Easy Super-Succulent Roast Chicken

roast chicken

                                                                                            roast chicken

Eating roast chicken is one of those comfort yums I sometimes dream about. Awake dreaming. While driving in a car, for instance. I’m hungry. Wish I had a chicken leg. Or wing. Or thigh. I never get interested in the breast (except for chicken salad). Duane likes the chicken breast (ONLY) so it works out.

I was a wing girl for most of my life. I realized the best part about wings is the equal parts meat to skin. So you get some of each in every bite. And that, of course, means FLAVOR. Then I jumped to the dark side. Thighs now being the supreme pinnacle of tastiness for chicken. And the drumstick (would love to research when we started using that term). The drumstick is best for grabbing cold leftover chicken from the fridge and chowing down immediately with hands.

Years ago I discovered the wonders of plopping a whole chicken in a cast iron pan and roasting it. First  season it with salt, pepper, a little olive oil, some aleppo, maybe a lemon juice squeeze, and then surrounding it with sliced-up onion. Perfect. (My mom adds a cup of rice around the chicken with some broth…cooked chicken-y rice is done when the roasted chicken is done…YES).

This time tho, I wanted to cut up the chicken into parts. And why not add some carrots?

First I cut up 2 onions into thin wedges.

sliced onions

                                                                           sliced onions

then a couple of carrots into thin slices…

sliced carrots

                                                                            sliced carrots

…lay them out in the cast iron pan, drizzle olive oil, season with salt. Top with the chicken pieces and season chicken with salt & pepper…

chicken in pan on top of carrots and onions

                                                 chicken in pan on top of carrots and onions

…and because herbs are growing like a jungle in the garden, a few sprigs of thyme and oregano…

herbs with the chicken

                                                                         herbs with the chicken

Roast for about an hour in a 375-degree oven.

You will have a dinner that truly comforts you. Juicy. Flavorful. Tender. The carrots and onions are slippery-succulent. And the juices (with vegetables) must be spooned onto each serving. Here’s a couple of wings.

Fly, fly away…

a couple of wings

                                                                                   a couple of wings

 

I Give a Fig

fig tart

fig tart

The fig tree in our patio garden has been evolving, spurting, freezing, fruiting for about 6 years now. It took 3 years for fruit to first appear in quantity, then the tree took a dive after an icy winter, then grew back with no fruit, then dove again because of an icy winter last season, now its branches and leaves are threatening to take over the backyard–but no fruit. By this time in the summer, 3 years ago, it was full of fruit (so Facebook tells me with one of their blasts from the past to remind me what I was doing years ago).

Figs from my tree 3 years ago

Figs from my tree 3 years ago

This coming winter I’m determined to wrap the tree in plastic or tar paper (like they used to do in the Brooklyn backyards of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents). Maybe then it can get thru a harsh winter and continue the 3-year growing need to start giving fruit again.

But guess what? Figs are in the food stores now and I’m not shy to snap them up from a shelf. Here are some turkey figs my mom got in Publix.

brown turkey figs

brown turkey figs

I couldn’t resist the black figs and grabbed a large box of them. The two fig types taste pretty much the same. WONDERFUL.

black figs

black figs

What to do with wonderful figs? Figs and prosciutto. Figs in a Moroccan tagine. Figs stuffed in a ravioli. Figs just in your hand and then in your mouth. Or figs in a simple tart. This one is easy peasy. I sliced the figs into thinnish slices.

sliced figs

sliced figs

I had a cup of ricotta in the refrigerator leftover from a class. And I also had a small ball of pastry dough leftover from a class. I rolled out the dough intending to make a galette but there was enough for an 8-inch tart pan. I mixed the ricotta with some sugar and a bit of vanilla extract, and spread it evenly in the dough shell (uncooked).

ricotta in tart

ricotta in tart

The I placed the fig slices into the ricotta…

figs placed in ricotta

figs placed in ricotta

…and sprinkled it all with white sugar…

sugar on figs

sugar on figs

…baked it in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes until the tart dough got a little golden.

fig tart

fig tart

Stunningly tasty. So simple. Like sitting at the backyard arbor table of a Tuscan villa, in the heat of lazy summer, and the sun playing hide and seek with a nearby giant fig tree. That’s what it tastes like. Bring that villa home to you with this tart.

Cannoli Without Frying

baked cannoli

baked cannoli

I was the kid who didn’t like dessert. Sweet stuff never appealed to me. Maybe a Devil Dog here and there. And I’d always savor my mom’s cupcakes. And for some reason pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream was a favorite. Probably because it was really “food” and not dessert.

