Category Archives: Main Courses

Gordon Ramsay’s Roast Chicken in Morel Sauce

Remember a few weeks back when I got cold feet about making a recipe that I’d seen Gordon Ramsay do on The F Word? Well, I decided that as the days of asparagus and morels are quick and fleeting, I would need to overcome my phobia of two-page, small-type sets of instructions with multiple groups of components to prepare. I’m not sure how you are, but there are times when I look at a recipe and my eyes start to roll in the back of my head by about the 13th ingredient I see listed. At that point, I just give up and find something else to do, like going across the street and grabbing a slice of pizza.
The finished sauce – creamy and not too rich, because of the stock
I was encouraged to push ahead and make the Roast Chicken in Morel Sauce by my youngest sister, who reminded me that she had made it several months back for a dinner for my father and some of our family friends. When she was up here visiting earlier this year, she’d picked up a package of dried morels that we had found in our jaunt around the city. I hadn’t realized that she had used them to make this. She assured me that the dish was doable, despite the lengthy set of instructions.
The other important part to know in fixing this dish is that it took me an hour to cook everything, and I ended up using multiple pans to put together the separate components. How do I know exactly how long it took? Well, I had an episode of “Behind the Music” to keep me company while I worked on dinner. I’m not opposed to recipes that eat up an entire hour to prepare or that involve multiple steps, but, as I said to my sister, I really felt like I needed my own sous-chef and team to assist with making everything, much like on the show.
The vegetables plated up
Despite that, in the end it looked and tasted very good. I would save this dish for a dinner party or one of those days when you have the time, nothing else is pressing, and you would like to make something very special for your evening meal. The creamy, earthy mushrooms and grilled asparagus play off of the hearty roasted chicken. The potatoes help soak up some of the sauce while the crisp, salty bacon adds some more dynamism to the dish. Unlike the instructions in the video, I kept the dried mushrooms and sauteed shallots in the sauce. I did not make the fresh morel part, as they are prohibitively expensive, even when in season.
The finished dish – a feast for the eyes and the stomach!
Buon appetito!

Leek and Ham Gratin

After what seemed like a never-ending winter, it is nice to turn one’s eyes to eating spring and summer food again. A few years ago, when my folks came to visit about this time of year, we went to one of a friend’s neighborhood stand-by places to grab a bite. This French-style classic bistro is just the kind of place that my mother loves when she can’t get to the more upscale white tablecloth version, which is rapidly becoming extinct.
There, I had one of those dishes that was so simple but yet so amazing: Leek and Ham Gratin. It was filling without being heavy even for a warm spring day. The other part of its charm was that it was served to me in my own personal gratin dish. As I cut into one of the rounds, slicing through the layer of ham to the pale core of the leek, I could feel my mouth begin to water. Scooping up some of the cheesy white sauce to go with the meat and vegetable, I captured it in my mouth and let the tastes mingle together: creamy, slightly crisp, and hearty.
It was one of those “love at first bite” experiences. Could I do this at home, too? My mind began to deconstruct the dish with each bite. Hmm, Gruyère on top, a coating of Béchamel, covering ham wrapped around leek. It could be doable, I mused, and this would be a great addition to my recipe repertoire.
So I set about to do see if I could create my own version of this meal. Although perhaps not as pretty on the plate as it is served in the dish, I think I captured it the way I wanted to. This would work as an appetizer or main course, served with a green salad and vinaigrette or even with the Spinach Salad recipe I’ve published previously.
Ham and Leek Gratin
Prep Time: 40-45 minutes (with making Béchamel)
Serving Size: Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course
1 recipe Béchamel (see link)
8 baby leeks or 4 large leeks cut in half, washed ends and tops cut off
8 slices of cooked ham
1 tsp softened butter*
1 c. shredded Gruyère cheese
Prepare the Béchamel per the recipe linked above (or use your favorite version). Once the sauce has thickened, take it off of the heat and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade, gas mark 4).
Cut the large leeks in half or keep the smaller, more tender ones whole, cutting them into 6-8-inch pieces.
Wrap a slice of ham around each leek (or leek half). Butter 4 small gratin dishes (or one large ceramic or glass casserole pan) and place 2 ham-leek bundles side-by-side in the dishes. (If baking all of them in a casserole pan, do the same so that they all fit in a row in the pan.)

