May 26, 2011

nearly perfect chicken marbella

well, as the story goes, i was in a classic pickle. no idea what to make for dinner and no food in the pantry as i was dropping my son off at the ball field tuesday night at 5:15. so i asked him, what did he want for dinner. "victory," was his reply. "sounds good," i smiled. "what else?" i asked, as he reached into the back seat for his large sports bag filled with bats and gloves. the door slammed in reply, as he strode happily and with determination toward the dugout, casually waving to his arriving teammates. oh the simplicity and focus of 12 year olds. how i yearn for such clarity in my own life.

as per usual, i was on my own on this one. i drove to the store. it was getting late. the game started in 20 minutes. out of the mists of history, my own history and our collective history, sprang a sudden taste for chicken marbella. that marvelous dish invented in the 80s in nyc, by those amazing silver palate women. i have always loved it, the sweet, tart, savory, earthy unctuousness of this dish transcends. come to think of it, i have never seen it served without oohs of delight from guests. a friend of mine, a marvelous cook, often makes it, a popular favorite that it is. familiar, lovely, goes great with wine, and basically fool-proof.

now the recipe calls for marinating overnight. i needed dinner ready at 7:30 when the game was over, and i needed the dinner to practically cook itself in my absence. sounds impossible but no. not for marvelous, nearly perfect chicken marbella. marinating, and many other forms of elaborate preparation, it so often turns out, are overrated. impetuously, i picked up a package of organic skinless boneless breasts and another of skinless boneless thighs, a container of green olives, a jar of french prunes, a small jar of italian capers. boldly reinventing as i went. no lines. one bag of groceries. not too expensive. everything was going my way.

as i confidently breezed in the kitchen door, i started the rice. i placed the chicken in a large bowl. turned on the oven. set about flavoring the chicken with an odd array of this and that. pulled out my favorite bright green ceramic roasting dish. placed said chicken in pan. placed in oven. called out to teenage daughter studying for finals in the dining room. "if you smell anything burning, please turn this down." i left for the game.

turns out my son (known far more for his hitting and fielding than his pitching), was pitching a near perfect game. an 11-0 shut out. in one inning, he twirled only 3 pitches. the first two batters grounded out to him. the third batter to the third baseman. i have never seen a three-pitch inning before. the catcher did not even touch the ball once in that inning. i snapped lots of pictures. my husband and i were giddy. he went on to pitch as the local paper called it, "a complete game masterpiece." he faced only one batter more than the minimum. wow. what a night. as incredible as it was unexpected.

i kept my head and texted my daughter to pull the chicken out of the oven after 30 minutes. it was cooling on the stove as we returned home in victory. happily, chicken marbella is good, hot, warm, or room temperature. it really was spectacularly delicious. as we ate, my lovely daughter read us a wonderful short story she wrote, just returned with an A+. so we dined in the glow of their recent successes. my kids said it was an a+ no-hitter of a dinner. as it turned out, victory tasted a lot like chicken marbella. completely memorable, savory, and delicious.

chicken marbella
superfast homemade adaptation

1lb organic boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 lb organic boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup french prunes
1/4 cup capers and juice
1/2 cup green olives (i used an italian brand pitted and filled with tiny bits of lemon)
8 to 10 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons brown sugar sprinkled on top of chicken in the baking dish

preheat oven to 400 degrees F. i use a setting called "convection roast." mix chicken with the other ingredients and marinate while the oven is heating. when oven is fully heated, place the chicken mixture in a baking dish which holds them comfortably. sprinkle chicken pieces with sugar so they brown nicely. place in oven. return in 30 minutes. remove from oven. enjoy the amazing aroma. allow to cool for 10 minutes plus. enjoy with rice, cous cous or bread. a green salad would have been nice, next time.

lovingly adapted from silver palate cookbook. the traditional version uses herbs and white wine and red wine vinegar as well as chicken with bones and skin. the dish didn't suffer at all in this superfast adaptation, i swear. i think it's because without skin the chicken calls for less marinating, or none, in my case. they also use different quantities and proportions of most ingredients. chicken marbella is nothing if not adaptable.

