A Simple and Elegant Autumn Dinner
to Woo the Man/Woman of Your Dreams
to Woo the Man/Woman of Your Dreams
I don’t remember what my first words were, but they should have been, “What’s for dinner?” For as long as I can remember the majority of my thoughts and memories have been centered on food. It’s a family joke that I don’t always remember a place or an experience until told what I ate. I could tell you what I cooked or what I ate on a certain day fifteen years ago, but what we talked about or what I wore…who knows?
I’ve been cooking for most of my life. If you like good food, the best way to eat it on a consistent basis is to learn how to cook it for yourself. My mom says she’s a good cook and tells me that she cooked great meals when I was little, but unfortunately even my keen food memory doesn’t extend quite that far. I wish it did. The dishes she says she made sound delicious. Mostly I have trained myself to make things that I enjoy.
While other children were playing with action figures and making mudpies in the backyard, I was chasing the neighbor boys with fish blood. I loved going fishing with my dad and helping prepare the fish afterward. I also enjoyed mixing random items from the cupboard to create snacks for my family. The first dish I remember creating was something called, “Tahini Balls,” which perhaps is not the most appetizing name, but at that age my vocabulary was rather limited. I mixed Tahini (sesame paste) and peanut butter with honey and rolled the balls in coconut. My parents said they were good, but parents tend to say those things to their children to encourage them. Thank goodness they did, or I might have ended up on a very different path.
A few years later I had the opportunity to work with a professional chef in Australia. Babette Hayes, a well-known French-born cookbook author, was catering her daughter’s wedding, and my mom was officiating at the ceremony. I helped stuff and truss at least 100 game hens. It was my first introduction to catering and stuffing poultry, and I’ve been doing both ever since.
In college while the other students were subsisting on Lucky Charms and pasta, I continued to cook elaborate meals. On one occasion, I invited a handful of close friends to my dorm and served a multi-course meal with roasted chicken and garlic-mashed potatoes. At the end of the meal, an attractive male friend leaned over and told me that if I ever wanted a man to propose, I should prepare him this meal (He also asked me to name the dish after him….Poulet André). Ten years later, I’m still single, but I’m hoping that one day the chicken will work its charm.
Roasted chicken is one of the easiest dishes to prepare; yet it can look quite elegant. The following recipes are simple but very delicious. They are sure to impress. And who knows…perhaps even lead to something more…
Marriage Proposal Chicken/Poulet André
I prefer organic free-range chicken. The chicken has lived a more humane and healthier life. Plus, the meat tastes better and it’s better for you!
1 whole chicken
1 lemon, cut in half (or quartered organic apples)
a few sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350º F. While the oven is preheating, prepare the chicken. It’s best not to put cold meat directly into the oven; it doesn’t cook as well. Remove the giblets. I feed them to my dog, but they can also be used to make a delicious stock.
Put the chicken—breast side up—into a roasting pan (anything with sides at least 2 in. high will work) lined with parchment paper (this makes cleanup MUCH easier). Squeeze a bit of each half of the lemon on the top of the bird and then stuff the chicken with the partially squeezed lemons. Add the rosemary sprigs to the lemon inside the bird. (I like to let them hang out a bit; I think it’s more attractive that way). The lemon and rosemary infuse the meat with flavor and make it more tender and juicy.
Drizzle olive oil over the bird and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I prefer fresh-ground black pepper. It looks and tastes superior to pre-ground pepper. This step will help create a crispy and delicious browned skin.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven for approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours. The chicken will be done when either the juices run clear when you slice into the thigh or when the internal temperature of the dark meat on an instant read thermometer is at least165º F. My dad wiggles the leg and if it’s loose, he knows it’s done. This way works quite well, but tends to lead to slightly overcooked meat. But hey, it’s better than underdone!
If possible, let the meat rest at least 10 minutes before cutting. This will keep the meat moist and firm. Enjoy! When you really want to impress, serve with Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce.
Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce
Makes 4 cups
1 pkg. (.88oz) dried wild mushrooms (I get them at Trader Joe’s)
soaked in warm water (reserve for later use)
2 tbs. butter (Salted Kerrygold is my favorite)
1 cup onion, finely diced
1 tsp. dried tarragon
3/4 cup dry white wine (I usually use Sauvignon Blanc)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup mushroom soaking liquid
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper
Soak dried wild mushrooms in warm water for 10-15 minutes. Reserve liquid.
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the onions and tarragon, and cook until onion is soft and translucent, approximately 15 minutes.
Add the wine, chicken broth, mushroom soaking liquid, wild mushrooms, and crimini mushrooms to the onions. Simmer on medium heat—stirring occasionally—until the mushrooms are tender and the alcohol in the wine has evaporated (otherwise the cream will curdle).
Remove a ladle-full of liquid from the sauce and place in a small bowl. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid in the bowl and mix vigorously with a fork or small whisk. When all the lumps are gone, add this paste to the mushrooms. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes. This will thicken the sauce. This step is important; otherwise, the flour will taste raw.
