Posts tagged chicken

Snow Day

Last Wednesday morning I shuffled to the window in my robe and slippers, took one look at the fat, drippy snowflakes swirling around outside, and immediately gave myself a snow day. It was the morning after my birthday, after all, and as a child of February I figured I deserved it. So while thick piles of snow quickly covered the brownstones, trees, and sidewalks outside my Brooklyn apartment, I huddled under a blanket inside. I passed the hours drinking tea, watching Lost, and checking my work email here and there. When I finally finished lazing around on the couch, I made my way over to the kitchen and started cooking.

Cold, snowy days call for slow-cooked comfort food, and as soon as I heard the weather reports earlier in the week I began planning the perfect snow day dinner. I wanted something warm and rustic, a dish to make us forget the chilling winds and falling flakes outside. Florence Fabricant’s Chicken Baked with Lentils, a recipe I had saved for just such an occasion, came to mind immediately, and I made sure I had all the ingredients on hand before the snow started falling.

In this recipe, chicken thighs are nestled in an earthy cloud of cumin-spiced lentils, pancetta, radicchio, and chicken stock. Piled into a baking dish or casserole, the mixture cooks away for a tranquil hour in the oven, the liquid slowly reducing into a saucelike consistency. Soon enough, the comforting aroma of baked chicken infused my apartment, and the snow seemed very far away indeed.

When finally pulled from the oven, the spicy lentils become a complex mix of smoky (provided by the pancetta), tangy (from the radicchio), and sweet (the onions), while the chicken remains moist and tender, absorbing the essence of the lentils in a more subtle way. Dominating this dish in terms of both flavor and quantity, the legumes retain a hint of firmness, and provide a supportive bed for the meaty chicken thighs. Together they’re a hearty, one-pot wonder of a meal, and if we’re lucky enough to have another snow day, I may even have to make this again.

Chicken Baked with Lentils (adapted from Florence Fabricant’s recipe in the New York Times)

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 thin slice of pancetta (less than 1/4 lb)
  • 4 chicken thighs, patted dry
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely chopped radicchio
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup of French green lentils
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water*

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or another ovenproof casserole dish. Add the pancetta and cook on medium heat until golden. Remove the pancetta and set aside. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the pot, skin side down. Sear until golden on medium-high heat. Remove from the pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove one tablespoon of fat from the pan and set aside. Pour out the rest of the fat and discard. Return the tablespoon of fat to the pan.

Add onions, celery, and garlic. Cook on medium until soft and translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the cumin. Add the radicchio, vinegar, and sage. Sauté briefly. Add lentils, stock, water, and cooked pancetta.

*I used 1 cup chicken stock plus 1/2 cup water because I cheated and used prepared chicken stock from a box. When I use commercial stock I like to dilute it a little bit with water. If you are using homemade chicken stock, feel free to use 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and disregard the water.

Return the chicken to the pan, bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for about an hour, checking on the lentils occasionally. Cook until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Lentils should be saucelike, but not soupy. Add more stock if necessary. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, then serve. Recipe serves 3 to 4 people, or 2 to 3 people with leftovers. Enjoy!

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Taking Stock of Chicken Stock

stock

For many years I couldn’t bring myself to make my own chicken stock. I relied on cans of low-sodium broth whenever a recipe called for it, sometimes employing a bouillon cube or two mixed with water instead. Due to fear or laziness—or maybe a bit of both—there was something about saving chicken bones in the freezer and having to “skim the scum” off a simmering pot of stock that made this project intimidating to me. I thought I’d try it someday, but in reality I found any reason I could to delay the project.

Then a year ago I read this post by the author Michael Ruhlman, and felt my cheeks grow hot with shame as he railed against the use of canned broth. I hung my head and vowed to change my ways. Well, in retrospect I must not have felt so badly, because it took me a full year to finally attempt my own stock.

After Jim and I roasted and feasted upon that grass-fed chicken from Grazin’ Angus Acres a few weeks ago, I threw the bones in the freezer and waited for a free afternoon to devote to stock-making. This past windy and rainy Sunday gave me the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and cook. I threw the chicken bones in my Dutch oven with a couple of chopped carrots, celery stalks, half an onion, a bay leaf, parsley, some fennel fronds, salt and pepper, and then covered it all with water. I used a recipe from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food as my reference, but stocks can be made with all sorts of leftover vegetables; there aren’t many rules. I brought the contents of my pot to a boil, quickly lowered them to a simmer, and kept my eye on the broth for the next two hours.

