Springy Chicken Soup Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I’m baacckk!! I know some of you missed your weekly Wednesday recipe as some friends had mentioned they hadn’t received something from me in a while. I hope that translates to most of my readers! After writing 272 blog articles for five (five!) years, I really felt a need for a break. It’s nice to just cook without the thought of having to write about it! And meals at home, when I’ve been home, have been simple, nothing fancy, along with a few duds. But now that we’ve turned the corner into spring, I’m feeling like getting back into the kitchen and cooking and writing about it!

But even though the calendar says it’s May and springtime, doesn’t mean the weather is cooperating! After a warmer than normal winter, I’m finding the spring colder than normal. Even when it’s sunny outside, there is still a nip in the air and wind. I spent a few days the first week of the month in New York City and regretted the fact I didn’t have my winter coat with me! Even today as I write this, they have snow predicted in the forecast! #Truth! So the days of soup and other cold weather comfort foods aren’t over yet, but this recipe has a springy twist to it!

I love having romaine lettuce in a soup and I don’t use it enough; it adds a certain lightness and freshness to a soup that you don’t get from spinach or kale. Any chicken soup is comfort in a bowl for me and this was really delicious and using chicken thighs adds much more flavor than white meat. Instead of using fresh thyme, I added about a half teaspoon of dried. This came together quickly on a weeknight and certainly warmed my insides from the cold, damp weather outside. With springtime ingredients like the leeks and peas, it gave me a reminder and faith that yes, warmer weather will be coming. When? I’m just not sure!

springy chickenSpringy Chicken Soup

This recipe first appeared in the May issue of Cooking Light magazine.

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
1 cup thinly sliced leek
1 cup thinly diagonally sliced carrot
4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
3 large thyme sprigs
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups torn romaine lettuce
1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved (about 1/4 cup)

Preparation
1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add chicken; cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan.

2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add leek and carrot; sauté 5 minutes. Add stock and thyme; bring to a boil. Cover and cook 8 minutes or until carrot is almost tender. Stir in chicken, peas, pepper, and salt; cook 3 minutes. Remove thyme; discard. Remove pan from heat; stir in lettuce and parsley. Place 1 1/2 cups soup in each of 4 bowls; top each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Meet the Orb Weaver Cheesemakers!
Orb%20Weaver%20DSC02437%20cowI consider myself lucky beyond belief that I live in a part of Vermont where cheese (and the cows!) and their makers are close by. Orb Weaver Cheese can be found in my tiny town and their cheese is delectable. And for 30 years, the farm has been run by just two women!

This is a great story on Marian and Marjorie’s beginnings and the process of making their cheese. You can read the story here.

 

Breaded Pork Cutlets with Root Veg Smash and Sage Gravy with Sauteed Lemony Brussels Sprouts Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I gave myself a cooking challenge one evening. After coming inside from mowing the lawn, it already was 7 p.m. I was tired and really wanted to take a shower plus get dinner on the table by 8 p.m. This dish is what I had planned on making, but could I do it? A long list of ingredients, plus three pots going at once, it wasn’t until I really read the recipe that I wondered whether making this in what Cooking Light says is 40(!) minutes was even possible. But I decided I was up for the challenge, because it looked so good and I was hungry! And not only was I successful, this will taste like you spent hours in the kitchen as opposed to 45 minutes!

Of course, looking ahead, you can do some advance prep that can cut down your cooking time: chopping the turnip and potato, as well as trimming and halving the Brussels sprouts. But I did nothing and was still able to do everything in under an hour. I had a local honeycrisp apple in the fridge, so I used that instead of buying a Fuji, as well as red potatoes instead of Yukon Gold. I cooked each pork chop until it was golden but not completely cooked, and then put them in the oven set at 325 degrees until everything was ready to eat. I only cooked three pork chops and The Eater of the House ate the extra one, so I had leftover veg and sprouts that were even better the next day for lunch!

This meal is a perfect weeknight dinner if you have guests you want to impress or you just want a special dinner for the family. A nice glass of a crisp white or a Pinot Noir will go great with this flavorful meal and is a perfect way to end the day!

