Sunday, July 10, 2016

Comfort after a long short week (Tarragon Braised Chicken with Tarragon, served with spiralized zucchini, corn, mushrooms and tomatoes.)

Just before I added the sauce -
love the colors
The first week of July was a long short week.  At work and in the world in general.  After a day of running errands, all I wanted to do Saturday evening was stay in, watch a movie and cook up some comfort food.  

For many, comfort food means anything with cheese.  For me it’s a braise. Short ribs, lamb shanks, deep rich stews, and our family favorite, osso buco  — my list of comforting braises is long. They all have a few common elements:   fragrant aromatics - think rosemary, thyme, garlic, tarragon - good quality “dark meat” protein, just enough liquid and a relatively long trip to the oven in a sturdy dutch oven.

Last night I opted for a cut of chicken that many overlook, leg quarters.  This cut combines two dark meat favorites into one, the thigh and the drumstick.  I like to remove the skin and keep the joints intact. 

Prepped veg - and yes, those are
tarragon flowers in the mix...
This recipe also made use of my new favorite toy, the spiralizer, which turns a zucchini or other similar shaped vegetable into long strands that look like pasta.  In my opinion, the texture is much better than most ways of preparing squash, but any sauté of vegetables goes great with this dish.

Here’s how I pulled together the dish.

Tarragon Braised Chicken with Tarragon, served with spiralized zucchini, corn, mushrooms and tomatoes.
(Serves 4 hungry souls)


For the Braise

  • 4 chicken legs with thighs attached, skin removed
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Poultry Seasoning - a couple of Tablespoons
  • Olive oil to coat bottom of pan (about a Tablespoon)
  • 1/2 Valhalla onion (or other sweet onion)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and left hold
  • Enough water to reach the 1/2 way point of the chicken, about 1/2 cup of water (white wine would be great here, too)  The important thing is not to add so much liquid that you turn this into a stew rather than a braise.

For the Veg Sauté 

  • 2 cobs of corn, kernels cut off
  • 1 spiraled zucchini  
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 TBS fresh thyme chopped (you can use about a teaspoon of dried if you don’t have fresh)
  • 1/3 cup nonfat half & half (you can use regular half and half as well)
  • 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees

  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper
  • Heat a dutch oven or other heavy bottomed, lidded pan with olive oil.  
  • Brown the chicken over a medium high heat, two pieces at a time
  • When the second batch is browned, remove the chicken from the pan and dust with the poultry seasoning.
  • Add the onion and garlic cloves to the pan and sauté until the onion is just softened
  • Now add the chicken back into the pan, pour in the water, heat to a boil, cover with a lid and pop into the oven for 45 minutes.

Pour yourself a nice glass of white wine, chill out for a while…. the house will soon smell amazing…

  • When the chicken is done, remove it and the onions and garlic from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm in a heat resistant disk like a glass pie pan. 
  • Then skim away any fat with a spoon.  I also like to lay a paper towel atop the liquid and lift away andy residual fat.

The recipe up to this stage can be completed up to an hour ahead of serving.

  • About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve,  crank up the heat to medium high and reduce the liquid to about half.
  • While the sauce is reducing, fire up the broiler, uncover chicken, garlic and onions, spoon a bit of the sauce on all surfaces, and place under the broiler until they are crispy and golden brown.  Keep an eye on this throughout to avoid burning.

As the chicken finishes up,  lets get those veggies ready….

  • Heat the dutch oven again and add in about a teaspoon of olive oil. Add in all of the veggies and half of the tarragon. Add a pinch of salt and about 6 grinds of pepper and sauté  for about 5 minutes or until everything is just getting soft.  
  • Now add in the half and half and remainder of the tarragon and the parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. 

To serve:
I like to serve in a pasta bowl, placing the chicken down first, then a scoop of the veggies and a bit of the sauce along the bottom of the bowl, as opposed to over the top of the chicken. 


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Plan B: Spanish Inspired Paella Stew

Over rice for Steve

My plan was to make paella yesterday, but frankly I got lazy and we had cheese and crackers while watching Final Four basketball instead. And today I had a tennis match planned for the late afternoon, so making the somewhat time intensive dish really was not in the cards.

Soooo - my solution? A Spanish inspired stew that I could braise in the oven for a couple of hours in the morning and then heat up in the evening when it was time for dinner.
Over spinach for me

The resulting one-pot Sunday dinner pretty darned good, if I say so myself. In fact, according to Steve, this was one of the best dishes I've ever dreamed up.

