Chicken Soup with Fregula Sarda

March is always a welcome relief to the many months of winter, with its hints of warm, spring days. But it also seems to be the month in which my family develops the last great sickness of our cold season. This week has proven to hit my family hard in the viral department, with my son bringing home some unwelcome germs, then my husband contracting the disease, and now, finally, my daughter. Fortunately, while I type this post, I have not yet come down with this bad cold, and I am extremely happy about that, because as any other mother knows, if mamma falls ill, the whole ship goes down with her!

There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of chicken soup when you aren’t feeling well. You can feel the warm liquid nutrients working their magic as they pass into your body, working their sickness-healing magic. Science has now confirmed that chicken soup actually helps to break congestion and contains an amino acid called, cysteine, which inhibits white blood cell production and the triggering of the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and phlegm. I guess grandma did know a thing or two.

For this chicken soup, I decided to use some fregula sarda I had in my pantry, which is an Italian pasta, originating from Sardinia. The pasta dough is rolled into tiny balls, resembling Israeli couscous, and toasted twice, which promotes its pleasant nutty flavor and golden colors. If you aren’t able to purchase fregula sarda, then Israeli couscous (or another type of small pasta) would be an excellent substitute for the following soup.

Of course, this soup is delicious whether you are under the weather or sailing atop clouds of health. But if you find yourself with a bit of a cold, this soup will definitely hit the spot. Stay healthy and happy eating!

1-1.5 lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed
1 small onion, whole
4 stalks celery, cleaned, halved and chopped into small pieces*
5 md. carrots, peeled, halved and chopped into small pieces**
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
small bunch of fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
12 cups water
1/2-3/4 c. fregula sarda
small bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped

In a pot, large enough to accommodate 12 cups of water, add the chicken thighs, one carrot, one celery, the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Be sure not to add too much salt at this time. You can add more before you add the fregula sarda. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any fat that floats up to the top. Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Allow the base of your soup to continue cooking for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat, and discard the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves. I find it works best to do this with a large, cook’s spoon that has holes. Remove the chicken thighs, and allow them to cool slightly before you remove the meat from the bone. Place the chicken back into the pot, along with the chopped carrots and celery. Bring the liquid back to a slow boil. After about 15 minutes, add the fregula sarda, along with about 1.5-2 cups of water. Allow the fregula to cook through, about 8 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the finely chopped parsley. Serve with some nice crusty bread.

*Leave one celery stalk whole to make the soup base
**Leave one carrot whole, unpeeled to make the soup base

TDB Homemade: Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

Who doesn’t love shrimp cocktail? I often have a supply of pre-cooked shrimp in my freezer, just waiting to be thawed out for a quick snack or dinner ingredient. I do not, however, stock my fridge with cocktail sauce because (as my mother taught me long ago) making it on my own is just as quick and easy as opening a jar. There are just two ingredients that are necessary – ketchup and horseradish. Now, granted, commercially prepared ketchup is not always one of the most highly regarded condiments on the shelf when it comes to healthy eating, but there are quite a few brands now that make it organic, low salt, low sugar, or all-natural, and almost every home has some of it sitting around. And, to be honest, I think this cocktail sauce is just as good as any kind I’ve had in a restaurant or out of a jar. Try it, and see if you can tell the difference! So here’s the basic recipe:

2 Tbsp. ketchup + 1 Tbsp. horseradish — stir it together in a small bowl, and it’s ready to serve.

Add more or less horseradish to your liking. Other items may be added to enhance the flavor to your taste, such as hot sauce, a twist of lemon, Worcestershire sauce, or wasabi powder, but I don’t find any of those necessary and usually stick with what’s simple.

So, here you go – something quick and easy that you can make in less than 30 seconds. Serve with cold cooked shrimp, and enjoy!