Happy Cooking!

pork cutletsBreaded Pork Cutlets with Root Veg Mash and Sage Gravy

These recipes first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 1 pork cutlet, about 1/2 cup vegetable mash, and 3 tablespoons gravy)

1 1/2 cups chopped turnips
1 cup chopped Yukon gold potato
3/4 cup chopped peeled Fuji apple
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 (4-ounce) center-cut boneless pork cutlets
1/2 cup quick-mixing flour (such as Wondra), divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 teaspoon chopped sage

1. Place turnips, potato, apple, and bay leaf in a medium saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; cook 10 minutes or until tender. Drain. Discard bay leaf. Return vegetable mixture to pan. Add sour cream, 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; mash to desired consistency.

2. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place 6 tablespoons flour in a dish. Place egg in a dish. Dredge pork in flour; dip into egg. Dredge in flour.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl. Add 2 pork cutlets; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned and done. Remove pork from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pork cutlets. Add stock, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Combine remaining 5 teaspoons butter and remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl. Gradually add butter mixture to pan, stirring with a whisk. Cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and sage. Serve with pork and mashed vegetables.

Sauteed Lemony Brussels Sprouts
Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

4 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add shallots and Brussels sprouts; sauté 8 minutes. Add stock to pan; cook 2 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in rind, salt, and pepper.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Book review: Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
mr latte
This book has been on my radar since it was published in 2003 but it wasn’t until this fall that I sought it out to read. And while I totally devoured it in less than a week, it seems by reader reviews I read that I’m one of only a few people who found Hesser’s memoir palatable.

A young food writer for The New York Times, Hesser meets her future husband, Tad Friend, staff writer for The New Yorker, on a blind date. After much discussion about where they are going to meet, she quips the selected restaurant is “the Manhattan equivalent of an Outback Steakhouse.” He orders a Budweiser and puts sugar “sweetener” in his lattés. Some readers see Hesser as a snob, but I guess she and I are cut from the same cloth, as I, too, would raise a brow if this was my first introduction to a possible mate.

The book soon takes the reader through the courtship and ultimate marriage of these two people, with a lot of insight along the way. Anyone who cooks knows the protectiveness ones has over his/her kitchen, and I had to nod my head when she recounted Tad washing her dishes for the first time. And she also gives insight as a cook:

“I prefer the solitude of a kitchen; I like to hear the faint crackle as my knife slices into a fresh onion, to watch better and sugar meld into milky fluff as I wish. Sometimes I like to think; dream up travel plans, retrace my day or imagine an argument with my mother in which I win. I like to chop garlic, dice tomatoes, and carve chicken from its bones to relieve tension, just as someone else might go run a few miles.”

Hesser’s food writing is exquisite, as can be seen in the above quote, or whether it’s talking about her single cuisine, cooking dinner for her wedding party, or cooking with her grandmother. Besides Mr. Latte, we are introduced to her close group of friends, family, and now her extended family. Each chapter is peppered with recipes, all clearly written for the new and more seasoned cooks.

This was a wonderful look at a romance melded with food and I would take a second helping of anything Hesser writes.

Weeknight Dinner Series: Squash Ribbon Pasta with Herb Cream Sauce Plus Bye Bye Bittman

The sky this time of year can sometimes take your breath away. #nofilter

The sky this time of year can sometimes take your breath away. #nofilter

Despite loving to cook and spend time in the kitchen, I find I spend less and less time in the kitchen making dinner in the summer. To take advantage of the light as much as I can, after-work time is spent walking, mowing the lawn, reading, writing, everything but making dinner. Which means it gets on the table late, sometimes really late; our usual 8 p.m. dining time has been bumped sometimes to 8:30 and even close to 9 p.m.! With the start of September, I decided to make a new start and to start cooking earlier, which means I’m looking for quick, nutritious and healthy dishes to make on a weeknight.

