Tag Archives: dinner

Hot and Sour Soup


To my faithful readers, I know it has been a while since I have posted but the extreme heat and flurry of the summer’s activities, both good and bad, has left me feeling uninspired and void of creative spirit.  I decided rather than force the issue I would use the time for reflection, rest and healing much like a fallow field left unplowed and unseeded while it rejuvenates.

That said, we recently had a brief period where the weather felt like Autumn and my upcoming soup classes in the near future served as inspiration to develop a new recipe.  I am sure I have mentioned how much I love, love, love making soups.  There are always the stories that accompany each creation telling of its origin, the inspiration and creative process which delight me.  Here’s my story.  I have been thinking for sometime now that I should develop a recipe for my husband’s favorite Chinese soup, that is how it started.  Next I was talking to my BFF and she was describing what was on the menu as she prepared for having a dinner guest.  Turns out her first course was Hot & Sour Soup so I requested the recipe.  Having it in hand, I printed out several other recipes to compare and see how I could make it a bit simpler so it would appeal to my culinary students.  Since this soup is what my husband uses to evaluate every Chinese restaurant he visits, I was very pleased to receive high praise and accolades.  It was a huge hit!


Here is how it went down.

HOT & SOUR SOUP                    Serves 4-6

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

4 dried Chinese mushrooms such as, wood ear

6 oz cremini mushrooms or white button

2T neutral cooking oil such as, grape seed

1- piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1T sambal oelek (red chili paste),reduce if you want less heat

1/4 c naturally brewed soy sauce

3T rice vinegar

1T sweetened black vinegar (or 4T of just the rice vinegar)

1t sea salt

1t freshly ground black pepper

1 pinch of sugar

2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock infused with Asian flavors (see recipe below)

8oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into thin strips (about 1/4-inch)

2T corn starch mixed with 1/4c water (if you prefer a thicker soup, use 3T of the corn starch)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

4 scallions (mostly green parts with some white), sliced thin

1/2c cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

  1. Reconstitute wood ears by soaking them in boiling water for 30 minutes.  Drain and cut into thin slices, discarding any hard spots.
  2. Trim the bottoms of the fresh mushroom stems and slice thick, about 1/4 inch.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium high heat.  Add the ginger, sambal oelelek and both mushrooms.  Stir to incorporate the flavors and cook for about one minute.  Combine the soy sauce, vinegar(s), salt, pepper and sugar in a small bowl.  Whisk to dissolve the sugar and salt.
  4. Pour the soy sauce mixture into the pot and toss with the mushrooms.  Cook for a minute or two and add the stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the tofu and continue cooking for 3 minutes.  Add the corn starch slurry and continue to simmer until soup is thickened to your liking.
  6. Remove the soup from the heat and using a whisk swirl the soup in one direction until you create a whirlpool.  Slowly add the beaten egg in a steady stream to the center.  The egg will cook almost instantly. Serve hot garnished with the scallions and cilantro, of using.


2 quarts + 1c of chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or commercial will do)

1 medium onion, quartered

4 cloves of fresh garlic, smashed

3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

1t whole black pepper corns

Bring the stock and remaining ingredients to a boil in a large pot.  Lower the heat and simmer for an hour.  If time permits, remove from heat and allow to steep for another hour.  Strain through a fine sieve or strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Chill if not using immediately.

Can be made several days ahead and stored in refrigerator.


Although I used homemade chicken stock, it is not necessary and if you want it vegetarian, use vegetable stock and if vegan, skip the egg.  Making the stock ahead is great as it is there when you need it.  The remainder of the process comes together quickly.  I chose to make mine without meat but pork is often seen in this preparation as is chicken.  Make it your own.

I must say I have missed you and it feels very good to be back.  I hope your summer has been filled with the things that make you most happy and that you made some memories by spreading the love, one dish at a time. For those returning to school, I wish you a most successful year as you move on with your journey.  Until next time, sending love from my kitchen to yours.  JeanneIMG_1003

Southeast Asian Inspired Pork Stir-Fry with Greens


In open markets across Southeast Asia, you will find all sorts of leafy greens, a testament to the role that deep green vegetables play in local  cuisines.  This trend has also taken off in the United States.  In part this is due to the growing  awareness of their health benefits but I believe it is also influenced by the increased presence of Hmong farmers at our local summer markets.  The Hmong in the U.S. came mainly from Laos as refugees after the Viet Nam War.  Their peaceful agrarian lives in the hills interrupted, the 2010 census counts roughly as many as 260,000 living within our borders.  Much has been written about their struggles but the beauty of their culture has added one more layer of richness to the U.S. melting pot.  Many have continued their farming practices bringing a wide variety of vegetables to American tables.  I thank them for their contributions.

