And the winner is?! Chicken Cacciatore

In our house we have an ongoing battle about birthday dinners. Not between our kids, but between my husband and I. When I met my husband over 20 years ago, the man ate nothing but fried foods and pizza. He confessed that as a kid he was a picky eater and that he didn’t actually learn to eat spaghetti with sauce until he was in college. He was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Yes, I still married him, and thankfully his palate has grown considerably since those days, but when it comes to birthday dinners, he always asks for his childhood favorite: meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Now let me tell you, as a kid there were three foods that I wouldn’t eat, that would cause me to sit at the table until bedtime because there was no way I was eating them and they were- liver, stuffed green peppers and MEATLOAF!

Oh how I hated that heavy brick of meat. Why you would do that to ground meat when you could make meatballs in sauce, or even a good old hamburger, I could never understand; and while I have learned to make a meatloaf that my family loves, and even I can eat and enjoy, it would NEVER be on my list of birthday treats!

For me, every year on my birthday I asked my mom to make Chicken Cacciatore (Pollo alla Cacciatora) which simply means chicken cooked “hunter style.” It is a rustic braised chicken with onions, green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and a bit of wine. We always had it with spaghetti or linguine, a crispy green salad and some crusty bread and it is still one of the best meals I can imagine.
The nice thing about this meal is that it is so simple to put together that it’s great for any time of the year! It isn’t my birthday but it’s time for my favorite meal! I hope you enjoy it! (By the way, it freezes beautifully so I always make a double batch and freeze some for a dinner on a different day!)

Chicken Cacciatore
1 3-4 lb.package of chicken pieces, dark, light or combination of both
Olive oil (several tablespoons)
2 large sweet onions such as Vidalia, cut in half and then thick slices
2 large green peppers, thick dice
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. Crimini mushrooms (Baby Bellas) halved
2-3 Tb. of tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
1 32 oz. can of diced tomatoes in sauce
1 Tb. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c of grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown them a few at a time (don’t crowd the pan) on both sides. As they brown, remove them to a platter. They won’t be cooked through, just nicely browned. (This tastes so good with the skin left on the chicken, but I usually remove the skins to reduce the fat and dust them in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder.)
Once the chicken pieces are browned drain most of the fat out of the pan and add the onion and peppers, saute them until they are soft and a little browned, add the garlic and cook another minute until fragrant and then remove the vegetables from the pot. Add another drizzle of olive oil and add the mushrooms. Cook them for 3-4 minutes until they start to turn golden brown and then remove them from the pot.
Add the tomato paste and allow it to cook for a minute or two, then deglaze the pan with the wine (or a splash of chicken stock or water) and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and vegetables back to the pan and add the tomatoes and the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper and add the herbs. Place the cover of the pot on leaving it cracked open 1/2 inch or so and bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked, sprinkle in the cheese and simmer for another 5 minutes.

A pot of yummy!

Very tasty! As a matter of fact it’s what’s for lunch for me today too!


Crispy, Cool, Spicy and Delicious! Asian Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Ground Turkey Filling

Well, basketball season has ended and we are moving really quickly into baseball and softball season here in our home. I love this time of year, mainly because softball/baseball season means SPRING! Summer can’t be far behind!
So tonight for a quick and easy dinner we had Asian Lettuce Cups filled with Spicy Ground Turkey and Veggie Fried Rice. We love PF Chang’s version, and I have tried many versions to replicate them without loving any of them. This recipe while different from PF Chang’s is equally tasty! Kids love these because they are finger food and can be a bit messy which is half the fun!
I rarely buy iceberg lettuce because it just doesn’t compare nutritionally to greener greens, and it really lacks flavor, BUT it is super crunchy and cool which makes it the perfect lettuce to form cups for the filling. I always think of my mom when I clean iceberg as I slam the head on the counter to get the core to break away from the leaves. Sometimes it takes a few whacks and my family thinks I am a little crazy!

The filling can be made with either ground chicken or ground turkey
and can be warmed easily in the microwave for kids who need to eat at different times. The whole family loved them which makes it one of those great recipes that make family dinners fast, easy and delicious! Enjoy!

Asian Lettuce Cups with Spicy Ground Turkey Filling
Adapted from California Sol Food, by the Junior League of San Diego and shared with me by my chef friend Margie Mackenzie of Nutmeg Kitchens in Portolo, California. Thanks Margie!

1 T peanut oil or vegetable oil
3 T minced red onion or shallots
2 T minced garlic (I used minced garlic from a jar)
2 T grated ginger root
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
4 T low sodium soy sauce
1 T Chile Garlic Sauce (or slightly more if you like spicy foods)
1 tsp. fish sauce ( optional)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro (about 1/2 large bunch)
1/3 cup chopped peanuts (optional — especially for braces wearers!)
1 head iceberg lettuce
Chop onion and set aside. Peel ginger root, then grate with the large side of a cheese grater, and chop garlic if using fresh garlic. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan, add onion and saute about 2 minutes, then add garlic and ginger root and saute about one minute more.
Add ground turkey to frying pan (with a bit more oil if needed) and break apart and spread out with turner, then add soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, and fish sauce if using. Cook until the turkey is brown and crumbling apart, and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

While turkey cooks, wash and chop fresh cilantro to make 1 cup. Remove the core end from lettuce, separate leaves, and wash in salad spinner and spin dry (or wash under running water and dry with paper towels.) Chop peanuts and put in small bowl to serve at the table.