You’re going to want to make this pasta dish NOW! It’s perfect for late summer, since zucchini, summer squash, and fresh herbs are still plenty. This recipe had three techniques I’d never used before: “wilting” the squash by pouring the hot pasta water on it, softening and tempering the onion flavor by boiling it with the pasta, and making a roux without butter. All worked beautifully and I definitely got this on the table in record time!

I prefer to buy small squashes, so I used two or three of each, because you can never go wrong adding more veggies. Since there is no butter in the sauce, I flavored it with a little bit of white wine, which was perfect. Lemon juice would be a good addition, too. I had some mushrooms in the veggie bin, so I sautéed a few in olive oil to add for a bit more texture to the sauce. Those who eat gluten-free, brown rice pasta can easily be substituted for the fettuccine.

Lots of vegetables, freshly chopped herbs, and one cooking pot for easy cleanup, this is a recipe that will please even those meat lovers in your house—and get on the table quickly. Cook it tonight!

Happy Eating!

squash pastaSquash Ribbon Pasta with Herb Cream Sauce

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine. Serves 4 (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)

1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces)
1 medium summer squash (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon, basil, or parsley
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Shave squashes into thin strips using a vegetable peeler; place in a colander. Bring a large saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add pasta; cook 6 minutes. Add red onion; cook 2 minutes. Drain pasta mixture over squash in colander.

2. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add milk and flour; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in cream; cook for 1 minute. Add pasta mixture, stirring to coat. Stir in the herbs, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

 

(JooHee Yoon/New York Times?

(JooHee Yoon/New York Times)

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: A Farewell
Or sadly, my dislike of the week. One of my all-time favorite food writers, Mark Bittman, is hanging his The New York Times pen to join a young start-up company. The original Minimalist, for years Bittman’s weekly column introduced readers to healthy eating with quick, easy-to-make recipes. Even years later, I still to this day refer to his tips on salads, grilling, summer cooking, holiday cooking, and more. His style of cooking is what I strive for every time I enter the kitchen, and he makes it look so easy! His opinion piece which began five years ago, educated cooks and readers to the politics of food and frequently made me think about where my food is coming from, and where, ethically, the food industry is going.

While my weekly dose of Bittman inspiration is a loss for me as cook and reader, his presence will still be in the limelight. His newest cookbook, Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix: More Than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities, comes out at the end of October. And I still have those dog-eared columns.

Flank Steak With Tarragon Green Beans

I love all the different colors of radishes this time of year.

I love all the different colors of radishes this time of year.

For seven years, I lived my life as a vegetarian. That said, it wasn’t until I grew old enough to listen to my body after a life-threatening illness that I realized that I really need to eat meat. (So apologies in advance to my vegetarian and vegan readers.) While I still have a mostly vegetarian diet, there are a couple of nights a week that meat is the main dish. Like the other evening.

When I was creating my grocery list and week’s menu of what I was going to make, I handed the June 2014 issue of Cooking Light to the Eater of the House and said, “Here, pick out your dinner.” I noticed he stopped at a couple of pages of “me” recipes, a bean dish, a farro salad, roasted halibut, and then he found it. “This,” he said, pointing to the picture of flank steak. “That’s what I want.”

I normally don’t cook beef that much outside of the occasional meatloaf and pot roast, and since we don’t have a grill at the moment, it would have to be broiled in the oven. No matter, the recipe looked delicious and I crossed my fingers for a successful meal.

This meal was beyond successful! Sometimes things in the kitchen just seem to come together like magic. After a long day, I made an easy rub for the meat and popped it under the broiler, trimmed the green beans and tossed them into boiling water, and made a nice salad with the above radishes and avocado. This definitely could be a Week Night Dinner, as there is very little prep and cooking involved and what takes the longest is waiting for the steak to finish cooking.

A few notes, the original recipe also had tomato bruschetta served alongside, which I included if you want to make. For the beans, hopefully your market carries the small containers of herbs, so you can buy a little amount, since you need a teaspoon or so. Also, I omitted the celery seed, I really don’t like that flavor. I couldn’t find Creole seasoning, so I used Cajun, which added a little kick. I thought since both were Louisiana-bred, wouldn’t it be the same?