According to Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, culinary educator in Northern California and author of The Veggie Queen, greens are the number one food you can eat regularly to improve your health.  This statement is strongly supported among the medical community as well.  WebMD asked the Veggie Queen to rank the country’s most widely-eaten greens from most to least nutritious.  Here are her top ten:

  1.  Kale
  2. Collards
  3. Turnip Greens
  4. Swiss chard
  5. Spinach
  6. Mustard greens
  7. Broccoli
  8. Red, Green leaf and Romaine lettuce
  9. Cabbage
  10. Iceberg Lettuce

The recipe I feature today, pairs my love of Southeast Asian flavors with my continued interest in eating healthy and incorporating as many greens as I can into my diet.  I used pork as my protein but this could easily be made with poultry, seafood, beef or tofu.

Here is how it went down:

Southeast Asian Inspired Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

Serves 4

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

1 bunch broccolini, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

5 oz. baby kale (or bigger varieties, stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces)

2 t oil, neutral cooking oil such as, grapeseed

1lb. ground pork

4 cloves garlic, chopped

11/2 T chopped fresh ginger

1 Thai chile, sliced thin

4 T fresh lime juice

1 t palm sugar or light brown sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce (soy sauce could be used but I recommend using fish sauce)

4 scallions, sliced thin (separate whites and greens)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

3 c cooked rice (I used brown basmati) or rice noodles

  1. Blanch broccolini in boiling salted water for one minute.  Transfer to an

ice bath to cool.  Drain and set aside with baby kale.

2.  Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet.  Break the pork up into the oil and

cook for a minute or two.  Add the garlic, ginger and chile and cook until

meat is cooked through.

3.  Add the lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce.  Stir over medium heat and

cook with meat for about 2 minutes or until slightly reduced.

4.  Add the kale and stir until greens begin to soften.  Add the broccolini and

stir until heated through.

5.  Stir in the white parts of the scallion.  Serve over rice, garnished with

scallion greens and sesame seeds.

All of the vibrant fresh flavors marry, creating a complete meal perfect for summer and its plethora of green vegetables.  If you prefer other green combinations they can easily be substituted and adjusted to your palate.  I decided on broccolini mainly because we love it and enjoy the crunchiness it provides, balancing the softness of the greens, but regular broccoli or other vegetables could be used.  The chili, fresh lime juice, fish sauce and sugar provide the flavor profile of hot, sour, salty, sweet that the cuisines of SE Asia are known for.  It is the delicate contribution and balance of these flavors that take this simple stir fry to new heights.


This season doesn’t have to be just about what’s grilling.  This one pot meal may soon become a summer, fall, winter, or spring family favorite.  Just keep it seasonal and it will easily become a regular at your dining table.  Stir-fry Saturday?   Whatever you are serving up today, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Summer love to all of you from my kitchen to yours.  Keep it simple, keep it real.  Until next time, Jeanne.




Spinach Stuffed Portobello with Almonds


The arrival of spring always gets me fired up waiting for the early vegetables. Around here that translates to ramps, morels, asparagus, arugula and one of my all time favorites, spinach.  This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch but just a few of the early gifts of the season that we look forward to every year.  There are always the standard preparations but the challenge for me is to find tasty new ways to enjoy these jewels while highlighting their natural flavor.  Normally I like to keep it simple with a minimal amount of additions, allowing them to be the star.  Today, however, I am sharing a recipe I recently developed for an appetizer pairing the meaty portobello mushroom with spinach.  Since both the mushroom and the spinach have an earthy flavor, I needed something to balance it out.  I chose cheese for its creaminess and tang and almonds for a bit of crunch.  The result was both beautiful and a treat to the tastebuds.

