Chicken Cacciatore

Genealogically speaking, I don’t believe I have a single Italian bone in my body. Nope—my people came from other parts of Europe and beyond. But I am so in love with Italian food, especially the southern regional dishes, such as layered baked pasta dishes and big red sauces (or “Sunday gravy,” as it would be called). My grandmother taught me some authentic Scandinavian dishes, but I had to do my own research to learn the real deal on Italian flavors, so I could ditch the bland and overly sweet jarred sauces. I’ve learned how to make my own pasta (that’ll be another post), and hopefully I’ll prove today that I can rock a red sauce that is molto buono!

Chicken cacciatore is my “comfort du jour,” moist and oh-so-tender chicken, stewed slowly and thoughtfully with tomatoes and Italian herbs and spices. This is some serious, old-school Italian comfort food right here! I can’t say that I’ve added a twist to this recipe (maybe the bomba?), but if you’ve never made cacciatore before, I hope you’ll find my recipe approachable. You’ve got this—and here’s a quick rundown of what I learned before I made my own.

What’s the big deal about San Marzano tomatoes?

For Italian sauce recipes, there is really no substitute for San Marzano tomatoes. They are super meaty with a perfect acidic-to-sweet balance, and exceptional for the richest Italian sauces. In appearance, they are essentially plum tomatoes and they are the genetic ancestors of the common supermarket Roma, but to be legally called San Marzano, they must be cultivated in the southern region of Italy of the same name, where the climate and rich, volcanic soil work their magic. Are real San Marzano tomatoes worth the extra buck per can? You bet!

What is bomba sauce?

This bomba is the bomba!

Delicious, that’s what! Bomba sauce is typically a paste-like seasoning, centered around dried chile peppers from the southern regions of Italy, mixed with olive oil, spices and vinegar. It’s a pungent condiment that is meant to be used sparingly. Trader Joe’s has its version of the sauce that I absolutely love—it’s unique because the Calabrian chiles are fermented, which lends extraordinary depth and flavor. I’ve added a very small amount to my cacciatore, but it wouldn’t be the same without the bomba.

Can I substitute skinless chicken breast for the chicken thighs in this recipe?

Of course, you can always substitute white meat, skinless or boneless, but the dish will not have as much depth and richness, and you’d need to use extra oil to prevent the meat from sticking in the pan. I choose large, bone-in chicken thighs for this recipe because they’re a perfect portion size and the dark meat is so flavorful. Keeping the skin on allows you to draw every bit of chicken-y goodness into the meal. Also, I only select organic, free-range chicken because birds that have freedom to roam in the fresh air and sunshine are healthier, and you know what they say—we are what we eat.

What flavors are in Italian seasoning?

Italian cooks have always relied on the abundant flavors of fresh herbs. If you pick up any bottle of “Italian seasoning” at the supermarket, you can predictably find it contains the big three—oregano, basil and thyme, but there are many other flavors that play well with Italy’s flavorful sauces and roasted meats. In the north, you’d expect to see rosemary and sage. In the south, spicier flavors like red pepper are prominent. Two of my favorites are marjoram (cousin of mint and very similar to oregano) and fennel seed, which has a floral, slightly licorice flavor. It’s what makes Italian sausage taste special. I make my own “Mama Mia” seasoning blend without salt, and I use the big three, plus garlic, fennel seed and crushed red pepper. It’s good for a little punch of flavor in any Italian red sauce, sprinkled on pizza or mixed with olive oil as a bread dipping condiment. If you want to make mine, the recipe is at the end. Otherwise, substitute as noted in the ingredients.


Serves 4 – Prep in 20 minutes, cook for 90 minutes

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

4 large chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)

2 large bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise, about 1/4” thin

1 medium-size sweet onion, sliced lengthwise 1/4” thin

4 or 5 cloves fresh garlic, rough chopped or sliced

2 tsp. Mama Mia Italian seasoning blend—or
1/4 tsp. each:  oregano, basil, ground fennel seed, thyme leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes (this is not exactly the same as my Mama Mia blend, but close)

1 or 2 tsp. Trader Joe’s Italian Bomba hot pepper sauce

Handful Kalamata olives (pitted), rough-chopped into pieces

1/4 cup dry red wine (It doesn’t have to be Italian; I used a CA red blend that was already open)

1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes in puree (San Marzano, if possible)

1/2 package linguine (preferably “bronze-cut” for best texture)