May 18, 2011

super fast homemade: shrimp tacos

i love shrimp. i love tacos. so shrimp tacos are a natural. in baja, you will find tacos like this all over the place. delicious. super easy. super fast. they make a perfect weeknight meal, are endlessly versatile, and would also work great for easy entertaining..... some kind of perfect combination. oh and great leftovers which taste just as good the next day. simply heat fresh tortillas and voila.

the ingredient list is not too challenging

1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp, sustainably harvested
1 TBSP minced cilantro stems
2TBSP olive oil
2 tsp good quality sea salt
juice of 3 limes
1/2 head red cabbage, finely sliced
1 cup of organic sour cream
1 avocado
2 ears of corn
1 TBSP chopped cilantro leaves
8 to 10 tortillas, flour or corn, your choice
a few cilantro leaves, destemmed

1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco, (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced (optional)
1 jalapeno pepper, core removed, minced (optional)

you can have these on the table in 30 minutes if you are working alone. 15 minutes if you have helpers available.

step 1 marinate the shrimp in a non reactive bowl. (make sure the shrimp tails are also removed). sprinkle cilantro stems, 1 teaspoon salt, sliced garlic, juice of 1 lime, (and jalapeno if using), over the shrimp. give a good stir and set about prepping the rest of your ingredients. slice the cabbage nice and fine and place in a serving bowl. slice the kernels off the cobs of corn, place in a microwave safe container (glass) and microwave for about 1 minute. when cool, pour the juice of 1 lime, and the chopped cilantro leaves over the corn. give a good stir. slice your avocado. mix your sour cream with the juice of the third lime and 1 teaspoon of salt. heat your tortillas. now get a saute pan nice and hot. really smoking hot. aadd 2 TBSP olive oil to the shrimp. stir again. slide shrimp in sauce into hot hot saute pan. saute on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. make sure both sides of each shrimp get the heat by stirring or flipping. all done. bring to the table. everyone assembles their own. brilliant. delicious. not entirely expected weeknight fare in new england. so there is the element of surprise as well. delightful! happy midweek to all.

May 13, 2011

super fast homemade: broiled sole with spring onions

as i was saying, we have been crazy busy. we had a french student staying with us for a month, which was loads of fun and filled with sightseeing jaunts here and there. then spring everything hit our schedules at once. trial by fire, i have learned to cook fast. really fast. dinner in 15 minutes? can do.

strategies for cooking really fast: build up a repertoire of 5 or 6 dishes you can make super fast. once you know them, grocery shopping will be easy. simplify the meal, down to it's essence. make the most of each ingredient, but keep that list small.

another idea, one which i am completely dependent on: a rice cooker, seriously i sometimes travel with mine, i bought it 16 years ago for $125 dollars and it still works great. i am not at all into gadgets in the kitchen but this one thing is awesome.

another is get to know your broiler, hight heat broiling is great for fish, chicken and pork. cooks really fast and is hands free, in that you can chop or toss or stir something else while it is going on. you do have to keep your eye on it because burning can also happen fast. keeps you on your toes. the point is, you really don't have to buy prepared convenience foods or takeout when you are short on time. you can do this.

for the next few weeks, until school is out, summer begins and life takes on a slightly more leisurely pace, i am going to focus on fast meals, from necessity but also for a creative challenge. i want to eat well, and i love to cook, but i also love to do lots of other wonderful things and don't want to spend all day in the kitchen. ready set go.

broiled sole with spring onions
serves 4

1 lb sole, about 6 to 8 small fillets
1 teaspoon minced cilantro stems
1 TBSP fish sauce
2 teaspoons palm or brown sugar
1 package spring onions, ramps (baby leeks), or scallions, cleaned and trimmed

preheat broiler to high and move top rack to highest position. mix together the fish sauce, cilantro stems, brown sugar. cover a large baking sheet with parchment or foil. place the filets on the parchment, intersperse the onions. with a large spoon, drizzle your sauce onto the fillets, up the center line.

when broiler is preheated, super hot. pop in the tray. broil for about 4 minutes, right up close to the heat source. until fish is cooked through and onions are nicely charred. serve immediately with a tossed salad and maybe some rice, precooked in your rice cooker, or bread.

that was fast for a homemade meal wasn't it? enjoy. and happy weekend everyone.

May 9, 2011


late greening this year, but visually spectacular none-the-less.

it's such a busy time of year with spring sports, concerts, assemblies, games, and tournaments, out here in suburbia. from necessity, i have been cooking the fastest, homemade, whole food, organic meals i know how to cook. and i must say i really have developed a knack for the 15 minute family meal. with some fast chopping, fish, pasta, and stir fry work well for the extreme short order cooking. this really reduces a meal to its essence, with a kind of simplicity i find refreshing. i'll post a few of these recipes this week. in the meantime, enjoy the gorgeous weather.