Monthly Archives: April 2016

CHICKEN SPAGHETTI FOR ONE

When my wife is away for a while, I always bounce around the house at loose ends. One of my main challenges is to decide what to eat. Sometimes I will go to a restaurant, but feeling comfortable at a table for one is always a problem. Sometimes I buy a bunch of frozen dinners with the misguided, maybe even delusional, notion that I can lose some weight during Susan’s absence. The other alternative, cooking for one, is neither easy nor appealing. Still, this time I decided to cook something fairly simple that could be eaten as leftovers.

I had bought a chicken breast during my planning for meals for Susan’s trip, but I wound up not using it. So, needing to cook the chicken, I settled on a family favorite that could be scaled back from the usual crowd-pleaser.

When Susan’s mother and father were living on their East Texas farm, the many siblings and their children would often visit. The old-fashioned Southern comfort food, chicken spaghetti, was on the list of must-cook favorites. Mom Mom would often comply by cooking up a big batch. Her version included boiling a whole chicken to get a lot of chicken broth and shredded chicken. The recipe also called for Velveeta or American cheese. The finished dish fed a houseful of relatives.

For my home-alone effort, I wound up paring down the recipe and substituting ingredients including mild cheddar cheese for Velveeta.  I’m sure my friend, Jim, would want to add green chiles, and that would be good, too. It was fairly easy to make, and there was enough left over from the first dinner for the next night. It tasted good, but I am anxious for Susan’s return.

RECIPE

Mom Mom’s Chicken Spaghetti For One

Ingredients

  • boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 scallions including green tops, sliced
  • ½ green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 ounces mild cheddar cheese + more for topping
  • 1/3 pound dry spaghetti
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a large pot, cover the chicken with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat to low boil and cook for 3o minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and reserve the broth.
  2. With two forks, shred the chicken and set aside.
  3. Return the broth to the boil and stir in the scallions, peppers, and mushrooms. Simmer for 10 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still crunchy.
  4. In the meantime, make a blonde roux by combining the butter and flour in a small saucepan over medium low heat. As the butter melts, stir until  they form a smooth paste. Cook for another 2-3 minutes to get rid of any raw flour taste. The roux should be smooth and not browned. Pour in a few tablespoons of the stock mixture, stirring at the same time. Then add the tempered roux back to the broth. (This should prevent lumps)
  5. Add the grated cheese and shredded chicken to the broth mixture and simmer for 10 minutes until everything is heated through.
  6. While the broth and chicken are simmering, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until tender, about 10-12 minutes. With tongs, transfer the cooked spaghetti to the hot broth mixture and stir gently until well combined. If needed, use some of the cooking liquid to thin the broth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Ladle the mixture into a serving bowl making sure to include chicken, spaghetti, vegetables, and broth. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese and serve immediately. Enough for one with leftovers for a second meal.

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TAKE-AWAY CASSOULET

If you have ever made cassoulet from Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you know how delicious it is. You also know how laborious it is. You need to cancel all of your calendar for a week and take a couple of days off from your job. On the other hand, Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything says that cassoulet is not much more than pork and beans and that you should not be intimidated. I was looking for some middle ground for a dish that evoked the real thing without all of the effort.

The reason for my search was that my wife was going out of town to spend time with her sister who had been ill for a while. She (my wife) wanted to spend her time visiting and not cooking. She asked if I could make some dishes that she could take with her to warm up for evening meals. I agreed and then faced the challenge of making things that could be transported and that had enough variety so the two ladies would not turn to TV dinners. Of course, the proteins needed to be different, but it would be a good idea if the starches were different, too. Thus came the menu.

First dish was an old standby: ham, mushroom, and potato casserole. We had just had a new version a couple of weeks ago, and it was a big hit. My wife suggested that a redo of the recipe would be a good idea.

Ham, mushroom, potato casserole

Ham, mushroom, potato casserole

The second dish was something that I hadn’t made for a long time, my mother’s version of goulash. I’ve posted the recipe in the past. It is really not goulash, but that’s what my mother called it. It was one of her most successful dishes and was often requested by out-of-town family visitors. Ground beef and pasta seemed like a good idea.

Goulash. Just heat until warm and the cheese melts.

Goulash. Just heat until warm and the cheese melts.

Finally, beans are always a good choice for pot luck dinners, and  my cooking project was really a long distance potluck. A bowl of Texas red with beans sounded good, but that would be more ground beef and might be too much for sensitive digestive systems. My goal was to make a cassoulet that wouldn’t wear me about. The result turned out to be fairly easy and fast. Impartial diners will have to be the judges of taste.