Freshly grated parmesan or parm-romano blend, for serving

Small handful Italian flat leaf parsley, cleaned and chopped

A loaf of fresh Italian bread for sopping up every single drop of the sauce


Instructions

  1. Pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and season both sides generously with kosher salt and black pepper.
  2. Heat a large (12”) cast-iron skillet (or electric skillet) to medium-hot, and swirl in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When oil is just shimmering, place chicken thighs in pan, skin side down, leaving plenty of room between them. Cover the pan (I use a spatter screen) and leave them undisturbed about 7 minutes to allow a deep golden crust to form on the skin. Loosen and turn the thighs and cook until just lightly browned on the other side, about 2 minutes. The chicken will finish cooking later in the sauce. Remove the pieces to a plate and keep warm while you prep the sauce.
  3. If the remaining oil is sputtering or popping in the pan, allow a few seconds for the moisture droplets to cook off. Reduce heat to medium. All at once, add your onions and bell peppers to the pan, and stir them around until they begin to soften. Add the Mama Mia seasoning, plus salt and pepper, over the entire mixture. Add the garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onions are slightly translucent. Stir in the Kalamata olives, the Bomba sauce and the red wine.
  4. Add the peeled tomatoes, using your hand to squeeze each one into the pan. This releases more of the juices quickly and gives the tomatoes a head start on breaking up. Pour all remaining juice from the tomatoes into the pan, but discard any large basil leaves that may have been included in the can (they’ve already done their job). Add a splash of water (or wine!) to the tomato can to swish out every last bit of flavor in there. Scrape up any browned bits that may be stuck to the pan and stir the mixture until it has a uniform appearance. Cover and allow the mixture to come up to a slight boil.
  5. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan, skin side up, and spoon the tomato mixture lightly over the tops. They don’t need to be buried in it, but you want to moisten them with the flavorful sauce. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low, turning the chicken only twice over the next 90 minutes.
  6. When the sauce is a deep red color and the chicken shreds with a light twist of your fork, reduce heat to warm and prepare your pasta water. Remember to use plenty of water and plenty of salt.
  7. When the salted water reaches a steady boil, add your pasta and stir at once to prevent sticking. Cook to just barely al dente, or a couple of minutes under what seems perfect. You’re going to finish it in the sauce. Before draining the pasta, ladle out 2 to 3 tablespoons of the water into the sauce. This adds the pasta starch to the sauce, which helps “marry” them to coat the pasta better.
  8. Move the chicken pieces to the outer edges of the pan (or remove to a plate if the pan is crowded), making a well of sauce in the center. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the center of the pot, stirring quickly to evenly coat it in the sauce. I use silicone tongs to do this because I can grab hold of the pasta while moving it. Cover the pan and turn off the heat while you pour another glass of wine and call everyone to the table.
Mangia!

Portion the pasta onto the serving plates, top with a spoonful of sauce, then a chicken thigh, and divvy out the rest of the flavorful sauce. Sprinkle some grated cheese and a bit of fresh chopped parsley on top and enjoy!


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Mama Mia seasoning
(makes about 1/3 cup seasoning blend)

I created my own blend of Italian spices, to customize the flavors we like best at our house. Most of my blends do not contain salt, and this allows more flexibility with different application and better control of the sodium in my dishes. Most of the time, I double the recipe so I always have a jar of the blend at the ready. The beauty of a blend like this one is that you can increase or decrease or even eliminate ingredients based on your taste preference. And every time, it’ll be perfect!

This blend is great for your own Italian red sauce, or add a teaspoon to a puddle of extra virgin olive oil and top with freshly grated parmesan for a flavorful bread dipping oil.

1 Tbsp. whole fennel seed
1 Tbsp. dried minced garlic
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. dried Mediterranean oregano
1 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder

To make it:

Heat a dry skillet (no oil!) over medium high heat and add fennel seeds, swirling the pan constantly for about one minute, until the seeds become fragrant. Remove immediately to a bowl to cool completely, then crush seeds with a mortar and pestle or pulse a few quick times in a spice grinder.

Add all other seasoning to the bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to a jar or empty spice bottle.

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“Beer” Can Honey Roasted Heirloom Chicken

We are a few days into the Jewish New Year, and I’m taking a new approach to roasting an heirloom chicken in my favorite blend of flavors—honey, garlic and rosemary. Honey is a big deal during Rosh Hashanah, as it represents the hope for a sweet new year. Any kind of honey is appropriate, but I am fond of a local unfiltered sourwood honey, and I just picked up a new jar a few weeks ago. Despite its name, it is sweet with a rich and earthy flavor, and it is strong enough to stand up to the plentiful garlic and aromatic rosemary.

