Chicken and Mushrooms with a Dijon-Mascarpone Sauce

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Chicken Dijon is one of the dishes I’ve been making since I first started cooking over 20 years ago when I moved, on a whim, to Colorado with a high school friend. My previous forays into the culinary had yielded dubious, perhaps inedible, results, knowing then so very little (such as how to boil an egg! I still have to look that up every time). Luckily, my roomie had worked catering and knew a thing or two that I picked up along the way. Even though our post-grad economic situation forced us to clip coupons and get creative, we had a great time.  I most often used my Better Homes and Gardens Basics cookbook, or (funny now in light of recent health news regarding diets and fat) the Betty Crocker Low-Fat Cookbook (both are now relegated to the dusty depths of my closet, but I just can’t seem to do away with them). We made many delicious meals during those months, (and used a lot of sun-dried tomatoes) but alas, we both landed pretty quickly back in Michigan. Chicken Dijon was the one recipe that came back with me. Later, I segued into Rachael Ray’s easier version, which seemed to satisfy my Frenchie mustard cravings for a few years.

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And now this. Faced with an almost full tub of leftover Mascarpone cheese, I figured I could give my usual version a couple of tweaks and end up with something much more elegant. I added shallots and mushrooms and finished the sauce with the Mascarpone, which lent the dish a sumptuous texture and a decidedly even more Frenchie taste, without using heavy cream. Total win! Serve with roasted asparagus because, well, it’s Spring!

  • 3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half
  • 1 cup (or so) cremini mushrooms
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tsp. Herbes de Provence (or fresh thyme)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp. Mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. First, cut your chicken breasts in half, cover in plastic wrap and pound them out a little to help them cook evenly.  Dry them well, sprinkle with the Herbes de Provence and the salt and pepper. Squeeze the lemon over the chicken.

2. Clean and slice your mushrooms. (Jacques Pepin says you can run them under water as long as you use them right away-no more wiping with a wet towel. Merci Jacques!)  Heat a  tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium flame.  Add the chopped shallot and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until they are nicely browned.  Add a little more olive oil if they seem dry. Season with a little salt and pepper and remove to a plate.

3.  Add an additional 2 tablespoons olive oil and the butter to the pan. Over a medium high flame brown the chicken breasts for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until almost cooked through.  It’s best to use a stainless steel pan in order to get a really nicely browned breast but non-stick will work as well. Remove the chicken from the pan.

4. Turn the flame up to high and add the chicken broth, scraping the brown bits (you may not have much if you used a non-stick pan).  Turn the flame to low and whisk in the mustard. Simmer for a couple of minutes.  Whisk in the Marcarpone cheese, then add the chicken (with its juices) and the mushrooms back to the pan.

5. Turn the flame to low, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Serve over couscous or rice with something green on the side. Et voilà.

And here is a weird and overly sunny, but necessary, aerial view of the dish.

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Posted in Main dishes | 12 Comments

Coffee-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Pomegranate Glaze, Cheesy Grits and Chard-Brussels Sprouts Hash

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Although this is not an Irish meal, this is a gratuitous St. Patrick’s Day Irish picture.

Tonight, Shepherd’s Pie is happening, fittingly, but last night, this happened. It would be remiss of me to keep it a secret. I did, however, use Irish Cheddar in the grits-does that count?

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It started as a clean-out-the-fridge ingredient use-up type meal.  Frozen pork tenderloins, an easy rub, an already open bag of cornmeal, last week’s Brussels sprouts…some Bourbon (yes, Bourbon). It ended as one of the best home-cooked meals we’ve enjoyed in a while (or at least a week due to the inordinate and uncomfortable amount of eating out of late).  This is often the case that my favorite meals result when I have to open the pantry and say “hmmm?”

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Coffee-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Pomegranate Glaze, Cheesy Grits and Chard-Brussels Sprouts Hash

Slightly adapted from Chow.com, Food Network and Dinner: A Love Story (for the Bourbon glaze and the hash)

For the Pork

  • 2 pork tenderloins
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the glaze

  • 1/4 cup Bourbon
  • 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon ginger powder (or fresh grated ginger!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For the grits

  • two cups whole milk
  • two cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal (I used finely ground)
  • 4 oz. white cheddar, grated
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • several grinds fresh black pepper

For the hash

  • 4 strips bacon, chopped (optional)
  • 1 package Brussels sprouts (about two cups but whatever you have), trimmed of outer leaves and sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, rinsed, dried and chopped
  • 1/4 chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) balsamic vinegar (aged, if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon or so dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon or so toasted pine nuts
  • salt and pepper