Pour 1/4 cup of the sauce over every two bundles making sure to coat them completely, and cover with the grated cheese. Place the pan(s) in the pre-heated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted completely.  If you’d like to create a crisper, brown crust, turn the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Centigrade, gas mark 6) for the last 5 minutes of cooking and watch it carefully to make sure that the dish doesn’t burn.

Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for about 5 minute, as they will be scorching hot when they are taken out. These can be served in the gratin dishes at the table or put on a plate.
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip:
This is not a new hint, but is one I swear by to keep things less messy in the kitchen. When you have finished a block of butter, don’t throw away the wrapper. Keep empty wrappers in a bag in the freezer. When a recipe calls for buttering a dish or a pan, simply take one of the wrappers out of the bag and use the buttered side on it, keeping your hands from getting greasy.

Indian Food Cooking Binge

While waiting to hear about a consulting gig, I embarked on a cooking spree. I love eating Indian food, but I’ve never been very successful at making it. Recently, I pulled several recipes from BBC Good Food and tackled making them. By way of comparison, I decided that this time, I’d photograph my results alongside of what the picture in the magazine looked like.
The entire plate of food looked like the above. It made a great lunch on Day One and was an even better set of leftovers when I came home from a long day today. Unfortunately, as delicious of a lunch as it would make to bring to work, I can’t really recommend it. While not super spicy, it does have those strong aromas that make reheating it in a microwave in an office environment a bit touchy in some companies. Still, that just means more for you to eat at home.
I’ve posted the recipe names below the photos, so that they can be located on the BBC Good Food website. While the dishes didn’t turn out picture-perfect, nothing was complicated to make. The chopping of the vegetables and the careful stirring to make sure that everything was incorporated was great therapy and very calming in the chaos of my job search. There was also the added virtue of getting extra veggies into my diet and, for a while, my apartment smelled wonderful.
Coconut Dhal
(like regular dhal but a luxury version, rich, sweet, and creamy)
Mango Chicken with Spiced Pilau [this photo and the next]
(flavorful rice and sweet-spicy chicken)
Cauliflower & Potato Curry
(super veg recipe, great as a side dish)
Buon appetito!

Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry

For the past few weeks, I’ve been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” I just managed to catch up on this week’s episode. I’ve been a fan of his ever since The Naked Chef was first shown in the United States. What I enjoy is his basic philosophy that anyone can cook even the most basic dishes and that it is about good simple flavors coming together with easy culinary techniques.
For a while, I’ve been reading about the work that he’s done in the UK on trying to improve school lunches. I know we have Chicken Nuggets, but they had something called Turkey Twizzlers. I’m not sure I even want to imagine the stuff that goes into these, but you can do an online search for photos and information on them. I was wondering if the same type of program was going to be done here, as our school lunches have never been anything to get really excited about nutritionally either. One teacher has even taken to blogging about it, photos and all.

This past week, it was kind of exciting to see Jamie win over enough folks to get 1,000 people on board for his cooking demos in downtown Huntington, WV (even the lunch ladies came!). I totally loved the flash mob of Marshall University students that helped to get it going. If those could be spread out across the United States, would we all rally around to eat better? It also made me crave the noodle dish that he had everyone make.

So, I went on a mission to track everything down to try to make it. I think it was worth all the effort and prep work in the end. I’ve made a few adjustments and clarified the instructions somewhat to create what I think is an easy-to-follow and tasty (having downed a whole plate of it for lunch today) Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry. I’m also looking forward to having some great leftovers next week!

For this recipe, getting your setup (mis en place) ready in advance is key. Chopping the vegetables and savory items does take time, but in the end the cooking part isn’t very long, so prep is very important.