For a special occasion such as Rosh Hashanah, I didn’t want to go too casual with beer, so for this recipe, I’ve emptied the beer from the can and filled it with white wine. Oh, and to shake things up a bit, we’re also roasting this wine-filled, beer-can chicken in the oven—not on the grill. The liquid inside the beer can contributes to the juiciest, most tender chicken, and this effort did not disappoint.

This heirloom chicken smelled sooo good as it roasted, and because it involves more love and care, plus a few hours, it qualifies for Sunday Supper status. Alongside this mouthwatering chicken, we plated some of Les’s garlic-parm mashed potatoes (which are pretty amazing, even as leftovers) and fresh Brussels sprouts, roasted with sliced shallots and tossed in a glaze of lemon-infused olive oil and pomegranate-flavored balsamic. Pomegranate, like honey, is also symbolic at Rosh Hashanah, and the hope is that our blessings in the new year will be as numerous as the arils (seeds) in the pomegranate. We are hoping that for you as well. 🙂

The lemon oil and pomegranate balsamic was a great combination for Rosh Hashanah. This recipe would also be terrific at Thanksgiving.


Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. honey* (see notes)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 Tbsp. dry white wine*

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 pound heirloom chicken*


For the beer can:

3 additional cloves garlic, crushed

1 sprig fresh rosemary

3/4 cup dry white wine


*Notes

Any flavor of honey will work, but I’ve used sourwood honey, which is a liquid form of honey. Solid or crystallized honeys are not recommended here.

“Dry” wine means wine that is not sweet, but it can still be confusing to know which kind of wine will work best for a recipe. Aim for a “neutral” flavor of white wine, such as pinot grigio, rather than an oaky wine as Chardonnay. I used a white blend of chenin blanc and viognier, which has a soft and delicate floral essence, and it worked out great.

An “heirloom” chicken is a specialty item, usually an older or heritage breed of chicken, and raised in an ethical manner. Birds raised this way will be more expensive, but well worth it. My chicken also happened to be quite large—it weighed in at a little over 4.5 pounds!

This may have been the largest chicken I’ve ever roasted.


Instructions

  1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth.
  2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Place the chicken in the bowl with the marinade and turn several times to evenly coat the bird. Allow chicken to rest 30 minutes.
  3. Remove all oven racks, except for the lowest. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Note in step 6 that this is not the final roasting temperature, just the beginning.
  4. Empty the beer can (don’t worry—I poured it into a frosty pint glass for my sous chef-husband), and replace it with the wine, crushed garlic and rosemary sprig.
  5. Center the beer can on a rimmed baking sheet (we used the base part of our broiler pan). Carefully place the chicken over top of the can, so that it is nearly fully inside the bird. The wine and aromatics will season the bird from the inside and will keep the chicken moist. Pour remaining marinade all over the bird.
  6. Cover the top of the chicken loosely with a piece of foil, to protect it from burning in the oven. Transfer the chicken on the baking sheet to the lower rack of the oven.
  7. Roast for only 10 minutes at 450°, then reduce oven temperature to 325° and roast about one hour, or until juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with the tip of a knife. The time may vary based on the chicken’s weight. For best results, use a thermometer to confirm the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh is 165° F.
  8. Remove chicken and rest for 15 minutes.
  9. Return oven temperature to 400° F, and roast the Brussels sprouts.
Just hanging out while the brussels sprouts get their roast on.

Ingredients for Brussels Sprouts

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 shallot, sliced

4 tsp. lemon-infused olive oil (or regular oil + juice of 1/2 lemon)

4 tsp. pomegranate-flavored balsamic vinegar

Look at the caramelization on those brussels sprouts! The balsamic-oil dressing was tossed on them only for the last few minutes of roasting.

Instructions

  1. Spread sprouts onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat, and arrange sprouts, cut-side down.
  2. Roast for 15 minutes. Whisk together the infused oil and flavored vinegar. Scatter the sliced shallots onto the roasted Brussels sprouts, and then toss the vegetables with the oil-vinegar blend. Roast an additional 5 minutes, then remove and serve.
Dinner is served!

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Welcome Autumn Whole Grain and Bean Soup

Today is the first official day of autumn, and I’m so ready for it this year. Six months ago, it seemed as if time was standing still, as the pandemic threw us into uncharted territory and isolation with very little warning. The world became so weird, and it felt like the days dragged on. Now, we are in the opposite place—or back to normal, you might say—in that the days are moving very quickly once again. I think it’s because we’ve had little choice but to normalize what is happening around our world, and with the new precautions for safety and distancing becoming second nature, time is getting back on track—at least as much as possible.

My favorite part of fall and “cooler weather” is that I’ll soon unpack all my sweaters and leggings and boots, and I can finally put my kitchen focus on my favorite foods, like this autumn soup. Oh, yum!

