Seared Zucchini with Beans

Despite having hosted our friends for dinner for many of the Saturday nights over the past 20+ years I still find myself stumped fair to regularly on what to make for dinner. As a result I will often add “2 vegetables” to my grocery list with no real plan and hope for inspiration while in the produce section. Here are the results from such a recent inspiration.

Seared Zucchini with Beans
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 3 zucchini, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 28 oz. can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend
  • 1/2 cup water.
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent; about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, stirring it into the onions and cook until fragrant, which should be less than a minute. Push the onions and garlic to the edge of the skillet.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and increase the heat to medium high. Add the zucchini and spread it out into a single layer. Allow it to brown on this side, untouched for 3-4 minutes. Now sprinkle the zucchini with salt and stir it to redistribute the pieces. Cook for another minute.
  4. Add the beans, spice blend and water. Stir everything together and cover. Reduce the heat to low and allow it to cook until the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Notes:
You can really use any type of bean here that you like. Hominy probably wouldn’t be my first choice but if you rinsed it then it would work.

If you don’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend you can mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 1 teaspoon of that and save the rest.

Buttered Farro

There are times when an improvisation turns into something you want to repeat again and again. This dish is one of the successes that I will continue to make once a month or so because it’s just that tasty.

It’s “origin story” isn’t very glamorous though. I realized I had some cooked farro slowly wasting away in the fridge as I was putting together the menu for one of our mostly weekly Saturday night gatherings. Since I hadn’t actually planned on making it part of dinner I didn’t pickup the additional ingredients necessary to make Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme. Luckily, a handful of pantry staples turned this from a bland grain into a flavorful side dish.

Buttered Farro
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes (if you have precooked your farro)
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the diced onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with oil and saute until translucent, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add the butter. When it is fully melted add the farro, paprika and spice blend. Toss until the farro is coated with butter and the spices are well distributed.
  3. Heat for about 5 minutes so that the farro is heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Serve.

Notes:
If you have fresh herbs such as parsley or chives on hand you could added a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs at the end of cooking.

Creamy Chicken Chili

My husband wanted to make corn bread and asked what we should have with it. I suggested chicken chili and then said I knew he wouldn’t really approve. Chili for him is a tomato-based dish and chicken chili, at least in my mind and creation, is not. So I’ll compromise and put the chili in quotes. Or you can call this a creamy chicken stew if you like.

I use chicken thighs in this dish because they are very forgiving if you over shoot the recommended 175°F temperature. Since they get cooked through, and then added back as shredded chicken, we can use the extra insurance.

Creamy Chicken Chili
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 2 Serrano peppers
  • ~4 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs (about 8), skin removed
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 lg. green bell pepper, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 lg. Spanish (red) onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken broth
  • 1×14.5 oz. can white beans, such as Great Northern, drained
  • 4 oz. room temperature cream cheese, cut into 8 cubes
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado, radishes

Directions:

  1. Char the outside of the poblano and Serrano peppers, either by placing over a gas burner or under the broiler in the oven, until well blackened on all sides. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 5 minutes.
  2. Trim excess fat from the skinned chicken thighs. Sprinkle generously with kosher slat and black pepper.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven over medium high heat until just shimmering. Add thighs to the pan, placing what would be the skin side down first. Do not crowd the pan, rather work in batches (it took me 2 batches). Cook ~4 minutes on each side then transfer to plate while you brown the second batch.
  4. Pull the Dutch oven off the heat and look at how much fat is left. Add or drain so that you have about 2 tablespoons of fat. Return to medium heat for about 30 seconds then add the onions and bell pepper. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to distribute and coat with oil. Cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent.
  5. While the onions/peppers cook slip the charred skin from the poblanos and Serranos. A paper towel can help in this. Try to avoid running under water, it washes off some of the flavor along with the charred skin. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Roughly chop the Serranos to match the garlic. Cut the poblanos into 1/4″ squares.
  6. Push the onions/peppers to the side of the pan and add the garlic, Serranos and poblanos. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute.
  7. Add the chili powder and stir until it coats the vegetables. Stir in the chicken broth. Nestle the thighs into the Dutch oven, submerging them as best you can. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
  8. Grab the largest thigh with tongs and check the temperature with an instant read thermometer. If the result is less then 175°F return the thigh to the pot, partially cover and cook another 5 minutes. Test again until the thighs are all at least 175°F.
  9. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add the beans to the pot along with the cubes of cream cheese. Stir to help the cream cheese melt. Reduce the temperature to low.
  10. Using 2 forks pull the chicken from the bones and shred it as best you can. Return the chicken to the pot as you complete each thigh. Stir everything together and serve.

