of italian sausage and some pumpkin purée. On Sunday night I transferred the items to the fridge to thaw. The recipe also called for rosemary, which fortunately I had snipped before the bush was buried in snow. Alas, I had power and gas on Tuesday! Once the driveway was plowed, and the work-from-home workday ended, I prepared a rather refined dinner.
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Pumpkin Grits with Sausage and Onion
Adapted from The New York Times Cooking
Serves 2 as a meal

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 bay leaf
3/4 Cup cornmeal grits (or fine polenta, or coarse cornmeal)
water as needed according to package directions
about 2/3 Cup – at least 6 ounces pumpkin purée
1.5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
, more as needed
1/2 to 3/4 pounds sweet or hot Italian sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 large onion
, sliced into thin half moons
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Heat your water (3 cups in my case) in a medium pot with salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Gradually stir in the grits. Add the pumpkin.

Note: leaving a metal whisk in a metal pot as shown here is not a good idea.

Note: leaving a metal whisk in a metal pot as shown here is not a good idea.


Lower the heat so the mixture is at a simmer. Stir frequently until the grits are tender, about 30 minutes.

While the grits cook, prepare the sausage and caramelized onions.
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Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add your sausage, rosemary and fennel seeds.
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Cook and turn until the sausage is browned and cooked, about 10 minutes.
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Remove sausage from pan and place on a paper-towel lined plate. There should be some oil remaining in the pan–if not, add some more. Add the onions and cook on low until they are soft and golden, 10 to 15 minutes.
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When the grits are tender, stir in butter and black pepper. Add additional seasoning to taste.
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Return sausage to the onion pan and heat through. Spoon polenta into two bowls. Top with sausage and onion. Garnish with additional rosemary.
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Enjoy the snow while it lasts!

Roasted Chicken Sofrito

Happy New Year!

Where has the time gone? 2015 is well under way. I know my blog has been quiet the past few months. I can explain away the last month, at least, by pointing to all the holiday planning and gatherings and dining out. Before that, of course, there was the slam of my new job, commute, class work…and the end of the CSA. I no longer have cooking inspiration built into my life!

The quiet end-of-December period did give me the chance to devote at least a couple of stretches of time to cooking projects. As I saw a major calendar flip approaching, it seemed imperative that I give attention to some of the (previously prepared or semi-prepared) items in my freezer that were dated from 2014…some with months lower numbered than I care to admit.

DSC_1426One such item was a cupful of sofrito I had made to use up some herbs along with the in- season tomatoes and peppers. I’m still not sure why I didn’t make a dish with it right away, since this recipe (which I think I followed for the sofrito) is quite easy.

This sofrito discovery coincided with a rare craving for roasted poultry. You see, like many people, Christmas dinner in my family features a non-turkey entrée such as ham, pork, or lasagna. It’s all delicious. I just thought it was time to have a little chicken in my life.

I found my inspiration in a version of chicken & rice from Food & Wine and headed to the store. Little did I know, I would be presented with another opportunity to demonstrate my make haste not waste philosophy! While I was having trouble finding chicken legs, I came across a whole cut up chicken at a greatly reduced “manager’s special” price, because it was being sold the day it was dated “sell by.” Perfect! Some grocery stores won’t even offer shelf space for these perfectly good items. What a shame! You need to be careful with meat and dairy dates, unlike many other products, but fortunately I planned to cook the chicken right away. (And the extra pieces I added to other chicken carcasses in the freezer to finally make some chicken stock a few days later.)

So let’s get to it.

Roasted Chicken Sofrito with Rice
From Food and Wine

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
drumsticks, thighs, and breasts from 1 whole chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (split 1/4 teaspoon “hot” chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon regular), plus more for dusting
1 Cup prepared sofrito, plus
10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1/2 small onion
, diced
2 large thyme sprigs
3 Cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 1/4 Cup short-grain white rice
, such as sushi rice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 Cup roasted almonds, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
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Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with chili powder.

In a Dutch oven or other large ovenproof skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until well browned, about 4 minutes per side.
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If you're impatient like me, you could use an extra skillet for the extra chicken.

If you’re impatient like me, you could use an extra skillet for the extra chicken.