Cilantro-Tomato Sauce Over Chicken

This recipe came about when trying to concoct something for dinner that would use up several random items hanging out in my fridge. And, as luck would have it that night, my family loved it! The cilantro-tomato sauce works very well with chicken, but it can be served over rice, vegetables, tofu, potatoes, eggs, or fish, as well.  In fact, this is a wonderful recipe for when you are cooking for vegetarians and meat eaters in the same meal because you can keep the sauce and meat separate until the very end. This also makes a great weeknight meal — with a little prep work, your entire dinner can easily come together in 20-30 minutes.

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup buttermilk (for marinating the chicken — optional)
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 cups or 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbl. tomato paste
zest from one lemon
1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt (can be substituted with sour cream or buttermilk)
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Either in the morning or the night before you plan to make this (8-24 hours prior), prepare your chicken by trimming the fat and cutting the breasts into small serving sizes, about 4 pieces per breast. The small size makes the cooking go fast, and it also gives a lot of surface area to be coated with sauce later on. Place the chicken in a well-sealed container with the buttermilk and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Let sit in the refrigerator until ready to cook.  You can omit this step, if you want, but the buttermilk makes the meat super moist and tender.

Prepare a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to grease the bottom. Drain and pat dry your chicken breast pieces; season them on both sides with a little salt and pepper. Lightly brown the chicken in a single layer in the pan, about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the heat and size of your cuts. When lightly browned and fully cooked, remove the chicken from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or sauce pan over medium heat and add a quarter cup of olive oil — the oil should be hot, but not smoking. Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes while the mixture becomes fragrant. Stir in one cup of the chopped cilantro leaves, the tomato paste, the diced tomatoes, and the lemon zest and bring to a slow simmer. If necessary, add 1/4-1/2 cup of water to prevent the sauce from becoming too thick. Taste, and add more salt, pepper, or cilantro, if desired. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and, using a standing blender or immersion blender, purée the sauce until smooth (just be very careful if you have to transfer the sauce out of the pan to do this!) Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the yogurt. At this point, the sauce is ready to be served over vegetables, rice, eggs, etc.  However, when serving chicken, add the browned chicken to your pan and cook over low heat for just a few more minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

I like to serve this dish with simple brown rice and steamed vegetables. Fresh green beans pair very nicely, as does a light, citrusy white wine. Feel free to garnish your meal with any remaining chopped cilantro. Quick, healthy, versatile, and delicious – enjoy!

Winter Chicken Stew

Every Wednesday I try to browse through the Dining section of the New York Times, looking for interesting recipes and other food-related news. Last week I came across a recipe for an Italian-style rabbit stew, and since I thoroughly enjoy rabbit, I tore out the article and tucked it into my stack of “to try” recipes. As I was planning my upcoming week’s dinners, I decided to pull out the rabbit stew recipe and give it a whirl. I placed a call to one of my local grocers, who specializes in carrying wild game, to make sure they had some on hand. I had never had a problem ordering rabbit in the past, but after three days and still no rabbit, I gave in, settling for some organic, free-range chicken instead. I must say, I was pretty happy with the results, and I hope you will be, too.

9 whole chicken legs (preferably organic), skin removed
olive oil
flour, for dredging
2 md. onions, finely diced
3 leeks, cleaned and finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbl. rosemary, leaves removed from stem and roughly chopped
8 oz. baby Portobello mushrooms (or a mix of wild mushrooms)
1 c. chopped canned tomatoes
1/2 c. beer
1 c. unsalted or low-sodium chicken broth

Prepare all your vegetables; set aside. (Be sure to remove all the silt and dirt that tends to accumulate between the layers of the leek. This is most easily accomplished by slicing the leek in half, chopping it into pieces, then thoroughly rinsing the pieces inside a colander.) Season the pieces of chicken with salt and pepper; set aside. Prepare a large Dutch oven, or other oven-proof dish with a lid, with about 1/4 of an inch of olive oil on high heat. Prepare some flour onto a large plate and dredge each chicken leg, shaking off any excess flour. When the oil is hot, lightly brown the chicken on both sides, working in batches of about 3 legs at a time. Remove and set aside on a large plate.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lower the heat to medium and add the chopped vegetables and rosemary to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cook for about 4 minutes. Be sure to add a bit more olive oil if the vegetable mix becomes too dry. Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the tomatoes and beer. Allow the liquid to reduce for about 2-3 minutes. Add the broth and adjust seasonings to your liking. Place the chicken legs into the pan, spooning the mixture evenly over top. Cover the Dutch oven or dish you will be using in the oven. Place it into the oven and allow it to cook for about 1-1.5 hours. Serve with a side of rice or pasta of your choice, or even a simple, crusty baguette.