Since this meal has so many steps allow me to offer a timing suggestion. First prepare the pork and the rub. While the pork is resting at room temperature, slice the veggies for the hash.  Get the grits started, then put pork in oven. Prepare the glaze and keep on a low simmer until meal is finished.  Once the pork comes out of the oven and is resting, finish your grits and make the hash. Now, for the pork…

Preheat oven to 450°. Trim the pork of fat and the silver membrane.  Dry with paper towels.  Mix the rub spices in a small bowl.  Drizzle the olive oil over the pork, and with your hands rub the spices to completely cover both of the tenderloins.  Allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal.  Place pork in a roasting pan and roast for 10 minutes, then flip.  Roast for another 8-10 minutes or until the pork reaches 160°.  Cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, start the grits by heating the milk, water and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-high flame.  Keep a close eye since boiling milk can be a huge mess.  Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and slowly whisk in the cornmeal until incorporated. Turn heat to low and cover, stirring every few minutes with the whisk.  After about 20 minutes, add the butter, cheese and pepper.  Whisk until smooth and serve.

To prepare the glaze, place all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir.  Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thick. Serve over the sliced pork.

The hash is best with the bacon, which I didn’t have this time so I’m saying it’s optional.  However, if you have bacon, by all means use it.  It is, not surprisingly, better with bacon. Heat olive oil over medium flame and add the bacon (or skip this step and jump right to the onion).  Sauté until crisp, about 5 minutes.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain and add the onion.  Sauté the onion about 5 minutes or until soft and add the chopped chard and shaved Brussels sprouts.  Sauté until wilted and lower the heat.  Add the balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, currants and reserved bacon.  Season with salt and pepper and keep on low heat until ready to serve.

At this point, slice your pork and make sure all components are heated properly.  Serve immediately and enjoy! It’s worth it. 100_2423

Posted in Main dishes | 14 Comments

Happy Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday is a big day in Michigan schools. Laissez commencer the Michigan Merit Exam! Er, not quite what you were expecting? I’ll be cooped up for five hours proctoring this big old test with a room full of juniors. We’re not allowed to read anything at all besides the manual so I’m already planning my daydreams in advance. I’ll be in New Orleans, thank you very much, reliving every moment of my New Years trip to the boyfriend’s home state.

Why don’t you come along with me?

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We’ve been there so much that we don’t do too much of the tourist thing, unless it’s checking out an iconic restaurant, of which there are many.  We finally made it to Commander’s Palace for New Year’s Eve lunch.  Let’s just say this place lives up to the hype. And it’s true-they have .25 cent martinis.

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We spend most of our time trying to live like locals mainly because the boyfriend was once a local himself.  We met in this great city a few years ago.

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So we wander around a lot, by car and on foot. I take pictures. At least I try to.

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We eat breakfast.  Our favorite breakfast joint had closed in our absence.  But we discovered a little Caribbean-feeling gem where I for one enjoyed an enormous banana pancake.

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We coffee and relax at our favorite uptown spot.

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Did I mention we avoid the French Quarter like the plague?  We now prefer the Warehouse District.  Oh the snobbery of the upscale tourists we’ve become. And there’s hipster restaurants.image

And speaking of hipster restaurants, we stumble upon new favorites. Behold the creole burrito.

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This funky spot is on Magazine Street.  This particular trip seemed to be, for me at least, all about Magazine Street.

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For the boyfriend, no trip is complete without a dozen of these beauties. In this case, a half dozen, since we were in one of those upscale places in the Warehouse District.

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So while New Orleans will be reveling in Mardi Gras fun, I’ll be stuck in a classroom. But at least I have my misty watercolored memories.

And my leftover Gumbo.

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Posted in travels | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Kale Salad with Apples, White Cheddar and Candied Bacon

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Dare I post another kale salad? I mean, seriously, this is now the third incarnation of this cruciferous salad and neither of my other two were very popular if I’m judging by the comments (which I am).  And I’ve got Apple Bread waiting in the wings, surely a more desirable topic.

However, I shall forge ahead for a couple of reasons. First, it was requested by my lovely book-reading ladies. One, a salad-avoider, finished it and declared it “good”.  A glowing recommendation indeed coming from her. Also, there’s Candied Bacon.  Total game-changer people. Just go with it. The white cheddar, apples and maple dressing took nothing away from the star but are likewise totally appreciated.

