“Special occasion” chicken pot pie and other ideas for a delicious Valentine’s Day

Chicken pot pie is one of my family’s favorite meals and this recipe, adapted from The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook, is the best one I’ve ever tried.  Pot pie falls in my “10%,” that is 90% of the time I try to eat as whole and clean as possible, and the other 10% is what it is.  For the last 15 or so years, I have made pot pie once a year and when I do, my son always asks me, “is it a special occasion?”  Many years ago, my younger daughter and I hosted a mother-daughter Valentine’s Day dinner at our home and we made a few of these pot pies with hearts cut out of the crust.  Since then, we decided to make this our family’s Valentine’s Day tradition.

 

Chicken Pot Pie is really comfort food at it’s best.  It’s a perfect winter dinner and I’ve never met a chicken-eating child (even Mr. Picky) or adult that didn’t think this particular recipe was just delicious.  Most pot pies are a blend of chunks of chicken meat and vegetables in a savory, tasty mixture and topped with a crust of sorts.  Usually I make a savory pastry crust, but in a pinch I have made a drop biscuit batter and topped the casserole with that.  Even though this recipe is pretty perfect as is, I think you can have equal success with leftover turkey, adding in different vegetables such as parsnips or turnips, or using store-bought pastry crust or puff pastry.

Pot pie is definitely not something you can decide at 6:00 pm that you would like to make for dinner and expect to sit down at 6:30.  But even if you are typically out of the house  in the few hours before dinner, there is no reason to be discouraged from making this recipe on a weeknight.  You just need to plan ahead and follow a few of these tips:

  • You can use pre-cooked chicken from a rostisserie or whole roasted chicken and shred the meat the day before.
  • You can chop your carrots and onions the day before or make the entire filling the day before and pour it into your casserole dish and refrigerate it, covered until you’re ready to bake.
  • You can make your pie crust a few days before.  Allow it to sit out of the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before rolling it out.  Or you can roll out the whole thing, lay it on parchment or plastic wrap and fold it in quarters to store it in the fridge.
  • Pot pie freezes very nicely, well wrapped.  It is best to thaw it for 24 hours in the refrigerator before baking.
  • If you use store-bought crust, defrost the crust before laying it on the casserole.
  • Puff pastry is also an easy way to cover the casserole.  Follow the directions on the box.
  • You can also use drop biscuits to cover instead of a crust.
I actually debated whether or not to post Chicken Pot Pie at all since it is not completely consistent with both the way I eat and the kind of food I teach in my classes.  But what I do try to encourage is cooking from scratch and with love and eating together as much as possible.  And I think we can agree that there’s as much to gain from those habits as there is from vitamins and antioxidants.
 
 
Chicken Pot Pie not your thing?  Here are some other ideas for making everyone feel a little extra love on Valentine’s Day:
 
  • Check out the recipe for Salmon with Roasted Beets and Blood Oranges.  You can make the recipe as is, or you can slice the cooked beets into 1/4-inch slices and cut out hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.  Heart-shaped beets are an adorable addition to any salad.  See next idea for what to do with the leftover beet scraps.
  • For a shocking, hot pink vinaigrette, place 1/4 cup of chopped, cooked beet pieces in a blender with your favorite vinaigrette ingredients and process until completely blended.  Pick up some cooked beets from the supermarket salad bar to save time.  In this picture I used Everyday Salad Dressing #2, but stirred in the shallots after the vinaigrette was completely blended with the beets.  My kids freaked for it!
  • Orange and Rosemary-Glazed Chicken — Easy, delicious and fool-proof.  Serve with a rice pilaf with dried cranberries and a green vegetable like broccoli or spinach.
  • Fish in parchment — Season halibut with salt and pepper.  Add a dollop of pesto or slivered basil leaves and some halved cherry tomatoes.  Serve with Lemon and Cumin-Scented Quinoa or roasted potatoes and sauteed kale or roasted cauliflower.
  • Spice-Rubbed Wild Salmon served with baked sweet potato wedges and steamed asparagus with that fun pink vinaigrette.
  • Whole Roasted Chicken — comfort food at its simplest.  Serve with roasted root vegetables and green salad.
  • Chicken Paillard — serve with roasted cherry tomatoes instead of fresh.
  • Pantry Pasta with meatballs and a green salad
  • Chicken Noodle Soup with pasta hearts — cook lasagne noodles and cut out hearts with cookie cutter.  Add to soup.
  • Raspberry Sauce — Make a simple syrup by combining 1/3 cup water and 1/4 cup sucanat, coconut palm sugar or natural cane sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir the mixture until sugar is dissolved.  Place 5 ounces (about 1 cup) frozen raspberries and simple syrup in blender.  Blend until smooth.  Strain if you don’t like seeds.  I like to serve the sauce with fresh raspberries on top of heart-shaped French toast, pancakes or ice cream.  Heart-shaped pancakes are not realistic for more than two people.  Heart-shaped French toast is great for a larger brood.
  • Cut a heart out of a piece of bread for sandwiches or toast.  Toast the hearts and use as croutons.
  • Hot pink hummus with heart-shaped chips — check here for how to make baked tortilla chips, but use a heart-shaped cookie cutter instead of cutting the tortillas into wedges.  Same basic steps to make pita chips.
  • Chocolate Fondue — Set a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Add 12 ounces of chopped dark, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and 3/4 cup heavy cream.  Whisk until chocolate is melted.   Serve with fresh strawberries, apple wedges, or chunks of banana.  Always a hit for minimal effort!
  • Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies — makes a great Valentine gift!
Do you have any favorite Valentine foods?  Please share!
 