If you would like to try the rabbit version that inspired this dish, you can find the NYT recipe here.

Weekend Fried Rice

On the weekends, you may have to throw a fabulously complicated dinner party. However, most weekends are my time to “relax” a bit and not worry about getting the dishwasher unloaded from the night before, a load of laundry started, and escorting my son to school, all before 8:15 am! A leisure morning of pancakes and eggs, along with a late morning shower are all in order. I also don’t enjoy grocery shopping on the weekends. (Well, except for going to the farmer’s market!) And that usually leaves my fridge full of fantastic left-overs for lunch and a number of odd ingredients to throw together for an early evening weekend meal.

After an unusually warm January day in New York, filled with train rides downtown and afternoons spent in the playground, I was left with little time to throw together something for dinner. Luckily I had a few ingredients in my fridge, which allowed me to create a fantastic fried rice. It’s always a good idea to try to stock your pantry with a few items you enjoy, so when you are pinched with time, or mere idleness, you have the ability to whip up something easily that, at the very least, tastes fantastic.

I tend to stock my fridge with sweet peppers and fresh herbs and my pantry with coconut milk, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and various spices, such as cumin, curry, turmeric, and coriander. Most likely you have some left-over meat in your fridge, just waiting to be incorporated into a new dish. And if you don’t, no worries! You could always make a strictly vegetarian fried rice. The following recipe is what I had on hand today, but they are simply a guideline. Feel free to incorporate whatever you may have lying around your kitchen. And by all means, feel free to alter the amounts of each ingredient to your liking. I tend to put a splash of something here and there while cooking fried rice, without exactly measuring, so if you happen not to have a certain ingredient, you can always exclude or substitute it with another.

Yield: 4 adult dinner portions

1 1/2 c. jasmine or basmati rice
1 c. chicken stock
2 c. water
1 Tbl. butter, or oil
2 strips of bacon, heritage breed/organic preferred, chopped into very fine pieces
3 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 red bell pepper, preferably organic
1/4 c. frozen (or fresh) peas
8 oz. coconut milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. peanut oil
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. whole corianer seeds, ground
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
2 Tbl. organic, low-sodium soy sauce
splash of rice vinegar
small squirt of rooster sauce
large handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely

Cook the rice with the chicken stock and butter. You may omit the chicken stock if you prefer, however it does give the rice another nice element of flavor, which the water can not provide. Keep covered; set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare each of the above ingredients, setting them aside until you are ready to heat your pan. Preferably, use a wok, however, if you don’t own one, you can still prepare a delicious stir fry with a large skillet. Add about 1/3 c. of peanut oil, or other vegetable oil, to your prepared, hot pan. Once hot, add the bacon (Note: if you are using another type of meat, such as a left-over steak or chicken, add the meat in at the end, just to heat through.) and allow to cook on medium-high heat. After about 2 minutes, add the onion, garlic, ginger, and dry spices. Add the chopped red pepper and allow it to cook for 1-2 mintues. Add the coconut milk, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish, oyster, and rooster sauce. Once you begin to smell the aromas of the spices, after about 2-3 minutes, add the beaten egg, being careful to contanstantly stir it until it has incorporated nicely. Add the peas and green onions, and give the dish a good stir or two. Add the cooked rice and soy sauce. Stir to combine. Take a taste and add whatever seems to be missing.

And that’s it! A nice, simple, tasty dish to satisfy just about anyone after a busy weekend afternoon. Enjoy the weekend and happy eating!

