Chicken Fricassee with Greek Green Beans

Julia Child always cooked by the mantra of "no apologies and no excuses." When it comes to cooking, not everything is going to turn out the way you want it to. I think art mimics life in this respect and I hope all you home cooks out there remember this each time you test your skills in the kitchen. I used to apologize for dishes before anyone even tasted it! I would say it was too salty, not seasoned enough, not crispy enough, looked nothing like the picture or even worse, that it was terrible. When I read Julia's memoir, the lesson of not making excuses for the food you are preparing and being proud of everything, regardless of the outcome was what stuck with me the most. This dish is one of those that I think needs another shot presentation-wise, but flavor-wise it was so yummy. Chicken Fricassee is a classic French dish that uses garlic, vinegar and tomatoes to give chicken a punch. The photo for this recipe, in one of my favorite books, looks amazing and yet I was surprised by how different mine looked when it was finished. But before I wrote off the recipe and started making excuses, I served it and enjoyed. The taste kept my mouth closed and the recipe in rotation.  So no excuses tonight, no apologies, even a not so perfect meal is still a lovingly made home cooked one.

Chicken Fricassee with Garlic and Red Wine Vinegar
Bon Appetit Y'All, Virginia Willis, 2008
serves 4 to 6

1 (4 to 5 lb) chicken cut into pieces (boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be subbed, see note below)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil (I used vegetable oil)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed (just give it one good whack with the side of your knife, using your fist)
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 (15 oz) can whole tomatoes, crushed, with liquid (crush with your hands in the can)
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs thyme

To cook the chicken, season with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil over medium heat in a large, straight-sided skillet or saucepan (no cast iron). Add the chicken, skin side down, without crowding the pan. Cook without crowding until a rich, golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 min per side. (trick is to leave it alone as much as possible!) Remove chicken to a plate.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the vinegar and scrape with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Return the chicken to the skillet. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, chicken stock, bay leaf, parsley and thyme. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender and the juices run clear, an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To make the sauce, remove the chicken pieces to a warm serving dish, tent with foil. Increase the heat to high, and cook the sauce until reduced and lightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove and discard the herbs. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Note: You can make with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Adjust simmering time with sauce to just 8 to 10 minutes, until juices run clear. Remove breasts and tent with foil, once cooked through. Continue to simmer sauce until vegetables are tender and sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Return chicken to the sauce and finish as directed in third paragraph.

Greek Green Beans
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 lb haricots verts (thin green beans, thinnest you can find), trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
15 black kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
red wine vinegar
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a large bowl with ice and water. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until just crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Put the pot back on the stove over medium heat and heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 60 seconds, making sure not to burn it. Return the beans to the pot, along with the tomatoes and olives. Toss everything together and transfer to serving dish until just heated through. Drizzle with the vinegar, toss with the cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Can be served warm, room temp or cold.



Tomato Soup with Lemon and Rosemary

Another week of super cold temperatures and a weekend filled with a lot of fun in the city makes me want to curl up with comfort food that will not make me feel guilty. One of the ways I organize my week of cooking is always making something that will last a couple of days. Whether it is something that I can eat for lunch the next day or can be reheated and added to another recipe, I try to stretch what I make into multiple meals. It is a huge time saver and I promise to share more of these tips this year. Soup is always a great way to stretch a meal because you can make a huge pot of it, save some for lunches and even freeze some for a time when you don't feel like cooking, but want something homemade. Soup also tends to be healthful and light (as long as you stay away from lots of cheese and cream!), but also filling and comforting. What I like about this tomato soup is that it does not have too many ingredients, takes little time and is a lot more filling than your average tomato soup. You use white beans to give this soup more body, fiber, protein and flavor. Most of the ingredients in the soup are pantry and fridge staples, so it can be one of those meals that come in handy when you don't feel like making a grocery run. The whipped cream that you place on top is the indulgent part of the meal, but with just a small dollop and the super healthy ingredients in the soup, no guilt is necessary! You could also substitute the heavy cream with light sour cream, just skip the whipping step. This was also my attempt at a Meatless Monday, which is hard to do with a husband that appreciates his protein. It was all gobbled up and no one missed their meat! 