Let’s take a minute to talk about this very versatile leafy green vegetable.  It is thought that the early Spanish explorers were the ones responsible for bringing it to the United States.  “Popeye” was never without its power-packed goodness to supply him with extraordinary strength and endurance which may have contributed to its early popularity.  Regardless of its history, it is available year round in its raw form as well as frozen and canned.  Experienced cooks know about its shrinkage but if you are a novice in the kitchen, allow this to serve as a warning, a huge amount of raw product will lose considerable volume when cooked.  In part, this is because of the ample amount of water it contains.  There seems to be conflicting information regarding quantity of frozen vs fresh, but suffice it to say, if you are substituting fresh for frozen in a recipe, it will take about one pound of fresh to yield 1- 1 1/2 c after cooking.  That being said, it is often more economical and easier to use frozen when it is incorporated into a dish that is cooked.  I assume I don’t have to expound on the fact that fresh is imperative when it is served raw.  I might just add, it is this writers opinion that canned is never a good option.

For the featured recipe I chose to use frozen for the above reasons of cost and quantity but if you have it in your garden or it is readily available, fresh is a good choice as well.  Here is how it went down in my kitchen.


Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis           Serves 6 

6 portobello mushrooms, stem and gills removed

2T extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced

1t bouquet garni spice, dried (other herbs could be substituted)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 (10 oz.) packages frozen spinach, thawed

1/4 c whole milk or cream

3T sliced almonds, toasted

6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 c)

3T Pecorino Romano, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Brush mushroom caps with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place top side down on a baking sheet.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion until soft.  Add the garlic and cook another minute being careful not to burn.
  4. Squeeze any excess water out of the thawed spinach and add to the onion mixture.
  5. Season with the bouquet garni, salt and pepper.  Stir well and saute for another few minutes.  Add the milk or cream and stir well.
  6. Take off the heat and add half of the almonds, half the Gruyere and the Pecorino Romano; mix well.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if needed.
  7. Distribute the filling evenly among the mushrooms and top with the remaining Gruyere and toasted almonds.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Can be served, cut into bite-sized pieces, as an appetizer or served whole as a main course with a fresh salad and/or pasta lightly dressed with butter or pesto.

I served this as an appetizer but the portobello is hefty enough to satisfy even big eaters as an entree when paired with complimentary sides.  If you are vegetarian or just an advocate for “meatless Mondays” this recipe is a must have.

Creamy, earthy, crunchy, spiked with a bit of garlic and herbs, I can’t think of a better nod to the season or better way to spread the love, one dish at a time.  I hope you and your family and friends will find this as satisfying as I did whether it is a meal or a snack.  Until next time, may you find hope in the season and embrace its bounty.  Sending love to your kitchen from mine.  Jeanne


Indian Spiced Dal


Unless you live in a rabbit hole, it is hard to escape the continuous chatter of the upcoming presidential election.  Promises spew from the mouths of the candidates and as good citizens we listen, wanting to choose someone whose values and goals for our country are most closely aligned with ours.  When I speak with people or read their comments on social media one thing strikes me as a universal need,  HOPE.  The opposite of hope is despair so we cling to the vision of a future that will have a positive impact on us all.  It was this line of thinking that brought forth the memory of my first winter as a Wisconsinite.  Relocating after 30 years in Northern California, the brutal cold and abundance of snow were a shock to my system, leaving me wondering what have I done.  It is a different kind of existence and although it can cause “seasonal affective disorder,” I observed that more often than not, it seemed to spark hope.  In conversation people would joyfully talk about the recently delivered seed catalogues and their garden plans.  The dread of early darkness in the days leading to the solstice  was quickly replaced with comments rejoicing in the incremental increase of daylight.  Those who love the snow and cold (they do exist, I promise) were full of tales of fresh powder and ice fishing adventures.  I didn’t understand how so many people could stay positive in the face of the longest and seemingly endless season of the year.  What I came to discover was what those positive thinkers had in common was HOPE.  They all held onto hope, knowing spring’s rebirth would soon arrive to delight us all.  Although I have never fallen in love with the wind, cold or snow, I now embrace the season knowing it has become my favorite time to hang in the kitchen and play with food. Unlike the warmer months, having the stove or oven on is actually welcomed.