It’s everything I love about fall, all in one beautiful bowl.

Though I’ve paid a lot of attention so far this month to breakfast (it being “better breakfast month” and all), it bears repeating that September is also designated as “whole grains” month and “mushroom” month. I don’t know who decides these things, but I’m happy to play along by offering up one of my own favorite recipes that incorporates both whole grains and mushrooms, and plenty more hearty satisfaction as well.

The main ingredient for this soup is a dried whole grain and beans soup mix from Bob’s Red Mill, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to see it back on their website. I first discovered this product while browsing through Big Lots discount store, and I felt pangs of sadness when it disappeared from store shelves and Bob’s website a year or so ago. But it’s back online, and I just hit the “buy it” button for two more packages. I love this wholesome blend because it has so much going on in terms of flavor and nutrition. Check out the ingredients list: small red beans, pinto beans, lentils, whole oat groats, brown rice, triticale berries, rye berries, hard red wheat, pearl barley, Kamut Khorasan wheat, buckwheat groats and sesame seeds. That’s a whole lot of hearty going on! It’s simple to cook, with a quick rinse and then bring to a boil and simmer with broth or water. It would be delicious and satisfying on its own, but for my “welcome autumn” soup, I’ve added browned ground turkey, onions, garlic, roasted butternut squash, mushrooms and vegetable broth. It all cooks up into the heartiest autumn weather dinner in a bowl.

It would be so, so easy to make this dish vegan, too. Simply omit the turkey and use vegetable broth and bouillon. You’d never miss the meat.

The comforting nature of this soup is exactly the right way to usher in my very favorite season. You might even say it’s a Sunday Supper kind of meal, given that it builds flavor over a few hours and has a good many ingredients (though all are simple). I make this soup on the stove top, but the recipe is perfectly adaptable to a slow cooker. Begin with cooking the grains and beans on low setting for a few hours, then add the other cooked ingredients and simmer on low another hour or two. However you make it , the leftovers will leave you as satisfied as the original bowlful, and if you happen to have some crusty dinner rolls or baguette slices on the side—well, even better. This recipe will make approximately 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill “whole grain and beans” soup mix

2 cartons (8 cups) vegetable or chicken broth*

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. ground turkey (omit for vegan)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, strings removed and chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sun dried tomato, cut into small pieces

1 tsp. poultry seasoning (or 1/4 tsp. each ground sage, thyme, onion powder, celery seed)

1 small butternut squash, cubed into 1” pieces

8 oz. package cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced*

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. low-sodium vegetable or chicken bouillon base*

*Notes

Broths are not all created equal, and my recommendation is to be attentive to the sodium content in the broth you choose. Some brands labeled “low-sodium” contain around 570 mg per serving, and others are only around 120 mg. As a rule, I select the lowest sodium broths, as it gives me more control over the final outcome of a recipe. You can always add salt, but you cannot take it away. For this soup, I used vegetable broth, and added richness with the chicken bouillon base.

Cremini mushrooms are my go-to for most recipes, but white or shiitake mushrooms would also be terrific in this recipe.

The bouillon is optional, but I love the extra richness it adds to this soup. I use the Better than Bouillon brand, but it isn’t always easy to find in “reduced sodium” version. I’m thankful that Costco carries it, but you can also buy it online or use another bouillon base. Again, noting the sodium content will help you achieve good results.

A spoonful of this adds incredible depth to my soup.

Instructions

  1. Use a fine mesh strainer to rinse both cups of grain and bean mix.
  2. Add soup mix and 2 cartons of broth to a large stock pot. Bring to boil momentarily, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender (approximately 2 hours).
  3. Heat oven to 400° F. Drizzle olive oil on butternut squash cubes, season with salt and pepper, and roast about 30 minutes, or until just fork tender.
  4. In a skillet over medium heat, swirl in olive oil and cook ground turkey until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic, celery and sun-dried tomato bits and cook 3 more minutes. Season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.
  5. Add browned turkey mixture to the bean soup and stir to combine.
  6. In the same skillet used to brown turkey, add another tablespoon of olive oil and saute mushrooms until just lightly browned. Avoid crowding the pan, or mushrooms will steam rather than brown. You may need to do them in two batches.
  7. When mushrooms are browned, add them to the soup.
  8. Add roasted squash to the soup and stir to combine.
  9. For an extra boost of flavor and richness, stir in a tablespoon of bouillon base, straight from the jar. Alternatively, add two bouillon cubes, and perhaps dissolve them in a very small amount of boiling water to keep the flavor concentrated.
  10. Allow the soup to simmer for a few hours. Enjoy on its own, or with a crusty dinner roll or baguette slices.

