About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chicken Cassoulet

The picture of Sara Moulton standing next to Julia Child surprised me.  Julia was a tall woman and Sara, quite short, in fact, Sara doesn't even come up to Julia's shoulder.  In spite of their difference in height, the two worked shoulder to shoulder and are regarded in the culinary world equally tall, really tall. They worked together on many culinary media projects.  Sara worked as a behind the scenes staffer for one of Julia Child's TV programs which later helped propel her to a her own highly successful series of programs.

I caught an old episode of Sara reminiscing about her days of working with Julia Child while she whipped up this shorter version of a cassoulet.  I've shied away from the dish because it's suppose to take days of simmering to achieve the layers of flavor. Just too much time for even a slow cook like me but this shorter version is a pleasing, hearty meal on any weeknight.  A classic staple dish in southwestern France, it's a nice addition to my "spring chicken" repertoire.  Serve with green beans, a simple salad and crusty bread.

2 tbls olive oil
8 bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion
1 tbls fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbls fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves
15 oz. can cannelini beans
1/2 lb. kielbasa
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tbls Dijon mustard
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Heat 1 tbls olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown chicken, skin side down, for 3-4 mins. Turn and cook 2-3 mins.  Remove chicken and drain all but 1 tbls fat.  Reduce heat to medium.

In the mean time, drain and rinse the beans, then mash half of them. This will give a creamy texture to the dish.

Add finely chopped onion (1 cup) and cook until soft. Add finely chopped rosemary and thyme ( 1 1/2 half teaspoons each) and minced garlic, cook  1-2 mins.  Add the wine and deglaze the pan. 

Return the chicken to the pan with accumulated juices.  Add the chicken stock, beans, kielbasa, Dijon mustard and mix  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes.

Mix the panko bread crumbs with the remaining olive oil.  Heat the broiler to high.  Adjust the seasoning, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and run 4 inches under the broiler.  Watch carefully, it's less than a minute!
When lightly browned remove immediately.  Don't forget the handle is hot!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cream of Chicken Soup

I was making chicken stock yesterday while watching the thrilling end of the Masters.  It was a cool and rainy day and will probably be the last of the cooler temps until next fall, so it was an opportunity to stock up my freezer with a fresh batch to get me through the heat of summer.  I usually save chicken carcasses in my freezer until I have 3 lbs to make my stock.  I was short so I added a package of chicken wings.  They work fine and contribute a good bit of gelatin to the stock plus I can pick through the wings after straining for the tender bits of meat. So it wasn't by accident that I could whip up a fine pot of chicken veloute' since I also had a bit of heavy cream in the refrigerator. Of course, you can use commercial stock, but homemade does make a difference in flavor.  Add a dash of sherry and you've got a very delicious thing.

1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
3/4 cup finely diced onion
2 tbls unsalted butter
2 tbls flour
1 qt chicken stock
2 cups minced chicken
1 sprig thyme, 1 sprig parsley tied together with butchers twine
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbls dry sherry

Melt the butter in a medium dutch oven over medium heat. Add the diced vegetables and cook stirring frequently for 5 minutes. The onion should be translucent; do not allow the vegetables to brown. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add the flour and blend with the mirepoix and cook for another minute.  Add the herb bundle and bay leaf,then add the stock 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low.  Add the chicken.  Add salt to taste.  My homemade stock is unsalted to I add 1 tbls. Kosher salt.  Simmer for 10 mins.  Remove the herb bundle and bay leaf.  Add the cream and sherry. Adjust seasoning.  Return to simmer and serve.  Garnish with chopper parsley.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Best Meal I Ever Ate

I've just completed my second routine colonoscopy. Thankfully, I've dodged the bullet one more time.  However, as efficient, kind, clean and so forth as the medical staff was, WHY, if we can put a man on the moon, can't they make up a concoction for the "prep" that doesn't make you gag at some point.  The instructions are to consume the "prep" the day before in the late afternoon,  4 - 8 oz doses every 15 mins and then, again, in the wee hours of the morning.  It took all my will power to get through the afternoon session.  At 4 a.m. this morning I began to consider consuming this  utterly vile drink for a second round as instructed. It's is suppose to resemble the lemon/lime version of a sport drink.  Well, NOT!  It is like drinking soapy water with salt peter.  I can not say the word YUCK too many times. It is cruel and inhuman treatment but the exam does save lives and I tried to remember all those lost to colon cancer, so I muddled on.  There we all where at 8:30 in the waiting room, a jolly lot,  at the mercy of the American Cancer Society, doing what has become as routine as having your teeth cleaned twice a year.  If this procedure came up that often, I would expect some sort of revolt.  I ran into a neighbor, but was in no mood for  polite conversation, nor was he, I could tell.

However, the one thing that kept me going through this process was the thought of what lay after the procedure.  The perfect excuse for simple and ultimate comfort foods and an afternoon siesta. The recovery was my goal.  Damn the torpedoes, drink the hemlock, a baked potato and omelet lay ahead with lots of butter involved.  When it was all over, I never ate a better meal in my life.

What a situation like this does is emphasize the most simple foods and their value.  Those that raise blood sugar (not so naughty in the right situation) and provide energy (protein) and satisfy the tummy(fat).  Fiber and bulky vegetables were excluded for the remainder of the day  So, I left a potato baking on a very low temp early in the morning to be ready when I came home and was prepared to make eggs of some sort if I preferred. I ate both and they where divine.  There is no meal in the world as good as a simple baked potato with lots of butter or scrambled eggs.  Deprivation will straighten up your attitude in a hurry.

It's only ten years until my next one.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lavender & Lemon Chicken

I was determined to see the lavender fields in France.  My husband and I spent most of the day driving just so I could see the lovely sight, albeit, in the rain.  I've used herbs de Provence, which contains lavender in the mix, but never cooked with lavender as the primary herb in a dish. It's not easy to find a recipe using lavender, period, but I came across just the right vehicle in Rachel Khoo's new cook book, The Little Paris Kitchen (Poulet au Citron et Lavande).  It's simple and delightfully different.  Lavender for cooking is different from potpourri, so look for it in the herb section of specialty food stores.

 For the marinade:
 2 tbsp. dried lavender
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbls honey
2 sprigs thyme( or strip the springs and use 1 tsp. thyme leaves)
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt

1 chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces
a generous pinch of salt

Crush the lavender using either a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. Put the crushed lavender into a gallon size plastic bag with the other marindade ingredients.  Mix well and add the chicken pieces. Refrigerate for 30 mins to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the chicken and marinade into a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for 45 mins..  Turning the chicken pieces halfway through.  Serve with the juices poured over or around.