May 7 – May 13, 2018
Monday: Pea, Dill and Rice Salad with Lemon Zest
Tuesday: Pasta with Pork Ribs and Tomatoes
Wednesday: Salad Niçoise
Thursday: Pan Roasted Chicken in Cream Sauce
Friday: Visiting cousin Marilou – Steak at Lib’s Grill in Bel Air, MD with cousin Mike, who had flown up from Atlanta.
Saturday: Cornerstone Restaurant after Mass with Beez
Sunday: Roasted Shrimp with Marinara Dipping Sauce
Rain is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals – Samuel Johnson
That last group of animals includes us, great white sharks and tyrannosaurus rex. You will note, however, that it does not include chickens. And last week during the endless rain and drizzling,* our thoughts, when not engaged in contemplating the need to build an ark, turned to chickens and the warmth and comfort of an earthy dinner.
Sam Sifton, in The New York Times Magazine provided another of my favorite chicken dishes – pan roasted with a rich cream and mushroom sauce. (I now have 123 favorite chicken recipes, which SWMBO says shows how indecisive I can be. I say it shows my tolerance and, perhaps, a bit of gluttony.) You can find our take on this recipe below.
It was another interesting week with a bitter-sweet trip to Maryland to visit my cousin Marilou, now in a hospice, and have dinner with my cousin Mike, her brother. Marilou was more chipper than the last time I saw her and, as always, very sweet to us and the staff at the home. Mike is one of my favorite people to have a drink and dinner with and we enjoyed ourselves in spite of the Washington Capitals fans who mobbed Lib’s Grill in Bel Air, Maryland.
Back home in the ‘burgh, and a bit tired after a long week, after we learned that Billy and Emily had jilted us for a David Byrne concert, Beez and I settled for just the appetizer we had planned for Sunday dinner. This appetizer – roasted shrimp with home-made marinara sauce for dipping – is so simple and good that we feel the need to throw it in as an extra. If you have some frozen shrimp in the freezer and a can of whole or diced tomatoes in the pantry, you can impress anyone who drops by with a great appetizer or dinner (just add a salad) any time.
*It is still raining and will continue to rain all of this week, which reminds me of the observation of that most dour of stoic philosophers: “The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.” – Eeyore
PAN-ROASTED CHICKEN IN CREAM SAUCE
(adapted from Sam Sifton’s recipe in the New York Times Magazine)
Sifton says that this recipe tastes of the Pacific Northwest and even Canada, in addition to France. To us it tastes like Parisian bistro food when you are in France on your honeymoon and its cold and raining, and life is so sweet you don’t care. And, in fact Beez and I were in Paris on our honeymoon. And it rained a lot – and that’s what it’s doing today in Pittsburgh, which ties all of this together in a very loose way.
Timing: 1 hour, if you’re quick and organized – 1 ½ hours, if you’re not
Ingredients: Serves 4
4.5 lb. Chicken (or thereabouts – don’t get one over 5 lbs., as small as 4 lbs. will work)
Note: Cut this chicken into pieces. I usually butcher into thighs, drumsticks and then cut the breasts in half. The wings I reserve for stock, but you can cook them as well. If you’re not confident about butchering a chicken, get the butcher at the store to do it, or simply buy a bunch of thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
12-15 morels or other wild mushrooms. Morels are difficult to find and very expensive. Packages of wild mushrooms in grocery stores are usually old. For this dish, I would use 8 – 12 oz. of baby bellas. Cut the large ones through the stem into quarters, smaller ones into halves, and leave the smallest whole. If you can find and afford morels, have at it.
1 ½ cups of chicken stock
¼ cup of cognac (important)
2/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup Madeira wine (Marsala is a decent substitute)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
Tablespoon of crème fraiche or Greek yogurt (we used regular full-fat yogurt, since that’s what we had – the point is to add just a note of tang to the creaminess – softened cream-cheese might work)
2 teaspoons finely chopped savory (we used fresh oregano – couldn’t find savory)
1 teaspoon of finely chopped tarragon
½ teaspoon of parsley for garnish
Kosher salt to taste
Butcher the chicken and wipe dry with paper towels, then season aggressively with salt.