Notes:
You may want to lower the temperature under the Dutch oven to medium-low before browning the second batch of thighs to avoid burning the fond in the bottom of the pan.

The leftovers, if any, could be used to make an interesting creamy chicken enchilada sort of dish.

Skillet Cod with Onions and Peppers Agrodolce

[roast-cod-agrodolce]This sounds pretty fancy however it can come together in 35 minutes. You can even make this a one-pan meal if you want, though two skillets are necessary to hit less than 30 minutes.

An agrodolce is an Italian sweet and sour sauce. I’ve added a flavor boost with some anchovy paste and a bit of sriracha. Neither is really noticeable with all the vinegar and sugar. They’d be missed if they weren’t there though.

Pan Roasted Cod Agrodolce
Servings: 2-4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30-40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
  • 1 red onion, cut int 1/4″ strips
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. anchovy paste
  • 1 tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 2 – 4 cod fillets (between 1/2″ and 1″ thick)
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick over medium heat. Add the peppers and onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss with the oil and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
  2. While the peppers cook combine the vinegars, sugar, anchovy and sriracha in a small bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Stir the sauce into the skillet until the onions and pepper are coated. Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to reduce and thicken, about 10 minutes.
  4. When the sauce is reduce transfer it to a clean bowl and cover it with a plate (or plastic wrap) to keep warm. Wipe on the skillet as best you can and return the skillet to medium heat.
  5. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Pat dry the cod fillets, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook for 4 minutes on the first side, carefully flip to the uncooked side and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The fillets should be opaque all the way through. An instant read thermometer will hit 140°F when the fish is done.
  6. To serve on your plate and place a piece of cooked cod on top. Tilt the pan and gather a spoonful of sauce, drizzle this over the fish. A bit of freshly cracked black pepper and a sprinkling from on high of sea salt will add a nice finish. I served it with a rice/quinoa I found in the grocery freezer section.

Notes:
If you want to dirty an extra pan you can cook the fish in a second skillet when the sauce has reduced for 5 minutes.

I have a small squeeze tube of anchovy paste that I use in dishes such as this. I picked it up in the Italian food section of my local grocery store and keep it in the fridge along with a tube of tomato paste. The great thing about paste in a tube is it will last longer because there is little to no air in contact with the unused portion. Plus it had a “good until” date of two years into the future so I don’t have to find 17 uses for anchovy paste in one week.

Chicken and Stuffing Bake

I appear to be on a streak of nostalgia led cooking. I remember having a dish like this on a retreat in my late teens. Simple food, prepared well, with a lot of flavor.

Every recipes I found online for “chicken and stuffing bake” put the chicken on the bottom, added condensed soup on top of the chicken and then piled the store bought stuffing on top of that. That did not match my memory or desire so I made it up as I went. Not bad for a first pass though I missed couple of things which I’ve corrected in the recipe.

This recipe has several components so I’ve written each component in its own section with a final set of directions at the end of combining everything together.

Chicken and Stuffing Bake
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 2 hours

Stuffing Ingredients:

  • 12-16 cups bread cubes (I used a mix of sour dough and multi-grain bread)
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. fresh sage
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 1 tsp. rosemary powder
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (chicken broth is OK too)
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Stuffing Directions

  • Preheat oven to 250°F. Distribute bread cubes in a single layer across 2 rimmed baking pans. Bake for 20 minutes, swapping the position of the pans halfway through.
  • While the bread cubes dry out heat the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the carrots, celery and onions, sprinkle with salt and stir to coat with oil. Cook for ~10 minutes until carrots begin to soften and onions are translucent.
  • Add the butter, herbs, and broth. Bring to a simmer, stir so the butter is spread throughout the vegetables and taste. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Set aside.
  • When the bread cubes are done transfer them to the bottom of a large casserole dish. Add the veggie mixture and toss combine. Spread evenly across the bottom of the dish and set aside.

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 8 oz. baby portobella mushrooms, sliced and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup milk (anything but skim)
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Sauce Directions

  • Put the mushrooms in a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes on high. Drain liquid from the cooked mushrooms and set aside. Careful, that bowl will be hot.
  • Heat olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat and add the shallots. Sprinkle with salt. Cook for 5 minutes until the shallots have softened and are beginning to brown.
  • Add the butter to the pan. When it is melted add the mushrooms and cook for another 5-10 minutes until they are browned. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms, stir until all the flour is moistened. Cook for about 1 minute to drive off the raw flour taste.
  • Add the broth to the pan and stir until combined. Add the milk and combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. The sauce will be slightly thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Set aside.

