Sunday, October 24, 2010

How I Relish a Good Relish

Having grown up in Greece and then in Australia, I knew nothing about Thanksgiving, that wonderful coming-together of family and friends to eat too much turkey and all of the other traditional dishes.

When my husband's family gathers, everyone brings one or two dishes--their traditional Southern specialty. We have creamed corn, green beans cooked with a little fatback, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, dressing, devilled eggs, sweet potato casserole and all manner of sweet stuff, with pumpkin pie and red velvet cake always winning the popularity contest.

The tradition of having cranberry jelly to go with the turkey is always honored. For me, as I came to feel like I belonged in this family tradition, I found my own recipe and brought another type of cranberry to the table--literally!

Cranberry Orange Pecan Relish
2 (12 oz) bags of fresh cranberries
zest of 3 large oranges
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 ¼ cups pecans, finely chopped

Pour all ingredients (except pecans) in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir and reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until all cranberries have popped and liquid has reduced by about one third. Stir in pecans and remove from heat. Once cooled and thickened, refrigerate. Should keep in refrigerator for about 4 weeks.

This is an excellent accompaniment to roasted and grilled meats, especially during the holidays, when it lends a tangy seasonal flavor to roast pork loin, ham and turkey or chicken.

Tomorrow night I will serve this with a sirloin of beef roast. Give it a try and let me know which meat you prefer to serve it with.
For our facebook fans, a bonus recipe for fireside sipping and nibbling. You can find it here,
© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin

The Comfort of Chicken Soup

Comfort: Your favorite pair of jeans, your favorite chair, that pair of slippers that make you feel so warm and safe--so, well, just right. That same warming comfort also comes in a big cup or bowl of soup. For me, it's a kale and white bean soup. For some it's a creamy bowl of tomato soup that takes them back to mother tending to you when you were too sick to go to school, and for many others it's chicken soup. Ah, the healing power of chicken soup! But which chicken soup, for there are so many recipes.

Thomas and Emme (two of my stepchildren) have grown up eating everything besides eggs and bacon for breakfast. Especially comforting for them is to wake up late on a Saturday, come to the kitchen and grab a bowl of this chicken and rice soup.

Thomas e-mailed today to ask for the recipe. It's just getting cold here in South Carolina, he's away at school and it's beginning to look a lot like soup weather, so no mystery that he's looking for a little comfort in a bowl.

Back when Thomas and Emme (now in their 20s) were little, I developed this recipe as a way to feed the family on cold winter nights. I made it easy and purposefully left out any of the
ingredients that younger children tend not to appreciate, such as beans and okra, and I made sure that I could prepare it inexpensively and quickly.

Everything about this soup is easy, even the name, but the flavor is intensely chickeny and intensely comforting in the mouth. I hope you'll try it soon. Put on your favorite slippers, grab a bowl and a spoon and enjoy the comfort of eating it sitting in your favorite chair, covored by an old quilt. Careful now, don't fall asleep.

5 chicken breasts & two leg quarters (w/ bones)*
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
2 large carrots, washed & cut in half
1 rib celery, washed & cut in half
salt and pepper
3 quarts water
1 small can whole tomatoes w/ juice
1 c. Uncle Ben’s rice
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro

Fill a large pot with water. Add all ingredients except tomato, rice and cilantro. Bring to a boil, remove scum, and reduce to a simmer. When chicken is almost done, remove. When cooled enough to handle, remove meat from bones and set aside. Place bones back in pot and continue to simmer for about 1 hour. This will extract more flavor from the bones and reduce the broth.

Drain the broth, remove the bones and pour back into pot. Chop tomatoes and add, along with juice. Bring to a boil, adjust salt and pepper to suit and simmer for 10 minutes. Add rice and continue to simmer, covered, until rice is done (15-20 minutes).

While rice is cooking cut chicken meat into large chunks and, once rice is ready, add chicken meat and cilantro. Simmer for 3-5 minutes further and serve.

