It’s All About Adapting!

Last week I decided to go through my cookbooks to determine what to have for dinner this past week.  I was frankly tired of the usual winter options and wanted to bring a couple of new dishes to the table, as it were.  Coupled with it being the first week of Lent ( which means two meatless nights that week) I was eager to find something that didn’t involve pasta or fish.  I came upon a recipe for Chicken in Tarragon Sauce.  The title intrigued me so I took a look at the ingredient list.  It seemed easy enough for a week night dinner that could go on the table when we were ready to eat.

I read through the steps of the recipe  – combine the chicken breasts, onions, aromatics and stock in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. WAIT – Boil the boneless skinless chicken breasts? Nope, not happening.  I was about to give up on the recipe, when I decided adapting it to use my sous vide machine made more sense.  After all, once having tasted sous vide boneless skinless chicken breasts the words boiling chicken don’t go together in this house.

So here is my sous vide take on the Chicken in Tarragon Sauce.  The original recipe calls for almost all the same ingredients. So if you don’t have a sous vide machine just boil the chicken, onions, stock and aromatics instead.

Chicken in Tarragon Sauce     Serves 2

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 7 oz each – I had a large 13 oz breast that I used)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white vermouth (or dry white wine)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbl butter
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 2 tbl heavy cream
  • chopped fresh tarragon to taste

Season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper.  Place the chicken breasts in individual bags. Add the onions, bay leaf and thyme.  Note:  If you have multiple chicken breasts you will need to increase the amount of thyme and bay leaf to match the number of breasts you are cooking.  Each cooking bag should have a breast and herbs.  Divide the onions among the bags.  Vacuum seal the bags and place in sous vide machine at 146 degrees F. for 1.5 hours.

Chicken breast with herbs, salt an pepper ready to be bagged.

Chicken breast with herbs, salt an pepper ready to be bagged.

Just before you are ready to serve, melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the flour.  Cook the roux until the flour taste is cooked out.  Add the chicken stock and stir to remove any lumps.

Remove the chicken breasts from the water bath and cut open the bags.  Remove the chicken from the bags, cover and keep warm .  Put all of juice, herbs and onions in the bag into the chicken broth mixture.  Add the cream to the broth mixture and stir to blend.

Slice the chicken breasts and plate.  Top with the sauce and sprinkle with the fresh tarragon.  I served this with fresh asparagus.  The chicken breast was juicy and tender.  It’s all about adapting!

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Souper Soups Part II

Yesterday I shared the recipe for the thick and satisfying Black Bean soup that was one of two soups on the menu last week.  The second soup was a Pea and Leek soup with Dill and Bacon that I found on a website for a piece of cookware I brought back from France.  It sounded so good I decided to give it a try.  This is my variation on that recipe.

You will need a kitchen scale to complete this recipe as the directions call for ounces vs cups.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale,  have given my best guess for measured amounts in parenthesis on the ingredient list. This recipe also requires an immersion blender to obtain the rich, creamy mouth feel.  One would never guess that this soup wasn’t loaded with cream.  But as you will soon see the creaminess comes from the blended vegetables.  The only cream comes as an optional add-on during service.  I served this soup hot but I am eager to try it as a cold soup this summer.

Peas and Leek Soup with Dill Bacon and Sour Cream

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 tbl butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 5 ounces potato (about 2 medium Idaho potatoes – not big bakers)
  • 8 ounces peas – (about one cup) defrosted if frozen do not use canned
  • 10 ounces leeks – (3 or 4 leeks depending on size)
  • 6 sprigs fresh dill – roughly chopped (additional chopped dill for garnish)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 slices bacon

Cook the bacon, using your favorite method, until crispy, set aside to cool.

Peel and finely dice the onion and the garlic.  Set aside.  Remove the dark green tops of the leeks and discard.  Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, slice them into 1/4 inch slices, place in a colander and place under running water to clean out any residual dirt.  Set aside.  Peel the potato and cut into 1/4 inch cubes.  Set aside.

