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Greek baked chicken with orzo

In several previous posts, I’ve written of our Dad. (If you haven’t yet seen it, you may want to read: Orange Flowers. ) His influence  on me (on us all) was enormous, though he didn’t even come to be my dad until I was already a gawky ten-year-old girl. His tender love forever changed me. We lost him a few years back, but his birthday’s coming very soon. I’m posting this recipe now – it’s one I think our Greek Pop would have loved.  I’m thinking primarily of my family when I say this, but if anyone out there would like to prepare this on November 2nd, I’d like to think there will be at least one more smile than the ones you see around your own table.

Efharisto!

This chicken dish is a common Sunday one-pot meal on the Greek islands, where chickens are raised primarily for their eggs. Therefore, it’s considered special – besides that, it’s absolutely wonderful!

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Baked Chicken with Orzo – Kotopoulo Youvetsi

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 4-pound free-range chicken, cut into 6 pieces (or the equivalent weight in pieces you choose)
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or a pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups grated ripe tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes with their juice
  • Salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
  • 1 pound orzo (you substitute elbow macaroni) – cooked in plenty of boiling salted water for only 2 minutes, then drained
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1½ cup coarsely grated hard myzithra, pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the chicken parts in batches until brown on all sides. Set aside.

Add the onion to the pot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, oregano, pepper or pepper flakes and tomatoes. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and return to the Dutch oven. Add about 1/2 cup of stock, or enough to come about two-thirds of the way up the chicken.  (You want to be sure that the breast meat is sunk quite deeply into the sauce, so just the very top of it sticks above. That will help prevent it from drying out.)  Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to the now-hot oven.

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buttermilk biscuits – with a difference

If you’ve been following along, you may recall that one damp gray day it became necessary for me to bring indoors bushels of lemon verbena, listing badly in the rain. You may remember too that – as a happy consequence of this most deliciously fragrant herb having come indoors – our house now smelled like a commercial for the cleanest house on the block (which, no doubt, it wasn’t unless all my neighbors were having particularly messy days.) Anyway, I digress.

That day rather than clean the house, I opted instead to churn up some lemon verbena ice-cream, an impressively easy choice to make. I also dried a pint-jar full and with the rest, I made a lemon verbena sugar to store in the freezer for inspirations that might come later. I had plenty of this citrusy sugar to share and so I did.

Mike, our wonderful son-in-law and certainly one of the biggest foodies in the family – (and that’s not without considerable competition) – decided to incorporate some in his biscuits. What a great idea! And so the next time I made biscuits, I did the same. And they were wonderful! And then, not content to leave it at that, I had to try a different addition from the herb garden. And we loved those too, and so I share:  buttermilk biscuits – with fresh sage and orange zest. There will be a footnote on the lemon verbena variety but, because you can’t find that herb in your grocery store and will instead have to wait until next year when you plant your own, those biscuits won’t be the headliner here. (Don’t worry, I won’t let you forget to plan for it next summer.)

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Did you know there was such a thing as biscuit flour? I didn’t. It’s simply a flour milled from 100% soft winter wheat. But you can approximate it using equal parts of all-purpose flour and the lighter, softer cake or pastry flour. If you have cake flour by all means use it. If you don’t, not to worry. Just use the all-purpose flour but know that your biscuits won’t be quite as flaky and light as they might otherwise be. 

To top these you may want to try incorporating a drizzle of honey and a bit of orange zest into some softened butter — allow the whole of it to melt down the sides and be caught by your tongue, just in the nick of time!

Buttermilk Biscuits with Fresh Sage & Orange Zest

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups cake or white pastry flour
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • ¼teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • 3 large sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • the zest of one large orange

Preheat the oven to 425°F. If you have a cast-iron skillet, put it in the oven to bring it to the same temperature. If you don’t have one, use a cooking sheet instead. (The case for biscuits made in a cast-iron skillet is that the bottoms & tops will be lightly browned and crispy, but the sides, because they’re packed closely together, will be soft and tender.)

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a trip to Morocco

For years Morocco has held a fascination for me. Some of that – no doubt – is because of how outside of my own experience nearly every aspect of Moroccan life is. Visually, completely captivating! (I imagine a long-lasting dent in my face where my camera goes.) Food, richly colored, and complexly perfumed and flavored with “exotic” spices. Aromas that nearly intoxicate, emanating from food purveyors’ carts. The chords of music played with instruments unlike those in the west and following an entirely different set of “rules” than our own. The sounds of words spoken in a tongue with a non-Romance language root. The intricately painted pottery! The profusion of vividly patterned textiles, for sale in stalls and flowing like brilliantly colored silk streams through the crowded streets! Morocco fascinates me.

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Like most couples, my husband and I have our disagreements. If he could have less than zero interest in visiting Morocco, then he does. That doesn’t make him contrary – exactly. Different things captivate his interest. And I suspect that the total package of Morocco…the whole of it that I find so intriguing…contains just a little too much unfamiliarity for his liking. So when we dream of where we might one day go, on this one (supremely fascinating) destination, we agree to disagree.

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So I regret that the closest I may ever come to Morocco is their sumptuous food – which, for the moment, puts me smack dab in the middle of my own kitchen – and brings me to the subject of my next post – and tonight’s dinner – Roasted Chicken Moroccan. I’ll pair it with a simple couscous to sop up some of the flavored juices, and a refreshing delicious salad of oranges, red onions and black olives. (See Moroccan Orange Salad.)  And because I have them, I’ll roast some beets and perhaps come up with some way to Moroccan-ize them! There, take that, my (not-exactly-contrary) husband!