Nourishment, flavor, comfort–it’s all in there!

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Lemon Mushroom Chicken

Three favorite key ingredients, plus onions, garlic, butter and a splash of white wine—it sounds simple, because it is. This is a delicious entrée I like to call a “Sunday Supper” because there are a few extra steps that make it special without making it complicated. A recipe that takes a little more time is what I love, in part because it feels relaxing to prepare food slowly with more intention, but mostly because as the meal develops and the house becomes increasingly filled with savory aromas, it creates a tension and anticipation that isn’t often present with a quickly cooked weeknight meal.

The result of the extra care and patience required for this dish is well worth the time and effort—tender, juicy bites of chicken with a rich, onion-y mushroom gravy-like coating. It’s satisfying and comforting, in a way that only a home-cooked meal can be. You can taste the love in this kind of food. The mushrooms contribute an earthiness that is not overwhelming, and the freshly squeezed lemon, thyme and white wine give the impression of something far more gourmet than the simple instructions I’m about to describe.

I prefer to make this recipe on the stove in a skillet because it’s usually just me and my husband at the dinner table, and I like to keep my counter space open. But if you are doubling the recipe and happen to have a large electric skillet, that would be a terrific option—provided it has a cover, which is an important part of finishing the recipe. I’ll walk you through preparation of the dish, but if you’re ready to dive straight into it, you can scroll to the bottom to download a printed copy of the recipe. But then, of course, you’d miss the pictures. 🙂

A quick twist of the fork is enough to grab a bite of this lemon mushroom chicken. How scrumptious and tender is that?

Here’s how to make it.

First, the chicken breasts are sliced and pounded thin to ensure tender, uniform pieces. I do this myself at home because it’s an easy way to save the extra cost of pre-sliced cutlets. It’s OK if you don’t have a meat tenderizer; you can use the bottom of a small pot to do the same. Next, season the pieces with salt and pepper and a couple of pinches of dried thyme. It’s important to do this first, because you want the seasoning in the chicken—not just on the coating. Then drag the cutlets through some seasoned flour and let them rest while chopping a sweet onion and a couple cloves of garlic.


Clean and slice a full package of fresh mushrooms. It may seem overkill for a four-serving recipe, but they cook down considerably and they are a key component of the dish. My favorite type is cremini (sometimes called baby portabella, though technically they are not), but white button mushrooms or shiitake would work fine as well. Are you on the fence about the right way to clean mushrooms? I used to be afraid that rinsing them would make them soggy, but I learned a few years ago that mushrooms don’t absorb much water unless you soak them (thank you for that, Alton Brown!), so go ahead with a thorough cold water rinse then use a clean paper towel to dry them and wipe away any remaining debris. Finish the prep by trimming the stems and slicing them into 3/8” thick, perfectly uniform slices. Say what? Here’s how to do the slicing part in less than one minute:


My egg slicer is made of metal, with cutting wires that are sturdy enough to tackle slicing mushrooms and strawberries, and I love that I get clean, uniform slices with minimal effort. Maybe someday I’ll use this thing to slice eggs. If you don’t have an egg slicer, use your best sharp knife, and don’t sweat over the thickness—just slice them as evenly as you can, but not paper thin.

The onions go into a heated skillet with olive oil, but you’ll notice in the photos that I don’t take them very far toward caramelization. You want them to be nice and soft, so keep the heat in the medium-low range and cook just until they soften and begin to look translucent. Add the mushrooms in batches and cook them without crowding the pan. These guys give off a lot of moisture when they cook, and if you have too many at once, they will steam rather than brown. Take your time, and when the first handful of mushrooms reaches that “lightly browned” stage, move them aside and add another handful. When the whole batch is finished, add the chopped garlic and sauté briefly, then transfer the mixture to a bowl.


Give the cutlets another quick dip through the seasoned flour while you melt butter in the same skillet. It’s not unusual for the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken during the initial rest, and they should be completely (but lightly) coated before they hit the hot butter. This will create a roux-like coating on the chicken, and the broth you add later will break that down into delicious gravy as it simmers.

When the butter is melted and bubbly, carefully arrange the cutlets into the pan in a single layer, again taking care not to crowd the pan. Depending on how many pieces you have, this may need to be done in batches as well. Turn the cutlets over when they are a nice golden brown on the underside, and stack them on top of each other when both sides are done, to make room in the pan for any remaining cutlets.

