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December 2012

Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Chicken "Cacciatore"

Chicken_Cacciatore
A few days before Christmas, we were getting ready to go to the grand-parents’ house, and I needed to empty out the fridge. I looked through what I had in stock and got ready to make dinner, well aware of one other complication—my Jenn-Air oven still did not work. Therefore, I needed to come up with something that I could make on the stovetop.

I always shop as if the Mayans would be right (I often think it’s the end of the world, and can make Chicken Little seem like the paragon of calmness), so I had more than few things on hand that I needed to either freeze, or eat.

A chicken that I had bought earlier in the week was on the top of that list. I always have cans of peeled plum tomatoes in the pantry, so I first thought of Chicken Cacciatore. The thing is, though, that I have never had a Chicken Cacciatore that I liked. I looked it up online, and found out that Cacciatore means many things.

To the Pioneer Woman, it’s a dish with mushrooms, peppers, turmeric, and other spices. To Wikipedia it’s even more broadly based. I clearly needed a higher authority, so I consulted Marcella Hazan.

In her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” she describes this dish the following way: “cacciatore means hunter’s style, and since there has always been a hunter in nearly every Italian household, every Italian cook prepares a dish with a claim to that description. Making generous allowances for the uncounted permutations in the dishes that go by the cacciatore name, what they generally consist of is a chicken or rabbit fricassee with tomato, onion, and other vegetables.”

I was more than willing to add to the “uncounted permutations in dishes that go by the cacciatore name,” so I started to improvise. I also had in the pantry one red-bell pepper, one poblano pepper, and three large leeks. I used those, and as everything came together in the pot, as I caught the scent of the peppers, leeks, and wine cooking down, I realized I had a good dish going. I didn’t want to mess it up by adding too many ingredients, so I left out the tomatoes. And thus the Everything But the Kitchen Sink “Cacciatore” was born. I put “Cacciatore” in quotes, because without tomatoes, it probably doesn’t qualify as that kind of dish, but I want to pay tribute to its origins.

Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Chicken "Cacciatore"

  • One 3-4 pound chicken, cut into pieces
  • Flour for dredging
  • 3 leeks, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 red-bell pepper, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried thyme, or to taste
  • 1 cup chicken or turkey stock

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan, heat a bit of olive oil.

Dredge the chicken pieces in flour and brown then in the pan, working in batches if necessary (don’t crowd the pan), and set the chicken aside once it is browned on both sides.

If there is a lot of fat in the pan, pour some off before starting the next steps.

Sauté the leeks and peppers until they soften a bit.

Add the garlic, and cook another minute or so.

Add the wine and cook another thirty seconds or so.

Return the chicken to the pan.

Add the stock and the thyme and bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce to a simmer.

Simmer about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Note: I served it over pasta and with a side of Broccoli Rabe, and I took some of the greens and put them in the bowl, as in the photograph above. The bitterness of the rabe was an nice counterpoint to the relative sweentess of the peppers. 


The Strange Case of the Pinotage

WinePinotage
Recently, I received a gift credit to Lot18, a specialty wine-sale site. I like wine well enough. I have my tastes, and they lean towards Spanish reds and New Zealand Sauvignon blancs. Partially this is because of cost, and partially this is because of cost. Let’s just say that I’ve become very good at finding cheap wines that don’t embarrass the palate. If I had my druthers, of course, I’d be drinking Brunellos on weekdays and first-growth Saint-Émilion on Saturdays. Or vice versa. I think you get it.

So about that gift credit to Lot18. It was for $50, and I was excited to use it. I thought I might pick up a nice bottle of Bruenello, but with shipping charges, etc, and their policy of pairing wines, there wasn’t much I could find for $50. So I held on to it, until they ran a promotion, with a mixed batch of four or six wines for something like $40. I leapt at the chance. I didn’t really care what I was getting. I trusted them to send me something half decent.

Half is about right. I opened one the other night, a 2010 Pulpit Rock Pinotage. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pinotage before, and I doubt that I’ll be rushing out to have one again. The first night I opened the bottle, I found it sharp and strange. It was cutting on the tongue, and almost, I would have to say, a bit bubbly, but not in a Champagne dreams kind of way. The wine did improve by the following night, so maybe all it needed was a little air, and I started to wonder, “what is this pinotage.” Later, I discovered, according to wine-searcher.com:

Pinotage is a red wine grape that is almost exclusive to South Africa, although many South Africans shun the variety because of its polarizing, 'un-European' flavor profile and the care it requires both in the vineyard and the winery.

