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Showing posts with label chicken breasts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chicken breasts. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on the New York Times Dining. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Passover Chicken and Soup - Delicious and Fun to Make

Making Passover dinner takes a bit of planning, but it doesn't have to be a chore. If you're cooking for a big group, hand out assignments so you don't do all the work. If your kitchen is large enough, invite people over to help. Cooking the dinner with friends and family can be as much a part of a celebration as the meal itself.

Everyone wants to save money these days. But keeping an eye on food costs shouldn't mean cutting corners on quality and flavor. Avoid buying packaged or frozen meals and you'll be way ahead of the game. Besides saving money, you'll be eating healthier food.

On Passover, I practice what I preach by using one chicken to make three dishes. My Jewish mother would be very proud.

For me it's not Passover without matzo ball soup. But soup is only as good as the stock. Canned and packaged chicken broth are very high in salt content and, in my opinion, have an unpleasant flavor. It's much better to make your own.

The broth can be made days ahead, kept in the refrigerator or even frozen. Also, when you buy the chicken, buy a whole one, preferably a free range or organic chicken, and cut it up yourself. Whole chickens cost under $2.00/pound, while chicken parts range from $3.50-$8.00/pound.

Cutting up a Chicken

If you haven't done it before, cutting apart a whole chicken is easier than you think. Having a sharp boning or chef's knife is essential.

To remove the wings, thighs, and legs, slice through the meat and separate at the joints. Cut the wings apart, reserving the tips for the stock. To debone the breasts, glide the knife along the side of the breast bone. As you cut, pull back the breast meat, continuing to slide the knife against the ribs.

For health reasons, I remove the skin and fat from the breasts, legs and thighs. Add the skin and fat to the stock. If you're going to debone the legs and thighs, add those bones to the stock as well.

Drizzle olive oil on the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. Put them into an air tight container and refrigerate. If you want to freeze them, put the pieces into a Ziploc style plastic bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and freeze.

Here's another tip about freezing the chicken. When you put the pieces into the plastic bag, make sure they don't touch one another. That way, if you need only one piece, say a breast, you can leave the other pieces frozen until you need them.

Chicken Stock

When my mother and grandmother made chicken stock, they added onions, celery, and carrots to the water. I don't because I want the stock to taste of chicken. If I want other flavors, I add them later.

Yield: 2 quarts

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

Skin, wing tips, carcass, and bones from one 4 1/2 pound chicken
4 quarts water

Method

Put the wing tips, skin, carcass, and bones into a large pot with the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 60 minutes. Skim off and discard the foam. The volume will reduce by half.

Strain the stock. Pick off any meat from the carcass and reserve for later use in a salad or a chicken-vegetable soup. Discard the bones and skin.

Refrigerate overnight to easily remove the fat solids. If you're rushed for time and need the stock right away, float a slice of bread on top of the stock to absorb the fat.

The stock can be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for a day or two or in the freezer for months.

Matzo Ball Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 30 minutes

For the matzo balls, we use a mix, but if you want to make them from scratch, Mark Bittman has a very good recipe.

Ingredients

1 box matzo ball mix (no soup), Manischewitz, Rokeach, or Streit's
Other ingredients per the directions on the packaged mix
2 quarts chicken stock

Method

Prepare the matzo balls per the directions on the box. Make them large or small as you like. Remember that the size of the matzo ball will double as it cooks in the salted water. 1 box of mix will make 24 small matzo balls or 12 large ones.

Put the chicken stock into a large pot. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the matzo balls from the salted water to the stock. Heat over a medium flame. Because the matzo balls are delicate, don't let the stock boil.

Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts

On any other day but Passover, serve the sliced chicken on top of buttered pasta.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, washed, and dried
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the saute pan. Dredge the chicken breasts in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper

Put the breasts in the heated pan, top with parsley and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Slice the breasts and plate. Use a rubber spatula to remove the drippings, garlic, and parsley and spoon onto the slices before serving.

Mushroom-Vegetable Chicken Ragout

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken legs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken thighs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken wings, tips removed, cut apart at the joint
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, washed, cut into chunks
4 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, season with sea salt and pepper, saute the chicken until lightly browned. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels, set aside.