Here's how I did it:

Serves 6


  • 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 mild italian sausage (I couldn't find Spanish chorizo
  • 1/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 large can whole tomatoes 
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock 
  • 2 TBD Worcestershire sauce 
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 TBS smoked Spanish paprika 
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 2 dried bay leaves 
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar 
  • Salt & pepper

Rice cooked with chicken broth rather than water
Or bed of spinach if you are watching your carbs


  • Heat oven to 275 degrees
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper and 2 TBS of the paprika
  • Heat a Dutch over a medium flame and brown the chicken; remove and keep warm on a plate covered with foil
  • Add the sausage, and brown it whole. Remove and slice into bite size pieces. It will not be cooked through. Add to the chicken and keep warm. 
  • Now add the onion to the pot and sauté until soft. Add the final TBS of paprika and the tomato paste and stir to combine, heating through. 
  • Now add the chicken and sausage back to the pot along with the tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce, and enough chicken broth to cover the meat by about 2 inches. 
  • Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes, stir to combine and bring to a boil. 
  • Not put the lid on the pot and put in the oven. 
  • Cook low and slow for 2 hours. 

At the end of 2 hours, remove the lid and cook another 20 minutes to reduce a tad.
At this point you can cool and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

  • When you are ready to serve, add the brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Heat  until bubbly and add the frozen peas and the shrimp, lower the heat, cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the shrimp is just done. 
  • Stir in the vinegar and serve over rice or spinach. 


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hammin’ it up (Dijon Mustard Glazed Ham)

Growing up in Southern California, we weren’t much of a holiday ham family. I know we had one now and then, but I really don’t correlate ham with holiday.  Easter was more about a leg of lamb on the grill, or a pork roast that was cooked in the “service porch,” on a Farberware
Ready to be sliced and served

rotisserie atop the washing machine that filled the house with most amazing garlic, rosemary and porky goodness.  But I digress….

Since moving to North Carolina in ’09 I’ve done more hams than I’ve probably done in a lifetime. They are great for company, and provide excellent leftovers to send home with guests, and make yummy ham sandwiches the following week.

Simple savory glaze ingredients 
I tend toward the savory rather than the sweet side of just about every dish. So you won’t be surprised that are no hunks of pineapple or crackly brûléed glaze on my piggy. Instead, I get a hint of sweet from apricot jam and lay on a healthy helping of savory with Dijon mustard. Oh yeah.

We enjoyed this tasty glaze on a holiday ham earlier today as we celebrated Easter with good friends.  But don’t wait for a holiday to try it. I mean really, who doesn't  like a nice slice of ham now and then?

Cooling the glaze

Dijon Mustard Glazed Ham
Serves 6-8 with leftovers 


  • 7-8 lb fully cooked, bone in, smoked ham – the bone being in is important. Far more flavor!  I don’t go for the spiral cut ones. Just give me the ham and we’ll figure out how to slice it up.
  • 1 heaping cup apricot jam
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup diced sweet onion
  • 1 TBS fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • Big pinch of salt and 6 or 7 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • A palm full of cloves


Make the glaze – (note: I like to do this early in the day and let it cool completely before glazing the ham)

  • Heat a small saucepan, put about a TBS of olive oil in the pan; add the onion and sauté until they start to get translucent.
  • Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté about 2 min more
  • Now add the Dijon, worchestershire sauce, and jam
  • Stir to combine and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.
  • Remove from the heat and cool.
Roast the ham

Heat the oven to 375 degrees

Line a sturdy cooking sheet with aluminum foil

  • Position the ham, fat side up on the cooking sheet.  I like to cut a small slice off the bottom of the ham, so it wont’ slip around throughout the cooking and glazing process.
  • Take a knife and score the ham in a diamond pattern, about 2 inches between cuts
  • Insert a clove where the lines cross
  • Put the ham in the oven, and cook for 1 hour
  • At the 1-hour mark, remove the ham carefully and brush the glace all over the meat, pushing it into the crevices of the diamond pattern.  Put the ham back in the oven, and bake another 1 hour; taking it out every 15 minutes to re-apply the glaze.
  • At the top of the 2nd hour, check for doneness with an instant read thermometer, avoiding the bone as you insert it into the meat.  It should be 135 degrees.
  • Remove the ham from the oven, tent loosely with foil and let it rest for 1- to 15 minutes.
  • Slice and serve.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ole! (Quick and Easy Mexican Tortilla Scramble)

As a SoCal expat, I am a lifelong Mexican food lover.  But I also like to keep things healthy.  AND when it comes to breakfast, who has time for a big production? 

This morning I whipped up this little ditty that scratched each of those itches. It’s high in protein, low in fat and cooks up in a flash.  And if you use good corn tortillas (like the fresh ones you can get from a real tortillaria or Mexican market like the one I found on Hillsboro Road here and Durham or just about anywhere in SoCal) the South of the Boarder flavor comes through without any effort at all.  (Oh and for my WW friends, it comes in at 7 SPV, which may sound high, but it really does stick with you.)