The Eater of the House can be given full credit for this amazing dinner. In fact, I think he was patting himself on the back when he went back for thirds! He has declared it the best steak he’s EVER eaten! What cook could complain after a compliment like that?

steak2
Flank Steak with Tomato Bruschetta
This recipe originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 3 ounces steak and 1 bruschetta)

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 (1-pound) flank steak, trimmed
Cooking spray
2 cups cherry tomatoes
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 small shallot, chopped
4 (1-ounce) slices whole-wheat French bread baguette
1 garlic clove, halved

Preparation
1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

2. Combine canola oil, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and Creole seasoning in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture evenly over steak. Place steak on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Place steak on a cutting board; let stand 5 minutes. Cut across the grain into thin slices. Thread tomatoes evenly onto 4 skewers; grill 5 minutes, turning once after 3 minutes. Remove tomatoes from grill.

3. Remove tomatoes from skewers; coarsely chop. Place tomatoes, 2 teaspoons olive oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, basil, and shallot in a small bowl, stirring to combine.

4. Drizzle bread slices evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Grill 30 seconds on each side or until toasted. Rub cut sides of garlic over one side of bread slices; top evenly with tomato mixture.

Tarragon Green Beans
1 pound trimmed green beans
2 quarts boiling water
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation
Add green beans to boiling water; cook 4 minutes. Drain. Stir in butter, tarragon, vinegar, celery seeds, kosher salt, and pepper.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

world cupIt’s World Cup time, when country after country compete for the top prize in soccer. I am the farthest thing from a sports junkie; I pay attention to whether the Yankees are beating the Red Sox, I watch college basketball in the winter when I’m knitting, and I watch the Super Bowl for the half-time show and that’s about it. I even had to ask my friends how often the World Cup comes around? (One year? Two years? The answer is every four.) So when it comes to sports, I’m all about the food. I love being invite to or hosting a Super Bowl or Final Four party because that means lots of delicious snacks and food! And look what I found to celebrate the World Cup, a bracket of food per country!

Will Switzerland’s fondue beat out Ecuador’s Chulpichochos? Will England’s Yorkshire Pudding smoke out Italy’s Pasta Pomodoro? You’ll have to check in to find out!

The World Cup of Food

Week Night Dinner Series: Chicken Marsala (or Madeira) with Pasta

One thing I like to do to challenge myself as a cook is to recreate dishes I eat in restaurants. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but I always find the attempt fun. One afternoon, the Eater of the House and myself stopped for a late lunch after a morning of traveling. My meal was mediocre, but the dish he ordered was delicious. What I thought was going to be traditional Chicken Marsala turned out to be pieces of Chicken Marsala in a creamy sauce over pasta. I took only one bite, but I thought it would be easy to recreate for a work night dinner. And I was right! There was only one problem. And let this be a word to the wise to all cooks: make sure you know what is in your cupboard before you start cooking!

I could have sworn I had an old bottle of Marsala wine lingering in the far back of the liquor cabinet. But as I was making the sauce and reaching down beneath, I came up with two different kinds of sherrys and Madeira, but no Marsala! So in an effort to turn lemons into lemonade (by no means a reference to last week’s post!), I pulled out the Madeira, since it is the closest in taste to M­arsala and used that instead. I had bought it for making turkey gravy at Thanksgiving, and it has a rich, deep flavor that’s good for cooking. And it worked!

I made the sauce a little thinner than the one in the restaurant and served it over egg noodles topped with a little bit of cheese. For those going the gluten-free route or wanting more vegetables, I thought it would be great over sautéed zucchini or even rice or couscous.

This photo makes it look like my portion look gigantic! (I swear it really wasn't!)

This photo makes it look like my portion look gigantic! (I swear it really wasn’t!)