Remove from the heat and add the cream. Stir and enjoy. The sauce may be kept warm on low heat, but should be watched carefully.
*Add salt and pepper to taste. However, you may not need any salt if you’re using salted butter and canned chicken broth.
Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I love Brussels sprouts. I always have. I like them boiled, steamed, and sautéed, but this is my favorite way to eat them. However, I suggest avoiding canned Brussels sprouts at all costs. There are very few things I will not eat, but canned Brussels sprouts are truly disgusting!
If you serve these with Marriage Proposal Chicken, crank up the oven as soon as the chicken is finished. While the chicken “rests” cook the sprouts.
2 lbs Brussels sprouts
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 500º F. Trim the Brussels sprouts and remove any ugly leaves. Slice in half from pole to pole. Place in a baking dish lined with parchment paper. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in oven.
If adding the optional ingredients, prepare them while the sprouts are in the oven. Slice the red bell pepper and zest the lemon. When the sprouts are just starting to brown (after about 10 minutes), remove them from the oven and add the bell pepper, zest, and pine nuts. Return to oven. (The later addition of these ingredients will keep them from burning).
Cook the sprouts for approximately 15-20 minutes. They are done when the outside leaves are dark brown and caramelized, but the insides are still somewhat firm. Do not overcook!
Bring Him to His Knees Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 6-8 (might as well have lots!)
I have yet to meet a man who does not like mashed potatoes. And perhaps someday these potatoes will bring me my prince…
I am a fan of mashed potatoes with the skin on; however, I do love the unctuous quality of extremely smooth potatoes. Mix it up! Are you feeling rustic or refined?
4 lbs of organic potatoes (approximately 12 medium potatoes)
*For this recipe I have used Russet potatoes, but red potatoes
and creamers would work too. Try a few different varieties
to see which you prefer.
4-10 medium garlic cloves, depending on how far you want to keep the vampires. (do NOT use garlic from a jar for this recipe!)
4 tbs butter
1 cup cream
splash of milk (optional) if potatoes are too dry.
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup 0% fat Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
For Rustic Mashed Potatoes:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, wash potatoes, but do not peel. If the potatoes are not too large, they can be cooked whole. If extremely large, you may need to cut them; however, this does change their texture somewhat.
Add potatoes to the boiling water and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork. They should be soft enough to mash, but not so soft that they fall apart. With medium potatoes, this takes about 30 minutes. Drain.
While the potatoes are cooking, peel and mince the garlic.
Return the potatoes to the pot and add butter and cream OR broth and 0% fat Greek yogurt (or any combination of the four to reach desired consistency and taste). The butter and cream make much richer potatoes, but the broth and yogurt combination have a delicious tanginess and are much lower in fat. Mash with a potato masher until mostly smooth with some dime-size chunks of potato. You may need to remove or cut pieces of potato peel that are too large. Add salt and pepper to taste. Do not over-mash or else the potatoes will become “gluey.”
For Smooth and Refined Mashed Potatoes:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, wash potatoes and peel. Cut potatoes into approximately 1 to 2-inch cubes. Add potatoes to boiling water and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork. They should be soft enough to mash, but not so soft that they fall apart. Drain.
While the potatoes are cooking, peel the garlic.
Run the potatoes through a potato ricer or a food mill.
Using a garlic press, squeeze garlic into potatoes. Add butter and cream OR broth and 0% fat Greek yogurt (or any combination of the four to reach desired consistency and taste). The butter and cream make much richer potatoes, but the broth and yogurt combination have a delicious tanginess and are much lower in fat. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir. Do not over stir or else the potatoes will become “gluey.”
Seckel Pears in Red Wine
Serves 4-6 (plan 2-3 pears per person)
Seckel pears are only available for a short time in the autumn. They are small and sweet. They look very elegant when stewed in red wine and served with a scoop of high-quality vanilla ice cream. My mom has already requested that I make this dish for Thanksgiving this year.
1– 2 cups sugar
*The more sugar, the less you will taste the wine. Start with 1
cup and continue to add until it suits your taste.
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
1-2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
2-3 star anise pods
3-5 whole cloves
4 1/2-inch slices of orange peel
3 lbs (approx. 16 pears) Seckel pears
*The pears should not be overly ripe or else they will turn to
mush when stewed.
*The star anise and cloves can be found in the bulk spice section of your local natural food store. If you can’t find them or find that the price is exorbitant, just use the cinnamon and orange zest.
In a medium pot (3 qt.) over medium-low heat, combine the sugar and wine. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and orange peel and simmer.
Peel the pears being sure to leave the stem intact. Add the pears to the liquid and slowly simmer (do not boil!) until the pears are soft and tender. This will take up to 2 hrs depending on the ripeness of the pears. If the liquid does not fully cover the pears, stir frequently to ensure even color distribution.
Serve warm (but not hot) over vanilla ice cream. Yum!!
*The leftover pears and syrup make a delicious sorbet. Remove the core and either chop or puree the pears, mix with the wine syrup and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.