Saute the garlic, shallots, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, and potatoes until lightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender. There should be 1 cup of broth.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue simmering another 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed spinach or broccoli.

Variations

Instead of using potatoes, serve over rice

Add spinach leaves

Add cut up celery

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Keeping it Easy with Chicken Two Ways

Just because you want an easy-to-make meal doesn't mean you have to spend a lot or give up nutrition and flavor.

If you read the labels of prepared, canned, or frozen meals, you'll notice how much salt is added, not to mention additives with unpronounceable names. Learn a few seasoning tricks and one or two simple cooking techniques and you'll have a home cooked meal on the table in 30 minutes or less.

Adding a few herbs and spices makes an every day meal a treat. You can buy chicken parts or, to cut costs, cut up a whole chicken yourself. It's easy to do. Trimming off excess fat and skin ups the health-quotient.

Both dishes can be made ahead and reheated.

Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts

With one pan and practically no effort, you'll have a healthy meal on the table in 30 minutes. Serve the chicken sliced on top of buttered pasta, steamed rice, or roasted vegetables.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

4 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, washed, and dried
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the saute pan. Dredge the chicken breasts in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper

Put the breasts in the heated pan, top with parsley and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Slice the breasts and plate. Use a rubber spatula to remove the drippings, garlic, and parsley and spoon onto the slices before serving.

Mushroom-Vegetable Chicken Ragout

Braising takes a little more cooking time, but very little effort and it adds a lot of flavor. In only a few minutes the meat and vegetables lightly brown, bringing out their natural sweetness. Now all you have to do is add water or stock, simmer until tender, and you'll be serving your family the most delicious comfort food ever.

While the braise simmers, put on the timer. You're free to do whatever else you want. Play with the kids, watch a little TV, read a book, or coodle with your sweetie. When the timer goes off, call everyone to the dinner table, sit down and have a feast.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken legs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken thighs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken wings, tips removed, cut apart at the joint
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, washed, cut into chunks
4 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, season with sea salt and pepper, saute the chicken until lightly browned. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels, set aside.

Saute the garlic, shallots, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, and potatoes until lightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender. There should be 1 cup of broth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue simmering another 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed spinach or broccoli.

Variations

Instead of using potatoes, serve over rice

Add spinach leaves

Add cut up celery

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Now and Later Meals - Braised Chicken with Vegetables and (Later) with Couscous and Spinach

Originally posted on Kim Orlando's terrific web site, Traveling Mom.

One way to beat the dinner-time crunch is to cook once but create two meals. One meal to eat that night, the other to eat the next day or freeze in an air-tight container.

From experience I've found that braised chicken serves the cause very well. Because I know I want to use the chicken for two meals, I choose legs or thighs. Unlike chicken breasts, dark meat creates a savory sauce and doesn't dry out when braised.

Add a green salad and steamed rice, cooked pasta, mashed potatoes, or a fresh loaf of bread and you'll have an affordable, nutritious, healthy dinner.

Now: Braised Chicken with Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables

The basis for the deeply flavored sauce is a technique familiar to many cuisines. Finely chopped vegetables are sauteed in an oil until lightly browned. Seasoned with spices, a liquid is added and reduced. In French it's called a mirepoix, in Spanish sofrito, and in Italian soffritto. The ingredients vary, but garlic and onions are pretty much constants.

For this dish I shopped at our local farmers' market and used onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli stems, brown mushrooms, and corn off the cob.

Most of the ingredients can be swapped out for others.

Instead of onions, I could have used shallots or leeks, any of which will caramelize and add sweetness to the sauce. I used broccoli stems because my kids only eat the crowns and I don't like throwing away the stems. You can use the crowns and zucchini, squash, and tomatoes as well.

When I made the dish last night, I kept the skins on, but if you want to lower the fat content, remove the skins.

Frozen in an airtight container, the dish will keep for weeks.

Yield 4 servings plus left-overs
Time 30 minutes preparation, 1 1/2 - 2 hours cooking

Ingredients

10 chicken legs or thighs, about 3 1/2 pounds, washed, pat dry
1 cup broccoli stems, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup brown mushrooms, washed, finely chopped
2 cups corn kernels from 2 ears of corn
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
3 cups water

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a large covered pan like a Dutch oven or roasting pan. Heat the oil on a medium flame. Use tongs and add the chicken pieces. Season with sea salt and pepper. Turn frequently until the chicken is lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. Discard the fat.