Remove the browned cutlets and rest them on top of the reserved mushroom-onion mixture. This will make room for you to de-glaze the skillet, bringing all the beautiful browned bits back into the dish. Reduce the heat to low, then working quickly, pour in the white wine and use a whisk or other utensil to scrape up those flavorful remnants. Squeeze in the lemon juice and swirl the pan to combine. Place the chicken cutlets back into the skillet and pile the mushrooms and onions on top. Carefully pour in chicken broth, but only enough to slightly cover the chicken. Give the skillet a gentle shake to help the broth get under and around the chicken, then cover the skillet and walk away.


The chicken will simmer at this low temperature for 35 to 40 minutes. It will be fully cooked well before this time, but the long simmer will result in the tenderness and richness I described at the beginning. What’s great about a recipe like this is that while the magic is quietly happening in the skillet, I have time to tidy up the prep dishes, set the table and enjoy a glass of wine with my husband. This is also a good time to prep whatever vegetable or salad I plan to serve. When the main dish is more involved, as this one is, I usually opt for a simple vegetable side. The lemon mushroom chicken deserves center stage.

I love how the sauce becomes part of the chicken, rather than being poured over it. This dinner will melt in your mouth.

For this meal, I roasted fresh asparagus. If you are cooking asparagus some other way, I will be so bold as to declare you have been missing out! Try roasting once and you’ll see what I mean. Rinse and trim the stalks, arrange them on a parchment lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roll them around to coat. Give them a little salt and pepper to taste, and pop them into a 400° F oven for 15 minutes. They should be slightly tender and retain a bright green color. Easy, yet so elegant.


And there you have it—this “Sunday Supper” dish takes a little more time than an average weeknight meal, but the payoff for your patience is a tender portion of delicate chicken, covered in savory mushrooms and fully enveloped in a rich, gravy-like coating. We like this on its own with a fresh roasted vegetable or salad, but it would also be beautiful on top of your favorite mashed potatoes, rice or linguine.

Ingredients

1.5 lb. package skinless, boneless chicken breast (or same weight of prepared thin cutlets, if you prefer)

Salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Extra virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, sliced into crescent shapes

8 oz. package fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (cold from the fridge is fine)

1/3 cup dry white wine (I use pinot grigio, or sometimes dry vermouth as substitute)

1 fresh lemon 

1/2 to 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth (use enough to just cover the browned cutlets)


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If you make this lemon mushroom chicken, please let me know in the comments how it turned out for you.


Twice-Grilled Meatloaf

One of my favorite things about summer is backyard grilling. The food is always great, of course, but there’s also something sweetly nostalgic about the experience—the aroma of searing meat, the feel and taste of the cold beer in hand, the far-off sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower, trees swaying in gentle breezes, mosquitoes ravaging my ankles—oh, wait, let’s scratch that last one (so to speak).

But I don’t need to explain the joy of the barbecue to you. Everyone with a backyard or patio looks forward to the same for the fleeting months we have to enjoy it, and we all have our favorite foods to grill, even if it’s as simple as burgers and franks. One thing that has changed at our house is the range of things we cook on the grill. In the past, it was always the meat on the grill, but pretty much everything else was prepared and cooked inside. Why is that? So many other things are possible on the grill, including the chicken romaine Caesar I mentioned at the start of summer, and the grilled vegetables we did for the ratatouille pizza last month. I want to keep knocking down the boundaries of grilling and see what other comfort foods can be twisted up, Comfort du Jour style.

And today, meatloaf, I’m looking at you!

No, not you, Meat Loaf. Whew, what a hot, sweaty mess. But thanks for all the memories, especially “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” because that was freaking awesome. I’m still singing along with that one.

What I’m talking about is the classic comfort food, the blue-plate special, the all-time best example of a home-cooked meal. And I want to make it on the grill.

Just as we don’t need to wait until summer to enjoy ice cream, I believe it’s time to pull meatloaf to center stage outside of winter months. I’m a big fan of this shaped meat classic, and I’ll be excited in the cooler months to show you some of my favorite ways to stuff it with other great flavors. But how in the world does one grill a meatloaf, without burning it or drying it out or having it fall apart and down into the grill? And wouldn’t it take forever? For answers to all my “what-ifs,” I went straight to the highest authority on all things—the internet. And according to grill manufacturer Weber, meatloaf is not only possible on the grill, it’s fantastic. Check out Chef Larry Donahue’s recipe for yourself if you’d like, or stick with me to see how things went with our grilled (not once, but twice!) meatloaf.

I followed Chef Larry’s recipe nearly to the letter, except that we added more garlic, adjusted ratio on the sausage (equal amount felt like too much for our taste) and came up with our own creative solution for draining the cooking grease.

