Chicken with Spring Vegetables

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With a half a foot of snow outside, it seems impossible that spring is coming. But it always does. It may drag its feet while we wait impatiently, but it will be here. Eventually.

And I will be ready.

Here's a quick recipe to get you in the mood. Just a recipe, folks. It speaks for itself!

 Brown the chicken in a little olive oil and finish it briefly in the oven while you cook the vegetables and make the sauce. This step ensures the chicken cooks through perfectly, no pounding required. If you have a thermometer, be sure to test the centers for perfect results. Sweet spring onions look like scallions with fat, golf ball-size bulbs.

Chicken breasts with spring vegetables, mustard, capers and cream recipe
Serves 4

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 3/4 pounds total)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound asparagus, bottom ends trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 large (golf-ball size) spring onion, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 rounded teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons well rinsed capers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand a baking sheet.

2. Sprinkle the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. On a large plate, spread the flour and dredge the chicken in it until well coated. Shake off the excess.

3. In a large skillet over medium high-heat, heat the oil. Brown the chicken for 3 minutes on a side, or until golden. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 5 minutes for small breasts and about 7 minutes for thick breasts. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a breast should register 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

4. Meanwhile, return the pan to the heat and add the butter. Add the leeks and asparagus, and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the peas and stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a serving platter. Place the chicken breasts on top and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

5. Add the wine and cream to the skillet and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the mustard and capers. Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley.

Posted on March 8, 2018 .

Winter vegetable pie

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I'd like to stay under the covers in my pj's today.

Why? Because, baby, it's cold outside!

The howling wind kept me up for half the night and the single digit temperatures make me want to crawl into a cozy place and close my eyes. But that's just not me. The sun is shining. Let the wind rattle the windowpanes. I can always go into the kitchen and create a little more warmth.

Here's the comfort food of the day. Since I live in New England, I always have a lot of root vegetables at this time of year--some still left from holiday marketing--so this pie is a no-brainer. Unless you are diligent and make your own stock, skip the box of vegetable stock; most of it tastes like dishwater. You should have plenty of flavor from all the vegetables. Or you could use chicken stock if you are not vegetarian.

Curl up by the fire if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, and give thanks for the new year, the little increase of light every day, and the old-fashioned goodness of a pot pie.

Winter vegetable pie recipe   
Serves 6

3 large yellow (Yukon gold) potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup milk, heated until hot
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut up
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallion tops
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup (4 ounces) grated cheddar
Ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, a generous pinch of salt, and cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a skewer.

2. Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 1 minute to dry them slightly. With a potato masher, mash the potatoes while slowly adding the hot milk. Add the butter. With a wire whisk, beat vigorously until fluffy. Blend in the chives or scallions, parsley, and cheddar. Add salt and pepper.

Butter (for the dish)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large parsnips, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths
4 large carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 celery root cut into 1-inch pieces
2 turnips cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups (8 or 9 ounces) frozen pearl onions
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups water or homemade vegetable stock

1. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish or 6 ramekins.

2. In a small bowl, thoroughly blend the butter and flour until smooth.

3. In a large, flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the parsnips, carrots, celery root, turnips, frozen onions, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add 1 cup of the vegetable stock. Cook, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but still have some bite. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the baking dish.

5. Add the remaining 4 cups stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the butter and flour until smooth. Simmer for 1 minute. Add salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the baking dish.

6. Distribute large spoonfuls of mashed potatoes over the vegetables. Spread with a fork and, if you like, make a wave pattern with the tines of the fork.

7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the top is golden.

©2009-2018 Sally Pasley Vargas. Writing and photography, all rights reserved.



Posted on January 6, 2018 .

Mini-Shrimp Sandwiches, Swedish Style

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If you're still looking for a tidbit to serve on New Year's Eve, here is an easy solution.

In Sweden, raksmorgas, toasted bread topped with mayonnaise and piled high with shrimp, is a popular snack. Here, it’s miniaturized into a cocktail-size bite with zippy horseradish butter as the base with shrimp, hard-cooked egg, cucumber, arugula, and dill. You can buy thinly sliced, dense rye or pumpernickel bread in a brick-shape loaf at many specialty markets; Mestemacher is one popular brand. Be sure the jar of horseradish is fresh; the flavor deteriorates within a few weeks after opening. Buy shrimp already cooked and this hors d’oeuvre comes together quickly.

Now you've got something to nibble  with a glass (or two) of champagne. A toast to you! With thanks for reading regularly or sporadically. Wishing you a very happy and healthy new year, may all your dreams come true this year. (And that goes for any time you might read this, because as we all know, today is the first day of the rest of our lives!)

Enjoy, dear friends!

