Monday, January 31, 2011


Last week we had no power for just under two days. Sadly, this is becoming a regular occurrence in my area. Winter or summer, it seems that as soon as the wind blows (or snow or rain), so blows our transformer. In this case, it was an entire substation that "blew," knocking out power to two entire zip codes and providing a light and sound show that we thought was multi-colored lightning and accompanying thundersnow, and others thought was everything from said pink, purple and green lightning to the arrival of aliens. Truly, the rumbling that sounded like the fighter jets overhead after 9/11 went on for two or three minutes, all the while the lights in the house dimmed to an unnatural level before finally going out completely. In the entire town.

Though this has not been covered in the mainstream media, the word in the area is that the roof of the substation caved in under six inches (six! Oh yeah, it was very heavy snow) of snow and caused a fire in the substation, hence supporting Paul's and my suspicion during our two outages in August that we are victims of the failure of aging and antiquated equipment. PEPCO would prefer we believe it was a lightning strike.

I know this sounds all conspiracy theory-ish, but in, fact, this is the subject not just on our neighborhood listserve but on the facebook wall of one of our state representatives. It's true - we lose power in my neighborhood with just about every storm, not due to power lines downed by falling tree limbs (though that can certainly happen too), but as a result of PEPCO's failure to maintain and update its equipment. Shocking, really, as we are a suburb of a major city in the US.

In August, we lost pretty much everything in our refrigerators and freezers (two of each). Twice. This time, though we were freezing in our 49 degree house, our refrigerated food was safe in coolers buried in the snow outside. At least the vast majority of our frozen food remained frozen this time, though we will be eating a lot of thawed country ham this week. I'm thinking fried rice, soups and maybe a pizza?

The afternoon before the storm, I bought a chicken. I also bought some turkey scallopine, but that I cooked on my gas stovetop (!) by candlelight one of the nights we had no power. The chicken, however, survived the storm in a Styrofoam cooler on the patio but once the power came back on I figured that I had better get that bird cooked. I had ideas of chicken in Riesling, and even had the creme fraiche in hand, along with red potatoes and carrots, but for a variety of boring reasons I went with a very delicious recipe from Gourmet which is mostly garlic, lemon juice and oregano. It reminds me of the Athenian Chicken they used to serve at our local diner. So, that was dinner last night along with a favorite food52 recipe for asparagus. In both recipes I subbed olive oil in for the butter. Actually, as the asparagus uses pancetta, I ended up wiping most of the pancetta fat out of the pan, leaving just a little and using a little olive oil. I added some cooked orzo to the asparagus to provide a little heft to the dish for Maddy after she had her three bites of chicken.

Chicken with Garlic and Oregano

(Adapted from Gourmet magazine, April 2009)

serves 4 - 6 depending on size of chicken, mine was huge so I think it will serve the three of us for two meals. However, it is much better right out of the oven.

1 whole chicken, cut up or 8 - 10 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Have a roasting pan or high sided sheet pan ready. I like to line mine with aluminum foil.

2. Mince garlic cloves then whisk together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, a couple of pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

3. Pat chicken dry and coat with garlic/lemon/olive oil mixture.

4. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and then add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Brown the chicken pieces skin-side down. You don't want to crowd the pan so it might take two batches. Check after 5 or so minutes, as you want the skin to get crispy, but you will not be cooking the chicken through. As each batch is ready, place skin side up on your pan.

5. In a small bowl, mix broth with remaining lemon juice and the oregano, and pour over the chicken.

6. Roast chicken approximately 25 - 30 minutes or until cooked through. If the chicken is a smaller one, 25 minutes should do it. With large pieces like I had this time, it took a little more than 30 minutes.

7. Grind a little black pepper over top of the chicken.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vegetarian Week

The house is empty, suddenly, as Ted has gone back to college and Paul is in New York all week. It's just Maddy and me this week, so we're indulging in dinners designed more for the two of us. It's vegetarian week around here, a great opportunity to make Maddy happy and to experiment with some new recipes and some lighter dinners.

First off, I have to thank Maddy for the photo above. I'm still hobbling along with my old point and shoot although I did go in halvsies with Maddy on a Nikon dSLR that I have yet to use. Maybe experimenting with that camera should be my New Year's resolution. She took this photo on my old camera after I unsuccessfully attempted a few shots myself in the darkness that accompanies a winter dinner. My camera (and I) seem only to do well with lots of natural light.