Hearty Tomato Soup with Lemon and Rosemary
Adapted from Giada's Kitchen 2008
makes 6 small bowls

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans (white), drained and rinsed
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock 
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (this makes it really spicy, so use less or none if you do not like spice)
3/4 teaspoon salt (I ended up using a bit more, taste and add more if necessary)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream (can substitute light sour cream, skip step where you whip the cream)
zest of 1 lemon

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of the rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes covered. 

Puree the soup in a blender (or use immersion blender right in the pot if you have one) in batches, being careful to remove and discard the bay leaf. Also be careful when blending, as liquid expands when blended. Do just a couple of ladles at a time, hold the top tightly and pulse slowly. Return the soup to the soup pot and keep warm over low heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. 

In a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold in the lemon zest and the remaining teaspoon of rosemary. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and dollop each bowl with the lemon-rosemary whipped cream. Serve immediately. 



Raspberry Baked Brie

Now I know we all have seen this simple appetizer before, but this recipe just shows you that with a couple of extra steps you can make something that was very ordinary become fantastic. This is the perfect appetizer for you novice cooks that don't want to venture too far out of your comfort zone. By cooking some nuts and adding some jam, this baked brie becomes a sweet and savory bundle that everyone is going to want to devour. A friend brought this recipe over and we made it in just a few minutes and it was gone before anyone knew what had happened. If you are having people over for dinner or to watch the game this weekend, this will be a crowd pleaser. You can always use whatever jam you prefer in any flavor. Serve with some fruit in the matching flavor so everyone knows what is hiding inside. 

Brie en Croute #2
recipe by Paula Deen
serves 8

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (package comes with 2 sheets)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 small (8 oz) wheel of brie
1/2 cup raspberry jam
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Defrost 1 sheet of the puff pastry approximately 15 to 20 minutes and unfold (place remaining sheet in freezer for later use). 

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Saute nuts in butter until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Place nuts on top of the brie and spread jam on top of nuts. 

Gently roll pastry with a rolling pin to increase the size of the sheet 1 to 2 inches in each direction. Brush both sides of the sheet with the beaten egg. Center the wheel of the brie on top of the pastry sheet. Bring all four corners of the sheet together above brie and twist slightly to form a "bundle." Attempt to "tie" gathered pastry together like a bow or arrange into a shape on top that looks nice. 

Place the "bundle" on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Serve with crackers or sliced baguette. 



Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

With the cold winter months blanketing us here in Chicago, it is time for some comfort food. I am slightly obsessed with this dish right now and have made it multiple times in the last couple weeks. Although many of us would frown upon these slightly bitter little cabbages, I have transformed them into a vehicle for the salty, rich flavor of bacon. When you roast these little guys with America's favorite food, they become sweet and caramelized with the smokey hints that always feel like home. Although this would not be considered the healthiest of vegetable choices given that the brussel sprouts soak up all that bacon goodness, at least you are eating some vegetables. Or at least this is what I am telling myself. Because these are so rich, I would serve with something a little lighter, like fish or a simply roasted chicken breast. Believe me, when you try these roasted brussel sprouts and die and go to heaven over their sweetness, you will never think of brussel sprouts the same way again.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
Forks & Amusement 2011
makes 4 sides

30 brussel sprouts, bottoms trimmed off, outside leaves taken off and cut in half lengthwise
olive oil
2 slices thick, good quality bacon, chopped finely
juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water with a good pinch, drop in the brussel sprouts. Cook for 3-5 minutes until just tender and bright green. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and towel off excess water.

Transfer the brussel sprouts to a baking sheet. Toss with just a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper and the bacon. Spread into one layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so, until crisp and caramelized. Remove from oven and transfer to serving bowl.

Toss with the lemon juice, adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm.



