Dave’s Chicken Marsala

For years I have been on a quest for the perfect Marsala sauce.  Often it is my test dish to evaluate any new Italian restaurant – although admittedly I go to precious few of those anymore because frankly I like my own stuff better.  Anyway, to borrow from the old U2 song, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  Once about 7 or 8 years ago I thought I had it, or at least close enough, but I was never able to recreate that sauce afterward – like a dumb [bleep] I was so enraptured with my own handiwork that I didn’t think to write the recipe down at the time.  So, perfection continues to elude me, although tonight’s dish is a worthwhile stab at it.

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What follows is my own concoction, born of years of searching and experimenting. No perfect by any stretch but I think you’ll like it, and it’s pretty simple to make. Here are your ingredients to make a lovely dinner for two:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to ½” thickness
  • Kosher salt
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 2 tbsp. whole butter, divided
  • 1 cup cremini or portabella mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup beef stock
  • ¾ cup Marsala wine
  • Chiffonade of fresh basil for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium flame. While the oil is heating up, season the chicken breasts with kosher salt and dredge them in flour – this will keep them moist when you pan fry them. Place the floured breasts in the skillet, top side down, and cook to a light golden brown, which should take about 5 minutes, maybe a tad more.  Turn them and cook for a similar amount of time on the other side, then remove them to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.

Next add 1 tbsp. of the butter and saute the mushrooms until they are well browned and most of the water in them has released and cooked off. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about two minutes, then add the garlic and continue sautéing about 30 more seconds. Deglaze the skillet with the beef stock, using a wooden spoon to scrape all the fond (the brown, tasty crunchy bits) off the bottom – that’s pure flavor that is not to be wasted. Next add the Marsala and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and finish the sauce by swirling in the other 1 tbsp. of butter.  Return the chicken to the skillet to reheat.

With that, you’re done and ready to plate it up.  Make sure you pour the sauce and shrooms over the top, and garnish with the fresh basil.  We served with a side of capellini pasta and oven-roasted asparagus. The result was delicious and we munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces. This may not be the perfect Marsala sauce (if such a mythical creature actually exists), but I think you’ll be pleased nonetheless. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Thai Night Redux

So Lolly’s naturopathic doctor put her on a rather annoying elimination diet aimed at determining whether she is allergic to dairy, gluten or any number of other nefarious substances.  She brought home a list of all the things that she has to avoid eating for 30 days.  Holy mackerel!  My initial response when I read the list was “How in the world do you expect me to cook around that?”  (For the record, Lolly can eat mackerel, holy or otherwise – it wasn’t on the list).  Being the ever-dutiful hubby that I am, I started combing through cookbooks looking for suitable options to accommodate my sweetie for 30 long, dark, dreary, culinarily-stunted days.

It didn’t take me long to conclude that Thai food actually lines up pretty well with her dietary restrictions, in part because instead of dairy products it makes liberal use coconut milk in soups and curries.  If, like us, you spend any amount of time in Thai restaurants, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve sampled tonight’s dish, Massamun curry chicken. It’s a long-time favorite of ours.

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This is actually a supremely quick and easy option, as long as you can lay hands on a few off-the-beaten-path ingredients that are most likely available at your local Asian market. Luckily, we denizens of the Cincinnati metro area have access to Jungle Jim’s International Market, so I can find pretty much any weird thing you can think of (including fresh emu eggs at $45 a pop, if that’s your thing).  Anyway, here are your ingredients to make 4 hearty servings.

  • 3 tbsp. coconut oil
  • ½ cup Massamun curry paste
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced across the grain
  • 12 oz. potato, cut into ½” cubes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ½ cup roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 2 tbsp. sugar or agave nectar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh Thai basil for garnish
  • Cooked jasmine rice

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In a deep skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium flame, and stir in the curry paste. Whisk in the coconut milk until the paste is completed blended.  Add the chicken slices and bring the mixture up to a boil, then back it down to a simmer.  Stir in the potato cubes, onion, cashews and water/stock, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, which should only take about 15 minutes.  Finish the dish by stirring in the tamarind and the sugar/agave, and adjust the seasoning with Kosher salt.