Chicken Marsala (or Madeira) with Pasta
When making the sauce, start with a 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch and whisk; that may be all you need to get it a little thick. If it’s still thin, whisk in another 1/2 teaspoon of the cornstarch. The sauce isn’t thick like an Alfredo sauce, but a little thicker than a wine sauce. You’ll have less than a half cup of sauce; I found a little bit gives a lot of flavor to the chicken and mushrooms.  

8 ounces of mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
4 teaspoons olive oil (separated)
1 ½ pounds chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoons shallots
½ cup Marsala or Madeira wine
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon of half and half or cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheese for topping

1. In a medium-sized skillet, warm 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the water has evaporated and they are brown. Put into a dish and set aside.

2. With the same skillet, warm the other 2 teaspoons of olive oil and when warm, add the chicken and cook until it is done and no longer pink. Remove from heat and add the chicken to the bowl of mushrooms.

3. In the same skillet, melt the butter gently. Add the shallots and cook a few minutes until they are soft. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and add the cornstarch, a 1/2 teaspoon at a time and whisk. When it starts getting a little thick, add the cream. Add the chicken and mushrooms to the pan and stir until everything is covered in sauce.

4. Serve by itself or over a small bed of egg noodles. Add salt and pepper to taste and top with a little bit of cheese.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

deliciousIf you have looked on my website where I extol the genius of all of my favorite food writers, you’ll know that Ruth Reichl is at the top of the list. So when I was given the opportunity to receive an advanced readers copy of her newest book and first work of fiction, Delicious!, I jumped at the chance! (A big thank you to the absolutely fabulous Random House reps, Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, of the podcast Books on the Nightstand and Booktopia fame!)

Delicious! is custom-written for people like me, someone who loves food and loves to read about it. Delicious! is a longtime food magazine in the vein of Gourmet, and we meet our protagonist, Billie Breslin, just as she is hired as the assistant to the editor. When the magazine suddenly seizes publication, Billie is kept on to answer the Delicious! guarantee to readers; if readers have a problem with a recipe, the magazine will return their money for the ingredients. It’s here that Billie enters the magazine’s library, where she comes upon letters written by a girl from Akron named Lulu to James Beard during World War II.

This book has it all: food, food, and more food, a touch of mystery, intrigue, and romance, plus Reichl’s trademark beautiful descriptions of food, clothing, architecture. I know I love a book when it is hard to put down and even harder to do anything else but read! I let a lot of things go in the book; Lulu’s letters didn’t sound like they were written by a 12-year-old, the requisite ugly duckling turning into a swan, and just enjoyed the ride. And I love that there was a nod to Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, a bookstore in New York City that is only cookbooks. And I have a feeling I’m going to be making a soufflé and a pan of gingerbread very soon! (You also may find me foraging for milkweed in the fall; I really want to know if it tastes like cheese!)

Weeknight Dinner Series #7! New Food Labels! A Cookbook Giveaway!

There is a lot of excitement this week! March 7th marks the third-year birthday of My Vermont Kitchen; I’ve made it through my infancy and the terrible twos! It’s the first week in March, where a sigh of relief can be heard round the world that yes, the long, dark, and cold winter is slowly winding down. This month always has warm days and cold nights, the perfect recipe for maple sugaring. The chirp of the red-winged blackbird will be making its way to the meadow by St. Patrick’s Day. Plus we spring forward this weekend! I can feel the spring in my outside steps already!

So the news first. The United States Food and Drug Administration announced last week that food labels are getting an overhaul for the first time since the early 1990s. Taking the nutrition course I mentioned last week, one week was devoted to reading food labels, which was a real eye opener. The new label changes are meant to be easier for the average consumer to understand and will focus on calories and sugar content in particular. Hooray to this, as sugar content was not on the labels before because there was no set standard for sugar consumption. But given the obesity and diabetes epidemic in this country, I am pleased to see this addition. This article printed in the New York Times clearly explains the matter in more detail.