Created in Stellenbosch in 1925, Pinotage is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The 'Pinot' half of the name was given priority because of the prestige associated with Burgundy's great red grape. The 'age' part was taken from the end of Hermitage, one of several local names for Cinsaut; its position at the back end of the crossing's name reflects Cinsaut's lowly status compared to Pinot Noir.

Santa Maria and I don’t drink all that much wine around the house, but when we do, Nina and Pinta take a great interest in it. Maybe I should say that they take a great interest in whatever it is that I’m drinking. They always want to taste it, and I often let them put their finger in the glass. I've also started to teach them how to sniff the wine. That first night, taking their cues from my reaction to the wine, Nina inhaled and said “It smells like a Sharpie marker.”   


The Case of the Orphaned Pot Roast

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with big, one-pot dish on the weekends. Sometimes, such as with the Smoky Chili, the Mojo-Marinated Pork Stew and the Lamb Stew with White Beans and Turnip, it works out well, and sometimes, well, let’s just say that it just works out. Such was the case last weekend, when I made a pot roast for the first time.

A few caveats here: the first is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a pot roast before, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. The second, is that I hate beef stew, which, as I got deeper and deeper into it, I realize is very similar to a pot roast.  The last caveat is that I was suckered into this experiment by a picture on a blog, and not just any blog, but this very blog that I run. Let me explain. The picture is in this post here, which was written by a friend of mine, another neighborhood dad who made the pot roast look easy and delicious. A week or so ago, I was flipping through Stay at Stove Dad, and I came upon that post. The picture, of a rich and caramelized piece of beef,  was just too enticing.

So I got started. I went to the Park Slope Food Coop for my beef. Bill, the man in charge of the meat there, waxed euphorically about the pot roast, and procured for me a nice cut of chuck, with the bone in the center, which he said was very important. He pointed me to a recipe he used, and had posted on the Coop’s website.

I needed something that I could cook on the stovetop, because my fancy-pants Jenn-Air oven is still, still, still on the fritz (despite repeated calls to the company and a local service shop, but that’s another story for another time). The recipe on the Coop’s site called for cooking the meat in the oven, so I consulted a few other recipes online and came up with my own.

Based on my previous experience with it, I turned to the smoked Spanish Paprika that makes my chili such a marvel. I used shallots instead of onions, and I added some gorgeous fingerling potatoes. Also, I threw in some carrots and some garlic, and a bit of red wine. It started off smelling rich and wonderful, but then something funny happened on the way to way to dinner—it took forever, as in seven hours, to get the meat tender, and I don’t exaggerate.

I think I took the instructions “to cook at a low heat” a little too seriously. I started it at 2 pm that Sunday afternoon, and the meat wasn’t tender until about 9 that night. It was too late for us to eat that evening for dinner, which was fine anyway. All my girls—Santa Maria included—pretty much spurned it all week.

I’m not really sure why they didn't like it. Though I hate beef stew, and this was suspiciously similar to it, I found the meat to be rich and delicious. The sauce was wonderful and savory, (though I would have thickened it up a bit if I was serving it to company).

Because we couldn’t eat it the night I made it, I put the whole pot in the fridge for a day. This allowed the fat to congeal, and I skimmed it off the top, making it a rather healthy dish. I ate it for lunch and dinner a number of times last week. It might have been orphaned by my family, but I adopted it as my own.

Pot Roast with Smoked Paprika

  • One 3-4 lb. piece of beef chuck 
  • 1 Tablespoon Smoked Sweet Paprika
  • 6-7 shallots, peeled and sliced lengthwise
  • 6 carrots, quartered and cut into 3-4 inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 6-8 fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2-3 cups chicken or turkey stock

Rub the beef with the paprika and some salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven outfited with a little butter, brown the beef on each side, about five or so minutes.

Remove the meat and set aside in a bowl.

Saute the shallots, carrots, and celery until the shallots are soft.

Add the garlic, and saute a few minutes more.

Add the wine and reduce.

Add the potatoes, the beef, and the stock, and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 3-7 (ha!) hours, or until tender.