Dreamy Sour Cream Waffles

I am having a hard time writing about these waffles because they just might my favorite recipe on the planet. These are a family tradition that I have been enjoying for as long as I can remember. After opening presents on Christmas Day, these waffles were quickly served warm out of the iron, drizzled with hot melted butter, warm maple syrup and devoured. Because of their richness and indulgent nature, these waffles were only served on the most special of days and cherished until the very last hot, puffy bite made it to your mouth. If you are expecting weekend company or just want to serve a special treat this weekend, look no further. You can mix the dry ingredients the night before if you would like, but really these waffles do not take much time. I like to serve them with fresh fruit and crispy bacon, which can be a great vehicle for that left over syrup on your plate. The secret of these waffles is the sour cream, which gives them a tangy flavor and a lightness that is hard to find in many waffle recipes. Leftover batter can be used the next day or you can make the extra waffles, cool to room temperature, freeze individually, then defrost and toast for future enjoyment. I hope you enjoy these waffles and that they just might become a tradition in your kitchen as well.

Sour Cream Waffles
Forks & Amusement 2011
makes 6 - 6 inch waffles

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 cups (1 pint) sour cream

Preheat waffle iron. Melt butter.

Sift and measure flour; sift again with all remaining dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and lemon colored. (this is best done in a stand up mixer with the paddle attachment, but you can use a hand mixer or those strong arms) Blend in sour cream.

Add dry ingredients in small stages, gently combining each time. Blend in butter. (use a gentle hand with combining all the ingredients, this will keep the batter light and the waffles fluffy)

Using a ladle, pour batter onto hot iron and cook according to it's directions. (mine uses about 1/2+ cup of batter per waffle and takes about 5 minutes to bake)

Serve with melted butter and warm maple syrup.



Prosciutto Roasted Fish

Welcome back! I hope that everyone had a really joyous and fun holiday season and that your kitchens' were filled with food, family and friends. I heard from quite a few readers with questions on entertaining and I absolutely loved helping out. I spent most of my holiday time away where I got a little break from the kitchen. It was a great time to enjoy the cooking of others and get a few great ideas. I was able to host a small dinner on New Year's Eve with close friends and I made this great sea bass recipe. I love it because it turns out perfect, required about 5 minutes of work and came out so flavorful. If your new year's resolution is to make more dinners at home, this is a great start and a way to show off a bit without any fancy technique getting in your way. I served this with some pasta and asparagus, but you could serve it with anything. Since you are already roasting the fish, you could roast any vegetable as the Barefoot Contessa suggests in her recipe for this. She dices butternut squash, potatoes, parsnips and carrots very small, tosses in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and roasts until tender and just starting to brown (400 degrees, about 30-40 minutes). I try to share easy fish recipes, as I know for some making fish is a big step in their kitchen. So man up! Make 2011 a year that you will try anything in your kitchen! I promise you will love the journeys and results. Cheers!

Prosciutto Roasted Bass
serves 6
Adapted from: Back to Basics, Ina Garten, 2008

olive oil
salt and pepper
6 (about 8oz each) skinless fish fillets such as sea bass (this is my preference), halibut, salmon or striped bass
6 thin slices prosciutto di parma (freshly sliced is best, or look for it by the deli meat and cheese)
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
lemon wedges for serving

Preheat oven 400 degrees
Line sheet pan with aluminum foil, and place a baking rack on top of the foil. Brush the fillets on both sides with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Wrap each fillet with a slice of prosciutto to form a wide band around the center of the fillet, overlapping the ends. Arrange the fillets on the rack with the prosciutto seam side down and roast 10 to 15 minutes, until barely cooked. (should feel just slightly firm in the center)

While the fish is roasting, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sized saute pan. Add the rosemary sprigs and cook over low heat (if it seems to be taking too long, bring heat up a bit) until the rosemary leaves are crisp and butter begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Discard the rosemary, stir in the lemon juice, pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

To serve, place the fish on a platter or individual plates, spoon the rosemary butter on top, and garnish with a lemon wedge.

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