Transfer to a plate.
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Add the sofrito, thyme sprigs, and onion to the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
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I didn't decide it needed the onion until after first starting to warm the sofrito.

I didn’t decide it needed the onion until after first starting to warm the sofrito.

Once the onion is beginning soften, add the diced tomatoes. Bring the mixture up to a bubble, then add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil.

Stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer. Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice, with the skin side up.
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Place the pot, uncovered, in the upper third of the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Check to see if the chicken is cooked through (some cuts may finish before others) and the rice has absorbed the stock. It took nearly 30 minutes for the fat chicken breasts from my chicken to come up to 165.
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Turn on the broiler and try to get the pot within 6 inches of the heat to crisp the chicken skin, if possible.

Remove the chicken to a separate plate. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.

Add in the lemon juice.
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Spoon rice onto the place and scatter with some almonds. Add the chicken and serve.
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How was it? Man it was delicious. Yes, it satisfied my desire for chicken. Of course my favorite part was the rice. It had an unbelievable texture, almost like risotto. The flavors of green chiles and acidic tomatoes and lemon juice combined with the rich chicken juices plus a satisfying crunch from almonds–talk about truly crave-able.
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Here’s to a filling and fulfilling 2015!

Leek and Squash Soup

I’m still here! It’s been a busy time. Shall I fill you in? For starters, after two years in a job that didn’t inspire me, I made the switch. The old job happened to come with a short commute and hours that afforded me a generous amount of free time to cook and clean and socialize. Now, I’m commuting from the suburbs to the city, a hub of activity and excitement. It requires a bit more time and energy, but I was ready for it. While I’m still young, I’m going to go where things are happening!

September is a special month, filled with birthdays and wedding anniversaries (such as my own, for both), including a new anniversary established by one of my sisters, who married at a lovely ceremony on September 6. September also has the unique feature of containing two of the most pleasant seasons, summer and fall.

Along with all the events and occasions and changes, it’s harvest time. Tomatoes and zucchini and peppers continue to stream in from the farm share, plus new crops of potatoes and squash. It’s a good time to stay home and cook!

Yet Matt and I also took an overdue trip to visit some of my family in Vermont. We enjoyed a lovely September weekend that included exploring a number of farms in the region by bicycle. (Almost 30 miles of biking…I was almost too exhausted to fully appreciate the agricultural wonders!) During the visit, I made a casual comment about how much I like leeks. I noted that because my farm share so rarely includes them in the weekly offering, and I never buy them because I have plenty of vegetables, I don’t enjoy them at home as much as I think I would. My sister proceeded to pull a bunch out of her garden and send them home with us. So exciting! First I grilled a couple along with zucchini and added walnuts and a lemon dressing with parsley as per this recipe. I knew I wanted to use a bunch of them in a soup. Then the acorn squashes on the counter called my name.
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As usual, I sought out a recipe for validation. Like many soups, however, this is one that you could totally wing. I realized well after the fact that it was especially appropriate to make a squash soup at the end of September around my anniversary, because we served little cups of butternut squash soup for one of the courses at our wedding four(!) years ago!
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Acorn Squash and Leek Soup
Adapted from Food & Wine

3 1/2 pounds acorn squash (about two small) or similar, halved
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large leeks
, white and tender green parts, roughly chopped
5 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried
4 Cups chicken stock or low sodium broth
1 teaspoons salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Optional toppings:
About 5 Tablespoons sour cream
About 2 Tablespoons chives
, chopped
2-4 slices of bacon (to taste), cooked and crumbled

Set the oven to 350°. Prepare the squash by slicing in half.
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The recipe I followed said to scrape out seeds AFTER the halves are cooked, but I would recommend scraping them out at this point. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet.
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Roast until tender, checking at 30 minutes. Allow to cool so that you can handle the squash.

In the meantime, prep your leeks by washing thoroughly in a few changes of water. I took my green parts and tossed them in my freezer bag of vegetable scraps; I recently read that they contribute nicely to well-flavored vegetable stock.
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Chop up the white and light green parts.
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Set your large heavy saucepan or Dutch Oven over low heat. Add the butter and melt. Toss in the leeks and thyme and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until soft and browned, about 40 minutes.

Before...

Before…


After!

After!


Discard the thyme sprigs.