Measure other ingredients and have them with reach when you cook – some parts of this recipe call for quick additions and stirring.
Heat a Dutch oven over the high end of medium high (or high, if your stove doesn’t have a high-btu burner) until hot. Swirl in the olive oil and when it starts to shimmer (which it will do quickly) turn the heat down to medium-high.
Working in batches (it will take 2 batches – you don’t want to overlap the chicken pieces), add the chicken pieces skin-side down and cook for about 15 minutes – until golden brown on the bottom. A little dark on the skin is ok, but turn the heat down or add oil if you see that the chicken is about to burn. Be brave – you want a dark, golden and crisp skin. Two batches of chicken will take about 30 minutes. Set the chicken aside.
Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat. (i.e., pour off the fat into a glass or pyrex and then add 2 tablespoons back into the pan.) Return the heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms and toss to coat them with the fat. Keep cooking, stirring often, until they begin to soften (no more than 4 minutes or so) and then remove the pan from the heat.
Here comes the Cognac! Add it and bring a match to the top of the pan – it will ignite with a whoosh. If that scares you, just let the cognac cook off. In either case, the cognac will cook off, leaving the mushrooms with a glossy look.
Now scrape the mushrooms to the side of the pan and add the chicken, skin-side up, in as close to a single layer as you can. Pour the chicken stock around the chicken – it should come to about ½ way up each piece (add more, if needed).
Lower the heat to medium and bring to a low simmer. Now put a lid on the pan and cook slowly until the meat has cooked through – give it 15 minutes and you should be good.
Now transfer the chicken to a platter.
Turn the heat back up to medium-high and allow the stock to reduce by 1/3 (maybe 6 minutes), then add the heavy cream and stir. Let this mixture simmer for another minute or two and start to thicken, then add the Madeira and swirl to combine.
Cook the sauce another 2-3 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon and then stir in the butter., the crème fraiche and chopped savory and stir to combine. Turn off the heat, add the tarragon, stir again and return the chicken pieces to the pan.
Spoon some sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Roasted Shrimp with Marinara Dipping Sauce
If you’re sore from cooking the chicken recipe (above), this recipe will be like taking a day off from cooking.
Timing: 30 minutes (Marinara can be made ahead)
Ingredients: Serves 6 as an appetizer – 2 for dinner
For the shrimp:
1 lb. raw, tail-on shrimp, cleaned and deveined (this is now available, frozen at supermarkets – get large shrimp – 12-16 count)
Juice of ½ lemon
Grated Parmigiano (maybe 4 tablespoons)
Note: If you like garlicky shrimp, add 2-cloves minced
For the marinara sauce:
1 28 oz. can of whole or diced tomatoes plus one can full of water
2 large or 4 small garlic close cut into thin slivers
Pinch of red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon of dried oregano
Sprig or 2 of fresh basil, if you have it
Teaspoon of Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 400 F
Thaw the shrimp (if you have fresh shrimp, I’m jealous) by placing in a bowl under a stream of running, cold water for about 10 minutes. Add salt to the bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so – this will plump up the shrimp, but you can skip this step. Dry the shrimp as well as you can with paper towels (don’t skimp on the towels – the shrimp will be very wet).
If you’re using whole tomatoes for the marinara, pour them into a bowl and crush them by hand or cut them into pieces with scissors. Add water to the empty tomato can, swish around and add to the tomatoes.
Chop garlic for shrimp, if using
Sliver garlic for marinara
Mix all the ingredients for the shrimp in a bowl and toss with the shrimp, then place shrimp on a baking sheet
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium and get ready to add the garlic, and then the tomatoes shortly after. When the oil is hot add the garlic and as it begins to sizzle (right away) add the tomatoes, then the red pepper, oregano, and salt and stir, and then place the basil in the sauce.
Simmer until thickened – 15-20 minutes. Add more salt and oregano to taste.
While the marinara is simmering, place the shrimp in the oven and roast until golden – 8-10 minutes.
Serve the shrimp with the warm marinara in a bowl for dipping.
Beez and Andrew insisted that I include this picture which show me having positioned what are known as ‘ear buds’ in a non-traditional fashion. To my eyes, it makes me look vaguely Martian. Beez and Andrew think that it makes me look something else entirely.