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We love kale salad in these parts. We devour it weekly, but we know we’re not normal.  If you’re not sold on kale as a salad green, let me offer some suggestions.  First, make sure you take out the stems. I go so far as to remove some of the thicker veins from the leaves as well.  Next, make sure you slice it thinly, shredding it into fine noodle-like leaves.  Also use ample dressing (without overdressing, be sure to taste test). Or, if you can find it, use baby kale. I was lucky to find a baby kale and spinach mix. Finally, if there’s no way you’re ever going to enjoy kale in a salad, use spinach. And don’t feel guilty. It may be getting annoyingly trendy. And besides, there’s a dark side.

If you serve it before beef brisket with mashed potatoes, scalloped tomatoes and a bacon-Brussels sprout hash, even better. Follow up with Ina’s Berry Crostata. All that’s needed is some wine, a classic novel and a long sunny Sunday afternoon.

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Kale Salad, Redux

Inspired by a snowy President’s Day evening in a local bistro and Diane A Broad, whose gorgeous blog keyed me into the main star.

  • 1 large package baby kale or spinach (about 6 cups)
  • 4-6 strips candied bacon
  • 1/4 cup, or so, brown sugar (for the bacon)
  • 1/2 cup shaved white cheddar
  • 1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • maple dressing to taste (recipe follows)

1. To candy the bacon, preheat oven to 375º. Line a baking tray with parchment or foil.  Place brown sugar on a plate and press the bacon pieces into it until some of it adheres.  Place on baking tray and bake for 13-18 minutes or until crispy.  Watch carefully to avoid burning.  Place bacon on a cookie rack over foil to allow grease to drip off.  As it cools, it will crisp more.  Chop and set aside.  (While you’re at it, I doubt you’d regret using the whole package, for there will be curious and deserving creatures sniffing about.)

2. For the dressing, add the following to a jar and shake.

  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • a couple of drops of good balsamic vinegar (optional)

Taste and adjust.  If it’s too tart, add olive oil or more maple syrup.  If it’s not sweet enough, add more maple syrup. If it’s bland, add vinegar.  Blah, blah, blah…you know the drill.

Toss kale leaves in a few tablespoons dressing, being careful not to overdress (taste as you go).  Add apples and toss.  Sprinkle with bacon and white cheddar.  Serve.

Apple Bread is next.  I promise.

Posted in salads | Tagged | 4 Comments

Whole Wheat Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Kale

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If last week’s Daube Provençal was a comforting and multi-stepped (but totally worth it) labor of love, let this week’s post serve as its complete, though no less delicious, antithesis.

It’s vegetarian, so counteracts any meat-eating guilt (I am my father’s daughter after all). It’s wintry in flavors so it still comforts sufficiently to drive away some of the chill brought on by that white stuff that continues to fall (and fall-one more time for good measure-and fall). Finally, this recipe makes up in simplicity for the night before prep and several hour braise of the Daube (I love that word-pronounce it like “dobe” please). You do, however, have to allow a good bit of time, say at least 45 minutes, to caramelize the onions. The nice thing is, you don’t have to constantly hover over them. Check back every few minutes to stir and adjust the flame. Fold a load of laundry, read a chapter, toast some pine nuts, whatever floats your boat. You’ll be eating in no time.

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Adapted from Dinner: a Love Story (my constant counter top inspiration). Makes about 3 servings, since I halved Jenny’s recipe.

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 box whole wheat shells (I love me some Gia Russa)
  • 2-3 large kale leaves, shredded*
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • grated parmesan
  • toasted pine nuts to garnish (optional)

1. Start caramelizing the onions about 45 minutes before you want to eat. To do so, cook them over medium-low heat, in the olive oil, stirring every few minutes (you could sprinkle some salt and pepper here to taste, but the end result is so flavorful, it’s almost necessary).

2. About 25 minutes in, start heating your salted pasta water and cook according to package directions.  Reserve about a 1/4 cup pasta water.

3. Once the onions are nicely caramelized, add the kale (see below), toss to combine and cook for another five minutes, or until wilted. Do your best to separate the mixture as its tendency will be to clump.

4. Add the cooked pasta, and if it seems a bit dry, some pasta water.  Finish with the balsamic vinegar.

5. Add lots of Parmesan cheese to taste and top with the toasted pine nuts (see link in ingredient list for toasting). Yum!

*I shred kale almost weekly for salads and often have some waiting in my salad spinner in the fridge.  To shred it, fold the leaf in half and tear out the stem.  Next, roll it like a cigar and thinly slice (as you would basil, called a chiffonade-Oh how fancy I am!).

Need further caramelized onion inspiration? Allow me to suggest Pissaladière or crostini. Perhaps for your Oscar Party (go Matthew!)? Nothing but good ever came of a caramelized onion.