*Can use all white or all dark meat, depending on your preference. The reason that chicken is cooked for a little and de-boned is to make sure meat is cooked through, but not dry.
When we cook a turkey, we save the leftovers to make this recipe. Pull off all turkey meat that is juicy and tender and set aside. Put everything else in a pot full of water, along with the garlic, onion, carrots and celery and simmer for several hours to get the broth/stock. Freeze stock and meat separately. Thaw, follow steps for adding tomatoes and rice, then finish with the rest of the directions.
© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ae Fond Sip...Remembering a Fine Wine

I'm not highly educated in the making of wine or even in the fine art of describing how a wine tastes. I leave those things to well-educated and seasoned friends who can help me in a pinch.

Richard Peck is one such friend. He is a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a fine writer and heads up the Greenville (SC) Wine Meetup group, among other things. He also has a great blog called Vine and Grape, which is an online gathering place for friends of Table 301 restaurant group and the wine-lovers of Greenville, South Carolina.

Richard introduced me to the wine meetup group and to some mighty fine wine at a recent tasting with Bartholomew Broadbent, a rock star of the wine world. He was down to earth, entertaining and brought with him some outstanding wines. That evening, my husband and I purchased a dozen or so bottles. One, and sadly only ONE, of those bottles was a 20-year-old tawny port. Here's a photo...of the empty bottle.

This bottle was shared with two friends. It was a wonderful evening: a simple roasted chicken and salad dinner, stories, music...typical good evening with good friends. Then came the drinking of the port.

For those who are not wine lovers, imagine this evening as a wonderful late night of sitting by a campfire singing songs and having great conversation with friends.

We had salted macadamia nuts, gruyerre, fig preserves and a hearty and rustic whole grain bread slathered with mascarpone cheese to enjoy with the port. The music of Leonard Cohen was playing in the background--it really was one of those perfect memories that builds itself. There's nothing that you can add to it. You cannot predict it. You cannot plan it--it just makes itself. And, of course, the shining star of this perfect memory with friends was the lovely port.

My husband and I thought, hey, we'll share this with Peggy and Clyde (the friends) now, and invited them back next week, when we can enjoy the rest. That's just not going to happen. We enjoyed every last drop of port on the same evening.

Robert Burns tells us

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!

Alas, ae fond sip... and now we have the memory of it, instead of the taste of it.

Long live the memory!

If you have an interest in purchasing a bottle of this outstanding port, I'm sure that Richard Peck can steer you to an appropriate supplier. You can reach him via the e-mailing feature for the wine meetup group.

© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy V-Day With Salad, Shrimp and Someone Special

Hey, why not keep it simple on this Valentine's Day? Go ahead. No fancy footwork in the kitchen, no going out for a steak and lobster dinner. This year, focus on you and your special someone spending a little laid-back time together and make the food prep easy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the food should not be amazing! Heavens, no! But, today it should be easy, so that you can spend the time playing instead of cooking. Actually, while the salad is subtle, it is by no means bland. You'll get a little zip and zing here and there, in between the gentle flavors of fresh greens, peppery arugula and the creamy and sharp cheese presence. Here's what I mean.

Valentine’s Day Salad

6 cups loosely packed mixed young salad greens
2 -3 cups loosely packed young arugula leaves
1 cup snipped cilantro (no, not chopped, either plucked or snipped, so it becomes one of the salad greens)
½ of a medium red onion, sliced very thin
2 cups (about) haricot vert (dropped into boiling salted water, allowed to dance around for about 5 minutes and then shocked in an ice-water bath and drained)
1 ear of sweet corn (boiled for 5 minutes and shocked in ice-water bath and cut off the cob)
2 t. very thinly sliced fresh ginger
½ to 1 cup raw walnuts, chopped coarsely
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Add as much as you want of the following.
Pecorino Romano, grated
Asiago, shaved or thinly sliced

Make sure that (wherever possible) the greens are organic. This is a tender lovin’ salad. We don’t want impurities and chemicals to invade our light and subtly flavored mix of tender young greens and vegetables. No way!