But in our house Italian pastries appeared regularly from the Italian bakery.  Sfoglitelle, pastaciotta, baba au rhum, lobster tails, and napoleons, cream puffs, and eclairs. My eyes just passed over these concoctions like they weren’t even there. And then, of course, the ubiquitous cannoli. These I especially didn’t like. And all of them also came in miniature size. Still didn’t faze me. They were like props at the table.

Call it age (I’m not that old, am I?) or evolving palate, or ever-expanding culinary curiosity, but now I can appreciate those sweet, happy cakes. And I’m fascinated with how to make them. I make them. I taste them. But I still don’t really devour.

Other people do. And I love to make people happy with dessert.

Three or four years ago we made traditional cannoli in my cooking classes. The dough was inspired by Mario Batali’s recipe and we formed it around the cannoli molds and deep-fried them. Then carefully removed the cooked shells from the molds and piped in our filling.

cannoli with fried shells

traditional cannoli with fried shells

But recently I came across another way of making cannoli from Nick Malgieri’s 1990 book “Great Italian Desserts.” Malgieri is the head of the baking program at my culinary school: ICE.

In his recipe you use puff pastry to make the cannoli shell. We’ve been making them in class this summer and they are so fun and so lovely and so easy.

You roll out a sheet of puff pastry to fairly thin. Then cut about 1-inch strips. Gently roll the strips around the cannoli form, overlapping as you go. Not too tight, not too loose.

puff pastry wrapped around cannoli form

puff pastry wrapped around cannoli form

Bake them and gently remove from the mold. Let cool, and pipe in filling.

puff pastry cannoli

puff pastry cannoli

They are so beautiful. Delicious. And a blast to make. Mainly because you can’t believe this is actually working! I make my filling not that sweet. Most Italian desserts are not overly-sweet. (And there’s that no-sweets-for-me stubbornness.) If you don’t have a sweet tooth, or are cultivating one, or have a very big sweet tooth, this recipe will satisfy all. Try it. Let me know how you make out.

puff pastry cannoli

puff pastry cannoli

Puff Pastry Cannoli with Ricotta Cream & Crushed Pistachios

(adapted from Nick Malgieri)

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups ricotta

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup crushed pistachios nuts

1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

Equipment: 12 cannoli tubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until pretty thin (about 30 % larger). Cut dough width-wise into 1-inch strips. Butter the cannoli tubes. Gently, but firmly wrap a strip of dough around a tube making an overlapping spiral. Don’t pull the dough too tightly to wrap, but gently secure. Repeat with the rest of the dough and tubes. Place seam side down on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden. When cool enough to handle very gently slide the pasty off the form. Let cool completely before filling.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta with sugar and whisk until sugar no longer feels gritty. Stir in the cream and chocolate chips. Spoon half of the mixture into a quart-sized ziplock bag. Push mixture to a bottom corner and seal the bag pressing out air. Snip the corner where the ricotta is— a hole about the size of a pea.

Hold one of the pastries upright and hold the pastry bag about 1-2-inches from the pastry opening. Squeeze bag and let pastry fill. Press crushed pistachio nuts at either end. Repeat with the rest of the tube and filling. Dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serve right away or refrigerate overnight.

Sweet Tomato Galette

Sweet Tomato Galette

Sweet Tomato Galette

Here come the tomatoes. And we’d better be ready. They will appear at the table in all their savory guises– or all alone, by themselves, because that’s usually all that’s needed.

summer tomatoes

summer tomatoes

But here’s a sweet twist on tomatoes. I offered up something similar in culinary school for a student contest. Made it to finalist. But now many years later I think I’ve perfected it even more. It’s a surprising taste. Sugar and Tomatoes. A taste you’ll cherish from now on.

I start with 2 medium tomatoes, sliced about a 1/4″ thick into half-moons. Lay them out in a colander and salt them well. Let them release some of their juices for about 1/2 hour.

salted tomato slices

salted tomato slices

Then I make my favorite tart pastry recipe. (See below.) Roll it out into an informal circle.

rolled pastry dough

rolled pastry dough

Then move it to a parchment or silpat-lined pan.

pastry dough

pastry dough

Drizzle a light layer of honey.

drizzle honey

drizzle honey

And start laying out the tomato slices in a circular pattern.

layer tomatoes

layer tomatoes

Filling in the center. Then sprinkling with sugar. I used Demerara sugar and white sugar, but use your favorite-tasting sugar.