I go into this knowing that most of you will be uninterested in a recipe calling for so many different spices. I get that. If I had to go out and buy them all at once, I wouldn’t be willing to take out a loan to do so. (OK, I exaggerate.) But believe it or not, I happen to have every one of these spices in my spice drawer already, because, as you know, I really love food that tastes like something!

Only one ingredient is called for that I don’t have, and that’s actually a spice blend called ras el hanout, fairly common in Moroccan cooking. Because it’s a blend (much like a curry) it has many versions, some containing as many as 100 different spices! Ras el Hanout means “top of the shop,” which I imagine to mean (perhaps mistakenly) the very best offering the proprietor has to sell. (I wonder if they keep it in exquisitely painted ceramic apothecary jars high up on the top shelf, out of reach of wide-swinging elbows?) You can buy it already prepared, or make up your own with the spices you may already have on hand. I liked the sounds of the following version, so this is where I begin tonight’s dinner. My next post will be on the dinner itself. (Just so you can either breathlessly anticipate – or completely ignore – the upcoming post, I’ll give a list of the ingredients required at the bottom of this page.)

Ras El Hanout– a Moroccan Spice Blend

  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons tumeric
  • 2 ateaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamom
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

Simply mix them all together and store as you would any spices, in an airtight container away from direct light. (And on the top shelf, if that idea appeals to you.) Read more

green salad with caramelized pears, walnuts & cheese

I have a thing for pears. I didn’t always have a thing for pears. But today my thing for pears is huge. And I think perhaps you need no more of my words on pears, but only to gaze (with your own eyes) upon their shapes, their colors,  their stems, their dimples and imperfections,  to know why it is I have this thing called love of pears.

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pears in pairs

BoscPear

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~ComicePears

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Of course it’s not all  about their looks. They’ve got that whole flavor and texture thing going on too. Here’s one delicious way to enjoy these beauties. For this recipe, I like d’Anjou or Barlett or Comice – and since you want them to stand up to the heat of caramelizing, begin with under-ripe fruit.

My husband’s got a thing for blue cheese. So, that’s one way you could make this salad (and I did for him) – but just as good (and far better if you don’t happen to like blue) is Parmigiano-Reggiano. Each of these cheeses pairs up beautifully with pears.

I told you in an earlier post about this Olive Oil store near us. (Also on line www.oilerie.com) We were in there the other day to re-stock on our lemon-olive oil. (So good!) Do you think I could walk past the pear balsamic without tasting? Do you think I could walk out of the store without a little bottle tucked under my arm? (oh it was paid for!)  The salad I made for us last night was made with pear balsamic and walnut oil – neither of these are necessary – at all!  Olive oil and any good balsamic will do perfectly. But I had them, and it was good. Very good.

Green Salad with Caramelized Pears, Walnuts & Cheese

with Walnut-Balsamic Vinaigrette

for the salad:

  • arugula or lettuce of your choice
  • walnuts (toasted for 10 minutes approximately, in 350º oven) (or candied pecans or walnuts – see post May 9th, 2011)
  • cheese of your choice (gorgonzola, other blue, parmiggiano – or perhaps you have another in mind)

for the vinaigrette:

  • good olive oil (or walnut oil)
  • balsamic vinegar (infused or not)
  • kosher or sea salt & pepper to taste
for the caramelized pears: (these quantities are for 2 salad servings)
  • 1 pear (see above for varieties)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it on hand)
  • balsamic – a splash – optional Read more

chicken tortilla soup

Here’s a soup that pleases crowds. Everyone in our family makes and serves this soup and everyone, from little kids to (occasionally) grumpy grandpas, loves it. A fairly long list of ingredients, but it’s a soup easily concocted, and easy to double or triple when entertaining bigger groups. If a soup can be casual and fun, this one is.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

(serves 6)

  • four 6-inch corn tortillas
  • about 2 teaspoons olive oil (to brush on tortillas) + 1 Tablespoon (to sauté vegetables with)
  • 2 – 14 ounce cans low sodium chicken broth (or 28 ounces of your very own!)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 -14.5 ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes with juice (or see photo for alternative)
  • 1 small can of green chiles, chopped (mild)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can cream of corn (the only time I ever use this stuff!)
  • 1 bay leaf
  •  ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped (1½ cups)
  • ½ red pepper, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 2 generous Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 12 ounces chicken breast meat (from a grilled, roasted or rotisseried chicken) (see NOTE)
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro

(NOTE on the chicken: If you use an home-done oven-roasted chicken, save the juices from the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate and remove the fat from the top, and incorporate the tasty juices into your soup.)

Garnishes:

  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips (Tostito lime chips are great here!)
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • sliced or chunked avocado
  • a drizzle of hot sauce of your choice – or a sprinkle of the seasoning blend of your choice (like the fabulous “Uncle Jim’s Secret Spice” – if you’re lucky enough to be Jim’s sister)

(Please imagine shredded cheddar on the bowl below.  Sadly, I forgot to add it before I grabbed my camera, so anxious to lift the spoon, I was!)

If you wanted to add rice, or zucchini, green beans,  mushrooms, or a little sweet potato, you could customize this soup entirely to suit your tastes. Didn’t I tell you it was fun?

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