This recipe will cook over indirect heat, and you’ll need a rectangular foil pan to use as a drip pan below the meatloaf. These foil pans are inexpensive and usually available next to foil and plastic wraps in any supermarket.


Ingredients

1 medium onion, diced (about the size of a tennis ball)

3 cloves garlic, minced

Extra virgin olive oil

12 saltine crackers, crumbled

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. lean ground beef (90/10)

1/2 lb. seasoned pork sausage* (we used a bulk breakfast type)

2 large eggs

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes (or 1/3 cup fresh chopped, if you have it)

Kosher salt and black pepper


For the glaze

1/2 cup organic ketchup

3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Several shakes hot sauce (to taste)


Instructions

Chef Larry’s recipe included instructions for preparing a charcoal grill, but we did ours on the gas grill so our setup was simple. Here’s a quick visual run-through of our adventure, with detailed steps below:


  1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and sauté onions until softened. Add garlic and sauté several more minutes until the onions are tender and translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. In a food processor, combine the cracker crumbs and milk, and process into a paste.
  3. Add the ground meats to the processor bowl and pulse until combined. This goes against my usual rule of “don’t overwork the meat,” and it reminds me of the technique I used a few months ago with the gyros at home recipe. Processing helps make the meat a cohesive mass and this will help it hold its shape on the grill. Transfer the meat mixture to the bowl, along with all remaining meatloaf ingredients and mix with your hands until it’s evenly blended.
  4. Shape meat mixture into a rectangular loaf shape, about 9 by 5 inches. Mixture should be tight and compact so it will keep its shape. The meatloaf may be covered and refrigerated at this point if you wish to work ahead. Otherwise, proceed to step 5.
  5. If you’re using a gas grill, preheat it to 400° F. Turn off the burners under the meatloaf side, but keep them going on the other side. If you have a suitable heat-safe rack, use it inside the foil pan. Otherwise, place the loaf on a pile of scattered thick-sliced onion rings inside the foil pan to aid in draining the grease. For charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect cooking, and heat the coals until they are glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife (about 400° F). Place the foil drip pan below the top grill grate, next to the coals. Lay the meatloaf on a double thickness of heavy aluminum foil on the rack above the foil pan, and carefully press on the aluminum foil in several places between grates to create “drip channels” for excess grease.
  6. Grill with cover closed for about 45 minutes.
  7. Combine the glaze ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened.
  8. Check meatloaf at 45 minutes. If it has formed a crust (oh, how beautiful is that??), brush a layer of glaze over the loaf and cook 10 more minutes. Repeat glazing two more times, then remove meatloaf from the grill and let it rest a few minutes on a cutting board.
  9. Here comes the fun part. You noticed the name of this recipe is “twice-grilled,” right? Cut the meatloaf into thick slices and put them back on the grill, this time directly over the heat until they develop grill marks. Move them to the indirect side, glaze them again, and cook until the glaze is to your liking. Ain’t no doubt about it, we are doubly blessed.
Yes, dear meatloaf, I swear I will love you ’til the end of time.

All my worries and “what-ifs” were put to bed with this easy recipe. The meatloaf had a terrific moist texture, the grilled-in glaze flavor was out of this world, and the whole thing was on the table in the same amount of time as if I’d baked it in the oven. It was delicious, didn’t heat up the house, and you can bet I’ll do it again—next time with a flavor twist!

Comfort food perfection.

We served our twice-grilled meatloaf with these Easy-Cheesy Grilled Scalloped Potatoes. Go get that recipe, too, and start cooking up some comfort in your own back yard.


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Pork Chops & Applesauce

Thanks to the classic Brady Bunch episode in which young Peter tries to imitate Humphrey Bogart, I can hardly imagine eating pork chops without applesauce. My husband, Les, and I recently had an online happy hour with some friends in Raleigh and we were shocked to learn they had no recollection of the episode. Just in case you missed it as well, this should help provide a little context, and, in honor of Father’s Day, some good advice from one of America’s favorite TV dads about the importance of being yourself.

With or without the pop culture reference, there’s no question that pork chops and applesauce make a great combination. They were a frequent menu item at my grandmother’s house for Sunday supper. The applesauce was always homemade, as my grandparents had a small tree in the side yard that was prolific with small, greenish apples during the late summer. She’d send me and one of my cousins out there to pick up apples that had fallen, and she’d wash them and cut out any bad spots, then throw them into a pot—peels, cores, seeds and all. When they were cooked and tender, she’d scoop them into her Foley food mill and call in the kids to crank the handle. The food mill had a spiral blade that pressed the cooked apples through a mesh strainer, while keeping all the unwanted peels and parts behind. We’d sweeten it to taste and flavor it up with cinnamon, and it was just about the best thing ever. To this day, my cousin, Brad, and I are convinced that these adventures laid the groundwork for our passion for food.