Demerara sugar

Demerara sugar

Fold in the edges of the dough. Brush with an egg wash…

brush with egg wash

brush with egg wash

Sprinkle more sugar over the dough. Here I’ve also added some sparkling finishing sugar.

ready to bake

ready to bake

You need a good amount of sugar. That’s what makes the tomato flavor pop in this not-usual direction. Bake for about 35 minutes in a 375 degree oven until golden. Let it sit a bit before slicing. Sometimes juices accumulate in a puddle around the tomatoes when you first take it out, but then absorb into the galette as it cools for a few minutes.

baked tomato galette

baked tomato galette

Add to the sweet-savory combo by tearing a few basil leaves on top. The flavors do an unusual dance on your taste buds, then relax long enough for you to say: “Can I have another slice?”

tomato galette

sweet tomato galette

Sweet Tomato Galette

2 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4” half-moons

salt for sprinkling

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons Demerara sugar, divided

3 tablespoons white sugar, divided

2 tablespoons sparkling finishing sugar

1 egg for egg wash

5-6 basil leaves, torn

For the pastry dough:

1.5 cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

pinch salt

1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

1/4 cup cold white wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the pastry: Add the flour, sugar, salt and butter to the bowl of food processor. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly with small pea-sized pieces. Add wine. Pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Turn dough out onto a work surface and press together into a thick disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes-1 hour.

Meanwhile, salt the tomato slices and let drain in colander for about 1/2 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll it out into an informal circle on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/8” thick. Move to a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan. Drizzle honey evenly over surface.

Place tomato slices in an overlapping circle, leaving about a 2-inch border of dough. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar, and white sugar. Fold in edges of the dough, overlapping. Brush dough with egg wash. Sprinkle more of both sugars over dough and the sparkling finishing sugar.

Bake for about 35 minutes until golden. When cooled, sprinkle with basil leaves.

Make My Galette Mini

mini fruit galettes

mini fruit galettes

I’m a galette lover. They are oh, so, splendidly free-form. Roll out your pastry dough into a rough circle, or oval, or oblong, or isosceles triangle (remember those?)–almost any shape works. Place your filling roughly in the center and fold over the dough borders. Bake. Tastes as wonderful as any pie you worked at fitting into a pan. Actually. It may even taste better. It’s non-conformist nature adds a taste of the wild.

Me and my love of the itty-bitty, took a galette a step further and made mini-galettes. Individual serving galettes. This takes a bit more time (as anything in many small shapes will) but I LOVE the results.

rolling dough for mini-galettes in my class

rolling dough for mini-galettes in my class

getting galettes ready to bake

getting galettes ready to bake

We make them in my classes and the thrill mounts as the little darlings of a pie come together.

Ready to bake mini-galettes

Ready to bake mini-galettes

Choose your fruit filling to go with the season. Peaches would be lovely now. Or berries and cherries. We’ve baked them with pears and apples, apricots and plums, blackberries and strawberries. ALL GOOD. Add a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream to your own little fresh-baked galette and relax in the galette glow.

Mini-Galettes 

For the crust:

2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

pinch salt

10 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes

1/3 cup cold white wine

For the filling:

2-3 peaches or pears

1/3 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

1/3 cup dried cranberries or blueberries

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons flour

1 egg, beaten in a small bowl with a tablespoon of water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

For the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until butter is broken up but not totally blended— still some small chunks. Add the wine, process until a dough forms in a clump. Take dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Shape into a thick disk, wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

For the filling: Peel the pears, cut into quarters, cut each quarter in half width-wise, and cut each piece into small chunks. In a mixing bowl stir together the pears, nuts, cranberries, sugar, cinnamon, and flour.

Make the galettes: Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a large circle or oblong, about 1/8” thick. Cut 6-inch circles of dough. Roll up scraps and cut out more circles. In the center of each circle, leaving a 1-inch border, place 2-3 tablespoons of filling. Fold over the border edges like a galette, making folds and flattening slightly. Brush dough with egg wash. Bake for about 30 minutes until the dough is golden, and filling is bubbling.

mini fruit galettes

mini fruit galettes

Cookbook Collection from the 1950’s

Metropolitan Cookbook

Metropolitan Cookbook

I’m sure you all have a shelf, many shelves, entire rooms of cookbooks. Isn’t it funny how we can never really say: “Okay, I have enough cookbooks. I don’t need to look at another one again.”

Of course, we can’t say that. Our cooking-brains, food-fingers, food-appetites, food-curiosity kicks in and there is always another cookbook that jumps into our arms.

I also like the practice of raiding the library shelf to see if there are cookbooks I’d like to own. First borrow them. Then decide. Or steal that one recipe that grabs my attention, bring back the book, and then I’m done. With no money spent.

Still…I have to admit. Owning is better. Full colorful shelves are better. Having these friends to hang around with at home indefinitely (with no due dates to return) is better.

