Sunday, October 30, 2011

Really tasty, but really economical, chicken!

                Everyone's talking about the high price of almost everything lately.  And lots of companies are cutting back on hours, or cutting jobs entirely.  The news is full of examples of folks cutting back on expenses because of it all.
                That certainly doesn't mean you have to cut out everything you like to do.  Such as having friends for dinner.  Which is something I really like to do!  It may not be the filet mignon you might have had a year or two ago, but there's no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of your friends' company.
                I belong to a couple of cooking groups, and we generally share the responsibilities of the meal.  A while back, I had a group of friends over and everyone brought a course to share.  I made the main course and everyone loved it.  Guests contributed a couple of appetizers, a salad, a vegetable and dessert. 
                The dish I made for my dinner was one I had made a couple of times before, always with great success.  I am a big fan of dark meat chicken.   You can simmer it longer in seasoned broths or sauces, so that it soaks up all the yummy factor flavors.  Chicken breast meat would be way overcooked in the same amount of time.
                And in the interest of economy, you can't get much more penny-wise; chicken leg quarters are about one-third the price of hamburger meat.  This main course, even if you have to buy the herbs instead of growing them yourself, should be under $2.00 per person.  The first time I made it, I had read about a similar dish described in a review of an out-of-town Spanish restaurant.  I used Spanish chorizo and Spanish manchego cheese.  Last week, I used pepperoni and Parrano cheese.  The result was equally delicious, and undeniably a fraction of the cost. A nutty Gruyère would suit equally well. 
                And most of the prep can be done ahead. I cut up the potatoes and left them in cool water  I stuffed the chicken legs and tucked them in the fridge.  Then all I had to do was assemble the dish, and stick it in the oven an hour before we ate.  No basting, no watching.  How could it be any better?
8 chicken leg quarters
4 ounces pepperoni, thinly sliced
6 ounces Parrano, gruyère or Jarlsberg cheese, not too thinly sliced
3 lbs. red-skin potatoes, washed and cut into large cubes
1 large onion, cut in half from stem to root ends, and sliced
1 package fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cups dry white wine (or chicken stock)
1/4 cup (or as needed) extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
                Preheat the oven to 350o.  Rinse and dry the chicken pieces.  Run your fingers under the skin to separate it from the flesh.  Under the skin slide three pepperoni slices.  Under the pepperoni cover the flesh with slices of cheese.  (It's easier to put the pepperoni in first.  Trust me on this.)
                In a baking pan large enough to hold the chicken in one layer, spread out the potatoes  Add the onions, about 1/3 of the thyme and the bay leaves, and toss to combine well.  Place the chicken on top.  Tuck another third of the thyme around and under the chicken.  Pour the wine or stock evenly over the chicken.    Brush the chicken generously with the olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and plenty of fresh-ground black pepper.
                Cook for about an hour, or until the chicken is done through and a rich dark golden brown  Serve at once, garnished with the remaining thyme.   Serves 8.
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Friday, October 28, 2011

The way we look at fast food...

Here are two different views of how to look at the perceived problem of too much bad fast food for too much of the population.   Take a look at both of the articles and let me know what you think!

First, here's a view from Mark Bittman, who is one of my idols, saying that it would be just as easy and less expensive to make a nourishing dinner for four than to take them to McDonalds.

And then, on the other hand, here's a view from the blogger Adam Roberts, of the Amateur Gourmet, saying why don't we just let folks alone...they know what they're eating isn't good for them but they aren't about to stop.

Which side of the fence are you on?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Yum! Mark Bittman's Date and Bean Salad

                 I really heart Mark Bittman.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s a food columnist for the New York Times, and in several previous columns I’ve referred to some of his work.  One of my favorites came from a 2009 column “101 Simple Salads for the Season.”  Here were his instructions: “Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro.”  I’ve made that so many times it is almost embarrassing.
                I recently picked up one of his books, “Kitchen Express” and the format was similar: no real recipes, just sort of chatty little paragraphs suggesting how to make something tasty, divided by seasons.
                I saw this dish, listed under winter recipes and thought how very “interesting” it sounded. (In my parlance that’s like saying “he has a nice personality.”)  
                Well, it was not only interesting, it was really delicious.  I did add the optional fillip of the crisped coppa (Italian cured pork loin) on top, and the tiniest splash of balsamic dressing on the greens.  Coppa or another option, prosciutto, can be found in most supermarkets, packaged, very thinly sliced.
                I served it as a side salad for dinner, but it is pretty hearty.  It would make a great luncheon main dish, or as a brunch side to an egg casserole of some sort.  Doubled, it would serve six to eight as a main dish.
                If you’re not a bacon eater, you could leave it out, but you might compensate for the loss of the smoky taste by a goodly pinch of Spanish smoked paprika. 
                You could easily make the salad a bit ahead and warm again slightly just before serving.  We had a bit left, and I had it for lunch the next day, and I still would have happily served it to guests.  There’s always room in my repertoire for a dish like that!


4 slices good quality smoked bacon
2 15-oz cans cannellini or northern beans, drained
½ cup dates, pitted and chopped (or use packaged diced)
6 very thin slices coppa or prosciutto (optional)
1 container arugula
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp good olive oil

                Cut the bacon into 1” pieces.  In a good sized skillet, cook until just barely crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain, and pour off about half the fat. To the pan add the beans and dates.  Warm on low for a few minutes, stirring around a bit.  When ready to serve, put the bacon back into the pan and heat it all together for another minute or two.
                Meanwhile, if you’re using the coppa or prosciutto, heat another skillet over medium high heat.  Put the meat in one layer and cook, turning once, until just crisp. Put on a paper towel to drain.
                In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and oil. Add the arugula and toss. The dressing will very lightly cover the greens.  Divide the greens among six plates and top with the bean salad.  Perch the crispy coppa or prosciutto on top and serve.  Serves six as a generous side or first course salad.