I found this image on Etsy, and its very similar to the Foley food mill my Gram used to make her applesauce.

As much as I’d love to have Gram’s Foley food mill, I must admit that Les has found another really easy way to make homemade applesauce from scratch, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to make it several times a year on request. We always have some on our Thanksgiving table, and if we time it right, enough leftover to enjoy on latkes during Hanukkah. All you need is a slow cooker and a potato masher, and of course, fresh apples.

Gram usually did her pork chops in a cast iron skillet with a simple gravy, but I’m elevating them today with a quick and easy brine. We want to enjoy them on the grill, and the brine ensures the meat will stay moist and flavorful. I’ll top the chops with the easiest chutney you’ve ever heard of, and it really pulls the whole meal together.

Doesn’t this look schwell? 🙂

Ingredients – the pork chops

4 bone-in loin end pork chops

1 cup coarse kosher salt (do not use iodized table salt)

1 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp. black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. dry mustard powder

2 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups ice cubes

For chutney:

1 medium onion, halved and sliced lengthwise into crescent shapes

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. homemade applesauce

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

The brine recipe has been my go-to since I first saw Alton Brown make it on Food Network. Brown sugar and dry mustard bring a terrific balance of sweet and savory. If you wanted to echo the apple flavor, you could swap in some apple juice or cider in place of some of the ice, but I usually use it exactly as ordered. Don’t brine your chops longer than two hours, or they will be too salty.

Instructions for brining

Heat the cider vinegar in a small sauce pan until hot.

In a large glass bowl, combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns and mustard powder. Pour in the vinegar and stir to dissolve the other ingredients. Give it 10 minutes to mingle the flavors, then add ice cubes and stir until they are melted. If brine isn’t completely cool, refrigerate before proceeding.

We ordered extra thick chops from our favorite local butcher, so we only used two. Use a heavy plate to help keep the chops submerged in the brine.

Place the pork chops in a gallon size zip top bag and pour the brine over them to cover completely. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal the bag and refrigerate for two hours. I usually place the zip bag inside a container large enough to hold the brine, just in case the bag springs a leak (which is always possible when using bone-in meats). Turn the bag over halfway through brining time for more even flavoring.

Ingredients – the applesauce

9 large apples*, peeled, cored and cut into chunks

1/2 cup brown sugar (either light or dark)

Juice of 1/2 large lemon*

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

*Notes

Consider mixing together a few different varieties of apple, for more interesting flavor. Choose apples with a firm texture, such as Granny Smith, honeycrisp or fuji. Varieties with a “mealy” texture, such as red or golden delicious or McIntosh, are not the best for applesauce.

The lemon juice helps to prevent browning of the apples as they begin to cook and soften, and the acidity gives a nice tart balance to the sweetness of the applesauce. In a pinch, a couple teaspoons of bottled lemon juice can be substituted here, but fresh is always better because it’s pure and doesn’t contain weird preservatives.

Instructions

You’re going to love how easy this is!

Place all apple chunks into the slow cooker, toss chunks in the lemon juice and sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon. Give it a good stir to mix everything up and cook on low setting for about 8 hours or overnight.

In the morning, use a potato masher to break up any pieces still large enough to stand out. We enjoy having a few chunks, but that’s just how we roll. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.

Instructions – the pork chops and chutney

Remove chops from brine mixture, rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

A quick sear on both sides helps seal in the juices, then nice and slow to finish them.

Grill the chops. Les seared them for 30 seconds on both sides, then reduced the grill temperature to low, cooking to medium well (about 150° F). I know we’ve all been told that pork must be cooked all the way to well done, but this is OK because they will continue to cook during a 5-minute rest inside.

Make the simple chutney. I sautéed the onions in olive oil until they were softened and lightly caramelized on the edges. A quick seasoning of salt and pepper, and at the last second, I opted for a quick shake of dried thyme leaves. Then, stir in applesauce and cider vinegar. Mix until heated through.

I sauteed the onions until they were tender with a bit of char on some of the edges.
Some of Les’s applesauce and a splash of cider vinegar makes it seem like this topping was cooking all afternoon.

This chutney will connect the dots between the savory pork chops and the sweet applesauce—an easy little Comfort du Jour twist to a classic “pork chopsh and appleshaucsh.”

I’m loving those perfect grill marks. The quick “chutney” pulls everything together to elevate our simple Sunday supper!

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So delischioush!!!