Cassoulet ready for travel

Cassoulet ready for travel

RECIPE

Take-Away Cassoulet

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Great Northern beans
  • 3 slices pre-sliced salt pork
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced
  • bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 3 sprigs thyme, 2 cloves garlic, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves tied in cheesecloth)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable  oil
  • 1 pound boneless pork ribs, cut in 2 inch cubes
  • 1 pound lamb shoulder, bones removed and cut in chunks
  • 1 large bratwurst, cut in 1½inch slices
  • 6 ¾ inch rounds of packaged bulk sausage (Jimmy Dean or similar brand)
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup dry vermouth
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground bay (or 2 bay leaves)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup panko
  • ½ cup dried bread crumbs
  • ½ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Pick over the beans for stones and shriveled beans. Place in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, cover with water to a level at least 1 inch above the beans, and soak over night.
  2. In the meantime, cover the salt pork with water in a small pan. Bring it to the boil for 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Cut the salt pork strips in half lengthwise and then cut the pork into triangles. Set aside.
  3. In the morning, make sure the beans are covered with water. Add the prepared salt pork, onions, and bouquet garni. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a very low boil. Cook uncovered until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add water as needed so that the beans remain well covered.
  4. When the beans are done, remove from the heat, and let stand in the cooking water until you are ready to combine with the cooked meats.
  5. While the beans are cooking prepare the meats. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Then, in batches brown the pork pieces on all sides. Transfer browned pieces to a deep plate. Repeat the process with the pieces of lamb shoulder, bratwurst, and bulk sausage. Cut the browned sausage rounds into quarters.
  6. When you are ready to assemble the cassoulet, drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Return the beans to the large cooking pot. Add the beef broth, vermouth,  and enough of the cooking liquid to cover the beans. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay. Bring to the boil and add the pork, lamb, bratwurst, and sausage. Reduce to the simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Add more beef broth or cooking liquid to make certain that the beans are just barely covered. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then transfer to an aluminum container suitable for travel. If you have used whole bay leaves, remove them.  The liquid should just barely cover the bean and meat mixture.
  8. Mix the panko, bread crumbs, and parsley together and then sprinkle over the top of the bean and meat mixture. Drizzle with olive oil. Cool completely and then cover for travel.
  9. When you are ready to serve, remove the cover used for travel and place in the upper third of an oven preheated to 375°F.After 15 minutes, a crust should form. Break the crust with the back of a large spoon and reduce the oven to 350°F Continue to bake for 30 more minutes, breaking the crust with a spoon from time to time.
  10. When the cassoulet is heated completely through and the crust is well formed and browned, remove from the oven and serve immediately. Should serve 4 to 6 persons, easily.

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LEEK AND POTATO SOUP – VITA-MIX VERSION

My Vita-Mix is a new gadget that I have had a good time learning about. It is very efficient in chopping. Instructions call for using small volumes of food to chop. That is important because the chopped pieces are thrown against the sides of the container, and chopping stops before the food is turned into mush. That means that chopping large amounts of food requires several passes. That slows down the process, but still – 10 seconds to chop a cup of carrots is a remarkable efficiency. The big bonus is puréeing large volumes of soup into the smoothest dish one can imagine. You get to do both of those processes with the recipe for leek and potato soup. Actually, I think you could do the same thing with a food processor or an old-fashioned blender. For that matter, you could even use a knife and chop things by hand. But then it wouldn’t be as much fun.

RECIPE

Leek and Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 large leeks, cut into 1 inch slices, white and pale green parts only
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper

Method

  1. Set Vita-Mix controls to Variable and speed 3. Fasten the lid with the center cap removed. Turn on the machine and by cupfuls, pour the cut-up leeks through the opening. Pulse 10 times. Turn off the motor. Transfer the chopped leeks to a bowl. Repeat the process until the leeks have all been chopped.
  2. Repeat the above steps to chop the onion.
  3. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and onion, stir and cover. Sweat the vegetables until they are translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the potatoes, chicken broth, cream, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Use more if needed for taste. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 4o minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Remove from the heat.
  5. Cool the soup mixture until it is easy to work with. Remove the parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Then, in three divided portions, add the mixture to the Vita-Mix container. Make sure the top and top are well seated on the container. With the settings on “Variable” and “8” speed, process the mixture for 30 seconds until it is smooth. Combine the three batches. Reheat, garnish with minced scallion greens or chives if desired, and serve immediately. You may also refrigerate and then serve chilled. Makes about 12 cups.

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SWEET POTATO-APPLE HASH WITH POACHED EGGS

During our recent visit to Los Angeles we learned that our daughter and son-in-law have been on a “Paleo diet” for several months. My own bias is that the term is both catchy and bogus. That said, however, it has really been an effective diet tool for our family. The Angelenos have lost weight, and they both look trim and healthy. They say they feel better, too. Of course the diet excludes alcohol, breads, and desserts, so it is not too surprising that it seems to work.