In the same pan, add the other tablespoon of olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper. Add all the vegetables. Lightly brown. Stir frequently to avoid burning, about 8-10 minutes.

Pour in 3 cups of water. Stir well to deglaze the pan so the flavor bits get into the liquid. Add back the cooked chicken pieces. Cover and put in the oven. After 60 minutes, use the tongs to turn over the chicken pieces. Cover and return to the oven for another 30-60 minutes.

The chicken is cooked when the meat is separating from the bone. Taste and adjust the seasonings with sea salt and pepper. If you want a thicker sauce, reduce the liquid over a medium flame.

To serve, place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour the sauce on top.

Later: Chicken with Easy-to-Make Moroccan-Style Couscous

Assuming you have half of the chicken and sauce left-over, this dish takes very little time to prepare.

The sort of couscous served in Morocco is delicious but difficult and time-consuming to prepare. The "instant" kind can be found in some grocery stores, upscale, specialty and health food markets.

If you haven't used couscous before, meet your new best kitchen-helper.

Couscous costs pennies per serving and takes next to no effort to make. It can be served hot or cold, in a salad, as a side dish, or, as in this recipe, as a main dish.

Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

4-5 chicken legs or thighs, cooked as above
2 cups sauce with vegetables, cooked as above
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed to remove grit, stems removed, roughly chopped
2 cups whole wheat or regular "instant" couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups water
Sea salt and pepper

Directions

Boil 2 1/2 cups of water. Put the couscous into a large boil. Pour the hot water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the bowl and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes, remove the covering, and fluff the couscous with a fork.

In a large pot, saute the cumin, turmeric, and garlic in the olive oil until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the golden raisins, cooked chicken, sauce, and chopped spinach.

Stir well to submerge the spinach in the sauce--if you need more liquid, add a cup of water--and simmer 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Put the couscous in a large bowl, ladle the chicken and sauce on top and serve immediately. Alternately, portion out the couscous, chicken and sauce into individual bowls.

Tip: when I have the time, I'll take the meat off the bones to make the dish easier to eat. The kids definitely appreciate that.

Friday, April 3, 2009

One Chicken Makes Matzo Ball Soup, Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts, and Chicken Ragout

Making Passover dinner takes a bit of planning, but it doesn't have to be a chore. If you're cooking for a big group, hand out assignments so you don't do all the work. If your kitchen is large enough, invite people over to help. Cooking the dinner with friends and family can be as much a part of a celebration as the meal itself.

Everyone wants to save money these days. But keeping an eye on food costs shouldn't mean cutting corners on quality and flavor. Avoid buying packaged or frozen meals and you'll be way ahead of the game. Besides saving money, you'll be eating healthier food.

On Passover, I practice what I preach by using one chicken to make three dishes. My Jewish mother would be very proud.

For me it's not Passover without matzo ball soup. But soup is only as good as the stock. Canned and packaged chicken broth are very high in salt content and, in my opinion, have an unpleasant flavor. It's much better to make your own.

The broth can be made days ahead, kept in the refrigerator or even frozen. Also, when you buy the chicken, buy a whole one, preferably a free range or organic chicken, and cut it up yourself. Whole chickens cost under $2.00/pound, while chicken parts range from $3.50-$8.00/pound.

Cutting up a Chicken

If you haven't done it before, cutting apart a whole chicken is easier than you think. Having a sharp boning or chef's knife is essential.

To remove the wings, thighs, and legs, slice through the meat and separate at the joints. Cut the wings apart, reserving the tips for the stock. To debone the breasts, glide the knife along the side of the breast bone. As you cut, pull back the breast meat, continuing to slide the knife against the ribs.

For health reasons, I remove the skin and fat from the breasts, legs and thighs. Add the skin and fat to the stock. If you're going to debone the legs and thighs, add those bones to the stock as well.

Drizzle olive oil on the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. Put them into an air tight container and refrigerate. If you want to freeze them, put the pieces into a Ziploc style plastic bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and freeze.

