Monday, October 18, 2010

Cold Cure

"But mom, it's hot outside!"

It was nearly 100 degrees on a typical mid August evening. I had announced the night's dinner of chicken noodle soup and understandably, my moody pre-teen was not pleased.  Fast forward a few months; it is an 80 degree evening in October and autumn's first cold has settled in on the said pre-teen.  I waited for the formal request, but already planned to cook up a steaming bowl of mom's chicken noodle soup. Regardless of the weather this soup seems to cure allergies, fevers or indescribable funks.  

My mother makes a fantastic chicken soup, and reliably had a pot waiting for me whenever I returned home from college for winter break.  When I began cooking, it was one of the first soups that I was determined to master.  About five years and many recipes later, I am happy to offer my own recipe.  

Chicken Noodle Soup
Recipe created by: Lori Pierce
1 TB Grapeseed oil
1 large yellow onion finely diced
3 stalks celery,  chopped
3 medium carrots peeled, and chopped
2 cups cooked chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces*
2 quarts chicken stock
1 and 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
2 bay leaves
1 cup dried pasta noodles
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil.  Add the onion and stir.  Add the celery and saute until both the onion and celery have softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the carrots, stir to combine and cook 3-5 minutes.  Add the chicken, stock, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil skimming off any foam as needed.  
  2. Add the pasta noodles and cook until al dente; I use whatever leftover pasta noodles I have in the pantry, this time it was cavatappi which took about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and stir in the balsamic vinegar.  Serve and enjoy!
The curing power of this soup requires one final step; for the oldest a large hunk of country bread and cup of lemon zinger tea is required.  For the youngest, it is a bowl of the strained broth and well placed noodles, for me a nice dollop of siracha clears out the sinuses, and for the husband it is a bowl covered in saran wrap left in the fridge as a post homework  post homework. Regardless of the side or condiment, we feel fantastic after devouring a generous bowl.  

*If I am without leftover roasted chicken I liberally salt and pepper one whole chicken breast and bake it in a 400 degree oven until fully cooked.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

French Food at the Southern Table

Romantic and elusive; that's how I describe French cuisine.  With a minimal understanding of the flavor profile and techniques, I assumed that the creation of anything beyond French Toast  required a stint at Le Cordon Bleu, a quaint apartment that is food market adjacent and a Vespa with a basket full of fresh flowers.  I was quite discouraged until I came across French Fridays with Dorie Greenspan.  Each week Dorie guides foodies through her newest book Around my French Table  as she answers questions and reads various blog posts.  So, last week when a dear friend suggested taking our children to the museum,  I suggested that we continue our fall celebration by heading back to my house for a post-museum dinner with an attempted French flair.  Old habits die hard. 

Our first course was the tastey and unexpected Dijon Tart.  Had this recipe not been accompanied by a beautiful picture, I most likely would have lost my nerve.  Mustard as a main ingredient? To say I proceeded cautiously would be an understatement.  After enjoying a plate of fresh bread and cheeses, I presented my guests with this creation.  The taste?  Nothing short of amazing.  The delicate crust encased the fresh vegetables and fluffy egg and cream filling with elegance and ease.  As someone who rarely adds mustard to anything but a hot dog, this was the perfect dish to expand the palate.  

After an appetizer such as this a roasted chicken with vegetables seemed the perfect entree.  Like many new cooks, there was a time when I avoided whole chickens fearful of the whole 'cleaning' process.  Now I have roasted dozens of chickens and suggest one of two solutions: have your butcher complete the task for you, or purchase a free range organic chicken which usually has the inner parts safely packaged in a bag that you can pull out and dispose.  I'm so happy to have cleared this hurdle as a roasted chicken is a one pan dinner that is easy delicious and oh so beautiful.  For years I followed a recipe for all of my chickens, however I now fly solo with the following.