Other bloggers besides me have stated the truth: Making stock from scratch is easy. After lowering the soup to a simmer, there’s simply not much to do while it cooks. And although I diligently looked for the fatty scum to rise to the top, it never arrived. My broth simmered peacefully, filling my apartment with the comforting perfume of chicken and vegetables. After a couple of hours I carefully strained it from the vegetables and bones and figured out what to do next.

soup

I wound up using most of the stock that day, substituting it for water in a soup of kale, white beans, and crumbled chicken sausage. As I raised spoonful after spoonful of the hearty soup to my mouth, I focused on the broth, trying to see if I could tell the difference between it and the canned stuff. My homemade version was definitely a creamier, richer broth than I was used to; Jim and I both declared it a success. I was proud that I had finally put the effort into making my own stock and conquering my fear of the unknown. But I was also pleased that I knew exactly what ingredients went into my broth. There were no suspicious flecks of unknown herbs, and I was able to control how much salt went into it.

After I made the soup, I was left with about 2 cups of broth. I promptly stored my stock in the freezer, where it will wait for a future risotto or perhaps a pasta dish. I’d love to say that I’ll never use canned broth again, but I imagine I might break that vow one day when I’m in a rush. Just don’t tell Michael Ruhlman. 

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Dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

 

If you’ve read other descriptions of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, you might already be familiar with the photograph above. “Oh no,” you probably just groaned. “Not another post raving about this place and its raw vegetables on sticks.” Well, brace yourself: Last week I finally ate at Stone Barns, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful and creative meals I’ve ever had. And those vegetables on sticks? Through their farm-to-table freshness and the artistry of their arrangement, they encompass all that was wonderful about the experience.

Located in Pocantico Hills, New York, and headed by chef Dan Barber (also of Blue Hill in Manhattan), Blue Hill at Stone Barns is more than just a restaurant. It’s a farm, an ideal, and an artistic adventure. Every effort is made to prepare and produce food culled from its own land, which is situated on a vast Rockefeller Estate. (While most ingredients used in the restaurant are produced on the farm, not all of them are. For example, Blue Hill does not farm its own fish.) Along with our friends Keith and Gabriella, Jim and I explored the farm on Saturday afternoon, intrigued by its greenhouses, herb gardens, and pastures of sheep and turkeys.

We returned later that night for dinner, and were immediately embraced by the soaring, wood-beamed ceilings and golden lighting of the main dining room, located in a sprawling stone dairy barn. As we perused the tasting menu, we realized that it was simply a list of the ingredients available to Chef Barber that evening. Beyond this list, our group had no idea what lay in store in store for us. We threw up our hands and surrendered to the experience, although we were encouraged to tell the wait staff a bit about our food personalities and preferences so that Chef Barber could personalize our tasting.

After a few nervous shrugs and glances between us, Jim declared that we were an adventurous group of eaters. On the evening of our visit, the ingredients ranged from concord grapes, bok choi, and chanterelle mushrooms to Berkshire pork, wahoo fish, and grass-fed veal, among many others. We decided to indulge in the seven-course farmers’ feast tasting ($125 each). In response to our waiter’s inquiry regarding ingredients we preferred or disliked, Jim described his love for arugula, asking to see what Chef Barber could do with his favorite green apart from serving it raw in a salad. I added that I didn’t feel like eating soft-boiled eggs, and Gabriella said she was willing to eat less meat. The adventure had begun.

Then the amuse-bouche started to arrive, as exciting in their presentation as their flavors. Those raw vegetables elegantly perched on steel spikes were crisp, fresh, and simply touched with lemon. Tiny beet burgers, skewers of eggplant coated with pancetta and sesame seeds, bread with fresh butter, lard, and soft, smooth ricotta, were placed on the table in unending parade of farm freshness. And I can’t forget the face bacon, served to us with other Stone Barns cured meats. 

No, you didn’t read that incorrectly, I wrote face bacon. Made from the farm’s own pigs’ jowls, these small, crunchy bits of meat enthralled us to no end. We raised our wine glasses when ingredients were described as being “from the farm,” creating our own amusing drinking game in the midst of the abundance. Arugula quickly made its first appearance with the appetizers, infused into a cup of salt served with our bread. I should note now that Chef Barber conquered Jim’s arugula challenge throughout our meal, mixing this peppery green into grain salads and serving it wilted on the side of our entrées.