Here's another tip about freezing the chicken. When you put the pieces into the plastic bag, make sure they don't touch one another. That way, if you need only one piece, say a breast, you can leave the other pieces frozen until you need them.

Chicken Stock

When my mother and grandmother made chicken stock, they added onions, celery, and carrots to the water. I don't because I want the stock to taste of chicken. If I want other flavors, I add them later.

Yield: 2 quarts

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

Skin, wing tips, carcass, and bones from one 4 1/2 pound chicken
4 quarts water

Method

Put the wing tips, skin, carcass, and bones into a large pot with the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 60 minutes. Skim off and discard the foam. The volume will reduce by half.

Strain the stock. Pick off any meat from the carcass and reserve for later use in a salad or a chicken-vegetable soup. Discard the bones and skin.

Refrigerate overnight to easily remove the fat solids. If you're rushed for time and need the stock right away, float a slice of bread on top of the stock to absorb the fat.

The stock can be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for a day or two or in the freezer for months.

Matzo Ball Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 30 minutes

For the matzo balls, we use a mix, but if you want to make them from scratch, Mark Bittman has a very good recipe.

Ingredients

1 box matzo ball mix (no soup), Manischewitz, Rokeach, or Streit's
Other ingredients per the directions on the packaged mix
2 quarts chicken stock

Method

Prepare the matzo balls per the directions on the box. Make them large or small as you like. Remember that the size of the matzo ball will double as it cooks in the salted water. 1 box of mix will make 24 small matzo balls or 12 large ones.

Put the chicken stock into a large pot. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the matzo balls from the salted water to the stock. Heat over a medium flame. Because the matzo balls are delicate, don't let the stock boil.

Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts

On any other day but Passover, serve the sliced chicken on top of buttered pasta.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, washed, and dried
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the saute pan. Dredge the chicken breasts in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper

Put the breasts in the heated pan, top with parsley and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Slice the breasts and plate. Use a rubber spatula to remove the drippings, garlic, and parsley and spoon onto the slices before serving.

Mushroom-Vegetable Chicken Ragout

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken legs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken thighs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken wings, tips removed, cut apart at the joint
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, washed, cut into chunks
4 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, season with sea salt and pepper, saute the chicken until lightly browned. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels, set aside.

Saute the garlic, shallots, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, and potatoes until lightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender. There should be 1 cup of broth.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue simmering another 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed spinach or broccoli.

Variations

Instead of using potatoes, serve over rice

Add spinach leaves

Add cut up celery

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tofu, the Other White Meat

Tofu has a bad rap: good for you but tasteless. Conventional wisdom has it that tofu is acceptable ornamentally in miso soup or the occasional stir fry but is simply too bland to be featured in a main dish.

At some Japanese restaurants, I had seen "Tofu Steak" on the menu. It struck me that tofu wasn't like steak but it was similar to chicken breasts. I began a series of experiments. Using firm tofu, I cut it loose from its Asian moorings. I tried grilling, sauteing, and roasting.

My favorite so far is an oven roasted tofu with a topping of crispy shallots, garlic, parsley, and shiitake mushrooms. A little bit of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper was all I added. Besides being quick and easy to prepare, healthy, and affordable, the tofu was delicious.

Please send in any of your own favorite tofu recipes.

Roasted Tofu with Crispy Toppings

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 package firm tofu, preferably organic
6 large shallots, peeled, julienned
4 garlic cloves, peeled, julienned
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 pound shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thin sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Saute the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms in olive oil over a medium flame until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Cut the tofu into equal sized slabs, 2"x3"x1/2". Drizzle olive oil in the pan, season with sea salt and pepper, dredge each piece of tofu in the seasoned olive oil, put into the pan, cover with the shallot saute, put into a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Serve with a side of sauteed or steamed broccoli or a green salad.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Easy Summer Meal of Heirloom Tomatoes and Sautéed Chicken Breasts

A good friend had a problem: his wife's birthday was a week away and he had to organize a dinner for 25. Clay likes hosting Lesli's birthday party but doesn't enjoy the pressure of putting together the meal. In the past he had side-stepped the stress by ordering out.