In a sauce pot melt the butter over medium heat and sweat the onion and garlic for about 2 minutes.  If you are preparing this recipe at altitude it will take closer to 4 minutes to sweat the vegetables.  Adjust the heat as necessary to avoid browning the onion or garlic.   Add the potatoes, leeks and peas and sweat for another 2 (4 at altitude) minutes.  Add chicken stock and dill.  Bring the stock to a simmer.  Cook on low heat until the vegetables are fork tender.  Crumble the bacon into small bits while the soup is cooking. Set aside to use as garnish. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until it is smooth and creamy.  Note: you can place the soup in a standard blender pureeing a small amount at a time.  Take care not to overfill the blender as hot liquids have a tendency to erupt!

Season soup with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of bacon and fresh dill.

This soup will definitely go into our rotation, especially when the farmers markets start up again and leeks are so much easier to come by!


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Souper Soup

Last week was soup week. I didn’t set out to make soup the evening meal several times this past week.  The menu just came together that way.   George requested Black Bean soup and I had seen a recipe for a Pea and Leek soup that looked really great.  While I could have pushed one of the soups into the next week, I knew if I did that I would forget about it during menu planning until who knows when.  So  we souped out this past week. And no, this wasn’t about lent.  Both of these soups included meat – a variety of pork to be precise.

I make the Black Bean soup from dried beans that are simmered with a ham hock – different from my previously shared recipe.  We liked this one much better.  Today I will share the recipe for the Black Bean soup – tomorrow  the recipe for the Pea and Leek soup.  This Black Bean soup really sticks to your ribs.  A great meal for a cold and blustery day – the type of weather we seem to be having over the last few weeks ( I can see it snowing in the foothills as I write!) This recipe is my take on a Tyler Florence recipe.  It takes about 3 hours – start to finish, so don’t plan on making this from scratch when you get home from work!

Black Bean Soup

Feeds 6 with very healthy appetites!

  • 1 lb dried black beans
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper – seeded and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbl. oregano
  • 2 tbl ground cumin
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tbl olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper

Wash the beans, drain and remove any debris.

Place the garlic, onion and bell pepper in a food processor and puree.

Add the olive oil to a large pot set over medium heat.  Add the oregano and cumin.  Add the vegetable puree and saute about 7 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant.  Add the beans, ham hock, bay leaves, jalapeno and chicken stock.  Slightly cover the pot and simmer until the beans are tender – about 2 hours.

When the beans are cooked, remove the bay leaves and the ham hock.  Let the ham hock cool and then remove the meat from the hock.  Shred or cut into pieces and set aside.

Using a blender or an immersion blender ( fondly referred to as a “boat motor” in our house) to puree the soup just until thickened.  Season with salt and pepper and return the meat to the soup.

Serve the soup with any or all of these condiments – sour cream, cheddar cheese, chopped green onion.

I serve this with corn meal, cheddar cheese and jalapeno muffins.  Guaranteed to warm you on the coldest, windiest day!


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Frittatas on Friday

My mom sent me a text yesterday asking if I had a recipe for a spinach frittata.  She lost her recipe and has a taste for one for dinner tonight.  Running a B&B you’d figure I would have a number of different frittata recipes.  But no, not a single recipe.  That doesn’t mean I don’t make frittatas,  I make them all the time.  I just make up the recipe as I go.  Here is the basic recipe I use when cooking for 4 people – (With the exception of the eggs,  I generally eyeball amount of each of the ingredients – just like my Gran – so don’t feel compelled to take the amounts as gospel.)

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 lb spinach
  • 1/2 a small onion – chopped ( about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/3  to 1/2 cup of grated cheddar, swiss or Parmesan cheese plus additional for the top of the fritatta
  • a splash of milk or cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbl butter
  • 1 tbl olive oil or any vegetable oil
Whisk together the eggs, milk or cream, cheese salt and pepper and set aside.
 Heat the butter and oil in the frying pan.  Add the onions and cook until softened.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted.  Pour the egg mixture over the spinach and onions.  Lift the sides of the spinach to allow the egg mixture to flow under the spinach.  Cover and cook on top of the stove for 10 to 12 minutes – or until the center of the frittata is set.
Sprinkle additional cheese on top and place under the broiler until the top has turned golden brown.  Remove from the broiler and let cool several minuted before cutting.
The thing I love about frittatas is that you can use anything in the fridge.  You can add mushrooms, potatoes, olives, meat, etc.  Sometimes I make an Italian themed frittata for guests with mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms, pepperoni and Parmesan cheese.  I serve it with leftover red sauce.  Or a Mexican themed frittata with chorizo, taco cheese, jalapeno (or green pepper if a guest has spicy issues) and either salsa or home made red or green chili sauce.
Endless possibilities! And with Lent less than one week away, a great meatless meal!
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Comfort Food

The blustery winter weather we are experiencing today cries out for comfort food; a stick to your ribs dish that warms you from the inside out.  We all have our favorite comfort food, mine happens to be stewed chicken.  It’s on the menu tonight.