Moussaka Made Easy

I recently ran across an article in the Dining section of the New York Times which piqued my interest. The recipe was for a relatively easy version of the Greek dish, moussaka. This Greek dish is one of my favorites to consume, but certainly low on my list of production, simply because it’s rather complicated and time-consuming. Sure, if I had a professional kitchen, like my daughter’s godfather has on one of the Greek isles in the Aegean, making moussaka would not seem as daunting. However, in my small New York City kitchen, it has remained a distant dish.

For those of you unaware of what exactly moussaka is, it is a casserole of minced meat and sliced potatoes and eggplant, with a generous helping of thick bechamel sauce on top. It’s certainly not the healthiest of dinner options, but it tastes divine and is a fantastic, stick-to-your-ribs winter dish. The following, simplified recipe is more of a shepherd’s pie than an authentic moussaka, however, it still stays pretty true to its original tastes. My Greek husband was actually completely silent while he consumed this dish the last time I made it, and he had second and third helpings. Need I say more?

Most farmer’s markets are still selling various types of eggplant, so feel free to combine a few different varieties. I used ground beef, however, ground lamb works just as nicely and adds another dimension of taste. Just be sure to drain a bit of the fat off that will accumulate when cooking the lamb, as its fat content is higher than beef.

Yield: 6-8 main dish portions

4 small eggplants, halved and sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 lb. potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 c. whole milk
4 Tbl. unsalted butter
2 large eggs, preferably organic
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (you could also use Greek kefalotiri cheese, if it is available)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 lb. ground beef or lamb
1 lg. red or yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 dried bay leaves
3/4 c. ground or crushed can tomato
1 Tbl. sugar
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
3 Tbl. bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat
olive oil
salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the chopped eggplant into a colander and sprinkle with some salt. Allow the eggplant to sit for about 15  minutes, while the moisture inside the eggplant begins to be released. Drain off any excess liquid that accumulates. Arrange the eggplant onto a baking tray, and toss with enough olive oil to generously coat all the pieces. Add about 1/8 c. of water to the bottom of the pan, but be sure not to add too much water, or else the eggplant won’t roast properly. Place the eggplant into the preheated oven, and allow to roast for about 30-40 minutes. Occasionally shake the pan, so that the eggplant pieces don’t bake hard onto the tray. Once the eggplant is cooked through, remove from the oven and set aside. Turn down the heat to 400°F, or, if you prefer, shut off the oven and reheat right before you begin to assemble the moussaka in the baking dish.

Place the peeled, chopped potatoes into a large pot, filled with water about an inch above the potatoes. Add about 1 Tbl. of salt. Set aside.

As the eggplants roast in the oven, add the chopped onion and garlic to a large sauté pan with a good glug or two of olive oil on medium-high heat. When the onion and garlic begin to soften, after 2-3 minutes, add the ground meat, breaking the meat into small pieces as it browns. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato and sprinkle the sugar over the mixture. Add the bay leaves. Stir together. Lower the heat to low. Cover the pan and allow to gently simmer. After about 10 minutes, you may need to add some water, about 1/4 c. at a time, to the sauce, as you don’t want it to thicken too quickly. The sauce should be ready in about 20 minutes, however, if you have the time, allow it to cook longer, about 30-40 minutes, so the flavors meld together more. Turn off the heat, and stir in the roasted eggplant. Quickly beat in one egg, so it doesn’t begin to cook separately in the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley.

While the sauce cooks, start boiling the pot of water with the potatoes. You may want to cover the pot to get it boiling more quickly, but once it begins to boil, remove the cover and turn down the heat slightly. Whisk one egg, the milk, and 1/2 c. of the grated cheese together in a small bowl. Set aside. After about 15-20 minutes, the potatoes should be soft enough to easily poke a fork through. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then replace back into the pot. Add the egg/milk mixture, along with some salt, pepper, the ground nutmeg, and the butter to the cooked potatoes. Mash together, making sure not to leave any large chunks of potatoes. Cover; set aside.