Recently, my kitchen amusement has evolved into an effort to duplicate the soup or dal served at my favorite Indian bistro.  If not familiar, dal (aka: dhal, daal or dhall) is a Hindi word for any of the almost 60 varieties of dried pulses including peas, beans and lentils.  A dish made with any of these is also referred to as dal which can be spicy or mild depending on how you choose to spice it.  The most common dals found on menus are channa dal (made with yellow split peas) and massor dal (orange lentils) so for my recipe I decided to use these two and paired them with their green cousin, split mung dal.  This is simply whimsy on my part as they all turn yellow after they are cooked but after some failed experiments, I wanted to know if the trio added anything to the taste.  It may have but not in any significant way so orange lentils would most likely be my choice for the future as they cook quickly.

Here is how it went down in my kitchen.

INDIAN SPICED DAL                                Serves 4-6

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

1/3 C each yellow (Chana dal), red (Masoor dal) & green (split Mung dal) lentils (or 1c of one of the above)

5 c chicken or vegetable stock (water could be used)

½ medium yellow onion, finely diced

½ t sea salt

1/8 t ground turmeric or 1t fresh, grated

¼ t chili powder (preferably Indian) or cayenne

½ t ground cumin

½ t ground coriander seeds

½ t ginger root, finely chopped or grated

1 can cannellini beans (14oz), drained and rinsed

1 T ghee or mustard oil (or any neutral cooking oil)

1 t black mustard seeds

½ dried hot red pepper(cut this open and discard the seeds, break or chop to small pieces)

2 oz. fresh lemon juice (more or less, to taste)

2 T fresh cilantro, chopped

Plain yogurt for garnish, if desired.

  1. Sort and wash lentils until water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Place lentils, stock, onion, salt, turmeric, cayenne (or chili powder), cumin, coriander and ginger in a slow cooker. Cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low or until lentils are very soft. If mixture is too thick, thin it with water or more stock.
  3. Add the drained and rinses beans for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking.
  4. Meanwhile, a small skillet or saucepan with a lid, place the ghee or mustard oil, mustard seeds, and chopped dried red pepper. Cover and put on medium low heat. As pan heats up the seeds will pop and spatter. Shake the pan intermittently to avoid burning. When the spattering stops, take off the heat and wait several minutes before removing the lid. Be careful not to inhale the hot fumes from this pan as they may sting and burn your eyes.
  5. Add this mixture to your dal and stir in.
  6. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Ladle into individual soup bowls. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

Note: The amount of heat is controlled by adjusting the amount of chili powder or cayenne whichever you choose to use.  Adding finely chopped jalapeno will bump up the heat as well.


I chose to use a slow cooker but this could easily be made on the stove top.  Simply put the first 9 ingredients in a heavy bottom soup pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to slow simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft.  Add the beans, cook another 10 minutes.  finish as above.

The thickness of the soup is determined by the ratio of dried lentils or beans to the liquid.  I was striving for a more brothy texture so I used a 1:5 ratio.  This is a matter of personal preference.  If available, fresh turmeric and ginger (pictured above) add a vibrant flavor but dried is ok as well.  The splash of lemon gives just a bit of acidity and really wakes up the other ingredients.  Meyer lemons are now in season so if you can find them they are sweeter than the standard and are a nice touch.  The real key to success making this flavorful and economical dish is to not skimp on the seasonings and spices.  Indian spices or Masala are vibrant and said to be the “heartbeat” of Indian kitchen.  Just like any ethnic cuisine you may choose to learn, it is all about the spice palate.  Once that is learned it opens the door to many recipes.

Whether you are basking in the sun or putting on the mittens, comfort foods are always a welcome meal.  This recipe comforted me and gave me hope that I would again survive the frigid temps and live to see the lilacs bloom.  Regardless of what is brewing or stewing in your kitchen, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time and never give up hope for a better tomorrow.  I think my next kitchen adventure may just take me to Japan.  Until next time, may you be safe, warm and comforted.  Jeanne




New Year Chicken Chili


With the holidays now a memory, we greet the new year with reflection and resolve to implement positive changes.  For many, myself included, resolutions are often related to lifestyle changes to promote good health.  For me, this starts in the kitchen where my quest for improved health and fitness begins with diet.  Please don’t misunderstand the use of the word “diet” as I am not referring to weight loss fads, but the choices made about what to eat and how much.  One of the best ways to control what goes into your body is to cook from scratch.  This is the only way to avoid too much sugar, salt, preservatives and dyes found in most processed food.

