Some time in the last two weeks Feb 8 – Feb 21, 2021
Puntas a la Veracruza (Pork in the Style of Veracruz)
Bangers and Mash
Last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, we enjoyed the coldest day of the last two years, 3⁰. It had snowed on Saturday and we had drifts early on Sunday and then in the evening. In the afternoon, however, the sun came out and the clean fields of snow sparkled with what looked like an infinity of diamonds. Today, however, we’re in the low fifties and the snow has melted and looks like the icing on a display cake that’s been in the window too long.
I was going to go on about the weather just to distract you, but I may as well face it: Once again, I find myself late in publishing a blog post. At my age, I feel that I am beyond excuses – don’t need and wouldn’t embarrass myself by concocting them. Still, if you are a faithful reader of the blog, you deserve some explanation of the hiatus between our last post and this one. What it was, was that we didn’t do much cooking.
The boys and our friends have not been over to dinner, so we found ourselves with a rather substantial store of ingredients and two fairly insubstantial people to eat them. I can’t recommend having the same meal three days in a row, but I can recommend having variations of the main ingredient.
By way of example, let’s say that you’ve bought enough chicken breasts to make chicken cutlets with avocado sauce for five people. Now, imagine that three of those people don’t show up for dinner – what do you do? Well, if you’re us, you use just one chicken breast with the tender removed and then sliced in half to give you the optimum thickness for the cutlet – about 3/8”.
So now, you have two more Brobdingnagian-sized breasts, plus the tender. Well, you say, I would just cook another cutlet the next day for lunch or dinner. But wait: SWMBO did not like the avocado sauce. And, not only would your culinary reputation would be tarnished if you cooked the same food two days in a row, but you didn’t much like that cutlet, yourself.
So, how about stew? Or hash? Or chicken-fried rice? Or a nice chicken salad? We are thinking along the same lines – and that’s what’s been happening with us over the last two weeks – cooking variations of or adding side dishes to leftovers, trying to survive in the Arctic wilderness formerly know as Pittsburgh and watching a new television series* that tickles our fancy. The recipes for everything but the initial cutlets can be found below.
*Ted Lasso (Apple TV) and is unlike any television we’ve seen. At the heart of the show is the big-hearted Ted who, through persistence, seems, over time, to make everyone around him a better person. There is sharp dialogue, vulgarity, soccer, English actors with accents so thick that their own mothers couldn’t understand them, and, in the middle of all this, a relentlessly upbeat football coach from America – Ted. We know – it sounds strange and, well, it is strange, but trust us on this one. Also – we’ve been reading Shakespeare (Comedy of Errors), more of Christopher Paolini, George Eliot, Dostoevsky, watching some fine golf matches – new as well as repeats (T. Woods spectacular round during the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 is always worth watching, in part because of the enlightening commentary of his caddy, Steve Williams – you can find it on You Tube – ‘Perfection at Pebble’)
(adapted from ‘Spend with Pennies’)
Note: I did not have the correct amount or type of chicken for the recipe, so the quantities here are my best guess
Timing: One Hour
Ingredients: Serves at least 4 hearty eaters
Chicken – thighs would be better, but we used two very large, boneless, skinless chicken breast-halves and one tender, cut into pieces – ½” – 3/4 “ or so. We probably had 1 ¾ lbs.
¾ cup of carrots, diced
3/4 cup of celery, diced
Half a yellow onion, diced
2 ½ cups of mixed Idaho and sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup of celery, diced
1 cup of frozen peas, mostly thawed
½ red pepper finely diced – we used a half poblano instead
4 cups chicken broth or stock (use lightly salted water, in a pinch)
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup white wine
3 tablespoons of flour
½ teaspoon or rosemary
½ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon of sage
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chop vegetables and measure out broth and spices.
Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium to medium-high.
Brown the chicken (it doesn’t have to be cooked through) – maybe 6 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside (if some sticks to the bottom of the pan, that’s ok)
Now add another tablespoon of oil, if needed, reduce the heat to medium and cook the onion, carrot, and celery until softened (4 or 5 minutes).
Add the seasonings and, maybe 2 pinches of salt and a good amount of ground black pepper and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the potatoes, the diced pepper, the wine, the chicken and the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and stir in the peas and cream.
Turn the heat back up and, in a jar with a lid, shake the flour with one cup of water to make sure there are no lumps.
When the stew begins to boil, stir in the mixture of flour and water thoroughly and then simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken.
Enjoy – a nice, crusty baguette would go well with this.
Chicken Hash – Here is a recipe for steak hash from a past blog – just substitute chicken for steak and use or leave out the sausage:
Hash with Steak, Onions, Peppers, Tomatoes and Sausage
What you need here is beef, chicken or pork from a previously cooked meal – and if you have a frozen sausage link, thaw it out, as well and remove it from its casing. Trim off any fat and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces or shred it. You want to lay down a nice mix of diced onion and bell peppers (other vegetables are welcome – but onions, bell peppers and potatoes are mandatory – the smell in the kitchen should be that wonderful smell of onions and peppers you get in any good diner in the morning). Once you have these well along (start with the pepper (and sausage if using) – it takes the longest to cook) in some oil and butter, season with salt and pepper and toss in some cooked, diced potatoes and get some crust on them – i.e., let them sit for a while before fooling with them.