I started out with a bang on Monday night, in part to cheer us up after everyone departed. I created a version of pasta alla Norma, or, generally, pasta with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and ricotta cheese. This turned out to be the richest meal we had all week. The recipe for this is below. I had a frozen bag of slow oven roasted tomatoes I'd made in October with the last of the local plum tomatoes so I used those instead of canned tomatoes this time.

Tuesday night we had a dinner I don't think I've had since I was married. Baked potato stuffed with sauteed (very) garlicky spinach, mushroom and onions and about a tablespoon of leftover ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of parmigiano. With all the controversy over white carbs, I sometimes forget about potatoes, but this is a delicious and very light vegetarian dinner that is simple to prepare.

Last night we enjoyed last week's winning recipe from food52, Rivka's Mujaddara, which is a blend of lentils, rice and caramelized onions. Rivka also provides the recipe for an accompanying spiced yogurt. It was terrific last night, and I expect it will be even better for lunch today!

Tonight we will be enjoying this soba which I blogged about last year for Gourmet, Unbound, topped with vegetables and perhaps, a small piece of salmon for me. If you check my notes in that blog post, you'll see what I altered in that recipe.

Oh, and before you start cooking, I just wanted to alert you to something I read in Cooking Light this month. For those of us buying chicken directly from farmers, it's not so much of an issue, but if you buy your chicken in a grocery store, be aware that some chicken, particularly boneless breasts, are injected with a saline solution to plump them. This can add an enormous amount of sodium to a 4 ounce serving. According to Cooking Light, chicken altered in this way can still be labeled "natural" under current USDA labeling policies. Not only does this process add hidden sodium, you are paying for more chicken than you're getting. The injected water will cook out of the chicken leaving you a smaller yield than unenhanced chicken.

Processors must disclose the injections, but they sometimes hide the disclosure with small lettering and inconspicuous location. Look for language like "contains up to 15% chicken broth" in fine print. Also, check the Nutrition Facts label - natural chicken should have only about 70 mg. of sodium which occurs naturally in many foods. "Enhanced" chicken might have 440 mg. in a 4 ounce serving.

While that might not seem like a lot of sodium, it is a completely unnecessary one-fifth (and almost one-third of the amount the American Heart Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are urging the USDA to adopt as the new daily amount - a decrease from 2300 mg. per day to 1500) of the daily recommended amount before the chicken has even been put into a recipe that might contain salt. Buy it or don't, but at least be aware it's there.

Penne with Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes and Ricotta Cheese

(serves 3 - 4)

1 eggplant, diced into about 1/2 inch pieces
3 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and cut into pieces about the size of the eggplant chunks
1 small to medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
14 ounce can of no sodium added San Marzano tomatoes (or about a cup to a cup and a half of slow roasted - not sun dried! - tomatoes if you have them)
8 ounces (half package) penne rigate - I used Garofalo whole wheat penne and it was fine in this dish
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shredded or grated to sprinkle on top

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Put up a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

3. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil onto a half sheet pan or low sided roasting pan and spread around. Add the eggplant pieces and another tablespoon or two of olive oil and toss well. Roast in oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until soft and slightly caramelized but not crispy.

4. In a saute pan over medium heat, sweat the onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt and some black pepper over top. Once the onions are translucent, add the garlic and Aleppo pepper or cayenne. After about two minutes, add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands or a spoon. Let the tomatoes simmer with the onion and garlic for about five minutes. You can throw in a pinch or two of thyme leaves if you have some. If you're using slow roasted tomatoes, put them into the pan with the olive oil they are in, but don't let them simmer, just move on to the next step.

5. Once the water boils, prepare pasta according to package directions. When the penne is cooked and drained, place it into a large bowl.

6. Add the tomato sauce, roasted eggplant and the basil to the pasta, reserving a pinch of basil for garnish if you like. Add the ricotta cheese. Mix well.

7. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if needed. Garnish with a bit of basil and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Some Belated New Year Thoughts

Here it is January 11, and I'm first getting around to a New Year's post. Francis Lam, late of Gourmet and now writing a blog for, has said it all. I hope you'll check out this blog post , and, perhaps, this one that preceded it. Why recommend the later post first? I really appreciated the comments to his original blog post that Lam included in his later post.