Here’s how you do it:

Quick and Easy Mexican Tortilla Scramble
(Serves 1, just multiply to feed more folks)

  • 1 TBS chopped white onion (preferably a sweet onion like a Vandalia or Maui)
  • 1 corn tortilla, cut into strips
  • 1 egg and 1 egg white, whisked with a little salt and pepper
  • 1 oz queso fresco cheese (the crumbly white Mexican kind – it comes in a block.  A good brand is Casique, or you can get the fresh kind from the deli section of a Mexican Market)
  • Cooking spray
  • Your favorite hot sauce (I like Cholula) or salsa to garnish

  • Heat a non-stick or small well seasoned cast iron skillet
  • Spray the pan with cooking spray and add the onions and tortilla strips.  Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is soft and the tortilla strips are starting to get a bit of color.
  • (Hit the mixture with a tad more spray if you are using cast iron)
  • Add the egg mixture
  • Lower the heat and gently stir to combine and create the scramble.
  • When the eggs are set, add the cheese and stir to combine and warm through
  • Serve with a dash or two of hot sauce


Friday, December 25, 2015

Happiness = Cooking Christmas Breakfast with my Boy (Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Sunny Side up Eggs)

Merry Christmas!

If you’ve read my blogs, or know me well, you won’t be surprised to hear that all I wanted for Christmas was to spend time with my family – and cook with Will.  He’s been my culinary sidekick since he was a little guy, and we make a great team in the kitchen. 

Both Christmas wishes came true this morning.
Scatter and squish
The inspiration for this breakfast came yesterday as Will and I watched Bobby Flay’s brunch show.  Funny thing is, the only things that are the same as Bobby’s dish is only the use of sweet potatoes and serving family style with the sunny side up eggs atop the hash.  But his show got us thinking about how to make a sweet potato hash with the flavor profile we gravitate toward – the traditional flavors of Mexico – cumin, coriander, poblano peppers, and cilantro.
Oh yeah, slid on those sunny side up eggs

The dish also gave us a chance to try out the cast iron pan Steve and Will got me for Christmas – by far the largest and heaviest cast iron skillet I’ve ever used.  

Here’s how Will and I put that bad boy to use this morning:

Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs
(Serves 4 – or 3 Barnett’s with leftovers for Will’s breakfast tomorrow)

  • ½ roll of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage
  • 1 ½ sweet potato, cut into ½ inch cubes, boiled until just tender and then placed into a bowl of ice and water to stop the cooking.  We did this the night before, strained and kept in the fridge.
  • ¾ cup sweet onion, diced
  • ¾ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, diced
  • ½ cup cilantro chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 eggs
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Spices – Note, you will add these into the spices 2 to 3 times throughout the cooking process.  Measurements are approximations.  The amounts below are the total you will use, but feel free to add a bit more to taste.
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • ½ tsp chipotle chili powder (optional – if you have it use it! But no need to make a special trip to the store.
The method

Create the hash
  • Pre-heat a large cast iron skillet (or other pan of your liking), lower the heat to medium
  • Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan to get things going, then add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon
  • Sprinkle about a third of the spices, but no salt or pepper
  • Cook until browned, remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel
  • Now add a bit more olive oil to the pan and add in the onions, red pepper and poblano pepper – in that order, sautéing each one before adding the next.  Add the next third of the spices and keep sautéing.  You can add some salt and pepper at this stage, but go easy.
  • Now add in the sweet potatoes – and yes, you guessed it, the rest of the spices.  Scatter them into a single layer, squish them down with a spatula and step away.  You want this to cook low and slow to form a nice crust.
  • When you’ve started to see some crust formation, drizzle a tad more olive oil if necessary and flip, scatter and squish again.  This is best done with a spatula so you can get up those yummy crunchy bits.
  • Continue to follow this method until the right level of doneness is reached – then add the sausage back in, gently stirring as you go.
  • Now add 1/2 the cilantro and stir
  • Then pile up the hash into the center of the skillet….
  • Right about now you should lower the heat to the lowest setting an start the eggs

Cook the eggs
  • This is best served with a sunny side up egg, but if you like your eggs cooked longer, I won’t judge.  
  • To cook ours, Will heated a non-stick pan, added some butter (heck, it’s Christmas!), cracked in the eggs, added a bit of salt and pepper, lowered the flame and topped the pan with a plate, cuz my pan lacks a lid.  
  • The heat and steam cook the eggs to just the right doneness, no flipping required.

Assemble and serve
  • Once the eggs are done, slide them on top of the hash, divide into portions and serve, with a sprinkle of cilantro. 