The noodles were brown rice udon ones, which I found at Whole Foods. I couldn’t find the egg ones which were listed in the original recipe. I also took extra time to cut the peppers, carrots, and snow peas into strips to match the noodles. This had the added advantage of all the items taking equal time to cook. As I don’t really like baby corn, I omitted it. I also left out the bean sprouts, as I couldn’t see what I do with the enormous bag of them I found at the store.

Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry
Serving size: makes 4 generous portions
Prep time: at least 30 minutes to chop and prep ingredients, 10 minutes cooking time

8.8 oz bag Brown Rice Udon Noodles (or rice noodles)
2 cloves Garlic, finely minced
2 small thin Red Chili Peppers, sliced
1 tsp. freshly grated Ginger
1 lb. Beef Sirloin, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices*
1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded and cut into thin slices (julienne)
2 Carrots, cut into thin slices (julienne)
1/2 lb. Snow Peas, cut into slices
2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 tsp. toasted Sesame Oil
juice of 1/2 Lime, plus additional lime wedges
3 Scallions, cut into thin rounds
1 Tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped
Put pan of water on to boil for noodles. While this is heating up, begin cutting up the next seven ingredients. [The vegetables, garlic, and ginger could be prepared in advance, wrapped up, and kept in the fridge until you are ready to begin cooking. If you put these items in small bowls or in plastic bags by ingredient (as was done on the show) you could have your children work with you to add each of them to the pan as you cook together.]
When the water has boiled, add the noodles. Cook per the instructions on the packet. Once they are finished, drain the noodles and set aside. In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp. of the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, chili, and ginger and cook for one minute. Add the beef and cook for 2-3 minutes until the meat has begun to brown. Drizzle 1 tsp. of the sesame oil, the juice of 1/2 lime, and a pinch of salt. Stir to create a sauce. Pour contents of pan into a bowl and set aside.
Heat up the additional 1 Tbsp. of vegetable oil in the same pan as was used to cook the meat. Put the red peppers, carrots, and snow peas into the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes until soft but still crisp. Toss in a pinch of salt and stir. Add the cooked noodles to the vegetables. Drizzle the additional 1 tsp. of sesame oil over the noodles and toss everything together to incorporate. Cook for one minute more. Put noodles and vegetables onto individual plates or into a large serving bowl.
Return the meat to the pan. Add scallions and cilantro and stir to incorporate. Cook for a minute to heat the meat through. Pour the meat and all the juices on top of the noodles. Serve with lime wedges.
*To make this vegetarian, you could skip the meat and put in cubes of firm tofu, cooked in the same style as the meat, with the same flavorings to keep the Thai spirit of the dish.
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip:
Jamie Oliver also gave me the best tip for peeling ginger (not personally, to clarify, but via his show). Since I tried it, I haven’t wasted the extra amounts that slicing off the outer layer causes. Take a spoon, turn it over, and use the edge of it to scrape off the peel of the ginger. You’ll be left with thin shavings of the brown papery outside and a clean bright piece of fresh ginger to grate or slice up as needed for the recipe.
[For a tip on working with cilantro, check out the post on leftovers and scroll to the Kitchen Witch Tip at the bottom of the post.]

Cool Shrimp and Avocado Salad for a Hot Day

Apologies for being a bit out of touch blog-wise. I’ve actually been trying to juggle being out of town twice in the last few weeks, coping with job loss, and dealing with being overloaded in general. It hasn’t all been bad, though. I managed to squeeze in a hands-on cooking class on fish at Astor Center during all that chaos.
One of the beneficiaries of this last activity, was my friend who hosted me at the beach over Easter weekend. I recreated one of the dishes that we made in the class: Shrimp and Avocado Salad in Citrus Vinaigrette. I think that I enjoyed it even better the second time around. This is the perfect hot summer recipe and has been a great, light lunch for me this week as the temperatures around here have climbed into numbers that we’re not supposed to see around these parts until July.
 The purpose of this recipe was to demonstrate peeling, cleaning, and cooking shrimp. Having made these since I was young enough to reach the stove, I didn’t need the practice, but I enjoyed the results of the dish at the end. I did learn, however, how to segment fruit, something I’ve never been taught. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, but it was messier than I’d expected.