After being successfully lured in by the appetizers, the main dishes began. One after another, each dish was a visual and edible surprise. Delicate pieces of barely seared bluefin and wahoo fish started our feast. A vegetable called celtuse, its wide, ribbon-like strands mimicking fresh pasta in a sauce of pine nut butter and yogurt, was a favorite of the night.

I didn’t know what to expect in response to my soft-boiled egg request, but I soon found out: For one entrée, while everyone else enjoyed a farm-fresh (raise your wine glass now) egg dish, I received my own small serving of eggplant parmigiana with zucchini flowers sprinkled across the top. Later in the evening, Gabriella also received a personalized dish as a substitute for one of the two meat  entrées of Berkshire pig and chicken. Now that’s what I call personal attention.

The desserts were delivered in a continuous stream, including baked plums with crispy emmer; a dessert composed from juicy concord grapes; and a curious fruit called the paw paw. Just when I thought I’d had enough, our waiter wheeled out a cart overflowing with herbs and a glass teapot. He called it a tisane, and brewed us a soothing pot of lemon verbena and sage tea on the spot. It was one of the most beautiful displays of greenery I had ever seen.

At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, art and food intersect to create an enthralling and unique experience. I know it may sound pretentious to describe a meal in these terms, but for me, it was true. Every detail, from the beautiful porcelain plates decorated with plant and animal life, to the rustic candle holders, dark wood accents, and overflowing plant arrangements in the dining room coordinated perfectly with our abundant and beautifully plated farmers’ feast. Combined with Stone Barns’s practice of cultivating as much food as possible on their own land, everything came together to offer an extremely personal and artistic meal. That’s how those vegetables on sticks represent the Blue Hill at Stone Barns experience: fresh, honest, and creative.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, New York 10591  T: 914-366-9600. A five-course tasting is also offered for $95, and on Sundays there is a four-course tasting lunch for $68. Make your reservations one to two months in advance.

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More Memories of Morocco

Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey

A few months back I mentioned that Jim and I spent our honeymoon in Morocco. Over ten days we explored some of this North African country’s most amazing cities: metropolitan Casablanca; the marvelous maze of Fez; Marrakech and its bustling markets; the seaside jewel of Essarouia.

I also told you that our camera, with hundreds of pictures documenting our trip, was stolen on our way back to New York. I still have trouble talking about it, the loss is so sad to me. Now Jim and I rely solely on our memories and senses when talking about our honeymoon. 

One way we relive our trip is through food. Throughout the centuries, Morocco endured years of Arab, Spanish, and French rule, all of which influenced its unique cuisine. With its mix of exotic spices and culinary traditions, Morocco’s food is impossible to forget, and on two of our three anniversaries, Jim and I have celebrated by creating our own Moroccan feasts at home. (Last year we skipped town and went to the North Fork, which was fun in a non-Moroccan way, of course!)

While we were in Morocco, we began each meal with a selection of mezze. Mezze are small plates of food—some hot, some cold—served to stimulate the appetite. For our first anniversary, we devoted an entire Sunday to preparing our meal. We started with a cooked eggplant and tomato salad, another minty salad of cold cucumbers and tomatoes, and a dish of paprika-infused caramelized carrots. Last week our anniversary was on Wednesday, so we scaled down our celebration and made only two mezze when we got home from work. We threw together a tangy feta cheese, red onion, and cucumber salad, and we also whipped up some baba ghanouj, a creamy roasted eggplant and tahini dip.

Anniversary 2008Table with mezze and Tagine

One of Morocco’s most distinctive dishes is the tagine, a savory, slow-cooked stew. Classic tagines combine meat with fruit and spices. The word “tagine” also refers to the conical earthenware vessel in which the dish is cooked. While in Fez, Jim and I actually purchased one as a souvenir. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold a lot of food, so now we use it more as a serving piece and cook with our Dutch oven instead. Supposedly the use of Dutch ovens and slow cookers is growing more diffuse in Morocco as well. During our trip Jim and I tried many different tagines, with ingredients such as lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetables.

Anniversary 2006Anniversary 2006

On our first anniversary, our main dish was a traditional tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and artichoke hearts. Last week we chose to make a simple tagine of chicken with tomatoes and honey. We slowly simmered 4 chicken legs in a sauce of canned tomatoes, onion, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron, cooking it down until it caramelized, and adding honey at the end. The whole dish was then topped with toasted almonds and sesame seeds, resulting in a sweet, fragrant stew of tender meat and tomatoes.