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Posted in pasta, vegetarian | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Daube Provençal a.k.a South of France Beef Stew

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How’s that for a comeback? I’ve been gone from this blogging world for well over two months now (eek!), but I figured this comforting deliciousness is as good a reason as any to return. I may have lost my readers, but I’m gaining a recipe.  This needs to be recorded before I forget what I did.

So here I am. And here it is.

But first, une petite histoire

Paris, 2006. Norma, Helen, my mom, myself. Chez Agnès. We go for dinner, sent by our guru, Rick Steves. Tiny bistro, one woman cooking, serving, hostessing, you get the idea, and her dog. “Asseyez-vous” (Sit there). Intimidated, I beg myself, please don’t let my french fail me now. Agnès does not allow us to order a Côte du Rhone. “Non, le Bordeaux.” Bordeaux it is. We order, we wait, I speak hesitant French.  Enter young American couple. Agnès, impatient (well, she is alone there), shouts across the room to me, “you, who speaks French, tell him this daube has been cooking since noon!”

And with that, we are in. We are the last to leave, she and her Corsican neighbor (le terreuriste she lovingly calls him) join us for wine and laughs. She bids us adieu with small tins of foie gras. One of the top five magical evenings of my life was the result of translating a statement about this beef stew.

I have no idea if Agnès and her pooch are still there.

But like I said, here I am and here it is.  Maybe it’ll warm you.

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Adapted from Melissa D’Arabian and Joanne Harris’ My French Kitchen.  Serves 6.

  • two pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 inch pieces (fat removed)
  • 4 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 (or so) carrots, cut into thick slices
  • 2 cups Côtes du Rhône wine (any good red wine)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 package cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence (or dried thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • handful chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • a few glugs olive oil

1. The night before, marinate the beef pieces, one of the sliced onions and half of the carrots in the wine, vinegar, and bay leaves.

2. The next day, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and pat the beef pieces dry, reserving the marinade and vegetables.  Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over a medium flame and brown the bacon pieces until crisp. Remove to a plate and brown the meat in batches a couple of minutes per side.  Remove to a plate, add more olive oil as needed and repeat.

3. Once beef is browned, add the reserved marinade mixture to the pot, along with the beef, bacon, the remaining onion, smashed garlic and herbes de Provence or thyme.  Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add a couple of cups or so of water but do not to submerge the beef completely, rather make sure the liquid comes about 2/3 up the beef.  Add the orange zest, nestle the rosemary sprigs in the liquid, cover and place in the oven.

4. Check the liquid level after an hour to make sure not too much has evaporated.  Add water as needed.

5. After another hour, add the tomatoes, mushrooms, and the rest of the carrots. Sprinkle with the flour and mix in.

6. Return to oven for another hour or so.

7. Remove from oven, skim fat from top and add chopped parsley. Serve with Melissa’s macaronade, which I think definitely benefits from the doubling of cheese.

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This may or may not be summer, as opposed to winter, in Provence.  Okay, it is.

Posted in Main dishes, provencal | Tagged | 15 Comments

Celery Salad with Kale, Parmesan and Apples

When at first I was inspired to post another version of my favorite fall side, the ubiquitous Kale Salad, I felt as though there was nothing new to say on the topic.  What, really, can little ‘ole me add to all this kale chatter?

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Not a whole lot, it turns out.  But really the beauty of this recipe lies not in the kale but in the celery.

Huh? Did I just say celery?  Hear me out.  Celery is that vegetable that I always end up tossing.  I buy it for one recipe, usually soup or marinara, and as good as my intentions are (the popular South Beach Diet snack with Laughing Cow cheese perhaps), I never manage to use it.  I’m betting this is a universal dilemma.

Enter Ina’s Celery and Parmesan Salad.  I started with her recipe and added the kale and apples since I was serving a crowd. And guess what. I managed to use all of my celery and create a healthy ( and dare I say refreshing?) side dish to go with Wendy’s baked pasta for our latest book club gathering.

This one’s a keeper folks.  I’ll never throw away celery again.

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For the salad

  • 5 cups thinly sliced celery and chopped celery leaves
  • 3 large leaves thinly sliced kale
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 lemon
  • shaved parmesan cheese

For the dressing

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Start by very thinly slicing your celery.  I broke out my rarely used mandolin for this task but you could just use a very sharp knife.

Place in a bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  Allow to crisp in the fridge as you whisk the dressing ingredients together.  Pour enough of the dressing over the celery to coat and continue to crisp in the fridge while you shred the kale.

Add the kale to the celery and toss.

Just before serving, spread the celery and kale mixture on a platter and top with walnuts, sliced apples and Parmesan cheese.

Posted in salads | Tagged | 2 Comments