Born in November, stewed chicken on fried noodles was the dish I always asked for on my birthday.  Nothing glamorous about browning and stewing a who knows how old hen for hours until the meat falls off the bone. Nevertheless it was my favorite and I always got my wish.

Only problem is that I haven’t seen a stewing hen in literally years. So recipe modification is in order.  Last week we hosted our gourmet group. As the host I made the entree and provided recipes for appetizer, salad and dessert each couple could choose to prepare.  Having recently returned form France my menu was French.  I made braised turkey thighs in  Beaujolais Nouveau with prunes.  Sounds gruesome – taste wonderful.  After weighing out the required amount of turkey thigh required for the recipe I was left with one poor turkey thigh.  Into the freezer for later use.

Today the turkey thigh will make an appearance as stewed turkey.  A little browning, some chicken stock and slow cooking for two or three hours should produce the fall of the bone consistency I’m looking to achieve.  Thicken the stock, add mushrooms and it will be ready to go.  Served over fried noodles ( this is comfort food – not health food!) with a side of red cabbage it will keep the blustery winds at bay.

And an added bonus to using just the thigh, no leftovers.  I would gladly eat leftovers until it was gone (two people, a big stewing hen, you do the math!)  My husband, on the other hand, is done after one repeat. Not a problem tonight. Comfort food at its best.

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Another New Toy

Those of you who have followed my blog for awhile know that Christmas usually means a new toy to add to my kitchen collection. Last year I received a Sansaire Sous Vide machine that I absolutely love.  I used it to cook beef, pork, chicken, fish, apples and pears.  I would place the items in a quart freezer bag and submerge the bagged items into the water to “vacuum” the air out of the bag.  This worked well for meat items but not so much for pears and apples.  I wanted to sous vide the seasoned apples and seasoned pears and serve them as the fruit courses at breakfast.  Submerging the fruit filled quart bags into the water did not provide the seal I was looking for to ensure proper cooking. Only one solution – A food vacuum sealer.  So guess what Santa brought me for Christmas!

The Food Saver – the brand Santa left under the tree – was immediately put to use after a visit to Costco for breakfast sausage links.  You can imagine how many of those I go through just not fast enough.  I wrapped them in my usual manner – four to a package and then sealed six packages in a freezer bag.  The exercise gave me an opportunity to learn the machine.  About this time I needed to do something about the remaining beef rib roast we had at Christmas dinner.  I had purchased a 3 rib roast for George, my mom and myself.  Even after the original meal and a meal of leftovers, I was still left with the very meaty bones and a hefty amount of roast.  I pulled the meat off the bones, shredded it and seasoned it with Adobo sauce.  That meat went into enchiladas.  The remaining roast was cut into two thick “steaks.”  I decided to seal the meat in individual packages and freeze them for future meals within the next month.

Last night we had the first of the two leftover roast slices/steaks.  I had intended to defrost it and put it in a very low oven to warm and then inspiration struck!  Why not use my sous vide machine to gently warm the steak to 125 degree (F) and then sear the outside in my cast iron frying pan.  What did I have to lose.

I can report success!  The meat was warm on the inside but still medium rare – just the way we like it.  A quick sear in the frying pan browned the sides nicely without adding any more heat to the interior.  I served it with sauteed mushrooms and a twice baked potato.  And it never tasted like leftovers!

Posted in American Food, appliances, Beef, Breakfast, Christmas, Cooking, Entree, Family, Food, Food Vacuum Sealer, Formal Meals, Holidays, Kitchen tools, meat, Sandhill Crane Bed and Breakfast, Sous Vide | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Trip Down Memory Lane

The holiday season is in full swing,  And with less than a week to go until Christmas I feel pretty well prepared.  We will have guests this week and my mom will be arriving on Friday so the final push is on.