That said, I developed today’s recipe with several criteria to guide me.  First, it had to be healthy (low-fat, good amount of protein and high fiber).  The only fat that was in this preparation was the chicken thighs, although I did trim any visible fat off before cooking. Chicken breast is less fat but tends to dry out when cooked low and slow.  The beans provide very good fiber and protein as does the chicken.  I chose pinto beans because I had some in the pantry and I really like their flavor, but you decide what pleases you.  Second, it had to be easy to make.  I chose to make it in the slow cooker as I was busy and had several things going on that day.  Certainly, this could be accomplished stove top as well, requiring a bit more monitoring.  Honestly, this was the easiest dish to assemble.  My busy day required simplicity so I decided on no “pre”  and just threw all the ingredients into the cooker and turned it on.  By “pre” I mean no pre-soak on the dried beans and no additional sautéing of the aromatics.  Perhaps I should have called it “dump chili.” Third, with the arrival of winter last week, it had to be hearty and comforting.  After all, it is chili.IMG_9929

Here is how it went down in my kitchen.




NEW YEAR CHICKEN CHILI                                                        serves 6-8

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

1 ½ – 2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks

1 white or yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/3 c dried pinto beans, rinsed (soaking overnight will reduce cooking time but not absolutely necessary)

4c chicken stock (may need a bit more depending on your cooker)

2 (14 oz) cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes with green chilis (I like Muir Glen Organic)

1T ground cumin

1 ½ t dried oregano, preferably Mexican

2t sea salt

1 dried pasilla pepper (whole but shake out the seeds)

2 dried chipotle peppers (whole)

2 bay leaves

Avocado, diced scallion, grated cotija or cheddar cheese for garnish (or toppings of choice)

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker, stir to incorporate. Bury the dried chilis and bay leaves in the liquid. Cook for 6 hrs on high (may need more time if beans are not soaked overnight) or 8-10 on low.  If desired, it can be cooked in a large soup pot on top of the stove.  Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 3-4 hours or until beans are tender.  Remove chilis and bay leaves before serving.  Top with the garnishes.

Note:  This dish gets better as it sits and flavors have time to marry.  Leftovers are freezer friendly.  Save some for another busy day.

Dried Pasilla (top) Dried Chipotle (lower)

Dried Pasilla (top)
Dried Chipotle (lower)

Cutting a few corners in the prep did not in any way effect the outcome.  The dried chili peppers contributed just the right amount of smokiness and mild heat.  You can adjust the amount to your liking but I would encourage you to include at least a little as they add richness and depth to your stew. My chili had the perfect amount of heat.  For me that means it is at first not very noticeable but then settles with a subtle heat at the back of the throat.  I should mention that there are many varieties of dry chili peppers, with varying levels of heat,  on the market.  Some have a guideline on the package to determine how hot they are but if not, you can research the heat levels as rated on the Scoville chart.  Don’t be afraid.  I keep several types of them in my pantry at all times.  They offer a flavor boost and complexity to many dishes and in soups and stews, you don’t have to reconstitute, just throw them in dry.

Good food warm dog.

Good food warm dog.

IMG_9945We were warmed and comforted by this dish and were happy to eat the leftovers.  Nothing, except cuddling with a warm dog, beats a steaming bowl of goodness when those temps drop and warming the insides becomes imperative.  In addition, it is a completely guilt free meal.  That makes me very happy!

IMG_9915My wish for all is for 2016 to be a year of peace, happiness and good health.  Good eating starts in your kitchen so keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  I send my love and thoughts for healthy eating to you. If winter isn’t your thing, have heart.  The days are getting longer and the  first seed catalog has arrived.

Stay warm and be safe.  Until next time, here is one of my favorite quotes for the new year,

“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.”  Unknown






Roasted Peppers/ Eat, Preserve, Enjoy!

Every year I fall victim to over-planting something.  This year the crop of the year is chilies!  Jalapenos and Serranos abound in their red and green glory.  Part of the problem is that they look so beautiful hanging from their plants that I can’t resist!  The other problem is I suffer from memory loss in the Spring when I go to the nursery and see those tiny little plants barely an inch or two in height.  They just don’t look like they will grow to be the foot high and ever producing crop that they are.  In addition, they often come in a four pack.  What’s a girl to do?

