my curry of solitude

“No more pencils. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looksOut for summer. Out till fall. We might not come back at all. School’s out forever. School’s out for summer…”
~Alice Cooper

Yup that’s right, school’s out for Summer— and frankly not a moment too soon. I was quickly approaching my school year breaking point. I’m tired of remembering assigned snack days, helping with school projects, making lunches and yelling “hurry up we’re late!” on a daily basis. I need the slower pace of Summer; the laid back mornings, the swimming after dinner evenings. I need a break.

My parents had planned on coming to spend a few days with my kids the first week of summer vacation, they would all get some quality time together and I would get a few more uninterrupted days at the office. However as a surprise (and perhaps because they sensed my approaching breaking point) they instead offered to take the kids back to Connecticut with them for the better part of the week. “What do you think?” they innocently asked. “Are you kidding… They’re yours!” I said tripping over my own feet in the mad dash to get upstairs and pack their suitcases before anyone realized what had just been agreed to. Naturally the kids were just as overjoyed as I was at the idea of a week at Grammy and Grampy’s house. (It’s common knowledge that the rules at their house only vaguely resemble the rules at home. And when I say vaguely, I really mean not at all.) So off they went with barely a backward glance and off I went to enjoy the quiet of a child-free home. And blissfully quiet it was.

Flash forward 24 hours— My husband comes home and announces that he has to go away on business while the kids are in Connecticut. “Wait. What? Do you mean to tell me that I will be here all alone?” Yup that’s right folks. I was alone for 24 hours. Alone. Let me type that again… ALONE. It was wonderful. Sure I had to make the coffee and empty the dishwasher (typically my husband’s jobs since he gets up earlier than I do) and sure the damn dog killed another bird and it was up to me to pick up the mangled carcass; but that was a measly price to pay for 24 hours of me-time.

I have a girlfriend who eats cold cereal whenever she’s home by herself at dinnertime. Her theory is one bowl + one spoon = zero kitchen mess. I’m the exact opposite. When mine is the only palette I have to please I cook exactly what I want regardless of the prep and process involved. I pull out every pot and pan, make a mess and leave the disaster to be cleaned up when I’m good and ready. With this in mind I spent the “afternoon of my aloneness” (that’s how I plan to refer to these 24 hours when I think back on them fondly) mulling over what to make for dinner. Something spicy (of course), maybe with seafood and definitely the kind of meal the kids would moan and groan over. I ultimately decided to make a curry; a shrimp and coconut green curry to be exact.

It turned out to be exactly the type of meal an afternoon of aloneness begs for. A meal that made this “loves her family but not missing them one iotia and couldn’t possibly be enjoying the solitude more” wife and mother very, very happy.

Shrimp and Coconut Green Curry
This was a delicious dinner… and I was the perfect dining companion.

green curry

1 tbsp. coconut oil
3 fat scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp. Green Curry paste
1 tbsp. fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 sm. yellow pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
a handful of dandelion greens, roughly chopped
13.5 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. light Tamari soy sauce
1/2-1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. fresh basil, julienned
Jasmine rice, for serving
fresh cilantro, for garnish
diced chilies, for garnish

  1. In a large high sided skillet or wok melt the coconut oil. Add half of the scallions, curry paste and ginger and cook for 1 minute.
  2.  Add to the pan the garlic, shrimp and vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, Tamari and cayenne pepper and allow to simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the julienned basil (adding it at the end will keep it green) and serve over Jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro, diced chilies and additional Tamari if desired.
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modernized tetrazzini

Some people love leftovers while others cringe at the very idea. I happen to be a leftover lover. A delicious meal with a fraction of the work, um yes please! In my mind what’s even better than a no hassle dinner of leftovers is turning those leftovers into something entirely new and delicious. Think shepherd’s pie with leftover mashed potatoes (remind me to give you that recipe, it’s one of my families favorites), pea soup with leftover glazed ham or ice cream with leftover egg nog. Yum!

I’ve already told you that one of my all-time favorite meals is roasted chicken, but with warm weather (finally) upon us I’d much rather crank up the grill than the oven. Thankfully my husband received a “beer can chicken” rack last Father’s Day and has recently started putting it to good use. Have you ever cooked chicken this way? It’s ridiculously good and strikingly easy, especially if you have a rack. Anyway back to the leftovers— we made and enjoyed a beer can chicken last Sunday and ended up with a container of leftover meat after dinner. Chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken a la king… nope Chicken Tetrazzini.

Chicken tetrazzini seems to be one of those classic dishes that has gone the way of tuna noodle casserole (complete with crushed potato chips sprinkled on top) and sloppy joe’s. It’s typically made with some diced chicken and mushrooms, tossed with spaghetti, smothered in a heavy butter/cream sauce and baked until the cheese on top is bubbly and toasted. Tasty I’m sure, but not exactly a 2013 idea of nutritious. But if you make a few lower fat substitutions and really punch up the flavor with a bit of onion and spices, hello perfectly acceptable and surprisingly kid-friendly modern day dinner!