Final Ingredients:

  • 8 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Final Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Trim the chicken breasts of excess fat and cut in half across the middle of the breast.
  3. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Distribute the chicken pieces over the stuffing.
  4. Give the sauce a stir to reincorporate any “skin” that has formed on top. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces. Use a spatula to smear sauce over to top of the pieces.
  5. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking.
  6. Remove the foil and continue cooking for another 10 minutes to lightly brown the top of the chicken. Check the chicken temperature; they should reach 160°F when fully cooked.
  7. If possible, allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve directly from the baking dish and enjoy.

Notes:
My estimates for total time here assume you don’t mind having multiple pans on the stove at one time. If you’d rather do everything in a serial fashion (make the stuffing, then make the sauce, then assemble and bake) add an extra 30 minutes.

Savory Cranberry Sauce

I have a strong affinity for can-shapped cranberry sauce. The log of congealed super-sweetened cranberry juice, laid out on a plate, the ridges from the can intact, is a memory from my childhood that holds a special place for me. As I’ve grown older though I’ve learned that there can be more flavor in something made fresh, even if you use a frozen ingredient.

Savory Cranberry Sauce
Servings: about 3 cups of sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups roughly chopped red onion (about 1 1/2 onions)
  • 1 lb. cranberries (fresh or frozen, either is fine)
  • 1/2 cup honey.
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil to a large sauce pan and place over medium-low heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to coat the onions with the oil. Cook for about 10minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened. Lower heat if the onions start to brown.
  2. Add the cranberries, honey and lemon zest. Stir until everything is combined, raise the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Cook for ~20 minutes, again stirring occasionally. As the cranberries cook they will burst, releasing pectin into the sauce, which will help it thicken..
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste and add salt and/or pepper to your liking. As it cools the sauce will thicken. Serve warm or chilled; either works.

Notes:
You can use still frozen cranberries in this dish though it will likely take 5-10 minutes longer.

This will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Foil-pack Potatoes, Carrots and Onions

This recipe comes from my teenage adventures in Boy Scouts. Weekend camping trips often featured a Friday night foil dinner. Before leaving home we arrange thinly sliced potatoes and onions with a hamburger on top inside an aluminum foil pouch. We’d hike into the campsite, start a fire, set-up our tents and then place the foil packs on top of coals. 20-30 minutes later you had dinner.

I make this in the summer, when I don’t want to heat up the house any more than necessary. Some of the veggies get a little burn along the edges; folks jostle each other for those tasty bits.

Foil-pack Potatoes, Carrots and Onions
Servings: 8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Special equipment: 2 40″x18″ heavy duty aluminum foil

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into 1/4″ slices
  • 1 or 2 lg. onions, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3-4 springs fresh thyme
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Light your gas grill so that you have a hot side and cool side. Allow it preheat for 15 minutes (about the time it takes to assemble to foil package).
  2. Combine vegetables, oil and thyme in a large bowl. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and black pepper. Using hands toss ingredients until well coated with oil.
  3. Overlap the 2 pieces of foil to make a large plus-sign. Transfer the coated vegetables to the center of the foil plus-sign. Bring the two ends of the one piece of foil together and crimp the ends tightly around the vegetables. Repeat with the second piece of foil. You should now have a large foil package.
  4. Place the foil pack on the hot side of the grill. Close the cover and allow it to cook for 5 minutes. Flip the foil pack, cook again on the hot side, covered, for another 5 minutes.
  5. Move the foil pack to the cool side of grill, flipping once again. Cook for 20 more minutes, flipping the foil pack after 10 minutes.
  6. Now, if you are a trusting individual, transfer the foil pack to a large serving bowl and bring it inside. Let it rest for 5 minutes before opening and serving. Remove the thyme and, you know, a dollop of butter never hurt the taste of veggies.
  7. If you aren’t that trusting then carefully uncrimp the foil pack and check the donness of the vegetables. Then bring the foil pack inside cause you just found it was done. 🙂

Notes:
The number of onions you use depends on your preference.

You can leave out the carrots if you like or throw some other 1/4″ sliced root veggies in there instead.

Be careful when opening the foil pack, there will be a fair amount of steam built up inside. At a minimum it will fog your glasses, it could give you a nasty burn if you aren’t diligent.