While we were in LA our daughter made a breakfast dish from her diet menus that was fairly easy to make, healthy, low in calories, and delicious. Here’s my version using some leftover pot-roast as the protein. You could use whatever you like.

RECIPE

Sweet Potato-Apple Hash

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil (about)
  • ½ red onion,  1 inch dice
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled, 1 inch dice
  • 1 Gala apple, seeds removed, 1 inch dice (Use whatever variety is your favorite)
  • 1 cup pot-roast, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 large eggs

Method

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over a medium flame. Stir in the onions and cook until they are translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the diced sweet potato and continue to saute until the potatoes have softened and have begun to brown slightly, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the apple and cook for another 5 minutes until the pieces are slightly soft.
  3. Add the diced pot-roast and combine. Sauté another few minutes until the pot-roast is completely heated. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. While the hash is cooking, poach the eggs in salted, acidulated water. Drain the eggs on paper towelling. Plate the hash, top wth the poached eggs, and serve immediately. Serves two –  four if you are serious about your diet. .

 

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SANTA FE ARTS

There are many celebrities who live in Santa Fe or have a second (or third or fourth) home here. But there are many more non-celebrities who are potters, painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers who also live here. Even though they may not be household names, many of these artists are well known in their respective circles. They have clients from all over the world.

Recently, I have had a chance to get to know some of these very interesting people almost accidentally. My father was a wood carver. He worked in various woods and carved representations of many wild animals in natural settings. I inherited his collection, and one of the prizes was an elk head carved from walnut. The antlers were elaborately and intricately carved, so much so that it was difficult to figure out how my father was able to carve them. I took the carving off its resting spot on the wall in my study to show a friend. When I returned the piece to its hangar, it fell to the floor, and the intricate antlers were smashed into a dozen pieces. Fortunately I was able to find an expert in art restoration, Matthew Horowitz, who works with his father, David, at their gallery, Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa Fe. Matthew also has his own place, Revive Art Restoration. He has skills beyond his years and was able to restore the elk without a trace of the disaster. During my visits to the shop, I also got the opportunity to see some of his and his father’s work. They use gold leaf in extremely creative and beautiful ways. Some of their notable pieces are a gold-plated napalm bomb (real but deactivated), a giant roll of dynamite held together with gold barbed wire, and a gold-plated Kalashnikov (You might have concluded they are very much anti-war believers).

The restored wood carving

The restored wood carving

Matthew’s skill inspired me to find someone to repair a 1920s Santo Domingo Pueblo pot that had been broken during one of our moves. I found Heidi Loewen, who turned out to be a potter – really a ceramicist – of great skill as well as a porcelain restorer with experience in Europe and New York City. Heidi agreed to take on the project even though she is working on many commissions for her own original and beautiful pieces. During the repair process, Heidi has kept me apprised of her progress through a series of images sent by text message. After only a couple of weeks, Heidi let me know that the pot had been repaired. When I got to her studio to pick up the pot, my jaw dropped. The restoration was beautiful, and the many shards had been brought back together with the cracks completely hidden and the original charm of the bowl preserved. Just as with the elk, I was thrilled that I had discovered an artist who was clearly a professional. I visited Heidi in her gallery several times during the project. That gave me a chance to see some of Heidi’s work. She has beautiful pots, enormous plates, and many are finished in breathtaking gold. She also has a series of women’s shoes in all sizes ranging from Lilliputian to Brobdinagian. She clearly enjoys life and art.

Restored Santo Domingo bowl

Restored Santo Domingo bowl

 

My other encounter with visual artists was working with Vincent Faust, a sculptor whose medium is industrial metal. He shows his work at ViVO Contemporary Gallery on Canyon Road. Each year, the gallery sponsors a show in which local poets are teamed up with members of the gallery co-op. The poets write works inspired by the creations of the visual artists. Then there is the festive opening with the added touch of the poets reading their contributions. This year, I was fortunate to be teamed with Vincent. I wrote a poem about his bold and colorful piece made from industrial iron and coated in a brilliant metallic powder. The sculpture and the poem are both entitled, “Excision.””

EXCISION

Cut from steel.

Hammer, anvil, fire.

Pounded, twisted,

bent into a skeleton.

I gaze through ribs, thorax.

Chrome yellow, it will not

melt into the desert floor

like faded bones of

a frightened deer

or iris arc into the ochre cliff.