Just Relax, and Try to Smile

Pumpkin_custard
I don't really had anything to report, other than to plead, suggest, insist that no matter what you are doing, you try to do it with a sense of enjoyment. Maybe it takes a bottle of Chimay (like the one my great brother-in-law gave me recently), or maybe it takes a bag of weed (not my thing, but, according to this New York Times Magazine article, a good thing for parents), but no matter what it takes, chill out and try, for the love of god, to have some fun, and don't stress out.

Last night, I didn't make the Pumpkin Custard (pictured above, as arranged by Santa Maria), but I did make the usual surefire hit Frikadeller. I even came home from work with a loaf of fresh bread to accompany it. But Pinta threw a temper tantrum, and insisted quite vocally, that she didn't want to eat it. In looking at my own upbringing and at my life, I realized that the most important thing for someone to feel is to feel safe, and to be able to express their displeasure. As Pinta stormed off to the couch and refused dinner, I let her go. Then I went to her and said, "It's okay if you don't like something. It's okay if you say so. I want to hear it." I saw her eyes move to the side in skepticism (a healthy trait), but I let it sink in.

She was still thinking that I would make her eat the Frikadeller (which, by the way, I have a couple of blog post to prove that has eaten before without protest, I didn't think to bring that to her attention). I let it go. I let all of it go. She relaxed. She calmed down. I talked to her about how when I was a child I wasn't allowed to say if I didn't like something. "Why," she asked. "I don't know," I said. "I had three older siblings, and a baby in the house when I was your age," I told her. "I imagine that my parents were tired and overwhelmed. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had three older siblings and a new baby in the house right now?" She couldn't of course, but I could, and I had some compassion for my parents. I had more for my daughter, and I let her express her displeasure, no matter how illogical.

I asked her if she knew why I wanted her to eat the Frikadeller. She did not. I told her it was my job to make sure she gets the things she needs to grow, and that Frikadeller are full of protein. This led to a discussion of what is protein and what is not. “Chicken,” she said, and “pear,” which, alas, is not. I said that protein is a building block of muscle. She started to parade around like a body builder. So we went back to the table, and went on with our dinner. I gave her a yogurt and I finished my Chimay, the whole tall bottle.


Broken Oven Mojo Marinated Pork and Black Bean Stew

Pork_shoulder_stew
As I mentioned recently, I’ve been cooking big one-pot meals on the weekend, and I’ve been eating them all week. Often, there’s still some leftover that I can put in the freezer. When the oven broke on Friday, I dipped into the stock of a Mojo-Marinated Pork and Black Bean Stew that I had on hand.

I first made this stew a few weeks ago because I had a big cut a boneless pork shoulder in my freezer that was getting in the way of things. At that time, my oven wasn’t working properly, and I wouldn’t have been able to cook it properly at a low heat (the oven was only going down to 350 at that point). So I looked for a recipe that I could do on the stovetop.

A while back, a publicist sent me Emeril Lagasse’s “Sizzling Skillets and other One-Pot Wonders.” In it, I found a recipe for Mojo-Marinated Pork and Black Bean Stew. It sounded delicious, and all I had to do was cut up that pork shoulder. Lagasse says in the head note, “Who can resist the quintessential Cuban flavors of citrus, oregano, and garlic with pork and black beans?” Good question, though I don’t know how Nina and Pinta did with it. I was not home the first night it was served, and I did find a lot of it leftover after that night. This was a good thing, I tell you. You want leftovers from a dish like this. They come in handy when the oven breaks.

Brooklyn-based Mojo-Marinated Pork and Black Bean Stew

  • 2 oranges, juiced
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 8 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed, plus 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano*
  • 3-4 lb boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1-2 onions, diced (about a cup and a half)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 poblano chile, diced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons red wine
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups dried black beans, cooked** 

Combine the orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, smashed garlic, 1.5 teaspoons of the salt, the ground pepper, and the oregano in a small bowl, and set aside for about fifteen minutes to let the flavors come together. Add the pork and toss to coat well. Transfer the mixture into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and close, squeezing out as much air as possible. Place bag in a shallow baking dish and refrigerate overnight, turning at least once.

Remove the pork and discard the marinade. Pat the pork dry and make sure to remove the chunks of garlic lingering on the pieces of meat.