This week’s recipe: Chicken and Leeks. While it has a boring name, this is a simple weeknight supper that takes about 30 minutes to make and it’s a delicious and nutritious! Rarely do I make pan sauces, and I’m really not sure why, because they are fairly easy. You can always cook the leeks in the pan with the chicken, but in this case, I cooked them separately. And don’t be like me–watch the pan sauce! I reduced it a little too much, but it was still delicious! Serve along side with rice and a salad, or steamed broccoli with lemon and butter.
DSCN4266

Chicken and Leeks
Extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds of chicken tenders
1 cup chopped leeks
½ cup chicken broth
A glug or two of white wine (Optional. If not using, just use a little more broth.)
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place enough olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet and warm. Add the chicken and cook until they are tender, turning frequently, so both sides are golden brown. When finished cooking, put on a plate and set aside.

2. As you are cooking the chicken, add 1 Tablespoon of butter to a small skillet. When it’s melted, add the leeks and cook until soft and a little brown.

3. Place the chicken skillet back on the burner and slowly add the chicken broth, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Bring to a boil, add the wine if using, and reduce down until it is the consistency you like. Add the leeks and chicken to the pan, cover with the sauce and serve.

Free Cookbook Giveaway!

global kitchenAs a member of Cooking Light magazine’s Blogger’s Connection, I sometimes get a few perks and this time I get to pass something on to one lucky reader! Just this week Cooking Light’s Global Flavors will be in bookstores! And this cookbook is fantastic! Written by New York Times best-selling author and food writer David Joachim, you’ll find recipes from all over the world, but they’re easy to make and accessible for the home cook. You’ll find recipes from East Asia, India, Southeast Asia and Australia, the Middle East and Africa, Europe and Eurasia, South, North, and Central Americas. I sat down to breakfast the other morning and was salivating over all the dishes. I’m especially excited to make Chicken Tikka Masala, Indonesian Stir-Fried Noodles, and Hungarian Goulash (although there are tons more I’m going to try!)

The contest is easy! Just leave a comment with what your favorite global meal is, I’ll put all the names in a hat, and the Eater of the House will pull out a name. I’ll contact the lucky winner to get shipping instructions. Deadline is Tuesday, March 11 at midnight Eastern Time. Good luck!

Week Night Dinner Series: Sausage and Polenta

If your December is anything like what mine is looking like, you are going to want quick and nutritious dinners to make for yourself and your family in the coming weeks. One evening, time escaped me and when I got to the kitchen to start making dinner it already was 7:40! So I gave myself a challenge to see just how quickly can I make dinner. The time? 20 minutes flat!

I always have had an irrational fear of making polenta, and every time I wonder why I don’t make it more often. Instant polenta is the easiest; boil up some water or broth, sprinkle in the polenta, and stir until it starts to bubble. Add some cheese and you’re done!

I made this with red and green peppers (how festive!) and chicken sausage, but you can use any vegetable you’d like. I thought zucchini and onions would be a nice combination. And as with many of my meals, this can be adapted. If you’re a vegetarian, saute a bunch of veggies and add some beans. Dairy intolerant? Leave out the cheese. Serve with a green salad and dinner is served!

DSCN0777
Sausage and Polenta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 package chicken sausages (whatever flavor you like), sliced lengthwise
1 red and 1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips

* * * * *

½ cup instant polenta
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
Grated parmesan cheese, if desired

1. In a medium-sized skillet, warm the olive oil. Add the peppers, saute for a few minutes, then add the sausage, and cook until the sausage is warmed and the peppers are soft.

2. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water or broth to a boil. Sprinkle the polenta over the liquid, and stir so you don’t get clumps. Reduce heat. Stir until the polenta starts to bubble and becomes thick. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, if using.

Tips for the Big Day + Week Night Dinner Series: Chicken (or Tofu) Stirfry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

imagesI can’t believe another year has passed and I’m talking about Thanksgiving again! Wasn’t it just a month or so ago I was making black-eyed peas for good luck for the coming year? (Which, by the way, has been pretty good, so I’m going to continue the tradition!).