5.0 from 1 reviews
"Special Occasion" Chicken Pot Pie
Author: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • PASTRY
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup ice water
  • FILLING
  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or equivalent amount of cooked chicken, shredded or chopped into bite-size pieces)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk
Instructions
  1. To make the pastry, place the flour, salt, pepper and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 5 times. Add the lemon juice and water and turn on the machine for 3 seconds. Using your hands, scrape the dough onto a floured surface and work it together into a smooth ball. Cover with parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. To cook chicken: bring a large pot of water to a boil and add chicken breasts. Simmer for 7-8 minutes. Drain. Save the pot for later use. When chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces and add back to pot. It is fine if the chicken is not cooked all the way through. Set aside.
  4. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and sauté until onion is translucent. Add the flour and sauté for 3 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Add the salt and paprika. Mix well. Add the chicken stock gradually while stirring and bring to a boil. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Taste the mixture for seasoning and add extra salt and pepper if needed.
  5. Add peas, parsley and onion-carrot mixture to chicken in the pot and combine well. Transfer to a 13 x 9–inch casserole dish.
  6. Roll out the pastry dough 1-inch larger than the area of the casserole dish. Cut hearts from the dough with cookie cutter, if desired, otherwise make a few small slits in the dough for steam to escape. Place the dough on top of the filling and crimp the edges.
  7. Beat the egg yolk with the cream and brush the top of the pastry with the mixture. Place dish on top of a baking sheet and bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown.
Notes
You can cut this recipe in half and bake it in an 8 x 8-inch pan. You can also make individual pot pies in oven-proof bowls or large ramekins.

 

 

 

Chicken and Avocado Soup

Even though I’m a big football fan and I love a good game (especially when my team wins), when it’s over, it’s over.  Whether the outcome of the game is favorable or unfavorable, life goes on and so do I.  So football is finished until next year, but eating happens multiple times a day everyday.  And today I am much more focused on what to do with Super Bowl leftovers!

Quinoa cornbread became breakfast.  Chili went into thermoses for lunch.  And topping bar items can make their way into frittatas, quesadillas or soup for dinner.  This particular soup was not my brain child, but as often happens in my life, my kids leave the house and are amazed by what they’re “missing.”  A while back my mother-in-law took them to Cafe Rio, a “fast casual dining establishment,” and they went bonkers for the Tortilla Soup.  It’s is a brothy and flavorful chicken stock-based soup with some vegetables and whatever add-ins you choose.  Whereas the younger two kids asked me if we could go there for dinner some night and have it again, my older daughter knew me better than that and suggested I try to copy the soup at home.  Great idea!

So one day my friend Cheryl and I went on a secret reconnaissance mission to the local Cafe Rio to check out the famous soup and see exactly how they do this thing.  Truthfully, their method is pretty genius and it’s the perfect soup to make at home for a family or a group.  The server adds into a cup your choice of chicken, guacamole, salsa, cheese, cilantro, and tortillas, and then ladles a flavorful chicken soup on top.  Yep, that’s it.  And except for being unbelievably salty, the soup was rather tasty.   You know how much I love a do-it-yourself situation (less work for me!)  Can you picture how easy this is if you have cooked chicken and salsa already made?  This comes together in minutes, I tell you, and everyone makes it the way they want.  You want it to be vegetarian?  No problem!  Just sub a great vegetable stock for the chicken stock and add in some pinto beans for protein.

Even though my intent was to copy Cafe Rio’s soup, I ended up making a couple of my own tweaks, such as using chopped avocado instead of guacamole (but definitely use the guac if you have it) and adding a squeeze of lime at the end.  I used poached chicken the day I took these photos and give you directions for that in the recipe, but I have used leftover grilled chicken or the meat from a whole roasted chicken, too.  And sometimes I add quinoa to mine if I’m not in the mood for chicken, and I love that, too.  But the method behind this soup is giving me all sorts of ideas for how to use up some tasty leftovers.  If you make the soup base as directed here, I have chopped up leftover enchiladas and added them for an “enchilada soup,” but I bet you could add in taco meat and some tortillas for a “taco soup.”  I’m excited by the possibilities, plus I think I just made my meal plan for the week!

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Chicken and Avocado Soup
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 or 2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves (depending on how much chicken you want in your soup)
  • ½ large onion, peeled
  • 1 Tablespoon additive-free kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
  • A few peppercorns, crushed
  • A few garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded (if you don’t want too much heat) and diced (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt (double this if you use unsalted stock)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa)
  • 1-2 avocados, peeled and cut into chunks or guacamole
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges (my favorite part!)
  • Other possible add-ins: tortilla chips, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese
Instructions
  1. Poach the chicken: Place the chicken breast, onion half (halved again), salt, pepper and garlic into a medium saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer chicken for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow chicken to sit in the liquid until cool enough to handle.
  2. In a large pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, scallions, carrots, celery and jalapeno. Sauté until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 4-5 minutes.
  4. Pull chicken from liquid and remove skin and bones. Shred chicken into bite-size pieces. You can divide chicken amongst the 6 individual bowls or add it all to the pot.
  5. Put a heaping spoonful of pico de gallo and avocado chunks/guacamole in each individual bowl and ladle soup on top. Squeeze lime on top and sprinkle with corn tortilla chips and fresh cilantro, if desired.

 

 

Stir-fried Grass-fed Beef and Broccoli

Happy Chinese New Year! Mr. Picky is very excited to celebrate the holiday at his school today and the girls are happy that I’ll be making a Chinese meal for dinner tonight. I’m fun that way! My whole family loves Chinese food, especially stir-fries which are surprisingly easy to make at home and so versatile. One of their favorite dishes is Beef and Broccoli which I serve with sesame spinach salad, mixed greens with miso-ginger dressing or steamed brown rice.

Typically I make beef more in the winter than in the summer since it is such a warming food, but we have really cut back on our beef consumption in general, mostly due to animal welfare and environmental reasons. When we do eat beef, it’s always grass-fed, which is just so much more nutritious than corn/grain-fed. I am fortunate to have many local farmer’s markets where I can buy excellent quality grass-fed meat. If you don’t have a good resource for grass-fed meat, check the Eat Wild website to locate a source close to you. Grass-fed beef can be a bit trickier to cook since it has a lower fat content than grain-fed beef and it can get dried out. But with this marinade and the quick-cooking of a stir-fry, it’s terrific!

I love loading up stir-fries with lots of fresh vegetables, especially from the cruciferous family. I try not to rant and rave about all the health benefits of plant foods since they are all basically good for you. But there are some vegetables that do deserve special mention here and more regular place in your diet. The cruciferous vegetables contain loads of nutrients, including some very powerful cancer-fighting compounds. Besides broccoli, other members of this group include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, bok choy, kale and a few others.

Don’t let the list of ingredients in this recipe discourage you. This dish is really not complicated and there are many substitutions that can be made. If you’re vegetarian, you can use extra-firm tofu in place of the beef and substitute additional shoyu in place of the oyster sauce. Gluten-free folks can use GF tamari instead of shoyu.

Here are a couple of tips to making a good stir-fry:

  • Have all your ingredients prepped and ready since stir-frying goes very quickly.
  • Cut all your vegetables the same size so that they cook evenly.
  • Don’t double recipes for stir-fries and try to cook it all in one wok/skillet. It’s important for all the food to come into contact with the surface of the pan. If you need to double, cook the recipe in two batches or in two separate pans.
  • You don’t need a wok to stir-fry. A large skillet will be just fine.
  • If you want to vary the vegetables in your stir-fry, keep in mind whether they can be stir-fried raw or if they need to be blanched first. Examples of vegetables you can throw into the pan raw are cabbage, mushrooms, thinly sliced carrots, celery, bean sprouts and snow peas. Broccoli, cauliflower, shelled edamame and big chunks of carrots should all be blanched before adding to the wok.

Although it’s tempting to celebrate Chinese New Year by ordering take-out, it’s so much better for you and your family if you can cook at home. In fact, with this recipe, they might not even know the difference.

For a few more of our favorite Chinese dishes, check out recipes for Vegetable Fried Rice, Asian Noodle Salad and Sesame Spinach Salad (perhaps only Chinese-inspired.)

Stir-fried Grass-fed Beef and Broccoli
Author: 
Serves: 4-6, depending on what else you're serving
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ pounds grass-fed top sirloin or flank steak, trimmed of excess fat and cut against the grain into ⅛-inch thick slices*
  • Marinade:
  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot or non-GMO cornstarch
  • 3 Tablespoons shoyu or gluten-free tamari
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons dry sherry or Chinese rice wine such as Shao Hsing
  • 1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • Sauce:
  • 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce (or substitute extra shoyu, but oyster sauce makes it taste like it's from a restaurant)
  • 1 Tablespoon shoyu or gluten-free tamari
  • 1 Tablespoons dry sherry or Chinese rice wine such as Shao Hsing (I always use sherry)
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional-for sweetness)
  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot or non-GMO cornstarch
  • 1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets, stems peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined peanut oil
  • 2 quarter-size pieces of fresh, peeled ginger
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all marinade ingredients until arrowroot is dissolved. Transfer beef to marinade and stir to coat. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Make the sauce: place all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until arrowroot is dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Bring an inch or two of salted water to a boil in the wok and add the broccoli. Cover and steam until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and reserve.
  4. Heat the wok over medium-high heat. Drain the beef in a colander. Add peanut oil and tilt to coat sides of wok. Add ½ of beef to wok, spreading it in one layer on the surface of the wok and allow to cook undisturbed for 1 minute or until brown. Turn beef over and cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer meat to a medium bowl. Cook remaining beef in the same manner, adding more oil if necessary. When the last batch of beef is almost finished cooking, add the ginger, scallion and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the sauce and reserved meat back to the wok. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Toss in the broccoli and stir to coat with the sauce.
Notes
*Freezing the meat for about an hour can make this job easier.

 

Traditional roast turkey with gravy

My husband and I offered to host Thanksgiving at our new home a few months after we were married in 1995.  We were young and naive, but we were excited to play house with all our new china and crystal.  To prepare for the big day, my husband bought the firewood and I did absolutely everything else.  (You can see who was the naive one.)  I’ll never forget when he suggested I call the local Koo Koo Roo to order a cooked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, “you know, just so we’re sure it’s good.”  I was slightly insulted at the suggestion, but I knew where he was coming from.  I had never cooked an entire turkey before and I was a bit intimidated.  For most people, the turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal.  If I screwed it up, I thought, the holiday would be a disaster.  So my plan was simple —  don’t screw up the turkey.

I called people I trusted — my mother, my mother-in-law and my aunt.  You know what they say about asking people’s advice.  I got three different opinions on how to cook a turkey which taught me that there’s no one right way to do this.  However in the years that followed I learned that there is more than one way to mess it up.  I’ve had my share of mishaps, which only reinforced to me that no matter what goes wrong, you’ve just got to roll with it because there’s usually a solution.  Like in 1996 when I carved into the turkey and it was rather raw undercooked in the center.  So we just cut it into slices and pan-sauteed them with a little stock.  Everyone complimented me on how moist the turkey was!  Funny enough, my worst disaster came last year when I was really feeling like a pro, having cooked so many Thanksgiving dinners for my family and taught so many of the same classes.  I had my two beautiful turkeys in the garage refrigerator and in the process of transferring 2 pans of stuffing the night before, I was distracted and inadvertently left the garage refrigerator door open.  All night.  When I came down the stairs in the morning and noticed one pan of stuffing still on the countertop, I knew what I did.  My garage is usually about 80 degrees and so were the turkeys.  I sat down and wondered if I had just ruined Thanksgiving.  That’s what you get for being so smug, I thought.  Instead I sent my husband to Whole Foods at 7:00 am where he was able to buy two 17-pound already brined turkeys.  Thanksgiving was saved, although a little saltier than I would have liked.  But you also know what they say about beggars.

Here’s what I’ve learned about turning out a fabulous turkey:

  • Before seasoning, check both the neck and main cavities to remove extra turkey parts like the neck and giblets.
  • Season it well and as early (like 2-3 days before) as possible for the best flavor and a very moist turkey;  I use about 1 Tablespoon kosher salt per 5 pounds of turkey.  See below for where to distribute the salt.
  • Pull the turkey out of the refrigerator a minimum of 1 hour and maximum of 2 hours before roasting.  Your bird will cook more evenly, especially in the center.
  • The heat in most ovens comes from the top, so roast your turkey on the lowest oven rack to protect the breast meat from drying out.
  • If you decide to baste, do so very quickly so the oven door isn’t opened for more than 30 seconds.
  • Use an instant read thermometer to determine if your turkey is properly cooked.  Do not rely on a timer!
  • Start testing earlier than you think you should.  Every oven is different and I’m noticing that the free-range birds are cooking more quickly than not free-range.
Turkey Weight Approximate Roasting Time
10 to 12 lb. 2 1/2 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lb. 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours
14 to 16 lb. 3 to 3 3/4 hours
16 to 18 lb. 3 1/4 to 4 hours
18 to 20 lb. 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours
20+ lb. 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours

 

 

 

 

Ironically, Koo Koo Roo went out of business years ago, but my kitchen is still open and bustling on Thanksgiving and my husband thinks I make the best turkey in town.

 

Traditional Roast Turkey with Gravy
Author: 
Serves: 10-12
 
Ingredients
  • 12-14 pound fresh turkey, giblet bag and neck removed, rinsed, patted dry and seasoned with 3 Tablespoons* kosher salt as soon as you bring it home from the market (2-3 days in advance is best)
  • *2 Tablespoons in the cavity, 2 teaspoons on breast and 2 teaspoons on thighs and legs. Whatever is left on your hands, rub on the breast meat underneath the skin.
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into thirds
  • small bunch of parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs and/or sage leaves
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 apple, quartered or cores from 2 apples
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1-2 cups stock or water
  • Gravy
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups chicken or turkey stock, preferably homemade
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. The day of roasting, take turkey out of refrigerator and wipe dry with paper towels. Bring to room temperature, about 60-90 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Position a rack in the lowest rung of the oven. Oil a V-shaped rack in a roasting pan.
  3. Sprinkle a little freshly ground black pepper in the cavity and then add in the onion, celery, herbs, lemon and apple. Truss the turkey by tying the legs together. Brush the skin all over with some of the butter.
  4. Place the turkey on the rack in the pan, breast-side down. Bend the wing tips behind the back. Roast for 40 minutes, basting with butter after 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees, turn breast side up (I usually wear clean rubber gloves to do this) and add 1 cup stock or water to the roasting pan. Continue to roast, basting with the remaining butter until used up and then with the pan juices every 20-30 minutes. Add additional stock to the roasting pan if you notice there are no pan juices with which to baste the turkey.
  5. Roast until golden and cooked through. After about 2 ½ hours, start testing for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the breast away from the bone; it should register 165-170 degrees. You may also test the thigh – it should read 180 degrees. The turkey should roast a total of about 3 hours or 13-15 minutes per pound, but it can range from 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours.
  6. Transfer to a cutting board or warmed platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil until ready to carve, at least 20 minutes (I prefer longer.) Use the pan juices to make gravy.
  7. To prepare the gravy: Pour all the pan juices, including the fat into a gravy separator. Allow the fat to separate from the juices.
  8. Heat the roasting over medium heat on the stove and add the pan juices plus the apple brandy. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to dislodge any brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. Strain into a bowl or you can use the gravy separator again.
  9. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the reserved fat from the gravy separator until it is bubbly. You should have at least 3-4 Tablespoons. If you don’t, add some olive oil or butter. Add the flour and whisk rapidly to cook the flour, about 2-3 minutes.
  10. Whisk in the strained pan juices and 3 cups of stock to the saucepan until smooth. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm on lowest heat. Add additional stock as needed to achieve desired consistency.

 

To carve:

Follow the same principles in carving a whole roasted chicken.  Cut into the joints, in between the connecting bones and it will be a breeze.  I carve in this order:

  1. Wings
  2. Drumsticks
  3. Thighs
  4. Breasts, which I take completely off the turkey and slice crosswise against the grain.

Don’t forget to save the carcass and bones for stock!

Smoky Braised Lentils with (or without) turkey sausages

Do you have a son younger than college age?  Did you ever have one?  Do you know that he probably doesn’t eat lunch at school?  I know you pack him something wonderful and maybe he even helped pick it all out.  But here’s the reality:  if your school is like mine and permits recess as soon as the kids are “finished” with lunch, most boys are only focused on one thing.  Playing ball.  I have figured out that my son only eats what he can on the way to the field and leaves everything else in the lunchbox.  He eats it all when he comes home, but he does NOT want to miss being picked for the better team or waste time sitting around eating when he can be doing his favorite thing in the world.  Playing ball.

Mr. Picky is in second grade and this has been going on since he started elementary school and from what other moms tell me, it doesn’t end.  So it was a big day in the Salzman household when Mr. Picky announced that he would like to take a thermos to school.  Why?  Did the state cut the budget for soccer balls?  Not yet.  Mr. Picky wanted a thermos so that he could take these lentils to school.  For lunch.  This is big, people.  And the thermos came back empty.

It is not at all important to me why he likes lentils, only that they are an amazing source of low-fat protein and super high in fiber, so they keep him full for a long time and help stabilize his blood sugar.  So I thought I would share this recipe with you just before Halloween since it is keeping in line with my strategy for the big night o’candy.  I can’t/won’t forbid my kids from eating candy on Halloween.  How unrealistic is that?  (Rhetorical question.  Very.)  My strategy is to get them really full with a good dinner before they go out so that they have no room in their bellies for too much candy.

My mom used to make braised lentils which is kind of like making lentil soup, but with less liquid.  Only she used to put a piece of pork or a smoked ham hock in the pot and it gave the lentils great flavor.  I don’t eat pork, but I started adding smoked paprika to my lentils to give a similar smokiness and it’s delicious.  Mr. Picky says it tastes like there’s a hot dog in there.  In fact, that wouldn’t be a bad idea to put a (nitrate-free) hot dog in the pot to persuade your kids to try lentils.  Just a thought.  I very often make them as a vegetarian dish since they have so much protein, but here I served them with my answer to fast food — Applegate Farms (Precooked) Organic Chicken and Turkey Sausages.  No matter how busy you are, I am sure you aren’t too busy to warm up these sausages.  I bake them, which is so much easier than cooking them in a skillet and having to clean up any splattering on the stovetop.  But the best part is that there are no spooky ingredients to worry about!

Smoky Braised Lentils with (or without) Turkey Sausages
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon unrefined olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons smoked paprika (Spice Hunter is a good, easy-to-find brand. Spicely Organic has no flavor.)
  • 1 cup organic black or French lentils* (sorted and rinsed)
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (+ ½ teaspoon if you don’t cook sausages with lentils)
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 packages precooked Applegate Farms Sweet Italian or Chicken Apple sausages (4/package)
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until tender and translucent, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots, garlic and paprika. Cook for 2 more minutes.
  3. Add the lentils, thyme, salt and water and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes** or until lentils are tender. Halfway during the cooking process, preheat the oven to 350.
  4. Bake sausages on a baking sheet until heated through, about 15-20 minutes. Slice into thirds and serve with the lentils. Or alternatively, cut the sausages in half or thirds and add to lentils halfway through cooking lentils and heat sausages through.
  5. If lentils seem too liquidy, simmer a little longer uncovered. Taste lentils and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Notes
*There seems to be a wide variety of lentil cooking times. 365 Brand takes about 30 minutes, but I have used some imported varieties that take up to 50 minutes.

Easy no-fail roast chicken

If you eat chicken, you absolutely must learn how to roast one whole.  It is beyond easy to do, never fails me, everyone loves it and is arguably the most delicious way to eat chicken.  WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?!  The busier I get, the more often I make roast chicken and no one seems to tire of it.  But the first time I attempted to cook a whole bird, I had so much anxiety, so I completely understand if you think doing this is intimidating.  Now get over it!

First, let’s talk chicken.  There is some terminology you need to interpret when you are shopping for a chicken.

NATURAL:  This means absolutely nothing except that you are buying a chicken and not playdough.  It does not mean it was a healthy bird or that it ate a “natural diet” or lived in conditions that are “natural” for a chicken.  It just means it’s a chicken.

FREE-RANGE:   Free range means the chickens have access to the outdoors. Read between the lines here.  “Access” means the chickens are permitted to leave the barn if they want to or if they are able to, but it doesn’t mean they will.  “Outdoors” can also be interpreted in more than one way.  It can mean a window and that is a-ok with the USDA.  The term free-range has nothing to do with being organic. I know most people think that all free-range chickens run around in wide open areas eating bugs and worms the way they’re supposed to, but I hate to burst your bubble and say that is likely not the case.  Usually only small local farmers will have truly free-range birds.

ORGANIC:  This means the chicken has eaten organic feed (not treated with pesticides and herbicides) and has not been treated with antibiotics.  You might never take antibiotics yourself, but if you eat conventionally raised poultry, you’re ingesting antibiotics through the meat.  You may see the claim that a chicken has not been given hormones, but that is a practice that has been banned in this country, so all chickens should be hormone-free.  Organic chickens should also have been raised under humane conditions.

JIDORI:  I’ve seen this on quite a few restaurant menus recently.  Jidori is a type of free-range bird common in Japan but until recently almost unheard of in American restaurants.  The chickens are fed all-vegetarian diets, without antibiotics, but what they are really known for is their freshness.  Jidori chickens are killed within 24 hours of being sold.

Here’s what you do:

  • pick a night of the week that you only have 15 minutes to prepare dinner.
  • buy your chicken up to two days before and salt it on the inside as soon as you get it home from the market.  This will season the meat really well and keep it juicy.  Refrigerate it until the day you make it.
  • work backwards from what time you want to eat.  6:00 dinner?  Go back 10 minutes for carving, 20 minutes for resting, 90 minutes for roasting, 30-60 minutes for bringing to quasi-room temperature.  Take the chicken out the fridge at 3:00/3:30 to get prepped.  Into the oven at 4:00.  Not home?  Have a babysitter or older child put it in the oven since there’s nothing else to do.
  • Add whatever random vegetables or potatoes you have to the baking dish and you have the perfect dinner for minimal effort.
  • While you’re at it, make two at once and use the second for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.
  • Click here to watch a video of me prepping and roasting a whole chicken.
Addendum:  here’s a series of photos for how to carve the chicken.
1.  Untie the legs.
2.  Cut the skin around the leg and cut between the joints connecting leg and thigh.  Remove both legs and put on platter, covered to keep warm.
3.  Cut thighs off, again cutting between the joints and keep warm on a platter.
4.  Remove wings and transfer to platter.
5.  Cut alongside the breastbone all the way down and cut around the breast, completely taking it off.  I like to slice the breasts on a cutting board as shown.  Take the drippings and pour over the chicken.
6.  Pull everything out of the cavity and save the carcass to make the best stock ever.  Make stock within the next two days or wrap the carcass well and freeze it until you can make stock.
 

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Easy No-Fail Roast Chicken
Author: 
Serves: 4-6, assuming not everyone wants the breast meat
 
Ingredients
  • 1 4-5 pound roasting chicken, preferably free-range, organic from a small local farm
  • Kosher Salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • ½ bunch fresh thyme or 4 6-inch sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic smashed
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or olive oil + more for drizzling vegetables
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thickly sliced
  • kitchen twine for trussing
  • assorted chopped vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash, carrots, fennel
Instructions
  1. When you return home from the market, unwrap the chicken and remove the giblets from the cavity. Rinse the chicken inside and out and dry very well with paper towels. Remove piece of fat from the outside of the cavity. Take a heaping tablespoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper and rub it inside the cavity. If there’s any more salt left on your hands, rub it in between the skin and the breast meat. Rewrap the chicken and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  2. Remove chicken from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  3. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, thyme or rosemary and garlic.
  4. Spread the onion slices on the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Place the chicken on top of the onions and tie the drumsticks with kitchen twine. Brush all over with the melted butter or oil.
  5. Scatter chopped vegetables around chicken and drizzle vegetables with oil. Sprinkle chicken and vegetables with a little salt and pepper.
  6. Roast the chicken for 1 hour 10 minutes - 1 ½ hours or until a instant read thermometer inserted in the breast reads 160-165 degrees. Transfer to a platter or a cutting board and allow to rest about 10-20 minutes, tented with foil.
  7. Carve and serve immediately.

 

 

Grilled chicken paillard with arugula and lemon vinaigrette

chicken paillard with arugula

By now you have figured out that I promote one meal for the whole family.  I think there is a beautiful connectedness that comes from everyone sharing the same meal and sharing the same energy from that food.  In addition, I believe that we help our children develop better eating habits when we expose them to a wide variety of foods during their lives and we encourage them to try new things.  By giving in to the picky eater in the family and making him chicken tenders or buttered pasta every night because he won’t eat grown-up food, we are basically ensuring that he will grow up with only a taste for “kid cuisine” and the flavors associated with it.  Not only that, who in the world has time to make more than one meal every night?

Mr. Picky is my 7-year-old and he is a challenge at mealtime even though I have done everything right.  I am a great eater and I have set a good example for him (the most important thing.)  I have exposed him to every vegetable and whole grain countless times.  He has helped me prepare dozens of meals.  We have gone shopping together at the supermarket and farmer’s markets.  We have planted seeds and grown our own food.  And he is still a total pain in the ass neck and still quite picky, although he is slowly coming around.  But I am not stressed out about it because Daughter #1 was the exact same way, even worse!  Until one day something clicked and now she eats everything I eat from beet greens and bok choy to millet and muesli.

What does this have to do with chicken paillard and arugula salad when 99% of kids hate arugula?  Of course they hate it.  It is peppery and bitter and their tastebuds haven’t developed to the point that it tastes good to them.  I didn’t like arugula when I was 7, but I am a maniac for it now.  I even grow tons of it in my garden.  So should I cater to the lowest common denominator in my family and prepare arugula-less meals?  Heck no!  I want arugula salads every now and then with a lemon vinaigrette and thinly pounded chicken breast.  It’s one of my favorite quick-fix meals.  But this is where I think flexibility should play a role.   I will cut the chicken into strips and lay them on top of the arugula so that  it is more appealing to my son and I allow him to eat just the chicken.  He can look around the vegetable crisper and see if there’s something else that he would like, such as a raw carrot.  In this way, I am not making him a whole different meal for him and the rest of us get to eat what we want.

No one likes everything, not even me.  I very much dislike papaya, tarragon and poached or runny eggs.  If you dislike arugula, feel free to substitute spinach or a crisp romaine.  If you dislike chicken, you can add steak or chickpeas and shaved parmesan cheese.  This is a great recipe to make for a crowd or for just one.  The photo below shows a big platter I made when my cousin Joanna and her husband Anthony stopped by for dinner.  I literally came home after they arrived at my house and whipped this together in front of them.  The other finished photo at the top is my lunch yesterday when I was working at home testing recipes.  As luck would have it, Mr. Picky came home for lunch and asked if I would share my chicken with him.  My pleasure, as long as I get all the arugula for myself!  One day he’ll be asking for that, too.

 

chicken paillard with arugula

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Grilled Chicken Paillard with Arugula and Lemon Vinaigrette
Author: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Juice of 1 lemon + 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 8 ounces arugula
  • 1 tomato, chopped
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken breasts one at a time in between to pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound to a ¼-inch thickness. You can use a meat mallet or a rolling pin. The idea is to get the chicken to an even thickness all around. Remove from the paper and place in a glass baking dish and squeeze the juice of 1 lemon on top. Drizzle with an equal amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Heat the grill to medium. In the meantime, prepare the salad dressing. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the inside of a medium bowl with the cut side of the garlic. Add the garlic to the bowl. To the bowl, add 3 Tablespoons lemon juice, Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon sea salt, and black pepper to taste. Whisk to combine. Pour ½ cup olive oil into the bowl, whisking constantly to emulsify. Taste for seasoning and tartness. Add more oil if necessary.
  3. Remove chicken from marinade and grill a few minutes on both sides until golden brown. Place on a cutting board. Arrange the arugula on a platter and drizzle with enough of the dressing to coat lightly. Cut the chicken into strips and arrange on top of the arugula. Scatter tomatoes on top and drizzle a little more dressing. Or arrange the chicken on a platter and top with dressed arugula leaves and tomato.
Notes
I also love this salad with chickpeas, olives, shaved parmesan cheese, or thinly sliced fennel.

Do ahead: you can make the dressing several days in advance and wash and dry your greens in advance, too. Just wrap them in a damp kitchen towel and store in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

Tasty turkey burgers

Let’s play a little word association game!  When I say “turkey burger,” you say …?  I think I heard “bland,” “dry,” “flavorless,” “pointless.”  You know what I say?  “No thank you!”  Until now.

I have never been a big meat-eater, even though I think there’s a place for high-quality grass-fed beef in one’s diet if you like it.  At barbeques, I’m usually the one looking for the non-beef burger option, but I had never met a turkey burger that I liked.  Father’s Day is around the corner, and there are lots of dads who are trying to cut back on beef, so I think now’s a good time to post a great turkey burger recipe.

My goal is not to make a turkey burger that tastes like beef, because it won’t.  But I want to make the turkey taste savory and moist and like something you would actually want to eat, as opposed to something you are settling for and all the time wishing you were actually eating a hamburger.  I also want a basic burger that everyone in my family will like, especially my hamburger-loving husband who once claimed that real men don’t eat turkey burgers.  I accept the challenge!

It’s amazing what a few simple ingredients do to boring ground turkey.  I add a little olive oil for fat, minced onion for flavor and moisture and worcestershire for a meaty undertone.  A bit of dijon and ketchup get mixed in for an additional boost and my husband declared he would eat this turkey burger any day.  Of course, you can tailor this burger to your liking and make it a little fancy, if you want.  Add in some finely chopped sundried tomato and basil or go Tex-Mex with some red bell pepper, corn, cilantro and cayenne.  How ever you make it, I have a feeling you’ll hear “Mmmmm……that’s tasty!”

5.0 from 3 reviews
Tasty Turkey Burgers
Author: 
Serves: makes 6 patties
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ pounds ground turkey (white or dark meat)
  • 6 Tablespoons minced raw onion (cook the rest of the onion for a delicious burger topping)
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed olive oil + more for the griddle
  • ¾ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 6 sprouted grain or whole wheat buns or lettuce leaves
  • Toppings: grilled onions, avocado, sprouts, tomato, lettuce, cheese, barbecue sauce
Instructions
  1. Heat a griddle to 400 degrees or an outdoor grill to medium heat.
  2. In medium bowl, mix the turkey with all the other ingredients. This is a very moist mixture.
  3. Form into 6 patties, about 5-inches in diameter.*
  4. Brush the griddle or grill with a small amount of olive oil.
  5. Carefully transfer the patty to the griddle and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 4 minutes, or until cooked through.
Notes
*If making these in advance, place on a parchment or wax paper-lined platter to remove easily.