October 18, 2006

Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potato Sauce

Last Sunday in New York was a gorgeous Fall day that made me crave a good, hearty Fall-like dish. Tis the season for root vegetables, so I decided to make a dish utilizing sweet potatoes. Better yet, I wanted to roast them so that they would develop that great caramelized flavor. Mmm…mixed with some olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper…it does not get much better than that!

As my head was brimming with all this yummy goodness, I was intrigued to take the potatoes a step further. I had some fresh pasta in my fridge that I needed to use up so I came up with the idea to puree the roasted sweet potatoes and serve them as a sauce with the pasta. (I get most my recipe ideas by simply deciding how to use up items in my fridge.) Okay now I was getting somewhere. As I later wandered the isles of my market (don’t you all do that for fun?) it striked me that a roasted chicken breast would be a better accompaniment to satisfy my yearning for a hearty, Fall-like dish. So a chicken breast with the roasted sweet potato sauce it was!

So here is the recipe for 4 servings. As a pre-warning, you will need a food processor for this recipe.

  • Olive oil
  • 4 Chicken breasts with skin and on the bone
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Place an oven safe fry pan over medium high heat and lightly coat the bottom with olive oil. Add chicken breasts to the pan, skin side down, and cook for 5-6 minutes until skin is lightly browned.
  3. Flip chicken breasts over and move pan to oven. Cook chicken breasts through until juices run clear when pierced. (I had a large chicken breast, which took 25 minutes to cook through. My handy-dandy thermometer made knowing when it was done quite easy!)
Roasted Sweet Potato Sauce
  • 1 lb Sweet potato, skinned and cut into centimeter cubes
  • 2 tsp and 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tsp Thyme (plus some for garnishing)
  • 1 ¾ cups Whole milk (measurement will vary) (See Note 1)
  • ¼ tsp Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 40 Roasted pecan halves, quartered (See Note 2)
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. On a roasting pan add potatoes and mix with 2 tsp olive oil and thyme.
  3. Place potatoes in oven and let roast until lightly browned. This will take approximately 40 minutes. Toss potatoes a couple times while roasting.
  4. Once potatoes are cooked, remove about a fifth of them and put them aside. Place remaining potatoes into a food processor.
  5. Add 1 tbsp olive and 1 cup of milk to potatoes and puree. Keep adding additional milk and pureeing until the mixture reaches a thick sauce consistency. The total amount of milk will be about 1 ¾ cups, but this will vary depending on the amount of potatoes and how much they roasted (roasting removes moisture from the food).
  6. Add nutmeg, as well as, salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Pour sauce into a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Stirring frequently, heat sauce thoroughly.
  8. Spoon a generous amount of sauce onto the serving plates, covering the bottoms. Now place the chicken breasts onto the plates and top with the cubed potatoes that were set aside. Follow this by sprinkling the roasted pecans onto the chicken, and top off with fresh thyme.

  1. As I was making this sauce I began pureeing the potatoes with heavy cream, which I quickly found was going to make the sauce way too rich given the amount of liquid required to form a sauce. However, the little that I did end up putting in the potatoes (1/4 cup) did add some extra creaminess than what the whole milk alone would have offered. I do not think you necessarily need heavy cream, but if you do want to add some extra richness to the sauce I do suggest that you combine a little heavy cream with the milk.
  2. I find that the easiest way to roast nuts is stove top. Most people roast nuts in the oven, but this method doesn’t allow you to closely watch them to prevent burning (as you may know, they often go from raw to burnt quite quickly). Therefore, I suggest placing the pecans in a fry pan over medium heat. Toss them frequently until they are lightly browned and then remove them from the heat.


October 15, 2006

Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Crimini Mushrooms and Pancetta

This dish is based on one of my favorite gourmet southern dishes. In many of the nice restaurants in the South, you will find a similar dish that involves creamy grits (often baked) served with a white wine reduction sauce and shrimp.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find proper non-instant grits here in New York City. Instead, I had to resort to polenta which was readily available in my market (owned by two Italian brothers).

Grits (also known as hominy) and polenta are essentially the same thing, but polenta is ground more finely. Corn meal also fits into this picture with a ground corn that lies between that of polenta and grits. I’m sure there are some of you food snobs getting upset with me as there is probably more of a distinction than this (for example, the process of preparing the kernels), but for simplicity sake this is the difference.

In my attempt to make more non-seafood dishes (you may notice that my drop-down box for seafood recipes far exceeds that of any other category), I opted to make this meal with cremini mushrooms in lieu of shrimp. Plus I was aiming for a heartier dish so the cremini mushrooms just made sense. To add a nice warm flavor, I included a good portion of pancetta. Slowly my southern dish was transforming into an Italian one (both polenta and pancetta are Italian staples).

To help off-set the heaviness of the cremini mushrooms and pancetta, I made a white wine reduction sauce and added lemon juice. I also seasoned the mushroom/pancetta mixture with thyme, which is a great woodsy yet lemony herb. The combination of all these flavors made for a great meal filled with lots of bold, hearty flavors.