Now you can add some sauce, if you want: Worcestershire, dry white wine, fish sauce or just a little water to let you deglaze the pan (not so much water that you sog up the potatoes). Halved cherry tomatoes, parsley, oregano, and thyme would be great at this point, or any particular seasonings you love (za’atar – lemon pepper – chili powder, etc. – I have a little umami power made from dried mushrooms and spices which I often toss in). Now add the meat and cook until warmed – add more sauce if needed, correct seasonings. Serve. If you’ve cooked this correctly, no need to worry about leftovers, there won’t be any.
Chicken Fried Rice – Here is a recipe for “Weeknight Fried Rice” that we cooked with leftovers in Naples, FL. Weeknight Fried Rice
(adapted from Sam Sifton, New York Times)
Timing: 15 minutes if you have rice already cooked
Cooked rice – one cup per person (Sam Sifton keeps cooked rice in his freezer since he feels that helps separate the grains – we refrigerated ours for maybe half a day.
Neutral oil (canola, vegetable, etc.)
Some protein (a previously cooked chicken breast, ground meat or pork, chopped brisket from your local barbecue restaurant) You don’t need much – probably ½ – ¾ cup.
Note: We cooked this dish two days ago with shrimp as a protein. Don’t throw it in until you’re ready to add the sauce and the rice.
Chopped Garlic (we skipped)
Chopped or grated ginger (do not skip this) – we grated ours
Sesame oil Gochujang or hot chili sauce or a bit of Frank’s or tabasco
You must cook the rice ahead of time since you need to chill it in the refrigerator. Even better is to freeze it overnight. Make about ½ cup for each person you’ll be serving.
Slice or chop your protein into bite-sized pieces. We cut up a half-breast of baked chicken from the supermarket.
Whip the two eggs together in a small bowl.
Chop or grate an inch or two of ginger. Sifton chops a lot of garlic as well –I grated maybe ½ of a large clove.
Slice scallions thinly on a bias – you’ll need a handful for the cooking and another batch for serving.
Slice a carrot into thin disks and, if it’s a fat carrot, cut the discs in half. (You want bite-sized pieces here.)
Put 2 handfuls each of frozen corn and frozen peas into a bowl.
Mix the soy sauce and sesame oil (3 to 1 proportion) in a small bowl to make a sauce. You’ll need not quite a quarter cup if you’re cooking for 4.
Sam Sifton has a wok. We are in a rented condo with few cooking tools, only the condiments and cooking oils we have bought, frozen mozzarella sticks and turkey breast dinners in the refrigerator and an enormous collection of non–stick pots.
We used a slope-sided non-stick pot and, since the stove top is electric, heated it up for a long time on medium-high, then put in maybe 1 ½ tablespoons of canola oil and the chicken untl it crisps a bit.
Remove the chicken and add a tablespoon of grated ginger and up to a tablespoon of grated or chopped garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then toss in the vegetables (we used 2 handfuls of frozen corn, 2 handfuls of frozen peas and a handful or so of thinly slice carrot. Stir-fry until they seem cooked – 2 minutes? – then toss the chicken back in.
Now clear a space in the middle of the pan or wok and add the eggs and cook to softness.
Now throw in the sauce and then the rice and mix until the whole kibosh is steaming hot. Serve, with another sprinkling of scallions.
SICILIAN CHICKEN (TURKEY) SALAD
(adapted from Samin Nosrat, Salt Fat Acid Heat)
True to Samin’s own methods, we substituted Belgian endive for the fennel she suggests, since we had it in the refrigerator. If you decide to use the fennel and invite us over, we’ll certainly eat it. But the celery already gives you the same crunch as fennel and the endive is easier to handle and lends another texture, a sort of lesser crunch to the whole shebang.
Timing: 15 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 4 as a main course – 8-10 as a side
5 cups shredded chicken. That’s about what you’ll get from a 4-5 lb. rotisserie, home-roasted or poached chicken. NOTE: Take the time to remove all tendons, cartilage or membrane from the chicken. This is only slightly tedious and, unless you’re serving dinner to your sworn enemies, the decent thing to do.
½ red onion sliced (maybe 1/3 of those soft-ball sized onions sold by Giant Eagle)
½ cup currants (see note above – you really want currants, not raisins, in this recipe)
1 cup stiff aioli (a scant cup of Hellman’s will work just fine here)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons of lemo juice
3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
3 small or 2 large celery stalks, diced (Samin calls for 2 small stalks, but then she adds the fennel)
We did not use – ½ medium fennel bulb, diced – we substituted one Belgian endive, halved and then slice into thin half moons.
2 teaspoons ground fennel seed (We just put whole fennel seed into a coffee grinder. You’ll find that the taste is superior to the pre-ground stuff which has sat in a jar for who knows how long. And, you’ll save money.)
Combine the onion and the vinegar in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.
In another bowl, pour boiling water over currants and let them sit for 15 minutes to plump up.
Shred the chicken.
Assemble the Salad:
Drain the currants and put them into a large bowl. (You need one large enough to toss all of the ingredients together.)
To that bowl add the chicken, aioli, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, pine nuts, celery, either the fennel or the endive, the ground fennel seed and some generous pinches of salt. Stir to combine.
Now drain the onions and add them and stir. Taste and add salt or vinegar, if needed.
We followed Samin’s advice to serve on toasted slices of country bread (our own, baked from Jacques Pépin’s easy recipe in Cooking from the Heart – but any crusty loaf will do).