After many batches of salsa and dinners of fajitas, I am faced with how to best use and preserve what remains.  I love the roasted peppers available in jars so I decided that was the way to go for my own harvest.  I should add this method works for all types of peppers.  So if you grow bell, banana, Italian or Anaheim this is a method that works perfectly.  Let me also add I usually leave my peppers on the plant until they ripen further and turn from green to red.  The red peppers tend to be sweeter and for my palate have generally more flavor than their green brothers and sisters.  This will vary depending on the variety so use your own judgement and tastes to determine your plan of action.

I used the grill for roasting but this can also be done under the broiler.  Either way, keep a close eye on them, turning often, so they char but don’t completely burn up.  Another tip I might pass on is wearing gloves.  I tend to dislike using gloves for almost any task but after handling and peeling this many chilies, my hands were on fire the remainder of the day and through the night even though I washed them often and thoroughly.  I even tried dipping them in milk but that offered little relief.  This is probably not so crucial if you are working with sweet peppers as opposed to hot. 

Here’s the process I used:

Roasted Peppers

  1. Preheat the grill or broiler to high heat.
  2. Place peppers directly on the grill or on a broiler pan or baking sheet (if using broiler).
  3. Watch carefully, turning occasionally until skins are bubbled and charred on all sides.
  4. Remove and place in a bowl.  Cover and allow to steam until they are cool enough to handle and skins are easily removed.
  5. Peel each pepper.  At this point you can leave the stem and pepper intact with the seeds if you wish but I stemmed, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and scraped out the seeds.
  6. Place in a jar and cover with extra virgin olive oil.  I refrigerate this for more immediate use, or….
  7. Place on a baking sheet and freeze (approximately 1 hour).
  8. Remove and place in a small container or freezer bag.  Store in the freezer for future applications.





Roasted peppers can be used in many dishes including but not limited to sauces, soups, eggs, casseroles, pastas, sandwiches, tacos or  as creatively as your personality and taste buds allows.  My husband used them this morning with eggs in a breakfast burrito, one of his specialties.  Delicious!  They will keep for up to six months in the freezer and up to 2 weeks in oil, covered and refrigerated.

If you enjoy peppers but don’t garden, visit your farmers market.  Right now they are plentiful, at their peak of flavor and inexpensive.  Their gorgeous colors of green, red, yellow, orange and purple provide a visual that is hard to duplicate.  Even if you don’t eat them, it is worth taking a look as it is nature’s gift of Fall art, right up there with the foliage, and not to be missed.

Hope you enjoy the smokey goodness of roasted peppers all Winter.  They warm you up and brighten almost any dish.  How do you use them?

Compound Butter—Lemon Tarragon Butter

When the herbs are plentiful in my garden and the garlic is harvested I start to think about ways to use and preserve them for when summer is long gone.  You can dry them, of course, and some even freeze well but it is my experience that they lose some of their vibrancy.  So I am always looking for ways to use them so they remain bright for future applications.  One of my favorite things to do with them is to make compound butters.  When you see that on a menu it sounds fancy and complicated but nothing could be further from the truth.  Compound butter is simply butter creamed with other ingredients such as herbs, garlic, wine, shallots and so on.  The French word for it is beurre compose.

The thing is, not only is it easy to make, it freezes very well, lasts a long time and has many applications.  I have made ramp butter, basil butter, parsley and garlic butter and sage butter to name a few.  You can add things like white wine or in the following recipe, lemon juice or just use the herbs as is.  I have added crushed red pepper flakes when I have had an abundance of chilis and they are dried.  Freeze them in a log wrapped in plastic wrap and just slice off the amount you need.

How do you use them?  Let me count the ways.  I really can’t as you are limited only by your imagination.  I use them to baste chicken or turkey, as a topper for steaks, lamb chops, fish or shellfish, slather on bread, season pasta, rice or vegetables.  Match the herb with the dish.  For example, we know sage is often used with turkey so it would be a natural pairing.  Rosemary and lamb go well together so there is another.  Get the picture?

Today I made Lemon Tarragon Butter that I plan to use as a seasoning for smashed baby red potatoes.  This recipe, which came from the people from Organic Valley, can be adapted to any combination of herbs and flavorings you choose.