Roasted Chicken 
Recipe created by: Lori Pierce

  • 1 5-pound Free Range Chicken
  • 1 lemon cut into fourths
  • 2 yellow onions, 1 cut into fourths 1 thinly sliced
  • 1 head garlic cut in half and left in the skins
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf broken into pieces
  • 4 carrots peeled and sliced into thirds
  • 4-5 yukon gold potatoes cut into fourths
  • 3 TB unsalted butter, softened
  • dry white wine
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Take a deep breath, clean the chicken and place into a roasting pan.  Liberally salt and pepper the chicken inside and out.   
  3. Stuff chicken with the lemon and onion wedges, garlic, rosemary and bay leaf.  
  4. Rub the chicken with the butter being careful not to tear the skin.  Scatter the carrots onions and potatoes around the bird and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
  5. Pour white wine into the roasting pan; I use to fill the bottom of the pan by about a quarter of an inch.  This is depending on your taste. 
  6. Roast for about 45 minutes before you start checking the chicken.  It is fully cooked when you pierce the leg and the juices run clear, or when it registers 180 on a meat thermometer. (I like to take the chicken out at 165 degrees as it will continue to cook during the resting period.) 
  7. Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a cutting board, cover with foil and allow to rest. 
  8. Toss the vegetables in the roasting dish and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes more roasting time.
  9. Once the vegetables come out of the oven, uncover and carve the chicken.  Serve and enjoy! 
This meal was a backdrop for a fantastic evening.  The children continued their playdate by painting what I'm sure are French Impressionists portraits, the adults enjoyed some wine and conversation before we all gathered around the table. It seems that Dorie's French Table transitions well to my Southern table.  

*For the Dijon Tart and other fantastic recipes, I encourage you to purchase Dorie Greenspan's  Around My French Table available via My Loves on Amazon.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Date Night In

Sometimes the best way to be a good parent is to take a break.  The husband and I make every effort to have an evening to ourselves on a biweekly basis. This is our date night; a time to focus on each other and momentarily allow playdates and science projects to fall by the wayside.  Our date nights are usually spent at the least family friendly restaurant available.  This week, however, we were  presented with the most rare occurrence; an empty house.  Wanting to bask in the precious peace and quiet, we decided to bring date night in.  Not wanting to destroy the serenity with a huge project and disastrous clean up, I turned to my dear Ina Garten and discovered her recipe for Mussels in White Wine.   Not only is this recipe easy, but it is on the table in 45 minutes.  Grab a bottle of wine, pull out some cloth napkins and the dining room is now a French Bistro.

Mussels in White Wine:
recipe created by Ina Garten
3 pounds cultivated mussels (my fish monger graciously picked through several sacks to give me three pounds of live mussels.  Although this will add some time to you're shopping trip, you will avoid paying for mussels meant for the trash.)
1/3 cup AP flour
2 TB unsalted butter
2 TB good olive oil
1 cup shallots (about 5-7 shallots)
1 1/2 TB minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
1/2 cup San Marzanno Tomatoes
1/2 tsp. good saffron threads
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes*
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 TB fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good white wine
2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
  1. To clean the mussels, place them in a bowl with 2 quarts of water and the flour and soak for 30 minutes, or until the mussels disgorge any sand.  Drain the mussels, then remove the 'beard' with your fingers. If they're dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water.  Discard any mussels whose shells are not tightly shut. 
  2. In a large non aluminum stock pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.  Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine, salt and pepper.  *(It was at this stage that I added the red pepper flakes; a bit less French, a bit more French Cajun). Bring to a boil.
  3. Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all of the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom.  Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot.  
We sopped up the broth with a fresh baguette however, it truly screamed for a side of linguini.  Offering shellfish rather than the usual comfort food instantly made this dinner an occasion.  What more do you need on date night?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Power Lunch

I love lunch food; creamy soups, hot sandwiches or a gorgeous salad.  I do, however, rarely find time to indulge in such dishes in the middle of the day.  My lunch often consists of a few slices of cheese and some fruit eaten behind the wheel of my car.  This all changed once I combined a farmers market find, a google search and some siracha.

Purple Hull Peas and Sweet Potato Greens
My southern side of the family is extremely superstitious; if you dream of the same person three separate times you contact him/her immediately.  While at the Farmers Market I saw Purple Hull Peas, a vegetable I was completely unfamiliar with, at three separate stands. I felt obligated to purchase a bag. At the next stand, I bought my arugula and was offered a bag of sweet potato greens at a 20% discount.  Bargains and superstition? Now that's the South!