When your squash is ready to handle, separate the flesh from the skin. If you waited until this point to scoop out and discard the seeds, do this now, taking care not to toss out too much of the delicious roasted flesh.
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Then scrape the squash from the skin. Get all the good stuff!
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Stir the stock and squash into the leek butter mixture.

Simmer for about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, or in a blender or food processor, puree the soup until smooth.
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Season with the salt and pepper.

Spoon the soup into bowls and top each with 1 Tablespoon sour cream, a sprinkling of the bacon, and 1 teaspoon fresh chives if you have them, for garnish. Serve with toast to round out the dish.
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Peppermint Fudgesicles

I can enjoy ice cream year-round, no matter the weather. Judging by the number of ice cream shops and frozen yogurt places in my suburban area, I am in good company. Where I grew up, in a small town, the ice cream places were seasonal. It was a special treat to play tennis with my dad outside on the high school courts and then drive to an ice cream shop on the outskirts of town–the one that made the best sundaes. Other times of year, it was rare to find our home freezer devoid of Breyer’s natural vanilla ice cream.

Some frozen treats are more refreshing than others. When the heat and humidity of summer finally arrived this year, right as the calendar was switching to September, I had a very particular craving. I wanted something on a stick. There’s something about the iciness of popsicles, and the fact that one can literally wrap one’s mouth around them, that makes me feel cooler, amidst the stickiness. Many of the bloggers I follow started making popsicles regularly in the past year. They offer recipes with interesting ingredients like butterscotch, pink lemonade, and strawberry with coconut. But those didn’t quite fit the bill. I wanted a fudgesicle.
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Hence my decision to make them at home. I did use Smitten Kitchen’s 2011 recipe as a guide. I particularly appreciate her inclusion of ounces and grams, because I have that digital kitchen scale that helps make measurement easy and requires fewer utensils. Once I had all of my other ingredients set out and was reaching for the vanilla extract, I thought, why not add this peppermint extract for extra oomph?
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Another note: I have yet to add real popsicle molds to my kitchen collection. No worries: a mishmash of free shot glasses, like mine, work just fine. If you have those little disposable paper cups some people keep in bathrooms, they would work great.
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Peppermint Fudgesicles
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Fudge Popsicles recipe

2 Tablespoons / 21 grams / 3/4 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped or as chips or chunks
1/3 Cup / 67 grams / 2 1/3 ounce granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon / 7 grams / 1/4 ounce cornstarch
1 1/2 Tablespoons / 8 grams / 1/4 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Cup fat free milk
1/4 Cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 Tablespoon / 7 grams / 1/4 ounce unsalted butter

Set a medium saucepan over very low heat. Add the chocolate and gently melt, stirring until smooth.
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Incorporate sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, milk and salt. Turn up the heat slightly and cook mixture until it thickens, stirring often. This will take no shorter than 5 minutes and could take 10. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Add peppermint extract.
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Be careful not to over-pour…when the peppermint extract came out of the bottle and into my spoon a little too fast to capture, I feared I had ruined the whole batch (spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

Mix well. Allow to cool slightly, and then pour into shot glasses.

It's easier to transport the fudgesicles to and from the freezer if you corral them in a single container, like this Pyrex.

It’s easier to transport the fudgesicles to and from the freezer if you corral them in a single container, like this Pyrex.


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Now the popsicles need to be frozen slightly before the adding the sticks. If you try to stick them too early, the fudge mixture won’t support the stick enough to stay centered. On the other hand, you can’t let the popsicles freeze too much or you won’t be able to get the stick in, nor will the mixture adhere to the stick, for holding, once frozen. Deb from Smitten Kitchen said it would take 30 minutes for the mixture to freeze enough to add the sticks, but this will really depend on how much you let your mixture cool, or how cold your freezer is. After 30 minutes, my sticks were still flopping over. At this point, I had to go to bed, so I couldn’t wait. I made it work: with scotch tape, I supported the sticks so they would stay centered. Why not?
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The next night, the fudgesicles were fully frozen and ready to be enjoyed.

Remove them from the freezer, and dip the glass in a mug of warm water until the popsicle melts enough on the sides to pull out.
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Mini fudgesicle!

Mini fudgesicle!


Now this is summer.