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

Tested and updated February 3, 2018

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

Paella Inspired Stew
Comfort food takes a detour to Spain in this low and slow cooked stew, served over rice. 
Serves 8

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3 Spanish or Portuguese chorizo sausage links (or Italian if unavailable - just not Mexican chorizo)
  • 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, diced (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 28 oz can whole Italian style tomatoes 
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 TBS tomato paste
  • 2 TBS Worcestershire sauce 
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and left whole
  • 2 TBS smoked Spanish paprika, divided
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 3 dried bay leaves 
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar 
  • Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper

For serving:  Rice cooked with chicken broth rather than water, and a pinch of saffron, if you have it. If you don’t and you really want yellow rice, you can aways add a 1/4 tsp of turmeric.  I’ll never tell!

  • Heat oven to 275 degrees
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper and 2 TBS of the smoked Spanish paprika
  • Heat a Dutch over a medium flame and brown the chicken in two batches; remove and keep warm on a plate covered with foil
  • Add the sausage, and brown it whole. Remove, let it cool slightly and slice into bite size pieces. (A serrated knife works well) It will not be cooked through. Add to the chicken and keep warm. 
  • Drop the diced onion to the pot and sauté until soft before adding the final TBS of paprika and the tomato paste. Stir to combine and heat through. This will wake up the tomato paste and boost the flavor of the dish.
  • Next add the chicken and sausage back to the pot along with the tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes, stir to combine and bring to a low boil. 
  • Cover and place in the oven to braise, 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, skim off any fat (I lay a paper towel on the surface and lift it away), add the brown sugar and heat until bubbly. Then drop the heat down to Low, add the frozen peas and the shrimp, cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the shrimp is just done. 
  • Remove the bay leaves and garlic cloves, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed,  and stir in the balsamic vinegar right before serving over rice. 


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