Hunter's chicken stew recipe

I hate to be all about the weather all the time, or as a friend once described her mother,  “weather dependent,” but baby, it’s cold outside. After a week of faux printemps in mid-January which was so very hopeful, our illusion crashed and we were smacked back to reality: the deep freeze of winter has parked outside.

That’s where this warming chicken stew comes in. Slurpy stews over rice, that’s the ticket when you can’t heat the house over sixty-six degrees no matter how high you set the thermostat. So bring on the soups, stews, hot chocolate, SmartWool socks, and long underwear. Winter is here for the duration, which means until at least mid-March.

This hunter’s chicken is an adaptation of a stew taught to me by my mentor chef Eugene Bernard. The name (chicken chasseur) presumably comes from the notion that after bagging a pheasant, or rabbit, or whatnot, hunters would gather mushrooms on their way home to add to the cooking pot. Bernard (a Frenchman) boned whole chicken legs with thighs attached, stuffed them with a sausage stuffing, and cooked them in a tomato mushroom sauce. I’m way too lazy to do that now, especially since this version is pretty straightforward and wiki-wiki in comparison. An Italian version of this same dish (chicken cacciatore) would include peppers and maybe some other vegetables, and the herbs would be oregano and basil, not tarragon. However you choose to prepare it, you can enjoy it in front of the fire, or sit, wrapped in a blanket, and watch your favorite thriller on television. Now you’re not just getting through winter, but reveling in its pleasures.

Hunter’s chicken
Serves 4

8 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), with skin and bone
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 teaspoons flour
1 can (15-ounces) whole tomatoes, crushed in a bowl
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1. With paper towels, pat the chicken dry. Sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper.

2. In a large, deep skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken thighs, skin sides down. Cook for 5 minutes on a side, until browned. Transfer to a dinner plate. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the skillet.

3. Add the mushrooms to the skillet, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until golden. Stir in the shallots, garlic, and thyme and cook for 3 minutes longer. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, and stock. Bring to a boil and taste. Add more salt and pepper, if you like.

4. Add the chicken pieces to the skillet. Decrease the heat so that the sauce simmers, and cover with a lid. Cook for 25 minutes, or until the chicken juices run clear when pierced with a fork. Sprinkle with parsley and tarragon.

5. Arrange 2 thighs on each of 4 plates and surround with sauce. Serve with rice, if you like.


Roasted beets, pears, and blue cheese holiday salad recipe

Cuz I love you. Cuz Christmas is around the corner. Cuz not everyone reads The Boston Globe where this was published last week. Cuz now I have to go back to last minute baking, shopping, wrapping, and you probably do too. 

May your days be sunny and bright
May your hearts be happy and light
Merry Christmas everyone!
(from Gene Autrey's album Merry Texas Christmas)

Salad of roasted beets, pears, blue cheese and watercress
Serves 8

Crisp bosc pears in their russet skins hold their shape well when roasted, and pair beautifully with the sharp flavor of blue cheese.  Roast some beets while you are at it, add some dark green watercress, and you end with a colorful salad worthy of a holiday celebration.

4 tablespoons orange juice
5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and black pepper, to taste
9 tablespoons olive oil
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

Oil for the baking sheet
4 bosc pears, halved, cored and cut into 3/8-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red beets, tops and bottoms trimmed, and cut in half
2 orange beets, tops and bottoms trimmed, and cut in half
1 cup pecans
3 bunches of watercress, thick stems removed
4 ounces blue cheese, cut into thin slices

1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with foil. Have on hand a pie pan.

2. With a pastry brush, brush one baking sheet with oil. Spread the pear slices on it in one layer. Brush the tops of the slices with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pear slices are lightly browned and tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Let cool. 

3. On the second baking sheet, spread the beets. Pick up the edges of the foil to loosely enclose them in a package. Bake for 1 hour, or until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Open the foil and leave until cool enough to handle. Peel, and cut into wedges.

4. Decrease the oven heat to 350 degrees. On the pie pan, spread the pecans in one layer. Bake for 8 minutes, or until fragrant and toasted.

5. In a salad bowl or on a large platter, toss the watercress with half the dressing. Arrange the roasted beets and pears on top. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, and top with pecans and blue cheese. 


Gluten-free shortbread recipe

One of the things I immediately noticed about Jeanne Sauvage is the grace and resourcefulness with which she manages a long list of dietary restrictions. Jeanne, author of Gluten Free Baking for the Holidays, stayed with me a couple of weeks ago. We had a grand old time together talking shop and discussing the nerdy things that cooks like to discuss. After a few days with Jeanne, I realized that I’m eating on Easy Street. I blithely graze along eating as I wish. My only restrictions are self-imposed, in pursuit of balance and general healthy eating.

Food allergies, sensitivities, celiac: the list goes on and it is daunting. Jeanne and so many others like her must always be on guard. So with great humility, I now appreciate the good fortune of being blessed with a sturdy constitution. I also appreciate Jeanne’s excellent work in bringing well thought out recipes to those who otherwise would be deprived of the holiday treats so many of us take for granted.