With that in mind I want to keep my meals simple and wherever possible, get two meals out of one prep – Beef Stew and Deep Dish Pizza fall into that category and are on the menu this week.  Tonight I am making oven fried chicken.  Nothing special about that except where the recipe originated.

In August of 1970 I was given a copy of recipe book entitled Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cookbook, (copyright 1964) as one of the bridal shower gifts from my parents.  At that same shower I also received a copy of the Joy of Cooking so a vast array of culinary capabilities were covered!  George was in the army when we married and we lived in a small apartment carved out of the second floor of our landlord’s house.  The kitchen was not conducive to gourmet dining.  The table was the cabinet door for a corner storage area and folded down when needed.  The oven had to be lit with a match when it was to be used.  And if you were using the oven you couldn’t have the table down because it blocked the oven door.  the refrigerator condenser was a coil on top of the unit.  Thankfully, the apartment had a dining room which kept the table oven gyrations to a minimum.  And to top it all off there were no counters.  I don’t know how I made Christmas cookies that year, but I did! Joy of Cooking  recipes would have to wait until we moved to our first modern apartment  after George was discharged.

Cooking for two

The Dinner for Two  cookbook had a number of dishes that could work in my limited workspace.  The first time I made oven fried chicken it was after we were first married.  After 47 years of marriage I still make oven fried chicken – tho I don’t need a recipe and even if I had one I would modify it, as is my way.  But I decided a trip down memory lane was in order so I located the cookbook and leafed through it.  The book provides a real snapshot of  the relationship people had with food in 1970.

As the title suggests, the book provides menus and recipes for complete dinners for two people.  The oven fried chicken recipe comes from a Sunday dinner menu that, in addition to the said chicken includes Mashed Potatoes, Pan Gravy, Cranberry Orange Relish, Buttered Green Peas and Strawberry Shortcake. On Monday’s menu? Pineapple Burgers (just wrong,) poppy-seed noodles, lettuce wedges with mayonnaise dressing ( a combo of mayo and sour cream) buttered roll and ice cream with caramel sauce.  I’m not going to relate a weeks worth of menus but I do want to share the ingredients of Saturday’s Party Bake Pork Chops – 1″ thick pork chops, slices of onion, uncooked rice and canned whole tomatoes.  The recipe instructs you to brown the pork chops, then top each with a slice of onion, a tablespoon of uncooked rice and a whole canned tomato.  Add the remaining canned tomatoes and the juice to the skillet, cover with foil and bake for 90 minutes.  I’m looking at a picture of the finished product. Not even remotely appetizing.

The book includes chapters such as “All –  American Favorites” (Ham, Beef and Pork roasts,) “Regional Favorites” ( shrimp creole is in there) and “Seasonal Favorites” (Liver and Bacon patties – are you kidding me!)

The book expands on its dinner for two concept with chapters such as “When Company Comes.”  This chapter includes recipes for dishes such as  Pheasant in Cream, Sauerbraten, Roast Cornish Game Hens and Chicken Chow Mein.  there is even a recipe for Mock Champagne – mix apple juice and ginger ale.  I’ll pass thank you! The company chapter also include menus for unexpected guests (Tuna Casserole??) and Buffet meals.

I have to admit the pages of the book that I appear to have used the most (food stained) are in the “Frankly Thrifty” chapter.  Pages with recipes for Meat Loaf, Vegetable Soup, Beef Stew with Dumplings,  are all stained.  I noted I did not make any notes in the margins of the recipes. Apparently I was still in “follow the recipe” mode at the time.  And some of the recipes were never attempted.  One called “Full O’ Boloney” falls into that category.

It was a great trip down memory lane.  It also highlighted the food and cooking trends of the time. Pineapple was an ingredient in 9 entrée and salad recipes.  Apparently lettuce wedge salads were big in the day as they appear in numerous menus throughout the book.  Pie, cake or cookies were included on almost every menu.  And the oven and a hand mixer seem to be the only appliances required.  I wonder what my gourmet group would say to a meal entirely from this book?

If, after reading this, you can’t wait to get your hands on a copy, they are still available. Just google the title. Price range from $4.95 to $998.98 (WHAT!!!!)

Do you have a cookbook that brings back memories?  Share it with a comment. Now I’m off to start my oven baked chicken!

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