Using a 9-10″ square baking dish, pour in the meat and eggplant sauce, making sure it coats the bottom evenly. Spoon the mashed potato mixture evenly on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 c. of cheese and the bread crumbs over the top. Place in the oven, and after about 30 minutes, when the top has browned nicely, remove. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

This dish keeps well in the fridge, and honestly, tastes good cold, at room temperature, or hot. Kind of like pizza, I guess. But that’s just my opinion. I have prepared the moussaka completely, and then, because of time constraints, left the baking for a couple of hours later. You could always make a much larger portion and freeze half for a later time. There’s nothing like knowing in the back of your head that an entire dinner awaits you in the freezer, saving you tons of time and energy. And I know we could all use that once in a while!

I hope you enjoy this dish as much I do. Feel free to let us know by posting a comment or writing to us at: twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com   Happy eating!

$8 Meals: Whiting Fish

What?! A fish dish for $8 dollars? Yes, you read correctly. There are numerous types of fish which are relatively unknown and unpopular and, therefore, very easy on the wallet. Take, for instance, whiting. It’s always sold whole and has a somewhat ugly physical appearance, which, at first glance, turns the average fan of those denizens of the deep to the opposite side of the fish counter. Their loss; your gain. Whiting is absolutely delicious, and a good choice for someone who is inexperienced in cooking whole fish, as there are very few bones to deal with. Whiting has a very interesting, triangular backbone, which pulls away from the meat of the fish easily after it is cooked.

Whechoosing a fish to buy, always look for visible signs that the fish is fresh. Just because you are told that the store received the fish in the morning, doesn’t always mean that they are as fresh as they could be. For instance, the eyes should be clear, without looking cloudy, and blood in the eyes and around the gills is also a good sign that they are fresh. Of course, the fresher the fish, the less “fishy” it should smell, so feel free to ask for a sniff before you buy.  I have yet to see a farmed whiting being sold in the supermarket, so rest assured that you will be buying a wild and sustainably caught fish. At my local fish monger, whiting comes in at $3.99/pound. For a family of four, two large, or about four small whiting will work nicely as a main dish, which usually amounts to about $6-$7. I always ask for the insides to be cleaned, and leave the head and tail in tact.

If you happen to be a whole fish cookery novice, do not fear! Once you do it, you may never go back to cooking those dried-out fillets of fish ever again. Not only is cooking a whole fish a less expensive option, as the price per pound is much less than a fillet, the meat also tastes better, as the bones release a delicate flavor and help to cook the fish from the inside out, saving you from having to concoct a fancy sauce to replace some much-needed moisture. Also, the meat  retains all its natural juices, producing a moist, succulent fillet. You can stuff the cavity of the fish with just about anything you fancy. I tend to add slices of garlic and whatever fresh herbs I have lying around in the fridge.

Usually I make some sort of rice dish to accompany the whiting, such as a mung bean and rice combination. However, if you prefer, you could simply make a salad and serve it along with some fresh bread. I hope you take this opportunity to try what may be to you a new fish and a new cooking method. We would love to hear your comments. You can always post a comment directly onto this post, or write to us at: twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com  Happy eating!

Yield: 4 main course portions

two 2.5-3 lb. whiting (or four 1 lb. whiting), cleaned with head and tail in tact

handful of fresh herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, parsley, or dill

2-3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 lemon

olive oil

pinch of dried oregano (optional)

salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to broil. In an oven proof pan or tray, place your fish upside down, with inside open. Sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper. Place the sliced garlic and herbs inside the cavity and fold the sides of the fish back down. Lay the fish on one side, sprinkling the outside with salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Splash a bit of olive oil onto the skin. Flip the fish over to the other side gently, as not to spill out the contents of the cavity. Repeat seasoning and oil. (With most fish, I usually slice the skin with two diagonal cuts to facilitate the cooking process, however, because whiting is such a small fish, and the skin is very thin, I do not perform this particular step.) Gently pour some water into the bottom of the pan, or tray, but do not pour directly onto the fish, as all your lovely seasonings will wash off.