 

It stands firm, strong,

defiant against soft hills

forged in fire

on their own ancient anvil,

now dissolved into the arroyo

with each cool summer rain

or garlanded under velvet

of new snow until both

cascade – rivulets destined

for some faraway place.

 

It tests my strength:

I cannot lift it,

turn it in my hands,

capture hidden glints;

only look from a distance,

ponder meaning

hidden in

a lifeless shell

created by

a sentient being.

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CHIMICHURRI AND VITAMIX

Recently I celebrated my birthday. I was surprised when a big box came from my family. It turned out to be a gleaming Vitamix food machine. I can hear some of you asking, “What will the old goat do with that?”  It seems akin to buying $2000 skis for a duffer who only skis greens or a Sunday driver receiving a Ferrari. Still others are thinking that, after all,  its only a blender.  A Vitamix is way more than a blender – it has a full 2 horsepower motor with speeds up to 37,000 rpm and variable speeds between 12,000 and 24,000 rpm. It will grind up just about anything without a single whine. It  sounds like those are specs straight out of a Ferrari ad. Now if I can only learn to drive it like a Ferrari.

I spent the first day reading all of the manuals and recipe books. I definitely did not want to destroy the machine during its first outing in the kitchen. Then, I had to think of something to make. Creamed soups prepared in a Vitamix are supposed to be so smooth that they don’t require  straining through a sieve or chinois. Soups are definitely on my list of things to make, but I wanted something to go with the meal I had already planned: pot roast and roasted potatoes. Some sort of sauce seemed like a good choice. Salsa verde and romesco came to mind. One of my food blogger friends , writing with the title of Back Road Journal, had provided a great recipe for the Dominican sauce, wasakaka (Isn’t that a great word to say?). That struck me as very similar to one of my favorites, the Argentinian chimichurri that goes so well with roasted beef.

The Vitamix cook book didn’t have the recipe, but I found one to modify in the Joy of Cooking. For a first pass, the chimichurri turned out to be easy and flavorful, but I will probably add some tweaks for my next effort. If you don’t have a Vitamix, you can use a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until you get the right consistency, and be careful not to blend for too long.  Of course, you can always chop things by hand. You’ll just have to do it more finely. Also, there is a severe sensitivity to chiles in our household, so I usually omit them, but you can definitely mince some jalapeño or add some cayenne.

Finally, a big THANKS to all my family for such a thoughtful gift.

RECIPE

Chimichurri

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar (If you don’t have red wine vinegar, another vinegar will do.)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup parsley leaves, washed and stems removed
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves OR 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional or to taste)

Method

  1. Pour the vinegar and olive oil into the Vitamix container. Make sure the cover is in place. Set the speed indicator to High. Turn the machine on and process for about 15 seconds or until the vinegar-oil mixture is emulsified. Turn off the machine.
  2. Add the parsley, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne pepper. Set the speed indicator to Variable and Variable knob to 3. Make sure the cover is in place, turn on the machine and as you process gradually turn up the rate to 6. Process for 20 seconds or until the mixture is the desired consistency. Be careful not to over-process. Turn off the machine. Transfer the chimichurri to a bowl, adjust the seasoning if needed, and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

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SHAKSHOUKA

Disclaimer: This is not an authentic recipe for shakshouka. For one thing, it includes fried chicken. For another, it uses Swiss cheese. Also, I do not plan to take sides in the various controversies as to whether the dish should be viewed as Tunisian or Israeli or whether it should be viewed as a breakfast dish or served at an evening meal. I can only reaffirm that shakshouka is easy to make and delicious.

RECIPE

Shakshouka

Shakshouka

Shakshouka

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion,, chopped
  • ¼ cup diced carrots
  • ¼ cup diced celery
  • 6-8 miniature sweet peppers, sliced into rings
  • 4 medium crimini mushrooms sliced
  • ½ cup dry vermouth
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 8 ounces chicken stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground sage
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon powdered lemon peel
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
  • 4 eggs

Method

  1. In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron is perfect), brown the chicken thighs in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Drain off the rendered fat and transfer the pan to the middle of an oven preheated to 250°F.
  2. In a separate skillet, sweat the onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the carrots, celery, and sweet papers, and continue to sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the vermouth and continue to simmer until the vermouth has almost completely reduced.
  3. Stir in the tomato sauce, chicken stock, sage, thyme, cumin, and lemon peel. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken thighs from the oven. Cover with the sauce. Sprinkle with the grated Swiss cheese and return to the oven.
  5. When the cheese has melted, remove the pan from the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. Crack the eggs and place them in the spaces between the chicken thighs. Return to the oven and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the egg whites have set but the yolks are still runny. Watch carefully so that you don’t overcook the eggs.
  6. When the eggs are done to your liking, remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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