I agree with him that "cheap chicken" is no bargain. And where he wavers - will he still support a local fried chicken chef even though he knows that chef is using cheap chicken - I don't waver at all. If you like fried chicken, then continue to support that business, in moderation. Moderation is a very good thing. Despite my picky buying habits for my home, I worry a little less on the rare occasion I'm out. If it's an everyday thing, that's a chicken of a different color.

Lam's readers raised the moderation issue, but also raised another, highly political and high profile issue these days. We who are able to purchase the $7.99 per pound (and up!) local, organic, hormone and antibiotic free, grub pecking, free grazing happy chicken boneless chicken breast are extremely lucky to have that option. Many in this country can not spend that kind of money on their dinner protein, even if the amount purchased is more of a garnish than a main event. I have no answers but I do worry about this issue. Can we persuade a nation of Big Mac eaters to go for lentils and kale instead? I can barely persuade my family.

To this end, though (and ever optimistic), I sneak kale into as many dishes as I can. In the manner of the Irish, tonight's mashed potatoes (olive oil and chicken stock) will have some leftover kale mixed in. It's the dish for which I originally bought the kale that I want to share with you now.

I've made any number of minestrones and many, many pasta fagioli. They're all represented here. However, I saw the inspiration for this soup on a lovely blog called Dinner a Love Story, done by a former editor of the now defunct Cookie magazine. She writes about the daily trials of getting dinner on the table in a two career family with kids. Even if you've never used dried beans before, give it a try. You can control the sodium and the flavor is markedly better in the case of cannellini beans. I figured if she has time to use dried cannellini beans, so do I! Just plan ahead a little with the beans - you'll need to soak them overnight and then drain them in the morning and then add fresh water and simmer for about an hour. Then you're done until you make the soup which actually goes quickly. You can even make the beans over the weekend and keep them refrigerated in their cooking water for a day or two until you want to make the soup.


adapted from Dinner a Love Story (who credits The Fine Art of Cooking by Giuliano Bugialli)

serves 6

8 ounces dried cannellini beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces (1 large, thick cut slice) pancetta, diced (optional)
1 large onion, diced
1 large rib celery, diced
1 fat carrot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flat Italian parsley
1/2 head Savoy cabbage
1 medium sized Yukon gold potato, peeled and diced on the small size
1 - 2 bunches (depending on size - if you have a really full bunch, one will do it) of lacinato or Tuscan kale, rinsed, cut off the tough ribs and cut into one inch ribbons
1 cup strained tomatoes (no salt added)
2 -4 cups water or no sodium added chicken or vegetable stock
two or three large handfuls of baby spinach
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (about 1/4 package) tubetti pasta (optional)
best quality olive oil
grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Soak the dried cannellini beans overnight in a pot of cold water. Make sure the beans are covered by about two inches of water. In the morning, drain the beans in a colander and then put them back into the pot with 2 quarts of lightly salted water. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to simmer for about an hour, until tender, adding a little more hot water if the level gets too low. The beans should be fully covered at all times. If you're making the soup right after, then leave the beans in their pot on the stove. If you'd like to make the beans ahead, refrigerate in the cooking water until ready to use. When you're ready to make the soup, put the beans and their water into a pot and heat gently on the stove to take the chill out. Then turn off the heat and let them sit while you start the soup.

2. If using pancetta, put two tablespoons olive oil and pancetta into a large soup pot or Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until fully cooked, but not crispy, about 10 minutes. If not using pancetta, use three tablespoons olive oil and go to next step.

3. Add in the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, parsley and a couple of pinches of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Saute for about 10 more minutes until the vegetables soften and the onions become translucent. Add the potato to the pot, mix well and let cook for a couple of minutes. Add the cabbage and kale and the strained tomatoes. Add a few ladlefuls of the water from the beans and two cups of water or stock. Bring up to a boil and then immediately lower to a simmer, cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and simmer for about 15 minutes (if you have an end of a piece of Parmigiano lurking around, throw it in here). Add another cup or two of water or stock and another ladle or two of the bean water as it gets drier. Add the spinach and stir to submerge. Let simmer another 5 or 10 minutes.

4. If you are using the tubetti, put up some water and prepare according to directions. Drain in a colander.

5. Remove about 1 cup of the beans from the water and place into soup. With an immersion blender, puree the remaining beans in their pot and add that puree into the soup as well. Mix well.

5. Simmer another 10 minutes or so. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the tubetti if using.

6. Top each bowl with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a drizzle of great olive oil. With the tubetti, this is a one dish meal, however, if you rather, skip the tubetti and serve with good bread.