Now you’re ready to plate up with some cooked jasmine rice (or wicked, nasty, foul, heinous brown rice for people on annoying elimination diets – just sayin’).  Either way, sprinkled some chopped fresh Thai basil on top, and do what we came here to do – munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  This recipe has a pleasant blend of sweet and spicy, with enough chunky goodness to satisfy.  By all means give it a try – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Until next we meet: Eat well, my friends!

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A Pair of Thai Classics

A couple months ago Lolly and I took a Caribbean cruise. On the night before departure we were in Cocoa Beach and visited a charming little family-run Thai restaurant called Thai Fuku. While there, Lolly sampled a pair of classic Thai dishes, one a soup and the other a salad. She found herself enraptured with the amazing array of complex but well-blended flavors, and has been bugging me ever since then to make them for her at home. So for tonight’s offering I present to you Tom Kha soup and Nam Sod salad.

There are probably as many different variations on these recipes as there are grandmothers in Thailand, so what follows is not intended to be the definitive pronouncement on the subject by any stretch of the imagination — just one of many possible interpretations of these dishes.  Let’s start with the soup first. Here are your ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. red curry paste
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass, cut in several pieces
  • 6 thin slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 cup white mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh Thai basil, chopped

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium flame and stir in the curry paste, cooking until the aroma releases. Whisk in the stock and coconut milk, making sure the curry is well blended. Add the lemongrass, ginger, chilies, lime juice and fish sauce, and bring it up to simmer. Add the chicken and simmer another 15 minutes. Lastly, add the mushrooms and basil, and cook another 5 minutes. Remove the ginger and lemongrass, and you’re ready to serve.

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While your soup is cooking you can work on the salad, which consists of three main components: the bed of lettuce, the cooked chicken, and the dressing. Here is what you will need to make 2 hearty, satisfying salads:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup thin-sliced red onion
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup shredded fresh ginger
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, seeded and chopped
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock
  • 8 oz. ground chicken breast
  • ¼ cup roasted cashews
  • 6 leaves of Boston lettuce

For the chicken, I recommend that you get half of a boneless breast and chop it up in your food processor. Alternatively you can buy ground chicken at the store, but that will have been run through a meat grinder and will have that signature stringy look that doesn’t work great for this presentation.

In a large bowl, combine all but the last four ingredients, and mix well to create your dressing. In a deep skillet, bring the water or stock to a boil and add the chicken. Cook it through, which should only take a few minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked chicken to the dressing bowl and toss well. Add the cashews and stir through. Arrange three lettuce leaves on each plate, spoon half of the chicken mixture onto each plate, and garnish with some fresh cilantro leaves.

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There you have it, a pair of delicious traditional Thai dishes that will have your taste buds dancing with joy – assuming you’re not to averse to a little spice. If so, you can back down some of the ingredients in that category to balance things more to your taste. We munched these down with big happy grins all around, and look forward to doing it again soon.  Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

Ethnic Identity Crisis

Have you heard the one about the Italian guy who walks into an Indian restaurant and says “Give me an order of meatballs like Grandma used to make, in a spicy-sweet coconut milk curry sauce.”? Yeah, me neither. But if there was a joke like that floating around out there somewhere, the punchline would be about tonight’s dish. It combines that quintessential Italian staple, the meatball, with a rich Indian curry sauce that explodes with fresh Asian flavors.

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This is my adaptation of a Gordon Ramsay video recipe for “Meatballs in Fragrant Coconut Broth.” I say adaptation because the video has no measurements in it, so the viewer is left to figure out that part on his own – unless, of course, he were to purchase the cookbook written to accompany the video series (see the link below). So, without further ado, here is my best stab at recreating Ramsay’s totally delicious looking dish – which, as it turned out, tasted pretty awesome for us. To make four servings you will need:

For the meatballs:

  • ½ large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk

For the sauce:

  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 4-5 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • ½ tsp. turmeric powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 dry arbol chilis
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, cut into 4” lengths
  • 2 oz. thinly sliced ginger
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • Cooked basmati rice

In a deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp. of the olive oil over medium flame and sweat the onions and garlic. When they are nearly done, toss in the chili flakes and stir through, cook one more minute, then remove the mixture from the heat and set it aside. While the onions are cooking, in a mixing bowl season the beef with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the bread crumbs and milk to form a paste, then stir it into the beef along with the cooked onion mixture. Work all of this thoroughly with your fingers until evenly mixed, then start shaping meatballs about the size of a golf ball. You should get an even dozen from this amount of mixture.