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rainy Day Comfort Food – Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Grapes, Pine Nuts and a Wee Bit o'Bacon

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring….. Given my SoCal roots, I’m feeling kinda guilty about the fact that it has rained for the past 10 or 11 days (I’ve lost track) and we might even get some more….  But right about now, I’m ready for it to stop. 
Ready to serve

Headed into the oven
Perfect Brussels sprouts as
easy as 1 2 3
The rainy weather did lead me to come up with a new recipe for Brussels Sprouts.  This one screams FALL and will likely end up on our Thanksgiving table.  I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as Steve and I did tonight.

Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Grapes, Pine Nuts and a Wee Bit o'Bacon

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  I used convection roast, which led to a ridiculously short cook time – somewhere between 10 and 12 minutes.  But normal baking temp would work fine.  Just pop ‘em in and pay attention….

  • About 4 Brussels sprouts per person.  Washed, dried and then prepared per the photos below.  I cut the core out, then slice in half, and then peel a couple of layers off. Tossing the leaves and the remaining piece of veg into the bowl, and the core into the trash.
  • About a 1/8 cup of diced bacon.  Diced and zapped in the microwave for about a minute to partially cook.  Drain on paper towel.  (Note:  I keep a slab of good bacon (thick cut, wood smoked) in the freezer and cut off a couple of inches). 
  • A quarter of an apple per person, Diced.
  • A tablespoon of diced sweet onion per person.
  • A table spoon or so of pine nuts. 
  • 3 red grapes per person
  • Pinch of red chili flakes
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Bunch of grinds of black pepper
  • Olive oil to coat lightly
  • Put all of the ingredients into a bowl; toss with the olive oil and dump onto a foil lined baking sheet
  • Put into the oven
  • Roast until the Brussels sprouts are browned and soft.
  • Pull from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes
Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rainy Girls Night In (Roasted Grapes with Rosemary, Thyme & Garlic)

One of my fondest memories from my friendship with my bestie Sheryl was an afternoon that we spent with our friend Julie at the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana.  

It was supposed to be a cultural affair. We’d have a bite of lunch under the olive trees at the al fresco restaurant at the Bowers, then tour the museum --  which had some sort of mummy exhibit that was all the rage.  Maybe we’d hit the museum store afterward.  Who knows?
Done in 15 minutes and crazy good.
Pretty, too, on my grandmother's peacock plate.

Well.  Let’s just say we never made it to the museum. 

Nope.  Sheryl ordered a “wunnnndaful” Spanish Pinot Grigio, and as I recall we all spotted the roasted grapes and manchego cheese appetizer, and agreed that we had to have it.  A bottle or two later, we said to heck with the mummies, did some tipsy shopping in the museum store and called it an afternoon.

That day and that dish was my inspiration when my friend Norma stopped by this evening with a bottle of a yummy white.  Our men are in California for golf and a car race (playing and watching the former, and just watching the latter - thank you, Lord).  It’s been raining here all day – perfect chance to try my hand at roasting some grapes.

Oh yes.  They were as good as I remembered.  And this would be a perfect appetizer if you are having folks over.  I know it was the perfect light dinner for the two of us to catch up.

Here’s how you do it.

Roasted Grapes with Rosemary, Thyme & Garlic
Heat the oven to 375 degrees – I used my convection roast setting, but it’s not necessary

  • 1  big bunch of grapes, removed from the stems, washed and dried. We used a mixture of seedless red and green.  We preferred the red, but the green were awesome, too. 
  • 1 stem fresh rosemary
  • 1or two large stem fresh thyme
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • A couple glugs of olive oil - seriously, I don't know how much.  Just coat the grapes and be done with it. 
  • Big pinch of kosher salt
  • Bunch of grinds of pepper – I used a pepper mix I got in Barcelona last winter.  Red, black, green and even some allspice thrown in.  But plain black pepper would be just fine.

  • Cheese to serve with the grapes. I'd go with Manchego or other firm, mild cheese.  I didn’t have manchego, so I used a firm queso fresco (also sometimes called queso blanco).  A nice hard goat cheese – like Drunken Goat (you'll find it at Whole Foods and many cheese stores)– would be great too.
  • I'm sure crusty bread would be nice.  We started to have crackers and then decided that the grapes and cheese were perfect on their own.

  • Remove the rosemary and thyme leaves from their stems, and peel the garlic.
  • Mince the rosemary, thyme and garlic to a very very fine dice. 
  • Toss all of the ingredients in a big bowl.
  • Scatter the grapes on a baking sheet, so they are in an even row.
  • Put in the oven. 
  • Set the timer for 15 minutes.
Open a bottle of nice, crisp white wine. Go ahead, have a sip.  Or two.
  •  After 15 minutes, check the grapes.  
  • They should be just about to pop, and some of them will shrink a tad.
  • Remove from the oven.  Let them cool a bit and then enjoy with cheese or as they are.