Jeanne was here for a book signing, and baked some samples in my kitchen to take with her. Her rugelach, made with a rich cream cheese dough, rivaled the rugelach of memory from an Upper West Side bakery (now extinct.)  The chocolate chip cookies were buttery and crisp, just as I like them. I was, to be honest, a little surprised. Although I have baked all my life both at home and professionally, I have had pretty dismal results with my gluten free baking attempts. Gaining an understanding of ingredients takes time and meticulous testing. Jeanne has done her homework and then some. After meeting Jeanne and grasping her work ethic, I know I can trust that her recipes will deliver what they should. Jeanne left me with a package of her baking mix, which must have been the secret of my success with her shortbread (see recipe below.)

If I ever recover from the holidays (and I know I will) I want to try Jeanne’s jelly doughnuts, cannoli, panettone, ginger cake and, and, and…. In fact, I think these recipes would be even better spread out over the whole year.

Eat Boutique Market December 2013
Decisions, decisions
The Eat Boutique Market, the brainchild of Maggie Battista, was the venue for the book signing. It was a veritable smorgasbord of products from mostly local New England artisanal food producers: chocolates, teas, cookies, cakes, jams, sauces, wines, beer, and a cookbook corner. As holiday markets go, this one was stellar, with lots of tastings and a place to sit and have a snack or just regroup. It’s a definite ‘must go back next year,’ a one stop shopping spot for food gifts.

Still, as everyone knows, you can’t beat a good quality homemade gift of food. I leave you with Jeanne’s recipe for shortbread: scrumptious, crunchy and buttery, and suitable for pretty much any recipient on your list.

(adapted from Jeanne Sauvage, Gluten Free Baking for the Holidays)
Gluten free shortbread recipe 
Makes 16 shortbread wedges

Butter for the pie pan
3/4 cup/170g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup/100g granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar (gluten free)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/gas mark 4. Generously butter a 9-inch pie pan or tart pan with a removable rim. If using a fluted tart pan, make sure to thoroughly butter the edges and sides.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, salt, butter sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until the mixture looks like wet sand (this may take a few minutes.)

3. Turn the dough into the pan. Press it flat and evenly into the bottom of the pan (it should not go up the sides.) Cover the bottom of a 1-cup dry measuring cup with a piece of plastic wrap and use it to smooth and even the dough.

4. With a paring knife, cut the dough into wedges: first cut it into 4 equal parts, and then cut each quarter into 4 pieces. Prick with the tines of a fork.

5. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Carefully re-cut into wedges. Leave in the pan until completely cooled.

6. Store in an airtight tin for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar, if you like.


Roasted applesauce

The first time my friend Julie came over and opened our refrigerator, she almost started to cry.

“A baked potato!” she yelled.

“Huh?” What was that about? Her face, illuminated by the fluorescent shimmer of the interior of the fridge, was filled with an expression of longing that I could not fathom.

The potato was a shriveled specimen, wrapped in foil, a few days old. My mother was an uninspired cook. Leftover meatloaf, stringy pot-roast, gray-green overcooked peas were standard icebox occupants. Yet a plain potato moved Julie to the edge of tears.

Julie’s family was what we now euphemistically label as dysfunctional. Back then, when we were in high school, we understood implicitly that the whole lot of them was not just eccentric, but crazy. Lord knows what that poor girl had in her fridge.

Oh, the normalcy of a leftover baked potato.

As I sat eating a baked apple the other morning the memory of Julie popped into my head. The apple, warmed in the microwave and then topped with cold, plain yogurt, smushed and swirled together in the bowl, made the most pleasant of breakfasts. Hot and cold, sweet and tart, nothing fancy. Yet I seem to be the only one in my family who appreciates that particular pleasure. Leftover baked apples are the wallflowers of our fridge, sadly rejected and abandoned by foragers. They’re just so ordinary. So very plain and brown.

It dawned on me at breakfast that applesauce might be looked upon with a little more respect by the men in the family than baked apples because of childhood associations. When apples are baked with cinnamon and cider, the sauce takes on deep roasted flavors and makes standard applesauce seem pallid and anemic. I was sure it would entice them, and it did.

With all the feasting and special foods of the season, I know that when the hoopla dies down we will be craving something to soothe our palates and our souls. Today, I think of Julie and the baked potato, and I am grateful for simple, everyday pleasures.

I confess that I don’t normally like cinnamon in applesauce, but here I concede that it adds a welcome, warming undertone if you don’t overdo it (plus it’s good for you!) The cider cooks down and sweetens the sauce, so you needn’t add sugar. Use any apples you happen to have on hand. Some apples will take longer to cook than others. Consider this “recipe” as a guideline.

Roasted applesauce
Makes 4 cups

12 apples, cored
3/4 to 1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a 9- by 12-inch baking dish, arrange the apples. Fill the centers with cider, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake for one hour, or until the apples are very soft, almost bursting. Leave to cool briefly.

3. While the apples are warm, pass them through a food mill. Discard the skins and seeds.