salsa! (or was it a waltz?)

When life hands you lemons you make Limoncello (well at least I do). And when life hands you a bounty of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions you make… Salsa!

The calendar may read October but my garden is still churning out a summer’s share of the aforementioned vegetables. I’ve made countless batches of tomato sauce, sliced, diced and sautéed peppers and onions for every dish imaginable and made a super spicy simple salsa (say that three times fast), yet I still have plenty more vegetables left to use.

The traditional raw salsa I made was really fresh and delicious, but I wondered what would happen if I took the same ingredients and roasted them. I often slow roast tomatoes and serve them as appetizers along with herbed olives and cheese and I love how roasting broccoli turns the ordinary into extraordinary, so I was intrigued by the idea of a slow roasted salsa. As expected it was delicious with a depth of flavor the raw ingredients alone could never have achieved, although it struck me as more of a caponata and less like a salsa. Regardless of what you call it, I ended up with way more of this spicy little number than I thought we would eat with chips or enjoy in tacos. So, what did I do… Made soup of course!

We consume gallons of soup in our house. Once the weather cools off I often roast a chicken for dinner on Sundays, which means I always have a bit of leftover bird to do something with during the week. Soup is usually my solution and this spicy chicken and black bean soup was a particularly delicious creation.

It would appear that roasting is the never fail dance in 3/4 time method of cooking!

Spicy Chicken & Black Bean Soup
This soup is the perfect busy weeknight dinner.

spicysoup3

2 cups roasted tomato-chile salsa (see recipe below)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 cups leftover chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 tbsp. lime juice
diced avocado, for garnish
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
tortilla chips, for garnish

  1. In a large stockpot add the salsa, broth and the spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium simmer. Add the beans and let simmer for 15 minutes covered.
  2. Uncover and add the chicken and frozen corn and allow to cook until everything is heated through, about 8-10 min.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice (don’t skip the lime juice, it really adds a wonderful freshness to the soup), adjust the seasonings and serve garnished with avocado, fresh cilantro and shredded cheddar cheese with a few tortilla chips on the side.

Roasted Tomato-Chile Salsa
Roasting the vegetable and adding a little raw onion at the end makes this the perfect salsa.

2 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
1 lg. onion, quartered
1 head of garlic
1/2 lb. fresh Poblano chilies
3 fresh Habanero chilies
2 tbsp. olive oil
a handful of cilantro
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup finely diced onion

  1. Turn the broiler on to high. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and set aside.
  2. Break the head of garlic into cloves (leaving the skins on) and place in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the tomatoes, the quartered onion and chilies and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Toss to cover each vegetable in oil and place in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil until the skins begin to blister and pop (the peppers will be ready before the tomatoes.)
  4. Remove the charred vegetables from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the stems from the Poblano peppers, tear in half and wipe out as many seeds as you can (don’t make yourself crazy trying to get them all.)
  5. Add all the vegetables, fresh cilantro, salt and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but the salsa is still chunky. Stir in the diced onion and allow to chill before serving. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.
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lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats

Post-Holiday Curry

If you’re like me then you’re ready to put Thanksgiving behind you and move onto the stresses of December. You’ve watched the parade and football. You’ve eaten your fill of turkey and trimmings. And you’ve helped yourself to “just a sliver” more pie. And now you’re fat and tired and perhaps black-fridayed out and the last thing you’re interested in is another intricately planned and painstakingly executed dinner. In that case have I got a post-Thanksgiving solution for you— Curried Coconut & Peanut Chicken.

I truly love the flavors of coconut, peanut and curry together (toss in a little chili pepper heat and I’m in heaven), but I find it to be a particularly divine antidote to the highly involved and side dish driven nature of Thanksgiving. One pot (well, two if you count the rice), minimal cooking effort and everyone gets their own individual bowl so you’re not faced with a mountain of dishes to do. Sounds the making of the perfect post-holiday dinner to me!

I know this is where I usually ramble on about the recipe, my kids or some laughable moment from my childhood. But here’s the thing— I’m fat and tired and black-fridayed out and this is all I can manage to type. I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one. Until next week…

Curried Coconut & Peanut Chicken
I serve this over coconut brown rice with lots of minced chili peppers, chopped peanuts and cilantro on top. Yum!

4 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/3 cup lime juice
2 tbsp. curry powder (hot or mild), divided
1/4 cup olive oil
10 allspice berries
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, finely chopped
6 sprigs thyme
24 baby carrots, thinly sliced
1 chayote squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 1″ piece ginger, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Garam masala
1 can lite coconut milk
1/4 cup smooth all natural peanut butter
diced chilies, for garnish
chopped peanuts, for garnish
chopped cilantro, for garnish

  1. Cut the chicken into 1″ pieces and place in a large zip-lock bag. Add the lime juice, and 1 tbsp. of curry powder and toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken to the pot and cook until golden brown. Transfer the browned chicken to a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the remaining curry powder, the allspice, garlic, scallions, thyme, carrots, chayote, potato, ginger, salt and Garam masala to the pot and cook until lightly caramelized and fragrant, about 15 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken and any juices that have accumulated to pot along with coconut milk and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and squash are cooked through and sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes.
  5. Fish out the thyme stems and the all spice berries, stir in the peanut butter and serve over coconut rice, garnished with chilies, cilantro and chopped peanuts.

* adapted from saveur

Death Row Chicken

I love good food. And by that I don’t necessarily mean fancy or even artfully presented, but good. Food that someone has clearly put time and thought into. When I think about some of my favorite things to eat and favorite places to eat them, a few restaurants immediately spring to mind. There’s a little cafe in Manchester, Vermont that makes a killer Niçoise salad, a Portuguese restaurant in Newark, New Jersey with a flank steak in red wine sauce to die for and a coffee shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that serves an Eggs Benedict with spinach that literally makes my eyes roll. But, if you were to ask about my most favorite home-cooked dinner, my death row meal, it would without hesitation be roasted chicken. Yup, good ol’ soul satisfying roasted chicken.