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy Dutch oven, and working in batches, cook the pork until it is browned on all sides. Remove the meat to a bowl and set aside. Discard all but two tablespoons of fat in the pan.

Add the onion and sweat it for about five to ten minutes. Add the bell pepper, poblano, and minced garlic, along with 1 tablespoon of the cumin, 1.5 teaspoons of the dried oregano, and ½ teaspoon of the thyme and continue to cook until the onions are a bit brown.

Add the wine, stir to get any browned bits up off the bottom of the pan, and add the stock, and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add the pork and cover. Cook at a simmer for thirty minutes.

Add the remaining cumin, oregano, and thyme and stir to combine. Continue to cook on a low heat, partially covered, until the pork is tender, about 1 to 2 hours. Add the beans and serve over rice.

Notes:

*I bought fresh oregano, but lost it on way home from the store. Use fresh if you can.

**I don’t bother to soak black beans anymore. I just cook them in about three-times their amount in water until they are done, about an hour or two, depending on the age and temperament of the individual beans. For this recipe, I ended up using slightly less than all the beans in the end.

Additional Notes: About those beans. Lagasse says soak overnight and then add to pot about an hour or so before finishing cooking (after the 30 minute boil, when adding the last of the spices), and I suppose that would work well too.

Lagasse’s recipe calls for 1 cup of chopped tomato to be added at the end, but because of a miscommunication with Santa Maria, we didn’t have any tomatoes in the house. The dish is fine without them, but is probably better in the end. They are to be stirred in at the very end, just before serving. Along with 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro.

Obviously, the dish freezes well.


Broken Oven is Giving me the Hungry Blues

We interrupt this blog post to announce that my trusty Jenn-Air oven has completely given up the ghost. While it was limping along for a while with two operating temperature settings (350 and 375) that got us through Thanksgiving, it is no longer functioning at all.

Until I can get a repairman out to take a look at it, I’ll be limited to stovetop dishes. I’ve been down this road before (I’m thinking I’ll make this stovetop curry with pork), so what I can cook doesn’t worry me—paying to get the thing fixed does, however. In the meantime, I'l console myself with a little Charley Jordan. Here's his rendition of "Hungry Blues."

 


How Do You Get Kids to Eat New Things?

6a00e55503a4a388340163035b20c5970d
I was so proud of my lamb-and-turnip stew this weekend, but I knew before I served it that it would present a problem. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance that my Nina or Pinta would touch it.

I wanted to be able to enjoy the meal, and for me that means that everyone at the table is happy with what they are eating. So what was I to do? It seemed like I had two choices.

  • Go easy and be one of those short-order parents who reach for the fish sticks, hot dogs, or chicken fingers the minute there is conflict.

Or

  • Be a stubborn foodie who would stick to his guns, bring tears to his children, and stand tall behind his carefully crafted dinner.

Neither option seemed right to me, but there was no disputing that the lamb stew was going to cause my girls to turn up their noses. I just knew it. So I came up with an idea.

I’m a writer and I think in metaphor. I hoped my girls could follow along. They’re both interested in books and reading, so I thought I had a chance.

Before dinner I brought them both over to the living room couch. I squatted down to their eye level, and said that I wanted to talk to them about dinner. But instead of discussing food right away, I asked them, “Do you like to read?” They both said “yes,” so I continued: “And do you know how you learn to read bigger books? You try those that you might not understand. It’s the only way you can learn.”

They seemed to be following along so I went on, “Learning to eat is pretty much the same thing. You started with breast milk, then moved on to mashed up sweet potatoes and meat, and other solids, and then there was that time at my office cafeteria that you discovered that you liked salad. Well, tonight I made a lamb stew.”

At this pint Pinta started to look like she might cry, so I quickly explained, “You don’t have to eat any of it, don’t worry. If you don’t like it, I’ll get you some ham or something else.” She calmed down, and I kept going. “My job is to teach you to eat just like it’s my job to teach you to read. You see that big shelf of books over there,” I said, waving towards the stacks of books in our living room.

They nodded. “Are all of those books right for little kids?” I asked. “No, not all of them are,” I said. “But some of them are,” and want I want you to do tonight is to try the lamb stew. That means three bites or so. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. I wouldn’t make you read a book you don’t understand.”