Place the fish in the broiler. After about 2-3 minutes, open the broiler and check on the fish. If it has started to brown, baste some of the cooking juices onto the fish with a brush. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the fish. Allow to cook for another 3-4 minutes before flipping the fish over. I usually perform this task with a spatula and a spoon, but however you can accomplish this step while keeping the fish in tact, I say go for it! If there is not enough water in the pan (about 1/2″), pour some more water into it. You want to have some of those delicious cooking juices to spoon over the cooked fish. Allow the new side to cook for another 2-3 minutes, basting when the skin begins to brown and bubble. After another 4-5 minutes, the fish should be cooked through. Take a fork and insert it into the flesh. If it goes in easily, the fish is done.

A Toast to Roast Chicken

A roasted chicken does have the ability to strike fear in the hearts of some home cooks (or so I hear), perhaps conjuring up bad memories of a Thanksgiving turkey gone wrong. Roasting a whole chicken must be too time consuming for a typical week-night dinner. Or is it??? I’m here to tell you that it honestly isn’t! With a small amount of preparation, it is possible to whip up a chicken worthy of praise. Roasted chicken, with it’s crispy, golden skin, does look impressive, not to mention taste delicious. If you simply do not have the time to prepare a chicken during the week, consider preparing one during the weekend, as you can use the left-overs to make a delicious stock to add to other recipes you may be whipping up during the rest of the week.

You certainly get the most chicken for your money when purchasing a whole bird. Next time you are at the store, check out the price per pound on those boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are so popular today. You may be shocked to find that the price could be triple the amount per pound as a whole chicken. Plus, if you think about it, the chicken is less processed, meaning less handling by factory workers (or preferably, farm hands on a local farm!), chopping and de-skining your cuts of meat. Typically a whole chicken can feed four adults nicely, so it makes a lovely entertaining dish, as well.

Feel free to use whatever vegetables you prefer as an accompaniment. However, I tend to use a variety of potatoes that are available at the farmer’s market on a given week, along with some chopped carrots, and some whole garlic cloves. If you happen to have a half-eaten bag of baby carrots lingering in your fridge from the last playdate you hosted, feel free to toss them in instead. I have used baby carrots when roasting chicken on numerous occasions, with fantastic results.

I have used numerous spice combinations, when dry-rubbing my chicken pre-roasting, to much success. It ulitmately depends on your tastebuds and perhaps the season you are roasting your chicken. In the fall, I tend to use a bit more nutmeg and allspice, and in the summer, I use more citrus, such as orange and lemon zest. Happy roasting!!

1  3-4lb. whole chicken, preferably organic, giblets/neck removed, rinsed, patted dry*
2 Tbl. butter, cut into small chunks
6 cloves garlic, left whole, unpeeled
1/2 lemon
1 Tbl. ground cumin
2 Tbl. salt
1 1/2 Tbl. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. dijon mustard
small handful of fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, dill, rosemary)
olive oil for rubbing
12″ kitchen twine for tying the chicken’s legs together
water

For the Vegetables:
10 small (or 4-5 large) potatoes, such as blue, red, yukon, etc.
15 baby carrots, whole (or 3 large carrots, halved, and chopped into 2″pieces)
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
salt, pepper to taste
1/3 c. olive oil
fresh or dried herbs, such as oregano and rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350° F. After rinsing the chicken with water, inside and out, place onto some paper towels and thoroughly pat dry. You want the skin to be as dry as possible, since you will be dry rubbing the spice marinade onto the chicken. Place into a large roasting pan.  Sprinkle the cumin, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you desire, onto and inside the chicken. Rub the spices into the skin slightly. Place the lemon, garlic cloves, and fresh herbs inside the cavity of the chicken.

Cut the butter into 1/2″ cubes. You will now slide your finger under the skin of the chicken on top of the breast, near the legs. You want to open a small hole where you will slide the pieces of butter between the skin and the meat. Once under the skin, you can move the pieces of butter where you like by pushing it around from the outside of the skin. The breast meat has a tendency to dry out more quickly than the dark cuts of meat, and the butter provides extra moisture and a fantastic element of taste. (I mean, what doesn’t taste better with butter???)