I have apparently instilled my love of roasted chicken in my children because they actually cheer when I tell them that’s what’s for dinner (I’m a lucky mom!) and so I make it pretty regularly. Ordinarily when I roast a chicken it’s a fairly simple affair; salt and pepper, perhaps some lemon and onion in the cavity and a nice schmear of butter on the breast. If that’s all it takes to garner hoots and hollers from my family then why mess with it, right? But, (I know, there’s always a but) I just recently read a review of the Jane Hornby cookbook Fresh & Easy and in it they mentioned her roasted chicken with tarragon sauce. Hmmmm, we all love my no muss, no fuss chicken but maybe a little cream sauce now and then would turn the everyday and expected into something special. And it did.

Roasted Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce
This chicken is equally fantastic without the cream sauce, but the sauce really makes it something special.

1 5 lb. organic whole chicken
1 lemon
1 small onion
1 handful fresh tarragon
2 tbsp. butter, softened
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes, quartered
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. green beans
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup brandy
1 cup light cream
1 1/4 cups chicken broth

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Rinse the chicken and liberally salt and pepper it inside and out. Cut the onion and lemon in half, squeeze the juice of half a lemon all over chicken and place the lemon, onion and a handful of the tarragon into the cavity of the chicken.
  2. Tie together the legs with kitchen twine and rub the softened butter all over the breast and thighs. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom and roast for 40 minutes.
  3. Toss the quartered potatoes with olive oil. After the chicken has roasted for 40 minutes add the potatoes (cut side down) to the pan. Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 30-40 minutes or until the internal temp. reaches 165°F.
  4. When the chicken is golden and cooked and the potatoes are tender, transfer everything to a large oven proof platter, turn the oven off and place the platter in the oven to keep warm.
  5. Pour off any excess fat from the drippings in the pan. Place the pan on your stove top over low heat, then add the wine and let bubble (scraping up any cooked on bits) for 2 minutes. Add the cream, broth and green beans and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add the frozen peas and mushrooms. Roughly chop the remaining tarragon, stir it into the sauce and return to a simmer. Continue to cook until the veggies are tender, about 8-10 minutes.
  7. Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and drizzled with cream sauce.

*adapted from Jane Hornby: Fresh & Easy

delicious comfort

“Beautiful soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

It’s finally cold enough here in New Jersey to actually feel like winter. This sudden drop in temperature has restored my children’s hope for snow, made it feel like a proper football season for my husband and his beloved Giants and inspired me to haul out the “big pot” and cook up something hearty and comforting. Normally this pot if mine churns out great vats of red sauce, steaming pots of chicken soup and a killer turkey chili. But last weekend was so crazy cold that I wanted to make something really rich, soothing and wonderful. Something that would not only fill my family’s bellies but also warm them right down to their toes. After much browsing, googling and serious debate I finally decided on the meal to make: Chicken-Corn Chowder topped with aged cheddar cheese and served with a side of cornbread. Makes you feel toasty just thinking about it doesn’t it? I have to say it was pretty fantastic. So good in fact that a few nights later, when I gave the kids the choice between leftover chowder and pan-fried grouper (normally a Greco kid favorite) the chowder won, hands down!

Ordinarily I would jump to the recipes at this point, but I think I have a bit of housekeeping to do first. When I began this blog I told you that I’m not a food snob. And while I still consider this to be true I feel I should amend that declaration a tad. There is something that has zero room in my little food world. What you may ask? Well I’ll tell you… canned creamed corn. Yup, that slimy yellow mush we all remember from the 70’s. (I believe that must of been it’s heyday.) Anyway it’s still out there on the store shelves and it happens to be called for in both my chowder and cornbread recipes. I however refuse to support the canned cream corn industry and instead make my creamed corn from scratch. Stop rolling your eyes, it seriously takes all of 10 minutes to make and is so insanely delicious that I couldn’t get my family to stop eating it right out of the pan. If you insist on using the canned variety, so be it. But I promise you, the minimal effort required to make it yourself is well worth the yummy payoff.

Chicken-Corn Chowder with Aged Cheddar
This recipe can easily be halved, but my feeling is if you’re going to take the time to make soup you might as well make enough for leftovers.

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups homemade creamed corn (see recipe below)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 3/4 cups low fat milk
2 cans of navy beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
2-3 cups shredded aged cheddar cheese, for topping

  1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until the onion is transparent and the peppers are fragrant, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the creamed corn, smoked paprika, cumin, milk, heavy cream and beans. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add in chicken, season with additional salt and pepper to taste and allow to continue simmering until chicken is heated through.
  4. Ladle into bowls, top with aged cheddar and serve with a side of cornbread.

*adapted from Kerrygold.com

Homemade Creamed Corn
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1lb. bag of frozen corn, defrosted
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. yellow cornmeal
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low fat milk

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onion and salt until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the corn and the rosemary sprig and cook for 3 minutes or until the rosemary begins to go limp. Remove the rosemary, sprinkle the corn with the sugar and cornmeal and stir to combine well. Cook for 1 minute then add the heavy cream and milk. Cook for another 5 minutes, until the corn has softened and the mixture has thickened.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree a bit of the corn mixture to give it more of a canned consistency. (A food processor or blender would also work.)
  4. Give the corn a final stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve or set aside for later use.

*adapted from Alton Brown

Cornbread
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup brown rice or AP flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup creamed corn (homemade or canned)
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F and grease an 8×8 square baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, melted butter and creamed corn.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out into an even layer.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean.