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labeled chicken

Every year Passover comes around I’m always struggling to figure out what to make for the seder. I mean, we can’t have pork. No, I don’t keep kosher, but I always try to follow the rules during the holidays; no pork means no ham. Beef is is a possibility but that usually takes more time than I have. So, all I’m really left with is chicken or lamb. The only issue with either of those is you usually need to make a lot because if your seders are anything like mine, there are usually tons of people at the dinner table.

For years my mom and I would always tear through her cookbooks looking for something that would feed the army coming through the door in a few hours.  Every year we made something different and survived. But one year my mother was at a brunch and tasted what she said was one of the best chicken dishes she’d ever had.  When she asked the host for the recipe, she directed my mother to the Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate Cookbook. It’s a cookbook that she’d been using forever and one of the first cookbooks I bought when I moved out on my own.

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There are plenty of great dessert recipes in this book, and several main course dishes we’ve made over the years as well. But my mother always avoided the Chicken Marbella because of its ingredients. It calls for prunes and olives and brown sugar. Does that combination sound good to you? It didn’t to my mother or me either. But this recipe showed me you can’t always trust an ingredients list. I mean, just because the ingredients sound awful, doesn’t mean that when mixed together they won’t be amazing. And that’s exactly what this recipe is: amazing. The fact that it tastes delicious and feeds a ton of people makes it ideal for either Passover or Easter.

While the recipe does take a little extra time because it should be marinated overnight, it’s totally worth it. See, the longer it marinates in the garlic, salt, vinegar, oil and other ingredients, the more flavorful this recipe becomes. It’s also that marinade that makes the chicken moist and even improves the longer it’s in the refrigerator; and there’s absolutely nothing better than flavorful moist chicken. The best thing about this recipe though, is the fact that you’ll probably have leftovers. You’ll be thrilled when you do because those leftovers are just as flavorful as the original no matter whether they’re hot or cold. Between you and me, I actually like the leftovers better than the original. But I’ll let you be the judge. The fact that it’s been a favorite at the Silver Palate stores for decades practically guarantees it’ll be a favorite at your house. It’s a favorite at mine and is now the go-to entreé for big holiday dinners, especially Passover. Maybe it’ll be your go-to, as well.

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Marbella Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2 chickens, 3 pounds each, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/8 cup dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Spanish Green Olives, pitted and halved
  • 1/4 cup capers with the juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine the first 10 ingredients (through the bay leaves) in a large bowl and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on one or two large baking pans. Spoon the marinade over the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with the brown sugar and pour the white wine around the poultry. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, basting frequently with the pan juices.
  4. Transfer the chicken, prunes and olives to a large serving platter with a slotted spoon. Drizzle the chicken with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices. Sprinkle with parsley and serve, passing the remaining juices in a gravy boat.

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I’m a huge meat eater. I love chicken, beef, lamb… If it flies, walks or swims, I’m in. But every so often I want to take a break from the chicken and beef and eat a vegetable or two. It’s on those nights that I usually make a pasta dish or a dinner salad. While throwing together a quick salad or spaghetti is pretty easy, it also can get stale. I mean, how many times a month can one eat spaghetti marinara or a spinach salad? There just have to be other veggie options that are quick to whip up and don’t require dirtying an entire kitchen.

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Carla Snyder had the same thoughts. She knew there were plenty of people out there who were vegetarians or ominvores and wanted to consume more vegetables without all the fuss. So, when she saw how successful her book, One Pan, Two Plates: More than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals for Two was, she decided to make a veggie version; only this time everything in the book would be made with vegetables or grains. The idea behind One Pan, Two Plates: Vegetarian Suppers was simple: make delicious, versatile vegetarian dishes that weren’t complicated, didn’t take a lot of time, but were still full of flavor.

Having the opportunity to sample a few of Snyder’s vegetarian dishes at Melissa’s Produce a couple weeks ago, I’m here to tell you she definitely succeeded. Everything I tried was delicious from the Superfood Salad made with quinoa and blueberries to the Crunchy Black Bean Tacos. But the dishes didn’t just have me going back for seconds (and thirds), they’re so easy to make. Snyder actually whipped up the tacos for us in about 15 or 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. And the fact they they only take one pan, makes them even more enticing. I mean, if you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day is spend an extra hour in the kitchen cleaning up a sink full of dirty pots and pans after you’ve spent an hour (or more) making dinner.

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Now, I know it seems odd that you only need one pan to make a pasta dish, but seriously, that’s all I used. See, I boiled the pasta and the brussels sprouts in a large saucepan, drained them and then mixed everything together back in the same pot. The heat from the freshly boiled pasta melted the cheese and when combined with a little pasta water makes for a nice creamy sauce that coats everything. The recipe was so easy to follow I can’t wait to make it and several others in the book again.

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Bow Ties with Brussels Sprouts and Gorgonzola

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 8 ounces Bow Tie Pasta
  • 12-15 Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
  • pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the pasta and cook about 7 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and continue to cook for another 5 minutes until the pasta is al dente and the Brussels sprouts are tender; drain, reserving at least a half cup of the pasta water.
  2. Return the pasta and Brussels sprouts to the same hot pan. Mix in the cheese, butter, sunflower seeds, pepper, 1 tablespoon parsley and at least a quarter cup of the pasta water. Continue to stir until a creamy sauce forms. If the pasta is still too dry continue to add the pasta water until the sauce reaches the consistency you prefer.
  3. Mound the pasta on plates, sprinkel with remaining parsley and serve.

labeled pork

As you all know I love my slow cooker. There’s nothing better than dropping a piece of raw meat inside with vegetables and stock and letting it cook for hours while you run around and do errands. Then pulling out a hearty meal that’s full of flavor. But what about braising? I’ve always wanted to braise a pork shoulder or roast but rarely have the time.

There’s really not a lot of difference between braising and slow cooking. Both take a large piece of meat and slow cook it for hours in a stock. But while you can leave the house with the slow cooker running, since the braising happens in a large pot in the oven, you usually need to be home to braise a loin or roast. Well, since it’s been so cold and rainy recently, I’ve been spending plenty of days home while the boys read and write or draw and paint. It was on one of these days that I decided to braise a pork shoulder with apples; a recipe I found in a recent issue of Fine Cooking. The end result was sooooo good, all I wanted to do was have seconds, thirds and lick the pot clean.

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What made this roast so good and unlike anything I’d ever eaten? The rub, the apples and the char on the meat. Sure I’ve roasted apples and pork before, but this was special. See, you can’t just braise the pork. Sure, that makes it soft and shreddable, but what really makes the pork mouth-wateringly delicious, is the rub it marinates in for 48 hours. That’s right, 2 days. Now, you don’t have to marinate it for 2 days, you can just marinate it for 12 hours. But like most things, the longer it marinates, the more flavorful your pork. It’s super easy to do. All you do is rub the pork down with the spice mixture while you’re making another dinner. Then just put it in a covered pot in the fridge and forget about it. That’s what I did and like I said, it definitely made a difference. Those herbs and spices permeated the meat, and once it was slow roasted with the apples and onions, well… the flavors were out of this world.

The other secret to this amazing piece of meat? Charring the meat after braising it. According to Lynne Curry of Fine Cooking, it’s better to brown the meat after the braise because you get a more flavorful broth in which to cook the meat and there’s no chance of the meat juices evaporating. Plus the char gives the meat a nice crisp crust that really seals in all those amazing flavors I keep talking about. I’m so happy Curry introduced me to this “backward” braising method because it’ll be the only way I braise from now on.

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Spiced Apple Braised Pork (adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (3 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Combine the coriander, salt, ginger, mustard and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Using a sharp knife, trace the fact seams of the roast and around the bone to make a series of deep incisions on both sides of the roast. Score the external fat with a series of incisions. Then take the spice mixture and rub it all over the meat. Place the roast in a large, oven-proof pot, cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and up to 3 days.
  3. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let come up to room temperature, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  5. Add the apples and onion to the pork roast.
  6. Whisk together the vinegar, honey and water and pour over the roast. Recover the pan and cook in the oven for 2-1/2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.
  7. Pull the pan out of the oven and raise the temperature to 425°F.
  8. Leaving the liquid, apples and onions in the pot, transfer the meat to a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Separate the meat into large chunks while discarding the fat.
  9. Place the pieces of meat back in the pot in a single layer and cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until the meat is nicely browned. Serve immediately with the apples and the sauce.

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Rain, glorious rain! Yes, if you’ve been living anywhere in California you know that we’ve been getting record amounts of rainfall over the past six weeks. Did you know that Northern California is officially out of the drought and Southern California is also almost there? It’s amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I love the rain. I love being able to wear sweaters and Uggs during the winter months. It’s been kind of a novelty recently. But this week we had sun! It was warm. The boys actually wore shorts and T-shirts! It was wonderful! I wish it would last. But unfortunately there’s more rain scheduled for this coming weekend. That rain means more chilly temperatures and more sweater weather. But it also means it’s the perfect time for stews, soups and chilis.

A few weeks ago the rain was pelting the windows and all I wanted was a big hot bowl of soup. But not that boring see-through broth, and absolutely nothing that came out of a red & white can. I wanted something thick and hearty, with vegetables and maybe even a little meat. Something that would stick to your bones and make you feel all warm and cozy inside. Then I remembered this amazing stew I had at a food blogger L.A. event back in December.

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It was our annual cookie swap and everyone made and brought cookies. But Judy from My Well Seasoned Life didn’t just bring cookies, she also brought this amazing Beef Barley Soup. It was warm and comforting and absolutely delicious! Just thinking about that soup makes my mouth water. So, I decided to make my own version. I was so well sated at the end of the evening, I thought I’d share.

What makes this soup so filling isn’t just the beef, it’s the barley and the vegetables. But unlike some soups, this isn’t one you can just whip up in half an hour. This soup is one of those meals that gets better the longer it simmers on the stove. So, if you’re planning on making this for dinner on one of these chilly winter nights, make sure it’s on a day where you’re going to be home for at least a couple hours. The end result will be well worth the time spent, I promise.

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Beef and Barley Stew (adapted from My Well Seasoned Life)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, like a cabernet or merlot
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the onions to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, carrots and celery and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown, about 6 or 7 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  6. Stir in the broth and browned beef along with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  7. Stir in the barley and salt and pepper to taste; recover and continue to simmer for another 30-40 minutes. Ladel into bowls and serve.

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One of my favorite winter meals is short ribs. They’re hearty, filling and rich and I absolutely love them.

I’ve made them a few different ways including the slow cooker and a pot on the stove. While one cooks for a few hours longer than the other, the cooking techniques are quite similar. Both require covering the short ribs in liquid, and then cooking them for hours. No matter which technique you use or what kind of sauce you cook the meat in, ideally you get the same result: tender meat that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth.

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This recipe comes from Fine Cooking and uses celery as part of its liquid. The benefit with using celery is that it’s pretty much available year round. I use celery all the time: as bases for stocks and stews, as well as adding it to salads and tuna for crunch. Sometimes I’ll even eat a stalk for a snack. But I’ve never used it as the main flavoring in a braise before. See, as the celery cooks, it flavors the beef and the sauce while at the same time absorbing some of the beefy flavor of the meat. The whole meal makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Yes, it’s a braise so it needs to be cooked on the stove which means you really can’t leave your house for a few hours. But the end result is so delicious, and the smells that fill your house are so amazing, you won’t mind being stuck inside. Besides if there’s a storm brewing outside (it is winter after all), you really don’t want to leave your house anyway.

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Braised Short Ribs and Celery

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 head celery, ribs peeled and cut on the diagonal into 3-inch pieces
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Generously season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the ribs, and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with the remaining ribs, adding more oil if needed.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallots and butter, and cook, stirring, until the shallots begin to brown, 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Stir in the broth, wine, mustard, and celery seeds.  Return the ribs to the pot, cover, transfer to the oven, and braise for 2 hours.
  4. Stir in the celery, mushrooms, thyme, and lemon zest. Re-cover and continue to braise in the oven for another 40-50 minutes, or until the beef is very tender.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ribs, celery and mushrooms to a serving platter.
  6. Transfer the pot to the stove. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together a 1/4 cup of the braising liquid with the cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the pot until thickened to your liking for a sauce (you may not need it all). Return the ribs, celery, and mushrooms to the sauce. Serve immediately with rice or polenta.