Lori's Power Lunch:
This is a meal rich in vitamins and fiber with a generous amount of protein.  
Purple Hull Peas:
1 TB grape seed oil
1 medium onion
1-2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 pound of purple hull peas
2 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Stemmed rice (I prefer brown rice stemmed in chicken broth*)

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until softened stirring occasionally, about  3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 1 minute.  Add the hull peas and stir to combine.  Add enough water to cover peas by 1-2 inches.  Add bay leaves and a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.   
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower a simmer.  Simmer over low heat uncovered until beans are tender, about 45 minutes. 
  3. Drain the cooking liquid and remove the bay leaves. Adjust seasonings as needed. 
  4. Serve over rice with a generous dollop of siracha.  Enjoy an afternoon energy boost that encourages you to kick into headstand, meet your deadlines, or see your child's point of view. 

Sweet Potato Greens:
I love salad, but can get a bit bored with the usual mixed greens in a vinaigrette.  These warm greens satisfy the salad craving with an autumn twist. 
1 TB grape seed oil
1 half red onion
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 bunch sweet potato greens, stems removed
soy sauce
  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large saute pan.  Add the onion and cayenne pepper and saute until softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the sweet potato greens.  Using tongs, toss the greens in the sauce pan until evenly coated with onions and seasoning.  
  2. Add soy sauce* to taste, for me this was about 1-2 splashes.  Serve warm.  
Easy and economical, lunch is no longer an inconvenience! 

*Note: this dish is easily made vegetarian by steaming rice in water or vegetable broth in place of chicken broth.  Also, those using these recipes for a gluten free diet will need an appropriate substitute for the soy sauce.  Visit Whole for select brands. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sunday Comforts

Friday dinners are a time to celebrate, but Sunday dinners are a time to savor.  Sunday dinners are more reflective and more relaxing than the weekend kick off enjoyed a mere 48 hours prior.  I enjoy them not only for their change in pace, but their dictated cuisine.  While Friday evenings are a time for culinary experiments and new dishes, Sunday dinners demand the best in comfort food.  With this thought in mind, I'm sharing a recipe for chicken pot pie.  Remember the chicken pot pie from our childhood?  A gummy crust filled with gray pieces of chicken, mushy vegetables, and a glue-like gravy?  Not today.  This dish brings together your fresh vegetables, cornbread, and roasted chicken all in a savory gravy you will scrape up with your fork.  

Chicken Pot Pie with Cornbread Crust
Recipe created by: Christina Ferrare (Oprah's favorite cook.... other than John Travolta )
Christina's recipe calls for rotisserie chicken, however I like to roast a few chicken breasts that I season, pound thin and slice into generous chunks.  I also prefer to parboil both the potatoes and carrots as fully cooking them runs the risk of mushiness.  Finally, since potatoes are readily available at the Farmers Market, I like to use fresh red or new potatoes with the skin on; the rusticity has never been better suited! 
1 TB Olive Oil
1 TB unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock, heated
2 cups cooked chicken
1/2 cup frozen sweet peas
1 potato, diced and boiled
1 1/2 cup chopped cooked carrots
1/2 tsp salt
Cracked pepepr
Dashes of Tabasco Sauce
3/4 cup white or yellow cornmeal (I prefer stoneground)
3/4 cup AP flour
1 TB baking powder
1 1/2 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 TB canola oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 2 quart casserole with cooking spray.  In a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil and unsalted butter together. Add onion and saute until tender, about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add in flour until blended.  Slowly stir in 2 cups of heated chicken stock, whisking well. (Note: The chicken stock is the basis for your gravy; I recommend homemade stock or a high quality organic product.)   Cook mixture over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 4 minutes.  Stir in chicken, peas, potato, carrots, salt, pepper, and Tabasco.  Pour into the prepared 2 quart casserole.  
  2. In a bowl, stir cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  In a separate bowl, stir milk, egg and canola oil until well combined.  Stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Spoon the batter evenly on the filling.  Bake until the top is golden brown 22 to 25 minutes. 
This is the stick to your ribs meal you want on a Sunday afternoon.  Enjoy it with a salad, some good wine and good people and you will go into the new week ready to take on the world.