Recipe             Makes 12 or more servings

8T unsalted butter, room temperature

1T lemon zest

2t fresh squeezed lemon juice

2T fresh tarragon, chopped

  1. Put all ingredients in a small bowl.  Blend with a wooden spoon until creamy.
  2. Place the butter mixture in a log on a piece of plastic wrap, roll to shape it and twist the ends.
  3. Chill in refrigerator until butter is set, about 1 hour.  Or chill for 1/2 hr. and then use a pastry bag with decorative tip to pipe butter onto cooked fish, poultry or vegetables.  If you made a log, cut into rounds for serving.

If preserving for future use, place in a freezer bag after it is chilled and use as desired.

Tonight I am serving smashed baby reds with leftover grilled chicken.  To make them simply boil potatoes in salted water until they are fork tender (fork goes in and out of potatoes easily when poked).  Using a potato masher, smash them until they reach your desired texture .  Add lemon tarragon butter (amount depends on how many potatoes you are making) and mix gently.  Taste for salt and season as needed.  Easy, right?

Another favorite way of mine to preserve herbs is to make pesto.  It is not just for basil anymore! I will, however, leave that for future blog post.

I hope you will try your hand at compound butters and let me know what combinations you come up with.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Napa Valley Chicken Salad

Years ago my sister-in-law gave us a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook.  It was quite trendy for the times but has remained a staple in my collection along with its companion, The New Basics Cookbook.  I refer to it often for recipes like Ginger Candied Carrots, Linguine with Clams and Spicy Sesame Noodles but one of the best discoveries in this book was Tarragon Chicken Salad.  It is one of those recipes I have made many many times and have tweaked to make my own which I call Napa Valley Chicken Salad.  Granted the authors of this fine book are from New York but to me the addition of grapes, the toasting of the walnuts and the use of fresh herbs just screams California cuisine.  I love this salad for its  crunchy refreshing tastes and also because it is one of those things you can make from leftover chicken.  The original recipe gives instructions for cooking the chicken especially for the dish which I will pass on to you, but it is easily adaptable to leftover roasted, grilled,  or rotisserie chicken.  It can be eaten on its own, in a pita with garden lettuce, as a luncheon salad, or as a filling for a picnic sandwich. 

Recipe                                                              Makes 6 portions

Boneless whole chicken breasts, about 3 lbs., or equivalent of leftover chicken meat of any kind. 

*Note:  The original recipe called for boneless breasts but I like to cook chicken with the bone and skin on as it gives it more flavor.  A combo of thighs and breasts works well.  It is not difficult to remove the chicken from the bone after it is cooked and you can save the bones for stock.

1 c Creme Fraiche or heavy cream (for cooking, if not using leftover chicken)

1/2 c sour cream

1/2 c good quality mayonnaise or homemade

2 ribs celery, cut into a fine dice

1/2 c shelled walnuts or almonds, toasted and rough chopped (you could also use black walnuts, hickory nuts or cashews)

2T fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1T dried, crumbled)

Don’t like tarragon?  Try basil.

1c seedless red grapes, cut in half (preferably organic)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Arrange chicken breasts in a single layer on a large rimmed baking.  Spread evenly with creme fraiche or heavy cream and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until done.  Remove from oven and cool.  When cool, shred to bite sized pieces.  If using leftover chicken, remove meat from the bone and shred as above.
  2. Whisk sour cream and mayonnaise together in a small bowl and pour over the chicken.
  3. Add the celery, toasted nuts, tarragon and grapes.
  4. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste and toss well.
  5. Refrigerate, covered, for at least four hours to allow flavors to marry.  Will keep overnight.
  6. Taste and correct seasonings before serving.

*Note:  I toast nuts in a dry pan on top of the stove over medium heat.  They are ready when you begin to smell the aroma.  Immediately remove them from the pan onto a plate or they will continue to toast.  Allow to cool.  It may seem like nothing is happening but then they go fast so watch them carefully and resist the temptation to do laundry or walk outside while the heat is on.  Burnt nuts are trash!

Believe me when I say this recipe is a keeper. The crunch of the nuts and celery, the freshness of the grapes and tarragon (or basil) make this a hit time and again.   As I said I have been making it for many years and it has graced my table at potlucks, picnics, lunches and even brunch.  It is simple to assemble and dressy enough to be the main attraction, a side or a filling for a sandwich.  You decide how you want it to go down in your culinary rock star world.  Would love to hear how you served it!