We are coming upon the biggest cooking day of the year (and since the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving Day this year, this makes it doubly so!), and as has been my custom, I’m going to give you my tips for making it relatively stress-free and fun. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once easier. Some of these tips are mine and some are other cook’s tips I’ve collected through the years that work for me. Whether you’re cooking Thanksgiving for ten or having a dinner party at another time of the year, I find these tips are good to have in your back pocket.

My Vermont Kitchen’s Thanksgiving Cooking Tips
• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Make this weekend your friend; rolls can be made and frozen until Thursday morning. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey the next day.

• Make sure your knives are sharp! I made this tip last year when my dad found my knives were less than sharp when he was carving the turkey. (He has since given me a hand-held knife sharpener.) If you don’t have one, find a kitchen shop that does sharpening and take them in this weekend. This will make carving the turkey all that much easier–and everything else for months to come!

• On Wednesday, take out all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” questions when you have some ravenous people hovering at your elbow in the kitchen. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps my memory immensely the next day. Make sure all china, glasses, and linens also are cleaned and ready to go, so all I have to do Thursday morning is set the table. If necessary, do the wash this weekend so it’s not a last-minute chore during the week.

• For me, the most important piece of paper in the kitchen will be my timeline. I take my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook and what I have to do when it comes out of the oven. So I have everything down to the time, “10 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to easily whisk around the kitchen and for everything to be done pretty much at the same time (fingers crossed!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• Since almost all of us have one oven, prime real estate in the kitchen is small. Last year, at the suggestion of “America’s Test Kitchen,” I pulled out my crock pot for an additional burner! Set to low, it warmed my squash wonderfully and freed up an extra burner.

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat. Serve with toothpicks

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat, so you aren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

• If you want some additional quick recipes, check out Mark Bittman’s fantastic “101 Tips for the Big Day” from the New York Times. This is well worth reading and printing out; I always refer to it this time of year; Bittman is the king of quick tips and simplicity and is always so helpful.

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Week Night Dinner Series #5: Chicken (or Tofu) Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce
You can serve this over rice or another grain, but I like the simpleness of just veggies and meat.

I know I’ve mentioned before, but Monday dinners have to be pronto, with a capital P; I get home from the gym long after 7 p.m. and I’m famished. So dinner has to be made quickly or I may find myself stopping at the grocery store before I leave town for something unhealthy to eat. Stir fry is my go-to meal, but lately I’ve getting bored with my usual hoisen sauce mixture. This is my latest creation, a delicious spicy, peanutty sauce that makes you want to lick the plate and go back for seconds!

If you chop your chicken the night before, one step is already done. I chop the veggies when I get home, everything tossed into a hot skillet, and the sauce whisked together while everything is cooking. In actuality, everything can be prepped ahead of time, making this an even quicker meal!

Veggies are whatever are in the vegetable bin, but my favorite combination these days are red peppers, zucchini, onions, broccoli (can this possibly be becoming a favorite vegetable?), and carrots. A small chicken breast or some tofu are what I use as protein. I don’t measure, but I’d say the ratio is 3:1, veggies to protein.

Instructions

1. Warm a couple of teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the vegetables and cook until barely done. Remove from heat and put the mixture in a large bowl.

2. Return the skillet to the stove, add a little bit more oil, and add your chicken or tofu and cook until done. While this is cooking, mix up the peanut sauce.

3. When the chicken or tofu is done cooking, mix in the vegetables. Add the peanut sauce, make sure everything is covered evenly, and serve!

Spicy Peanut Sauce
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 Tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon soy sauce (or tamari)
1 generous teaspoon sambal oelek (or less if you like things less spicy)

In a small bowl, add the peanut butter and hot water. Whisk together until it make a thin paste (the amount of water you add will depend on the oilness of your peanut butter). Whisk in the soy sauce and sambal oelek. Taste test to make sure all the flavors meld well together and adjust accordingly.

Cook’s Note: Sambal oelek is a garlicky chili sauce you can find in the supermarket in the ethnic foods section. But if you can’t find it, you can substitute red chili pepper flakes; start with 1/2 teaspoon and work your way up to the desired heat.