Nina and Pinta took all this in, and they pretty much accepted it. When we sat down at the table, I gave them small bowls of the stew. They tried it, and in the end, I was right. They did not like it. I didn’t mind. I got them some ham, and we ate in peace. I’ll take that. How do you handle new foods and your kids? 


Turnip, Who Knew? A Response to Hedonic Adaptation

Turnip2
I’ve fallen into a good groove these days by cooking a big, one-pot dish on the weekends. This way I get multiple meals out of one session of cooking. Typically, these are stews and the like—things that use a cheap cut of meat and usually involve a large number of unattended hours at the stove. I have a few recipes—tagine, chili, coq au vin—under my belt, but I need new ones. So I’ve been looking around, and as it turns out, that can be good for a relationship.

This Sunday, The New York Times had an article about how to keep a marriage strong in the face of a common fact of life called hedonic adaptation—which more or less means that no matter how good we have it, we’re designed as humans to get bored. The article was actually called “New Love: A Short Shelf Life,” but I’m a glass-half full kind of guy, at least when it comes to the kitchen.

According to the article, there are ways to counter the risk of getting bored and falling victim to the wandering eye. “Injecting variety and surprise into even the most stable, seasoned relationship is a good hedge,” it says. “Key parties — remember “The Ice Storm”? — aren’t necessarily what the doctor ordered; simpler changes in routine, departures from the expected, go a long way.”

When I was looking for a new one-pot dish to make this weekend, I consulted a cookbook called “Tasty,” by Roy Finamore, who is a longtime cookbook editor. Finamore's tastes are pretty trustworthy, and I wanted to see what he had going for a lamb or pork stew. I found a recipe in his book for a white bean and lamb dish, with turnips in it. The turnips caught my eye. I love turnips, yet I usually only eat them on Thanksgiving.

I showed the recipe to Santa Maria, and she was skeptical of the turnips. She didn’t like them, she said, but she trusted me enough to try the dish.  And while I was inspired by Finamore’s recipe, I didn’t make the dish anything like his, other than some of the seasonings. He made it with lamb chops, put a breadcrumb crust on it, and finished it in the oven. I used leg of lamb (which happened to be cheaper), skipped the breadcrumbs, and did it all on the stovetop.

Boy, am I glad I made it. The turnips were a delightful surprise. Midway through the dish, when I browned them in the lamb fat they filled the kitchen with an unusual, mouthwatering aroma, and later as we ate the dish they added a rich dimension to the it. The best thing about them, however, was that Santa Maria discovered that she liked them. She went back for seconds, and sought them out in the pan. “Turnips,” she said the morning after, “Who knew?”

Lamb Stew with White Beans and Turnip

  • 3 lbs lamb for stew (I used boneless leg, which I trimmed of extra fat) cut into one to ½ inch cubes
  • Olive oil
  • 3 turnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 4 carrots, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus a few stems worth of whole leaves
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • One 28 oz can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups warmed chicken stock*
  • 2+ cups cooked cannellini beans**

In a large casserole, brown the lamb cubes in some oil. Salt and pepper them to taste. Work in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. After the cubes are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Check the amount of fat and oil in the casserole. If it looks like there is too much, drain some off. If it looks like there is too little, add some oil. On a medium heat, brown the turnip cubes. They will start white, and then pick up the color from the browned meat. They will smell delicious.

Once they are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside in the bowl with the meat.

Sweat the onions and the carrots in the casserole until the onions are just starting to turn brown on the edges. At least ten minutes.

Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for about a minute more.

Add the meat and turnips and turn the heat to high.

Add the wine, and boil off the alcohol.

Add the tomatoes and the stock and simmer on a very low heat, covered, until the meat is completely tender, one or two hours more depending on the cut.

Add the beans and cook about ten minutes more.

*I used turkey stock because that’s what I had around the house after Thanksgiving. Make sure there’s enough liquid to cover the meat as it simmers. The sauce will not be thick in the end (which was fine with Santa Maria, and hence with me). If you want a thicker sauce, consider making a roux, though I can’t rightly tell you when in the steps to do so.

**About the beans: I started with just over a cup of the dried ones (it was half a pound in the store) and I cooked them ahead of time in about three times their volume in water. I did not presoak them. I cooked them until they were done, about an hour, which was faster than I expected. You will probably need to allot about two hours for this step, but as I learned the rate at which dried beans cook can vary considerably.