Now it’s time to cook up the meatballs. Wipe the skillet free of any excess onion mixture, then heat the other 2 tbsp. of oil, making sure to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Arrange the meatballs around the outer edge of the skillet, leaving the center free to make the sauce. Turn the meatballs as needed until browned on all sides.

When the meatballs are nearly done cooking, in the center of the skillet add the coriander seeds and cardamom pods, followed by the turmeric, cinnamon and chilis. Pour in the chicken stock, then the coconut milk. Gently rap the lemon grass stalks with the back of your chef’s knife so they release their aroma, then lay them into the sauce along with the ginger slices. Bring the sauce to a boil, then back it down to a simmer. After 8-10 minutes the meatballs should be finished. Turn off the heat. Zest the lime onto the meatballs, then squeeze the juice of half the lime into the sauce, and give it a quick stir.

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With that, you’re ready to serve. Ladle a bit of the broth into a bowl with a bit of cooked basmati rice, arrange a few of the meatballs on top, and you’re ready to enjoy an authentic Inditalian feast. To complicate matters even more, I made a side of sautéed courgettes – which is a fancy French word for zucchini. Talk about cultural confusion. Anyway, we munched it all right down with a big happy grin on our faces, and look forward to trying it again sometime soon. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course

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Greek Cod and Vegetable Roast

Greek food two nights in a row? Who does that? When you taste this amazing blend of fresh cod, hearty vegetables, olive oil and herbs, you’ll understand perfectly.  If you want to make a yummy vegetarian version, simply remove the cod.  The rest of the dish will still work just fine.

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This recipe makes enough for four people, and you can expect some leftovers. You should allow a total of two hours, counting the prep time. Here are your ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ lb. (2 medium) russet potatoes, skin on
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 lb. asparagus, stemmed and cut into 2” pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano (divided)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • White pepper
  • 1 ¼ lb. fresh cod loins
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup hot water
  • ¼ cup tomato puree
  • ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup fresh feta cheese crumbles
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400, then break out your cutting board and chef’s knife. Wash the potatoes thoroughly, then slice them into wedges, leaving the skins on. In a large roasting pan or deep skillet, combine the potatoes, onion, asparagus, garlic, rosemary, parsley and 1 tsp. of the dried oregano. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and fresh cracked pepper, and mix these ingredients together. Pour in the olive oil and stir up the whole mess to coat the vegetables thoroughly with the oil.

Next season the cod loins generously with kosher salt and white pepper, then cut them into large chunks of about 1 ½” to 2”. Arrange the cod pieces among the mixed vegetables, then pour the diced tomatoes over the top. Stir the tomato puree into the hot water, then pour this over the top of the dish. Lastly, sprinkle on the remaining 1 tsp. of dried oregano, and into the oven it goes. Roast for 1 hour, basting the top of the mixture with the cooking liquid two or three times during the hour to keep things from drying out.

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After the hour is done, pull your roasting dish out of the oven, arrange the olives on top, then put it back in to bake for another 20-30 minutes. Now you’re done, and ready to serve it up (using a slotted spoon) with some of the feta crumbles and a little fresh parsley. We found ourselves oohing and aahing as we munched down this delicious Greek dinner with big happy grins on our faces. Give it a try – I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Greek Lentil Stew

One of my readers is an esteemed professional colleague who also happens to be a vegetarian. Occasionally she will “challenge” me to prepare a particular type of dish – in this instance a Greek vegetarian recipe. I am only too happy to oblige with this delicious, and very easy to prepare, lentil stew.