For many years, the dinner party was catered by Versailles a popular Cuban restaurant. This year he decided a pot luck dinner would make the meal more personal. Truth is Clay's talents lie in painting and photography and while he enjoys eating, he's happy to leave the cooking to others. But he had committed to preparing the main course and a side dish and even that felt burdensome. We discussed all this at our weekly Sunday brunch. I figured it was the manly thing to do to help him plan, shop, and prepare the dinner.

The central question was obvious: what to make for the main course that would feed 25 and wouldn't require a huge amount of time in the kitchen? In the winter, the obvious answer would be a roast or a comfort dish like chicken and dumplings. Since Lesli's birthday falls in the middle of summer when the air is warm and eating outdoors is the order of the day, something lighter was required.

Given that Lesli and my wife, Michelle, prefer simply prepared meals, we settled on easy-to-make grilled chicken breasts and Italian sweet sausages. For a side dish we talked about sautéed spinach, green beans with garlic and mushrooms, or grilled artichokes, any of which would go well with the grilled meats. In deference to eating locally, we made a plan to shop at the farmers' market the day of the party and decide what to make while we were at the market.

Saturday morning we met early at the Santa Monica farmers' market. Walking past the farmers' stalls we saw vegetables we hadn't thought about: summer squash and Japanese eggplants for grilling, plump carrots for a Moroccan flavored salad, and baby bok choy that we could stir fry with ginger, garlic and soy sauce.

Finally we settled on the obvious summer choice: a salad of heirloom tomatoes in a simple vinaigrette. Right now the profusion of tomatoes in the market is nothing short of phenomenal: Brandywines (red, yellow, black), Cherokee Purples, Green Zebras, even a sweet cherry tomato called Snow White.

We also saw fresh Italian parsley, shallots, ginger, and garlic. Those flavors could bring a helpful lift to the chicken breasts. We decided on a simple butter sauce and a crispy topping of bacon, shallots, garlic, ginger, and Italian parsley leaves.

The nice part about pot luck meals is you discover things you didn't know about your friends. Talking with Melissa about what she was going to bring, I learned that she and her husband had just gotten back from a trip to Napa. She happily applied her recent experience and brought a terrific platter of cheeses (each one with its own flag-label) accompanied by a fig spread, grapes, strawberries, and nuts.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
1/2 basket ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes (washed, stems removed, halved)
1 ripe avocado (washed, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup olives (cracked green or black, pitted, roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a very low flame heat the vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced to 1 tablespoon.

Cut the large tomatoes into quarters or chunks or slices--whatever you prefer--gently toss them with the cherry tomatoes, avocado, olives, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.

Variations

Add cilantro or Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped.

Add red onion or scallions, peeled, finely chopped.

Chicken Breasts with Butter Sauce and a Crispy Topping

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (washed, pat dried)
4 slices bacon (finely chopped)
4 shallots (peeled, finely julienned)
2" piece of fresh ginger (peeled, finely julienned)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely julienned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (washed, dried, leaves only)
1/4 cup sweet butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
6 cups safflower oil

Method

Make the crispy part first. Heat the oil in a deep pan like a wok so that when the ingredients are added and the oil foams up, the pan is deep enough that the oil won't flow onto the stove. You can tell this was a lesson I learned the hard way. Test the oil by dropping in a parsley leaf. If it crisps in 5-6 seconds, the oil's hot enough. Cook the bacon, ginger, garlic, parsley, and shallots separately. Have a slotted spoon or a fine-mesh strainer ready because they will cook in a few seconds. Remove each and let drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil onto a plate, then season with sea salt and pepper. Dredge each chicken breast half through the seasoned oil. Either grill the breasts on a barbecue or sauté in a medium-hot pan until browned on each side. Put the breasts on a plate and cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil. Heat butter and chicken stock in a sauté pan and reduce until thickened.

Arrange the breasts on a platter, drizzle with the butter sauce, and top with the crispy bits.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From Father to Son: A Dinner Menu

I enjoy cooking so much, I was happy when my older son Frank asked if I could help him plan a dinner he was going to cook for a friend.

The best meal is one that starts with great ingredients, which means shopping at farmers' markets and specialty shops. Supermarkets are fine for household supplies but only a few--like Gelson's, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Fairway Market, Canyon Market--carry quality produce and meat.