So today I’d like to share with you some of my most obscure favorites. To start, these books I never cook from. I just LOVE the books. They’re old and years ago I found them in dusty baskets in used book stores at the foot of giant shelves piled with cookbooks. But these are soft-covered, perfect-bound, and more like thick pamphlets. I discovered that some books were published as a series. Here’s one from a series…

French Cookbook

French Cookbook

The illustration alone is totally enchanting! When I found the first one in this series I was ever-after on the lookout for more of the same. I now have 6 of them: French, Italian, Scandinavian, Creole, New England, and Hungarian.  Inside are brief classic recipes I’ve yet to try. I get so caught up just LOOKING at the books. They were published between 1954 and 1956 by the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago.

Another couple of favs were put out by the Ford Motor company in 1954 and 1956: The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Favorite Eating Places (2 volumes).  Each book is a collection of favorite recipes from restaurants all over the USA. (They only measure 5.5 inches by 7.) With each restaurant they include a wonderful illustration. A different style for each entry. The books are divided by parts of the country: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, etc. It’s fun to find out if these restaurants still exist. I imagine it was Ford Motor Company’s way to get people on the road!

Ford Treasury of Famous Recipes from Famous Eating Places

Ford Treasury of Famous Recipes from Famous Eating Places

Nelson House & The Bird and Bottle Inn

Nelson House & The Bird and Bottle Inn

Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Favorite Restaurants

Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Favorite Restaurants

Gruber's and The Keys

Gruber’s and The Keys

I usually don’t haunt old book stores the way I used to. It was an obsession at one point in time. But now that my shelves are stacked with these wonders. I can sit back and dive into  any of these jewels and be entertained for an entire afternoon. Recipes are long-lasting. And just reading them is pure pleasure. Maybe it’s time to pick out a few to try. When I do, I’ll let you know about the standouts. Stay tuned!

Hungarian Cookbook

Hungarian Cookbook

Scandinavian Cookbook

Scandinavian Cookbook

New England Cookbook

New England Cookbook

Creole Cookbook

Creole Cookbook

Italian Cookbook

Italian Cookbook

 

Smoky Grilled Baba Ghanouj

smoky baba ghanouj

smoky baba ghanouj

This is a magic dish. Years ago when I first ever tasted baba ghanouj it seemed like another-planet food. My taste buds in confusion asked: What is that? It’s creamy, but it’s a bit slippery. It’s color is not describable. And the flavor…the flavor is all its very own. Like nothing else. Like eating ancient-foreign-vegetable-garden concentrate. The whole garden. Earth and all.

I used to be intimidated to make it. But now that I’m not, I feel like I’ve got a secret. Making it is  surprisingly easy. Exotic flavor at your fingertips. And the aroma sticks to your fingertips long after you’ve consumed the dish. That’s a good thing. You don’t want it to be over.

It’s all eggplant. And garlic. And tahini. And olive oil. And seasonings. But it is mostly and basically and really just eggplant.

I used mini-eggplants this time. They have packages of mini-eggplants (about a dozen in the pack=about a pound and a quarter) at my favorite local international market, K & S. I don’t see them anywhere else.

mini eggplants

mini eggplants

But it’s just as easy to use normal-sized eggplants…process is the same.

I got the grill started on medium high. And greased the grate with Pam. I used skewers for the little guys so they’re easier to handle.

skewered eggplant

skewered eggplant

I also poked each one with a knife a couple of times to allow any steam to escape (so they don’t pop with heat excitement!).

eggplant skewers on grill

eggplant skewers on grill

After about 10 minutes, I turned them over, and let them cook another 10 minutes or so. You can’t really overcook this much. You want the skins to get charred and the center soft.

charring the eggplant

charring the eggplant

Take them off the grill and let cool.

grilled eggplant with ingredients

grilled eggplant with ingredients

When they are cooled, cut them half…

cut cooked eggplant

cut cooked eggplant

Scrape out the flesh into the bowl of food processor and discard the skins.

eggplant ready to puree

eggplant ready to puree

Add a couple of tablespoons of tahini, juice of 1 lemon, healthy dashes of ground cumin, 2 peeled and smashed garlic cloves, salt & pepper to taste. Pulse until smooth. Taste to see if you need more anything. Sometimes salt. Sometimes more cumin. And then add a few healthy swirls of olive oil. Pulse smooth.

pureed baba ghanouj

pureed baba ghanouj

And it’s done! Traditional pita points are used for dipping. But we’re trying to not eat bread around here and instead we dipped raw, crunchy fennel.

baba ghanouj with fennel

baba ghanouj with fennel

It’s a very delicious combination. Celery and carrot sticks work great, too. I also had some crushed pistachios on hand (left over from the cannoli cake we made in class) and sprinkled them on top. And a light swirl of olive oil completes the dish.

Brings you a taste of foreign lands (Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Armenia). And is a typical part of a full spread of small tasty treats (meze). If you make it, let me know how it goes! (And how far the taste transported you.)