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The whole dish comes together in the space of less than an hour including prep time.  Here are your ingredients to satisfy four hungry vegetarian lumberjacks:

  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ¼ cup green lentils
  • 1 large onion, sliced into thin crescents
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup tomato puree
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • ½ tsp. red chile flakes
  • 1 qt. vegetable stock, hot
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Start by rinsing the lentils thoroughly in a mesh strainer under cold water. Place the lentils in a large saucepan and cover with more cold water by about one inch. Bring the pot to a boil and cook the lentils for about 4 minutes, then drain and set them aside for now.

Clean out the saucepan for the main phase of the cooking. Heat the olive oil over medium flame. When it is hot, add the onions and sauté them until they are tender and translucent, but not brown, which should take about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, then stir in the cooked lentils, followed by the carrots, tomatoes and puree, then the oregano and chile flakes. When all of this is mixed together, add the hot vegetable stock and bring the pot up to a boil. Back it down to a low, gentle simmer, cover the pot and let the stew cook slowly for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to let your stew cook too rapidly or too long, or your lentils will likely turn to mush. At the end of the cook time, adjust your seasonings with salt and pepper, and you’re ready to serve with a fresh parsley garnish.

We were pleased at just how richly flavors can be developed in a simple vegetarian dish like this one. We served it up with some stuffed grape leaves and naan, and enjoyed ourselves immensely as we munched down this savory Greek dinner with a big happy grin on our faces – made all the bigger by knowing we were yet again bringing yummy and healthy together in the same bowl. Give it a try – your taste buds and your healthy body with both thank you. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Fettuccine with Leeks and Prosciutto

This one goes out to everyone who wants to try fettuccine with something other than Alfredo or tomato sauce.  It’s super-simple, twice as delicious, and evokes some rich and quintessentially Italian flavors, especially if you splurge a little bit for high-quality ingredients.

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Without further ado, here is your ingredient list to make 3-4 servings in the space of about 45 minutes or less (i.e. a great weeknight dish):

  • 2 leeks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 oz. imported Italian sliced prosciutto
  • Cracked pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. fettuccine
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated fontina cheese, preferably Fontina Valle d’Aosta
  • 4-6 oz. fresh asparagus
  • extra virgin olive oil

For your prep work, cut the roots and dark green tops off of the leeks — you only want to use the white or light green portions.  Freeze the tops and reserve them for making a vegetable stock later.  Slice the leeks lengthwise and rinse them well in cold water, separating the layers to make sure any hidden dirt is cleaned away, then slice them crosswise into strips.  Also cut the prosciutto crosswise into strips and set them aside.

The asparagus will be roasted in the oven separately from the main pasta dish, to be added at the end.  Preheat the oven to 450.  Snap the fibrous ends off of each asparagus stalk.  Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, then toss to coat evenly and arrange the stalks on a baking sheet.  We will roast these toward the end of the cook time.

In a deep, straight-sided skillet, add the leeks, water, butter and a generous pinch of kosher salt, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are tender and the water is evaporated, which should take about 30 minutes.  Take care not to let the leeks brown.

While the leeks are cooking, boil some salted water for your pasta.  As the leeks are halfway through their cook time, get the asparagus into the oven to roast, and your pasta into the water to start boiling.

When the leeks are tender, stir in the heavy cream and cook for about 2 minutes until it starts to bubble and thicken.  Next add the prosciutto strips and a few turns of black pepper from your grinder.  By this time the pasta should be at or near a nice al dente, and the asparagus should be about done.  Remove the asparagus from the oven to your cutting board, and slice into one-inch pieces.  Drain the pasta and toss it into the leek-prosciutto mixture, then remove the skillet from the heat.  Toss in the grated cheese, and then you’re ready to plate.  Finish each serving with a sprinkle of the sliced asparagus.

This was a new dish for us, with a little improv on my part, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  But boy oh boy were we pleased with the results.  And then when I added a fresh-baked loaf of my Italian herb and olive oil bread — big happy grins for miles.  We were in strong agreement that this recipe is a keeper.  I hope you’ll try it and enjoy it as thoroughly as we did.  Until our next visit to the kitchen:  Eat well, my friends!