Since Frank will be in San Francisco for the weekend, I suggest he and his friend go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Saturday morning. Located on the Embarcadero at Market, he'll find premium vegetables, fruits, cheeses, olives, freshly baked breads, desserts, and flowers. The market is open from 8:00am until 2:00pm. If they go early they'll avoid the lunch-time crowds.

While they walk around the market enjoying the cool breezes off the Bay, they can pick up snacks from Hog Island Oyster Company, a muffin from the Downtown Bakery, or sample cheeses from Andante Dairy. The market is definitely an eat-as-you-shop kind of place.

Because I know Frank won't want to spend more time in the kitchen than necessary, the menu I'm suggesting relies on quick-and-easy techniques. And since I know he understands the importance of cleaning as he cooks--a meal is so much more pleasurable if the kitchen is clean when the cooking is finished--I've tried to minimize the number of pots and pans required.

Appetizers

Serve a plate of 2-3 cheeses, ones that contrast with each other. A Triple Cream (soft) for example and a Comte (firm). Tasting cheeses at the market is a good way to find the ones you like. Olives, fresh fruit, a baguette, and wine all go well with a cheese.

Putting together the appetizer plate will take only a few minutes. Frank and his friend can snack on the appetizers while he prepares dinner.

Salad

For a salad something simple: fresh arugula tossed with crushed roasted hazelnuts and dressed with olive oil and reduced balsamic dressing, seasoned with a little sea salt and pepper.

Or a tomato and avocado salad with a touch of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese

Yield 2 servings
Time 15 minutes

Ziti or penne takes about 10 minutes to cook in salted, boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. A cup of the pasta water is a key ingredient. When the pasta is strained, put a heat-proof container under the strainer and capture a cup of pasta water.

Ingredients

1/2 box of De Cecco pasta (ziti or penne)
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown or shiitake (washed, dried, thinly sliced longitudinally)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (unsalted)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup pasta water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt for the pasta water
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Boil 4 quarts of water with the Kosher salt, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Cook until al dente. Strain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, return the pasta to the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

In a frying pan, sauté the garlic, mushrooms, and parsley until lightly browned, add the butter and pasta water and simmer, reducing the liquid by half, then add the pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Variations

Add to the sauté, quartered cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped up spinach leaves.

Sauté fresh corn kernels ( 1/4 cup) and shallots (1 tablespoon) with the mushrooms and parsley.

Chicken Fillets with Parsley-Bacon Topping

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes

Buy either chicken tenders--which are pricey--or skinless, boneless breasts and cut them the long way so each breast makes two 1/2" thick fillets.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts (washed, cut into 1/2" thick fillets) or 4 chicken tenders (washed)
2 slices of bacon (finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 avocado (peeled, roughly chopped)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Season the breasts with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan and sauté the bacon and parsley on a low flame. Use a fork to break up the pieces and cook until lightly browned. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil into the frying pan and season with sea salt and pepper. Get the pan hot on a medium flame. Add the chicken. The fillets cook quickly because they are thin. Lightly brown on each side.

Top with the sautéd bacon-parsley bits and garnish with chopped avocado on the side.

Salt Steamed Broccoli or Spinach

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes (broccoli) or 5 minutes (spinach)

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli or spinach
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil

Method

Wash the broccoli and cut off the florets. If you're using spinach, wash well to get rid of the grit, remove the stems and discard. Put a steamer in a pot, add the water and salt, bring to a boil, add the broccoli florets or spinach, and cover. Steam the broccoli for 10 minutes or the spinach for 5 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with the chicken.

Dessert

Good fruit is available now at the farmers' market: cherries, apricots, early grapes, pluots, cantaloupe, and lots of berries. A plate of fresh fruit and a small cake from the farmers' market would make a delicious dessert. Or, with very little effort, baked pluots and apricots, coupled with ice cream or yogurt, make a beautiful finish to a meal.

Baked Pluots and Apricots

Yield 2 servings
Time
30 minutes

Ingredients

2 apricots
2 pluots or plums (washed, cut in half, pits removed)
Raw sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the halved apricots and pluots on a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet, dust with raw sugar, and bake for 30 minutes until softened.

Serve with ice cream or yogurt.