We had this dish as an entrée, but you could also serve it in smaller portions as an appetizer. It is relatively rich so I’d suggest that you compliment this dish with a light appetizer (or entrée, if that applies), such as my Simple Tomato and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese.

So here is the recipe for 3-4 servings. Note that since I was hosting friends, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the amounts of each ingredient that I added. Therefore, the recipe below is really just my best estimate of measurements. In either case, the portions don’t matter too much anyway, so just use this recipe as a guide and go with what seems best to you.

  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 cup Polenta
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 6 tbsp Butter
  • 3 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (do not use the green bottle stuff)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. In a pot, bring water and chicken stock to a boil.
  2. Gradually add polenta and return mixture to a boil stirring frequently.
  3. Bring heat down to a low setting and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. As it is simmering, add ½ cup of milk. Once incorporated, add second ½ cup of milk and stir.
  4. Mix in butter and then the parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mushrooms and Pancetta with White Wine Reduction Sauce
  • 3 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 large Shallot, chopped
  • 6 oz. Pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb Cremini mushrooms, sliced into ¼ inch wide pieces
  • 1 tbsp Fresh thyme (or ½ tbsp dried thyme)
  • 3/4 cup White wine
  • 1/3 cup Heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • Juice from ½ lemon (do not use the bottled juice—that’s gross)
  1. In a large sauté pan over medium heat add olive oil and chopped shallot. Sauté for a minute.
  2. Add pancetta and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the “juices” (code for fat) from the pancetta begin to run.
  3. Mix in the mushrooms and thyme, then cover the pan and cook until the mushrooms are cooked through. You will need to mix them periodically.
  4. As the mushrooms are cooking, place a separate fry pan over medium high heat. Add white wine and reduce by half. Then add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer for a few minutes. As simmering, mix in butter. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
  5. Place portions of polenta into serving dishes. Top with servings of sauce and cap off with mushroom and pancetta mixture. Garnish with fresh thyme.

Labels: , ,

October 05, 2006

Simple Tomato and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese

Yesterday I entered my fourth decade in life. To appropriately honor this 30th birthday, I took the day off work (as well as the remainder of this week!) to truly treat myself. Like a true New Yorker, I began my day with a bagel and cream cheese accompanied by a frothy latte. Then I was off to the Oasis Day Spa for a Swedish massage, courtesy of my dear friend Laura. Oh the luxury!

Since it was Wednesday, the farmers market was going on in Union Square. So after my spa treatment I meandered down there and roamed the market—one of my favorite things to do in New York. Many of New York’s local farmers set-up their stands here and offer an abundance of seasonal fresh produce.

Since my best friends are taking me out to celebrate my birthday this weekend, I opted to have a couple of them over for a simple dinner last night. I already knew what I wanted to serve for the main dish but was undecided about the starter. So I leisurely roamed the market scouting out the options. I wanted to serve something simple to make so that I wouldn’t have to spend too much time in the “kitchen” (I put “kitchen” in quotes because I more so have a kitchen nook), but at the same time elegant and special.

I have lately been really into tomatoes—so sweet, refreshing, and healthy. So I opted for a salad that would focus on these veggies. I chose heirloom tomatoes, which I believe are the tastiest of the tomato varieties. These awkward looking tomatoes are certainly tastier than the ordinary beef steak ones! I also opted for a variety of colors and sizes to make the salad especially pretty.

I wanted to pair the tomatoes with a leafy green so I chose arugula. This peppery leaf was the perfect contrast to the sweet taste of the tomatoes. I also wanted to add a third texture and flavor to the salad so after visiting the leaf guy, I walked over to the goat cheese lady. Here I bought a garlic and herb goat cheese log to top the salad and to also serve with crackers prior to the meal. Yum! The nice goat cheese lady also introduced me to a goat’s milk brie, which I also had to get. It was just too yummy looking to pass up, and I am a cheese slut afterall.

I was still yearning for something extra, so I continued to meander and found a farmer selling a wide variety of fresh herbs. Amongst his selection was an assortment of basil. In one of my food magazines I remember them explaining all the types of basil. I was particularly intrigued by purple basil, which I had never even heard of. This farmer had it so I was sold and chose this as my final ingredient to my salad. This variety of basil is a bit stronger in taste than the regular sweet basil, and the rich color was the perfect contrast to my salad.

After stopping by a lovely sidewalk cafe for some white wine and oysters, I finally made it home and prepared my special salad. The final product was simply perfect—easy to put together, aesthetically pleasing, and extremely flavorful. Here is the gist of the “recipe” (per serving):
  • Handful of arugula leaves
  • Variety of tomato slices—large/small, red/yellow
  • Dash of diced shallot
  • 5 dabs of goat cheese
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sliced basil (purple if you can find it)
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  1. Lay a bed of arugula leaves on a small plate.
  2. Spread a layer of the tomato slices on top of the arugula.
  3. Sprinkle shallot pieces over the tomatoes, followed by the goat cheese dabs.
  4. Pour the balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil over the salad.
  5. Garnish with sliced basil
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Check-in later for my post about my entree dish (creamy polenta served with sautéed mushrooms, pancetta, and thyme topped off with a white wine reduction cream sauce)…

Labels: , , ,