For those fortunate enough to have one, the shrimp could be prepared on skewers on the grill, which would make a wonderful, and slightly different presentation. A glass of a chilled light white wine would make a refreshing accompaniment to the combination of ripe creamy avocados and warm meaty shrimp served in crisp cool lettuce leaves covered with a tangy dressing.

Buon appetito!

Polenta with Sausage Sauce

Mother Nature is taunting us. Last weekend was warm with lots of sunshine, and it looked like the weather had turned a corner into spring. Then, it turned cloudy, cold, and very rainy. Fortunately, this winter I got on a kick to try to perfect my polenta-making skills. I’ve always loved eating polenta, but the few times I had tried to make it, I didn’t get very good results. It was always sort of o.k. tasting. What I wanted was what I’ve eaten in several restaurants: silky smooth with a hint of body, full corn flavor wrapping itself creamily around your tongue. Good polenta can be very seductive.
It seems like others had the same idea. Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column in the NY Times had a recipe for making polenta several weeks ago: “Taking the Fear out of Polenta.” Like risotto, polenta is one of those dishes that scares people off from trying to make it, when, in reality, it is quite simple to do once one learns the technique and appreciates that this is a dish in which the ingredients really do matter.
I bought the basic grain at my local gourmet grocery store: Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Ground Cornmeal. I also tested out another version that I found at the Greenmarket. This last version is a fruit-and-veg take on nose-to-tail eating. I bought the cornmeal from the folks from whom I usually buy corn in the summertime. From there, it was a matter of following the instructions.
After 15-20 minutes or so, I was left with a a loose, creamy dish. I’m not sure if the Greenmarket cornmeal was ground less coarsely than the version I bought in the store, but I did feel it could use more liquid or more time on the stove. I wasn’t entirely happy with the results, but I was getting closer to what I wanted.

When I was in Virginia over the Christmas holidays, a friend of mine had made Tuscan Chicken with Polenta, which he had gotten from his stand-by cookbook, and one of my old favorites, The New Basics. Some of the recipes are too heavy for me, and my friends and I have a running thing about how much butter and cream are used in some of the books that these two ladies put together. That said, however, I wondered if that was just what the polenta recipe for which I was looking required.

Their basic polenta recipe calls for using milk and butter instead of just water. To hold back on the fat and calories a bit, I used one cup of whole milk and two cups of low-fat milk and skipped the addition of the melted butter at the end. The result was just what I wanted. It was luxurious without being heavy. I think that this is the version of this recipe that I’ll keep in my files.

As you can see, I got a bit too excited about trying the dish with the sauce I’d cooked for it and almost missed getting a photo. I’d eaten something similar when I lived in Italy. It was a polenta with a Ragu Bolognese. Not that I mind making that sauce, but I sort of wanted a different set of flavors. Mark Bittman had made a simple cooked sausages and added sliced basil to his version.

At the Greenmarket, I found these Italian sausages, which I thought would be perfect for building my sauce. I opted for the sweet style so that I could better control the flavorings I wanted to put with this dish. What I had in mind was a rich tomato base with meat as a secondary component and some herbs also playing a key supporting role.

I still feel like I’m working on getting the sauce just right, so I haven’t written up an exact recipe yet. I think it sort of got there, but I’m not completely satisfied with it. If you would like to try, I just cooked up onion, garlic, sausage, tomatoes both whole and chopped, dried parsley, and dried sage. Perhaps I need to add a little hot sausage with the sweet, but I’ll have to figure that out the next time I make this.
First of all, I’ll need to clean off the splatters from my kitchen cabinet, as while it was simmering this sauce definitely had range! In the end, I think that this sauce was a great pairing with the polenta. It is sort of brothy with deep tomato flavor and the meat not overpowering it. The taste of the polenta base comes through with each bite in a perfect complement to the sauce.
Buon appetito!