Assemble all of the players, grab a big and beautiful bowl and combine. Don’t even bother mixing the dressing. Just sprinkle the lemon juice and olive oil right into the bowl over the mix of greens and veggies, toss and top off with the cheeses. Take to the table for a beautiful presentation, toss after all the compliments have been delivered and serve.

I like to offer large boiled shrimp on the side and a few pieces of crusty bread.
Add a bottle of your favorite white wine or friendly French rosé and spread a tablecloth on the floor for a picnic-style supper. Then, tune in to the Edith Piaf station on and get into some funny business with your favorite playmate.

© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ahhh, the Comfort of Potatoes!

Oh, the joy of a perfectly roasted potato! The comforting pleasure of the starchy pillow of potato--your reward for carefully biting through that crisp and well-seasoned exterior!

Having been born Greek, I am culturally bound to the cooking and eating of potatoes. Actually, I think it goes beyond that--it may be a genetic thing.

To my way of thinking, if you have a plate of roasted potatoes, a crisp salad with a vinegar-based dressing and a big fat piece of bread, well, do you need anti-depressants? I vote for this basic meal over the drugs.

This photo is of my recipe of Potatoes Provencale, sitting in all their glory in a roasting pan. The recipe is actually for Chicken & Potatoes Provencale, but my alliegiance is with the potatoes, so I'll give you this recipe to try.

While the recipe is French, the the proportions and enthusiasm are fully Greek! Greek people cook in big quantities, thus always being prepared for impromptu socializing. Does anyone remember "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"? You can feed a crowd with this recipe, but it will be a happy crowd.

Potatoes Provencale (for Greek people)

30-32 medium russet potatoes
½ cup white wine
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
4 cups canned tomatoes (crushed) with juice
6 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper
¾ cup olive oil

Coat potatoes with other ingredients and bake @ 375 for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, add another 1 cup of water, toss potatoes, increase heat to 400 and finish cooking for about 15-20 more minutes. Potatoes should be cooked through, caramelized and well coated with tomatoes and seasonings. Place in large serving platter and top with additional chopped Italian parsley.

The Greeks know how to keep it simple. Fresh lemon juice, fresh oregano (dry, if fresh is not available), extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and a little salt and pepper--a marriage of flavors made in food heaven.

2 ½ to 3 lbs potatoes (peeled and quartered lengthwise)
sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper
one large bunch of fresh oregano, leaves stripped from stem and lightly chopped. About ¼ cup chopped (OR 3-4 T. dry oregano)
¾ cup lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups hot water
5 large cloves of garlic (smashed, peeled and finely chopped)

Pour the lemon juice evenly over the potatoes, then coat with the olive oil.

Sprinkle everything with the salt, pepper, oregano, and the chopped garlic. Toss the potatoes to insure that everything gets a good coating.

Finally, pour the water carefully into one corner of the pan, shake the pan from side to side and you’re ready for the oven.

Bake @ 375 for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, add another 1 cup of water, toss potatoes, increase heat to 400 and finish cooking for about 15-20 more minutes. Potatoes should be cooked through, caramelized and well coated with all the seasonings. Place in large serving platter to serve. Next time, I'll give you the recipe with the chicken!

© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin

Thursday, January 21, 2010

and now, here's the real SUPER Chicken.

SUPER Chicken!

Chicken! The meat that saves. Everyone eats chicken. Other new meats are safe to eat, as long as they...yup, you guessed it, as long as they taste like chicken! Well, stop the presses, isn't that the news of the millennium?!!!

Chicken saves every time. With every cooking challenge we face, with every last-minute dinner quandary that comes our way it's always SuperChicken to the rescue!

Superbowl! For foodies who are not football fans, this is not a salad bowl large enough to feed a gaggle of grown-ups; this is the pro football game of the year! This is when friends gather around a coffee table and TV set to drink and eat casually, with foot stomping, with arm waving, with loud laughing and calling out of expletives directed to the TV set. This is when screaming with a mouthful of habanero-honey chicken wings is proper etiquette, when jumping into the air in mid-sentence is encouraged; when fist-banging is supported.