Open-faced Swedish shrimp sandwiches
Makes 24

4 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish in brine, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 slices dense rye or pumpernickel bread
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 handful of arugula
24 large cooked and peeled shrimp (about 1 1/4 pounds) sliced in half crosswise
3 to 4 sprigs of dill, snipped with scissors
1/4 cup drained capers
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook them for exactly 10 minutes. Transfer to cold water and crack the shells with the back of a spoon. Remove a strip of shell and let the cold water run until the eggs are cold. Peel them, dry on paper towels, and slice.

2. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, horseradish, mustard, lemon rind, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more horseradish, if you like.

3. Set the bread on a cutting board and spread each slice with about 1 tablespoon of the butter. Top with cucumber and arugula. Place 3 egg slices in a line on top, and set 2 shrimp halves on each slice of egg. Cut each slice of bread into 3 pieces and garnish with capers and dill. Serve with lemon.

Posted on December 28, 2017 .

Easiest ever chocolate gelato recipe

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If you want a wowzer dessert for the holidays, you've found one here. It's homemade! It's super chocolately! It's easy! AND you can make it a few days ahead of time. 

This dark chocolate gelato has the characteristic, no-holds-barred chocolate intensity of gelato. Milk, not cream, is the differentiating factor between ice cream and its Italian cousin. Because there is less butterfat to coat the tongue, the flavor pops. Another ingredient, corn syrup, behaves like invert sugar and helps reduce the chance of crystallization when freezing. A gelato or ice cream machine churns the mixture slowly and cuts the amount of air to keep the mixture dense and creamy, so it is less fluffy than ice cream. It also melts a lot faster than ice cream.

But enough science.  The best part of this gelato is that you can make it without a machine. Make the mix, which does not contain eggs, freeze until firm (overnight is best), and then cut the frozen slab into pieces. Whirl the frozen slices in a food processor. Pack the creamy mixture into a container and let it firm in the freezer for a few hours. Ecco la! You now have a frozen dessert to wow the senses.

Dark Chocolate Gelato
Makes about 1 quart

1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup dark, unsweetened, Dutch process cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chopped roasted almonds (for garnish)

1. In a small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of the milk and the cornstarch together until smooth.

2. In a large (6-quart) saucepan, whisk the cocoa powder and sugar together until blended. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the milk until smooth. Set the saucepan over medium heat and stir in the remaining milk, corn syrup, salt, and cornstarch slurry.

3. Stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 45 seconds to cook the cornstarch, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the mixture from boiling over. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until completely smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Cool to warm room temperature.

4. Line a 9-inch square pan (preferably metal) with plastic wrap. Pour the gelato mixture into the pan and freeze 6 hours or overnight, until firm.

5. Remove from the freezer. Transfer the frozen slab to a cutting board and let soften for about 10 minutes. With a large knife, cut the slab into 1-inch wide strips, and cut each strip into 1/2-inch slices

6. One-third at a time, process the frozen chunks in a food processor until the gelato looks creamy and no frozen chunks remain. Pack into a container, and continue until all the gelato is used. Press the top with a piece of parchment paper, and cover. Freeze for several hours, or until ready to serve. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer. If the gelato has frozen until hard, let it soften for a few minutes before scooping. Sprinkle with chopped almonds.

Posted on December 9, 2017 .

Cranberry French 75

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The French 75, popularized in the 1920’s, was the very first cocktail I tried when I reached drinking age, sipped in a posh New York bar. It was at the Hotel Carlyle bar (downstairs) Boy, did I feel grown up in my high heels and cocktail dress, even though I was all of 18 (the drinking age during the stone age.) Bobby Short was playing and singing--look it up guys--he was a legend.

The memory of this cocktail resurfaced recently when I was coming up with drinks for The Cranberry Cookbook.  I usually stick to wine, so I've been out of the cocktail loop for a while. But this cocktail is too good not to make for a special occasion. I love the tart cranberries (instead of the usual plain sugar syrup) with the lemon and gin. Just a little sweet, but not too much, and full of fizz.

We started off our Thanksgiving with a punch bowl of this cocktail, and I can tell you, even the gin haters were impressed. It's not too alcoholic, but it will give you a pleasant buzz, just right for a holiday party. We more or less multiplied the still ingredients to make punch and poured in a magnum of Prosecco just before we served it, floating some lemon slices and cranberries on top.  Fun and sparkle in a bowl! 

Cranberry French 75
Serves 1
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) gin
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) cranberry syrup (see below)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) chilled champagne
Lemon twist
1 In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake the gin, lemon juice, and cranberry syrup.
2 Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with the champagne, and garnish it with a lemon twist.

Cranberry Syrup
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

1 In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cranberries and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the cranberries soften and pop. Cool to warm room temperature.

2 Set a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl and strain. Discard the cranberries. Transfer the syrup to a jar and store in the refrigerator. Cranberry syrup should keep for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator. But truth be told, I kept mine for way longer and it was still very good.

Posted on December 7, 2017 .