Once the butter is in place, cross the chicken’s legs together. Take the kitchen twine, which can be found in just about any grocery store or butcher’s shop, and wrap it around one of the legs one time. Then, using the opposite end of the twine, start wrapping both legs together in opposition to the other end of twine, two or three times. You will then want to either knot the strings or tie them in a bow.

Pour some olive oil over the chicken, making to sure to coat the entire bird. Measure about 1 3/4 water into a liquid measuring cup. Whisk in the mustard, then gently pour into the pan. Place in the oven, and allow to roast for about 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes with a basting brush. Keep checking to see if there is enough water in the bottom of the pan each time you baste the chicken. You want the pan to have about 1/2″ depth of water at all times.

Once the bird is in the oven, begin chopping up all your veggies. Try to keep everything uniform in size, or the cooking time will vary too much between the pieces. Place all the vegetables into a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and some chopped fresh herbs, or a combination of dried herbs. Pour about 1/3 c. of olive oil into the bowl. Give everything a few good stirs and set aside.

After about 1 hour, remove the chicken from the oven. Arrange the vegetables around the chicken, and give the chicken another good baste. Gently pour a little water in the roasting pan if necessary. Place back in the oven, and allow to continue cooking for another 45 minutes to 1 hour. Occasionally stir the vegetables around while they are cooking, so as not to stick to the pan. When the potatoes and carrots are fork tender, and the chicken has reached an internal temperature of about 180° F (insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to take this reading), your “bird is cooked!” Allow to cool slightly and serve. If your day is anything like mine, however, you might not be able to roast a chicken after all the kids have been picked up, after-school activites finished, and the homework completed. Instead, roast the chicken and vegetables during the afternoon. Once the oven has been turned off, store your dish inside, which will keep it slightly warm so everyone will have a delicious meal at their fingertips when the key opens the front door. A toast to you…..roast chicken!

* If you do choose to use a standard, non-organic chicken, which tends to be much larger in weight, make sure to adjust the cooking time. An organic, 3-4 pound chicken will cook in about 1 3/4-2 hours, however, if your chicken weighs more, adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Beef & Eggplant: A Prelude to a Greek Summer

During the weeks leading up to my family’s departure to Greece every summer, I’m always inspired to cook dishes which will leave my home with those familiar aromas I so enjoy while I’m in that beautiful Mediterranean country.  One of my favorite aspects of the Greek cuisine is that it is very seasonal. For example, typical salads served during the summer months, like horiatiki, most commonly known as “Greek” salad, are replaced with salads like raw cabbage with carrots during the winter months.

Eggplant is abundantly available during the summer months, and it is incorporated into numerous Greek dishes. One of my favorite dishes to make, which incorporates this bulbous, perennial fruit, is a slow-cooked combination with chunks of beef, tomato, and parsley. Although this dish takes a few hours to complete, it really doesn’t require much labor on your part. You only need to plan ahead, allowing enough time to complete the meal before stomachs begin to growl, or at my home, howl.

This dish melts in your mouth, and it is a fabulous choice to serve for a dinner party. Pair it with a simple salad, or a summer vegetable side dish, such as broad beans or zucchini. I tend to eat this dish with slices of freshly baked bread and some feta cheese, but you could always make a side of rice or orzo pasta. It’s really up to you and the depth of bellies you must fill. Enjoy! And Viva Summer!!!

Yield: 4 main course meals

1- 1.5 lbs. organic beef stew meat, left in large chunks
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
20 oz. fire roasted crushed tomatoes (like Muir Glen brand)
appx. 1 c. water
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. olive oil

1 lg. eggplant (or 4-5 small eggplants), peeled, ends removed, and chopped in 2″ pieces
1 Tbl. sugar
1/2 c. olive oil (you may need slightly less or more)

Heat half the oil (1/8 c.) on medium-high heat in a large, oven-proof sauté pan. When hot, add the meat. (Be sure to season the raw meat slightly with salt and pepper, rubbing it in, which will aid in optimal seasoning.) Brown the meat on both sides, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Pour in the other 1/8 c. of olive oil, and give a good couple of twists of salt and pepper. Allow the onions to cook until translucent (about 3-4 minutes), then add the tomatoes, water,  and chopped parsley. Give it a good stir, cover, and allow to stew on very low heat for about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in another pan, on very low heat, add 1/2 c. oil and the eggplant pieces. Toss to coat the eggplant with the oil, sprinkle in the sugar, then cover and allow to cook slowly. Do not move the pieces too much or the eggplant with fall apart. You want the pieces to stay intact as much as possible. Allow to cook through, about 1 hour. Set aside.