Sometimes those oldies really are the goodies. Perhaps next week I’ll try to modernize franks n’ beans…

Welcome to the Future Chicken Tetrazzini
This recipe is great with either leftover chicken or turkey. I typically use fusilli pasta or rotini, but you could also use spaghetti if you prefer.

NEW:tetrazzini2

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
a pinch cayenne pepper
8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 cup brandy
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup set aside
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
8 ounces thin pasta (fusilli, spaghetti), broken in thirds
3 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced large
plain panko, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, black pepper, salt, thyme, garlic, cayenne and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add the brandy and cook 2 more minutes.
  2. Add the broth to the pan and gradually add flour. Use a whisk to incorporate the flour into the liquid and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and the cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until cream cheese melts.
  3. Remove from heat and add the pasta and chicken and stir until blended. Grease a medium high-sided ceramic baking dish and pour in the tetrazzini mixture.
  4. In a small bowl mix together the panko crumbs and the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the pasta and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove casserole from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*adapted from cooking light

sanity saving stir fry

There are some nights when dinner at our house is a leisurely, dare I say enjoyable affair; everyone is in a good mood, eats their meal without complaint and is rewarded with something rich and decadent for dessert. But then there are nights when everything is rushed, everyone has something to complain about and dessert is nothing more than yesterday’s memory. Sometimes I can anticipate ahead of time that were heading for disasterville and cook accordingly. Breakfast for dinner always makes them smile, my turkey meatloaf never fails to get a thumbs up and believe it or not any meal featuring shrimp is a Greco family favorite. Shrimp sautéed with onions and garlic over spaghetti, shrimp and veggie shish kabobs or even super easy shrimp stir fry is always a winner.

I’m a big fan of stir fries. They’re a great way to clean out your vegetable drawer, throw together a quick dinner and keep clean-up limited to one pan, one cutting board and one bowl for each person. I like to make mine with shrimp not only because everyone will eat it, but also because it literally cooks in minutes. I throw in a big variety of vegetables (this way any “offending” vegetables can be picked out and there will still be plenty remaining) and serve it over some brown rice with a few sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce on top. Voilà! Dinner is served, peace reigns and all is once again right with the world. Until tomorrow night anyway…

Shrimp Stir Fry
To really make this a quick weeknight dinner you can buy pre-cut veggies and use instant brown rice.

stir fry4A

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. sugar

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
5 cups mixed vegetables (broccoli florets, carrots, red peppers, etc.)
3 oz. snow peas
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 cup water chestnuts
2 tbsp. peanut oil
4 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish
red chili flakes, for garnish
soy sauce, for garnish

  1. Place the cleaned shrimp in a small bowl. Mix together the water, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar. Pour mixture over the shrimp and let marinate for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the shrimp and set aside, but reserve the marinade.
  2. Cut the vegetable into bite-sized pieces. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and all the vegetables (except mushrooms and snow peas) and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and snow peas and cook another 2-3 minutes or until all the vegetables are nearly cooked through. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
  3. Add the marinade to the pan and heat until it begins to thicken. Add the shrimp and cook about 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are just pink. Stir in vegetables, coating evenly with the sauce, cover and let cook an additional 2-3 minutes until everything is heated through and the broccoli is crisp-tender. Serve over brown rice and garish with additional sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce if you like.

*adapted from better homes and gardens

an irishman for a day

I consider myself relatively fearless in the kitchen. I’m willing to try just about any technique, recipe or style of cooking at least once and I’m confident enough in my abilities that I can improvise if/when things go awry. However all that goes out the window when we’re talking about bread baking. No matter how many times I attempt to bake a nice crusty loaf of bread the results turn out disappointing. I don’t know if it’s my own impatience with the whole proofing, kneading, rising process or if I’m choosing overly complicated recipes, but every time without failure… failure.

Since next weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and EVERYONE is officially Irish for a solid 12 hours, I like most of America will be cooking up what we imagine to be true Irish fare… soda bread and something that takes several hours of slow cooking to go along with it. Usually that means corned beef but this year I’ve decided to branch out a bit, to make something that wasn’t so reliant on the quality of the pre-brined corned beef I purchased. Rather I was looking for a recipe that required real honest cooking and that I had more control over (I like control). Anyway I decided that this St. Patty’s my family would be feasting on homemade soda bread and Chicken Stout Stew. Since soda bread by nature is really much more like a quick bread than a yeast bread, I considered it to be far less intimidating and chicken stew with a nice hardy stout in the gravy— how could I miss?

Well it turns out that I couldn’t… The stew was so tasty and my soda bread so successful that we briefly considered changing out last name to O’Greco.