Week Night Dinner Series: Shrimp and Bean Salad

DSCN0419This is one of those delicious dinners that doesn’t take a lot of time to make and is what my nutritionist would call a “balanced” meal: a good protein, good fat, and good carbs.

I had been thinking for some time of creating a salad including the shrimp I had in the freezer and a can of beans I had in the cupboard. So one lazy Friday night when I didn’t feel like cooking, this came together nicely and actually fits into the “Speedy Gonzales” category of last week’s blog and the Work Night Dinner series I began in the spring!

Don’t worry if you have frozen shrimp; when I got home from work, I pulled some out and put them in a bowl of cold water and went about doing stuff around the house. When it was time to make dinner, they were defrosted. Of course, you can buy fresh or frozen cooked shrimp, and that would make it even easier and quicker! This recipe is a cut, chop, throw everything into a bowl, and stir. Dishes like these are the best because they’re so easy!

Helpful Kitchen Tip: I always buy my frozen shrimp raw, because I think the frozen, cooked shrimp can sometimes be tough, even though for convenience sake they’re great. But if you have raw shrimp, they are super simple to cook. Warm a little bit of olive oil in a skillet, add the shrimp, and any seasonings you’d like (wine, garlic, onion) or nothing at all, and let it simmer for about three minutes. When they turn pink, they are done!

This is a perfect summertime dish to share with friends, so make it soon before the coolness of fall is upon us!

Shrimp and Bean Salad
A lot of this recipe is based on how you would like the dish; if you want more beans, more shrimp, more lime juice, let your own creative dishes flow with this! My recipe is just a baseline, go crazy and add other veggies or spices to this!

2-3 cups cooked shrimp
1 can Great Northern or cannellini beans (or another white bean), drained and rinsed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
About one cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
About ½ avocado, diced
Some scallions, to taste
½ jalapeno pepper chopped, if desired
A little bit of cilantro, if desired
The juice of about ½ lime, or to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add the shrimp, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, scallions, pepper and cilantro, if using, and stir gently. Add the lime juice. Serve!

Week Night Dinner Series: Bean Burritos

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are rewarded for waking before dawn.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are rewarded for waking before dawn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding dinner is coming later and later with the terrific weather we’ve been having these days. So when I get in the house, I want to eat–STAT!

I created this one evening after mowing the lawn and was home alone for dinner. It’s quick and easy to make, and is basically cobbling together ingredients together, putting it in the oven, and eating! Just open up a can of black beans, drain and rinse, and in a large bowl add the beans and a dash or two of dried cumin for flavor. You can also add a little spritz of fresh lime juice if you have it. Take a flour tortilla shell, add a couple of tablespoons of grated sharp cheese (or slice off thin slices instead), add ½ cup of the beans, ¼ cup of frozen corn, roll, and place in a baking pan. Add a little more cheese on the outside, cover with foil, and heat at 350 for roughly 20 minutes or so.

I try to make these work night dinner recipes just five ingredients, but with this recipe there are lots of additions that could make this even more fabulous: avocado, lettuce, green scallions, salsa, and sour cream. If you want to bypass the beans and have leftover meat in the fridge, this would be terrific with leftover chicken, pork, or steak.

My recipe makes one burrito, so you can either whip up a batch for leftovers, or you can add some scallions and grape tomatoes to the remaining beans and have it for a  later meal as a side salad!

This photo doesn't really do the dish justice, but trust me, it's delicious!

This photo doesn’t really do the dish justice, but trust me, it’s delicious!

Bean Burrito for One
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
A dash or two of cumin
Fresh lime juice, optional
5 Tablespoons grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup frozen corn
1 flour tortilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Take the drained and rinsed black beans and place in a mixing bowl. Add the cumin and lime juice, if using.

3. Place the tortilla shell on a baking pan. Add 2-3 tablespoons of cheese, ½ cup of black beans, and the corn. Roll and place seam-side down. Top with the remaining cheese.

4. Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve atop a bed of lettuce, with avocado, salsa, and sour cream on the side. Add green scallions if desired.