About 30 minutes prior to the meat finishing on the stove top, preheat your oven to about 400°F. Place the eggplant pieces gently into the meat sauce. Place the pan on the lower third of the oven, uncovered, and allow to continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remember that pan handle will be hot after the oven! I recommend placing an oven mitt over the handle once you remove the pan from the oven. (I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten just how hot that handle was before I grasped it!)

Spring Fever: a quick recipe to maximize your outdoor enjoyment!

It’s that time of year again, when (finally!) the trees have blossomed, the sun shines, I no longer have to wear a down winter coat, and all I want is to be outside. I extend the afternoon at the playground as late as possible before I drag my feet to go home, start the baths, and begin dinner. I yearn for dining on the sidewalk, alfresco style. Of course, I usually regret making the decision to go out for dinner as soon as the water starts to slop all over the table, while small hands grab for ice cubes; crayons roll along the floor, landing under a neighboring table; and I have to scarf down my entire entrée in about 4 minutes flat, after the kids have been fed and before the check lands on our table. Hahaha! Yes, I do longingly admire neighboring tables, where couples leisurely sip at glasses of white wine and take their good old time to enjoy their food. Then, again, there’s nothing better than a sloppy kiss of marinara sauce from my two-year-old!

All right, I got a little off track there…… I was trying to admit that when spring fever hits, I want some dinner options at my fingertips that don’t require a good deal of time to prepare. I want to stay outside in the park for an extra hour, come home, quickly chop some produce, throw it all together, and have it on the table in about 30 minutes flat.

The following recipe is one I threw together in my head while walking home from the playground. And it definitely fits under the “spring fever” recipe category. I used turkey sausage, but if you don’t have it readily available to you, feel free to substitute pork or beef sausage. If you happen to live in the New York area, there’s a a lovely company, DiPaolo Turkey Farms from Hamilton, New Jersery, which sells really delicious sweet and spicy sausage. My favorite is the bag of sweet turkey sausage. And since turkey sausage has less fat than its pork counterpart, it gives whatever dish it’s incorporated into a slightly lighter feel.

Yield: 6 main course portions

1/2 box of pasta (farfalle, campanelle, fusilli, or gemelli all work nicely)
12 c. water (more or less depending on the size of your stock pot)
3 Tbl. olive oil
1/2 bag organic, frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 lg. yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 lb. ground turkey sausage
2 Tbl. butter
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper, to taste
lg. handful of chopped parsley

In a large, covered stockpot, bring the water to a rolling boil. Just before you are ready to add your pasta, throw in a few good shakes of salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Make sure not to overcook the pasta. You want it to be al dente, meaning that the pasta still has a slight bit of firmness when you bite into it. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat and add the onion and garlic. After just about a minute, add your sausage. While the sausage begins to cook, break it into smaller pieces with a large spoon. Give the pan some good twists of pepper and some dashes of salt. Add the thawed spinach (you could use fresh spinach, but the frozen variety takes less time to cook, allowing you more outdoor time!), give the dish a nice stir, cover, and allow ingredients to cook until your pasta is done cooking.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it from the water, being sure to reserve about 1/2 c. of pasta water. Add the pasta and reserved cooking liquid to the turkey and spinach. Stir in the butter, Parmesan, and chopped parsley. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Plate the pasta and sprinkle any additional cheese, parsley, and / or pepper you may desire.

And there you have it — dinner done quickly. Toss up a quick salad of chopped cucumbers, Kalamata olives, red peppers, and some feta cheese, and you are good to go. (And perhaps even squeeze in another post-dinner walk!)