The Superbowl is the one time each year when chicken and football collide in a happy blending of friendship, smiles, half-time entertainment, do-you-remember-whens, cheese and peppers and dips and chips and one last eating binge before we get serious about diets and working out after the holidays!

Having grown up in Greece and Australia, I didn't know about this Superbowl or it's traditions until I was well into my twenties. Somehow, and without much prodding, I managed to get the hang of it pretty easily--the eating and drinking part. I still have a problem with the football, but that will never get in the way of my gathering with friends in a warm and casual setting for a little beer and wings and such. Hey, I do have the priorities in order!

In honor of chicken and football and all that make-the-cooking-easy-so-I-have-time-with-friends business, here is a chicken recipe with economy, with ease of preparation, with swiftness of cooking and with flexibility of flavor. Read along and see what I mean.

Super Stuffed Chicken Breasts
6 medium-large (bone-in) chicken breasts
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T vegetable oil
salt & pepper
1 t garlic powder (I don't use this, but others may want a little extra flavour on the outside of the breast too)
I prefer leaving the skin on the chicken. It contributes to the overall flavour of the dish, it keeps the breast meat from drying out and...well, it tastes good when it's all crispy and golden.
Score the skin of the chicken breasts lightly by running a sharp knife along the skin and barely into the meat. This will expedite cooking and allow some of the outside flavouring to get into the meat. Massage in the vinegar and then the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and garlic powder, if you are using).
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 T dry dill
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
8-10 oz. frozen chopped spinach (not thawed) or 4 cups fresh (washed & drained)
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 cup shredded Monterrey jack cheese
salt & pepper
Pre-heat oven to 385F. Heat oil in heavy pan, add onions and garlic and sprinkle with salt to aid in the onion releasing juices. Saute until onions are golden-brown, mix in spinach and cook until it has thawed completely. Mix in other ingredients, except for the cheese. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat, stir in the cheese and allow this mixture to cool to the touch.
With your hands and a sharp paring or boning knife, follow along the natural separation of the breast meat and open up a big pocket, from the thick side of the breast almost all the way to the other (tapered) side.
When stuffing has cooled enough to handle, use your hands to stuff each breast generously. Close open end of chicken breasts with bamboo skewers or sturdy wooden toothpicks. This will insure that each breast cooks evenly and that the stuffing remains in the breast. Place the stuffed breasts in a large roasting pan, skin side up. If there is any cooking liquid left, pour that over the chicken.
Bake for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chicken breasts and the temperature calibration of your oven. (Ovens don't necessarily register a true temperature, that's why it's important to invest in a meat thermometer and learn to use it as a tool for checking the internal temp of the meat.) I remove the pan from the oven at 160F internal temp and allow the meat to rest for about 15 minutes. The internal temp will continue to rise. If you prefer to cook the chicken until it registers 180F (recommended), by all means do that.
Once you are ready to serve the chicken, you can cut each breast in half, providing that your knife is sharp and big enough to cut through the breast bones.
Here's the flexibility part:
If you don't like spinach, use 4 cups of chopped mushrooms instead
Another option would be to use 2 cups chopped mushrooms with half of the spinach
If you prefer, use frozen chopped broccoli instead of the spinach
If you don't have craisins, substitute raisins
If you don't have dill, use 2 T chopped fresh Italian parsley
If you'd like a little more kick in the cheese component, use crumbled feta cheese
If you're big bacon fan, add 1/2 cup chopped bacon to the onions at the beginning of the cooking
If you don't want to chop the bacon, lay half a strip of bacon over each breast
Cheap, easy, quick, easy serving with veggies cooked inside the meat, flexible enough so you use what you like and what you have on hand...SUPERchicken, indeed!
© 2010 Despina Panagakos Yeargin