When turkey is done, add chopped cilantro and cook 1-2 minutes more. Serve filling and lettuce leaves in separate bowls, with chopped peanuts in another small bowl. Each person takes a lettuce leaf, fills with desired amount of turkey mixture, adds chopped peanuts, and then eats the mixture from the lettuce cup.
I fold the lettuce cup over when I eat it, so it’s kind of taco-shaped, but some people like to wrap the lettuce around the filling like an enchilada. However you do it, it’s delicious!

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A wonderful evening in the Seasonal Kitchen

For several years I have heard about Dick and Ginger of the Seasonal Kitchen here in Pittsford, NY. They offer cooking classes that are enormously popular with folks returning time and again to learn about and taste delicious dinners. Every personal chef is looking for that kind of success and such a devoted fan base! Well on Thursday night I was finally able to meet Dick and Ginger for myself, and I understood exactly why they have such devoted fans! What a fun evening we had.

Dick and Ginger of the Seasonal Kitchen

Their kitchen is cozy and looks like most folks’ kitchens, not industrial and slick, but full of life and memories from travels and friends. It was not a huge space and 8 of us sat at TV tables along the side of the room while another 8 sat at their kitchen table.
Ginger led our lesson giving tips and talking about our ingredients and Dick was her right-hand man. He was full of puns and humor, and very importantly he knows how to follow his wife’s directions 😉 They were really sweet together and obviously have a great time together doing what they do.
Our menu for the night has a South American flare and included pineapple mojitos, a delicious layered orange and olive salad, a really flavorful stew of Chorizo and black beans with sweet potatoes and mango (!) which was incredibly easy to make and so tasty! For dessert we had a decadent chocolate coffee cheesecake and I would have licked my plate clean if I’d been at home! It was so rich and creamy.
The two hours flew by, we sampled everything and enjoyed every bite and I am really looking forward to going again! Thanks Ginger and Dick!
(I apologize for the dark photos. It’s still winter here and it was dark at 7:30 pm!)

Layered Orange and Olive Salad

Chorizo and Black Bean Stew

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Sunday Dinner Julia Child’s Style

As our kids get older and busier, I have been really focusing on establishing the tradition my mom had which was our Sunday dinner served in the early afternoon so we can spend at least a little time together in an unhurried, enjoyable meal.
This week I had a ham bone with a lot of meat left on it so it was time to make one of my favorite winter comfort food dinners. It is from a dogeared copy of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, which I received as a wedding shower gift from my husband’s aunt. (Thanks Alice! I still have it, love it and use it after 17 years!)
It is a wonderful casserole of au gratin potatoes and chunks of ham baked together until it is bubbly and browned on top! It takes a few pots and pans (most of Julia’s recipes do..) and a little time, but it is so worth it! Add a salad and a piece of crusty bread and viola! Dinner is served!
Ham and potato gratin.  Delish!

Here is the recipe as it is written in the cookbook. I make a half batch and it is enough for 10-12 people to have generous servings.

Granny’s Ham and Potato Gratin for a Crowd
serves 18-24

10 lbs. white potatoes

Garlic and mustard sauce

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 c flour
6 1/2 c. hot milk
salt, pepper, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 c dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or sage

4 c. coarsely grated Swiss cheese, or a combination of Swiss, Cheddar, and mozzarella

6-8 c of cooked ham, diced, sliced or ground (I like largish chunks.)

For the potatoes, peel them and slice them thinly (a food processor makes fast work of them). Put them in a pot of cold water and heat it to boiling. Gently boil the potatoes for about 3-4 minutes until they are tender but not cooked entirely. Drain them and set aside.
While you are cooking the potatoes, make the garlic and mustard sauce.
Melt the butter over med-high heat in a large pot (that can hold 6 1/2 c of milk). Once it’s melted, sprinkle the flour on and whisk together. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, don’t let it get brown though. Add half of the hot milk and whisk until blended and then add the rest of the milk in a steady stream. Continue to whisk until combined and thickened. Add the seasoning, garlic and mustard and continue to simmer for 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Now it’s time to assemble!

Set aside 3 c. of sauce and 1 c of cheese for the topping.
In a large buttered casserole pan spoon a light layer of the sauce, then arrange everything in 3-4 layers. Start with potatoes, then ham, then sauce and cheese, repeat and the final layer should be the 3 c. of sauce to cover the potatoes completely and sprinkle with cheese.

*You can assemble this ahead a day in advance and then just bake it off.

Bake at 375º for 45 minutes until hot and browned.