Éirinn go Brách and sláinte!

Irish Soda Bread
This is one of my all time favorite breads. It’s perfect alongside some stew or toasted and slathered with jam for breakfast. It’s easy to throw together, doesn’t require much advance prep and it comes out delicious every time.

soda bread2

3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup raisins
4 tbsp. butter, frozen
1 1/3 cups + 1 tbsp. light buttermilk
1 large egg

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and raisins. Using a box grater grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Sir with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Knead the dough a couple of times before forming it into a ball. Place the loaf on the prepared cookie sheet and use cooking sheers (or a sharp knife) to cut a deep ‘x’ across the top of the loaf.
  4. Bake the bread for 45-55 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before slicing.

*adapted from king arthur flour

Chicken Stout Stew
This recipe calls for chicken thighs, which happen to be perfect for slow cooking. I won’t deny that they take a bit more time to trim and clean, but if you were to use chicken breast instead it would undoubtedly be dry and disappointing. I promise that the extra effort will totally be worth it.

stout stew2

6 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cubed
6 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
7 slices quality turkey bacon, diced
4 cups chopped onion
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can Guinness beer (or other stout)
1 lb. whole baby carrots
12 small potatoes, quartered
6 springs fresh thyme
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups frozen baby peas

1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme

  1. Combine 6 tablespoons flour with salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Trim and cube the chicken and add to the bag. Seal the bag and shake to dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides, transfer to the slow cooker. Continue with the remaining chicken, adding additional oil to the pan as needed, and reserve the seasoned flour that remains.
  3. Add the diced bacon, onion and garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the seasoned flour that remains from dredging the chicken over the bacon mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes more. (The fat and flour will create a light-colored roux.) Add the stout and stir, being sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Pour the bacon mixture over the chicken and add the carrots, potatoes and thyme. Pour the broth and Worcestershire sauce over the top and give everything a good stir.
  5. Cover and cook on medium 4 1/2 hours, until the chicken is falling-apart tender.
  6. When the stew is nearly done add the frozen peas and allow to continue cooking until the peas are heated through. Meanwhile sautee the mushrooms with the salt and thyme until they are nicely browned and all the moisture in the bottom of the pan has cooked off. Add the mushrooms to the stew, season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve with a little soda bead.

*adapted from eating well

Hurricane Stew

Sandy. Seems like a rather innocuous name doesn’t it? I’ve known several in my time; a Sandra, a Sandy and even a Sandeee (she was a lovely kooky character). The name Sandy never caused me a moment of pause, fear or worry, that was until last weekend. Call her a hurricane or call her a tropical storm, Sandy devastated my Garden State and left many of us in the cold and dark with empty grocery stores and even emptier gas tanks.

My family prepared for the storm just as most everyone did. We bought extra batteries and flashlights, made sure the pumps and generator were ready to go and stocked up on water, milk and unhealthy snacks (we were in crisis mode after all!). And for my part, I planned dinners that could easily be cooked or reheated on the gas stove top or even in the fireplace. I was fully prepared to roast chicken sausages in the fireplace on our telescoping marshmallow forks and to the use the same forks to make fireplace marshmallow and nutella s’mores. Thankfully we never lost power, but I had a hearty beef stew and cheddar-thyme biscuits to keep our bellies full just in case we did.

Hurricane Beef Stew
This recipe makes enough stew to have for dinner while the power is out as well as share with your hungry neighbors. But if you’d rather not share (or don’t really like your neighbors) feel free to half the recipe.

4 lbs. stew beef
1 cup flour
4 tsp. salt
3 tsp. garlic powder
3 tsp. pepper
4-8 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 carrots, diced large
3 parsnips, diced large
1 1/4 lbs. mushrooms, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 potatoes, diced large
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock
1 bottle of dark beer
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh of thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup water
3 tbsp. cornstarch

  1. Mix flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper together. Dredge beef in flour mixture.
  2. Heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy saucepan and working in batches brown the beef. Transfer to a slow cooker and continue with remainder of beef. (If your meat is very lean you may need to add more olive oil to the pot as you continue browning.) Top the browned beef with the diced potatoes, garlic, mushrooms and celery.
  3. When all the beef is browned, add 1 tbsp. more oil and add the carrots, parsnips and onion to the pot. Allow to cook for 10-12 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Transfer to the crock pot.
  4. In a medium bowl stir together the stock, tomato paste, beer, bay leaves, herbs, salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over everything in crock pot, but do not stir.
  5. Cook for 5 1/2 hrs. on medium heat until the meat is tender and cooked through.
  6. Stir together the water and cornstarch. Add cornstarch mixture to stew to thicken and cook for another 15 minutes. Fish out the bay leaves and serve with warm drop biscuits to mop up the gravy. Enjoy!

adapted from bon appétit

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