So while we don’t have any photographs of our honeymoon in Morocco, we do our best to recreate it once a year. We’re planning to go back for our tenth anniversary, and hopefully next time we won’t lose our camera. Check back in with me in seven years…

Recipe for Djaj Matisha Mesla (Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey [first photo at top of post]; adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

  • 4 chicken legs, legs split from the thighs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes
  • salt (to your taste)
  • pepper (to your taste)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Put all of the ingredients except for the honey, almonds, and sesame seeds in a large Dutch oven. Cook gently over medium-low heat, covered. Turn the chicken occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly. Break up the whole tomatoes with a spoon as they cook. Cook for about 1 1/4 hours, or until the meat can be pulled easily off the bone.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and place on a plate. Continue to cook the sauce over medium heat until it thickens. This can take around 15 minutes. Stir the sauce as it begins to caramelize. Stir in the honey. Return the chicken pieces to the sauce and heat through. Serve the chicken hot, covered in the sauce and sprinkled with the almonds and sesame seeds. Serves 4 as a main course. Enjoy!

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Vanilla Beanery and Chicken: Pollo Papantla

Elaine Louise\'s Pollo Papantla

I first discovered my love for the vanilla bean about a year ago, when I made Jamie Oliver’s torta di more. His recipe required the real deal, not the small bottle of extract from my spice cabinet. After splitting the long pod and patiently scraping the seeds away from its skin, I was soon enthralled by its aroma and flavor. From that moment, whether I made torta di riso or panna cotta, I automatically reached for a real vanilla bean instead of extract.

Then last month I came across Elaine Louie’s One Pot recipe for pollo papantla in the New York Times. The article described a Mexican dish of chicken legs simmered in a sauce of orange juice, cider vinegar, garlic, cayenne pepper, and finally, vanilla bean. The recipe was adapted from Zarela Martinez of Zarela restaurant in midtown Manhattan. She advises that the dish is almost better on the second day, when the flavors have soaked into the chicken.

The vanilla bean was cultivated by the Aztec Indians, who used it to flavor their cocoa-based drink called xocolatl. It is native to tropical America and is produced by a specific orchid that opens only one day per year. Mature pods take almost a year to mature, and they then endure a 3 to 6 month curing process that includes a boiling water bath and repeated sweat sessions while wrapped in blankets. Their fermentation process sounds oddly familiar to a day at the spa.

From my past experiences I’ve found that these One Pot recipes make enough food to feed a small army. So instead of 6 chicken thighs I used 4, and I slightly reduced the rest of the ingredients as well. I cheated and used Tropicana instead of fresh orange juice; I just couldn’t deal with squeezing fresh juice from a sack of oranges on a weeknight after work. 

The chicken emerged from the pot sweet and smoky, browned and savory. By the second day the vanilla and citrus flavors had indeed sunk into the poultry’s flesh, leaving little extra sauce after I warmed up the chicken. In retrospect I probably didn’t need to reduce the amount of sauce in the recipe. While the chicken was not dry by any means, a little sauce to sop up would have been nice. Regardless, my little bean didn’t let me down.

Recipe for Pollo Papantla (adapted from Elaine Louie’s April 30, 2008 recipe in the New York Times)

  • 4 chicken thighs, legs split from the thighs
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 3/4 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 1/4 cups orange juice (no pulp)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped from the pod
  • chopped cilantro, for garnish

Rinse the chicken under water, then pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat canola oil in a large skillet or deep sided Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down, and brown on both sides. This takes about 5 minutes per side.

When chicken is browned, pour excess oil and fat from the pan. Sprinkle cayenne and a little more pepper over the chicken as evenly as possible, to your taste. Add garlic, sauté for 1 minute. Add vinegar, butter, and orange juice. Add scraped vanilla beans, and then add the pod itself. Stir all of the ingredients together.

Cook the chicken skin side up, uncovered for about 20 to 30 minutes. Baste occasionally with the sauce, which will gradually reduce into a thick glaze. Garnish with cilantro, and serve with tortillas or rice. If you are eating this the next day, warm up the chicken in a covered pot at 350 degrees in the oven for about 15 minutes. Serves 2-3 people. Enjoy!

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