Tuscan Chicken & Vegetable Stew

I have to say from the outset that there is a lot of chopping going on here. A LOT. It was one of the things that almost kept me from trying this recipe.

You read – I’ll chop …

My new dear friend, mentor and cruise ship guru, Chloe, was making this one day while we were working at her home. (CHOP, CHOP, CHOP) Her house was filled with the most wonderful aromas. She assured me that this recipe was easy  … especially if you buy a rotisserie chicken. She gave me the recipe and looking at it, I still wasn’t sold. CHOP, CHOP

Chop this. Chop that. Chop that other thing. Oh, yeah, and chop that thing over there, as well. And not just the Swedish Chef inspired chopping that I usually do … chopping so things are the same size. UGH! Not my forte.

The next day, while we were working (yes, I spent a tremendous amount of time at her house), we sat and had this stew for lunch. Well, hush my mouth and pass my chopping knife! You could have added 7 more ingredients to this and I would have chopped away. (Well, not really)

Chop … chop … chop …

I acquiesced and tried it at home. This makes a HUGE pot of stew – which is good when you hate chopping neatly as much as I do. The Dear one and I had this for dinner one night and had 3 containers for the freezer. Some toasted bread and a green salad and you’re set on a chilly evening.

So, Chloe … I went on an interview for a job as a tour guide. I was very content to sit on a tour bus with cruise ship passengers riding around Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. Tour over, passengers leave, count your tips, done. Chloe and I hit it off instantly. You know, that rare, kindred spirit vibe you find only a few times in your life, if you’re lucky. During this interview, Chloe mentioned that she wanted to retire after the 2017 season. The next thing I knew – and I’m not quite sure what she saw in me, maybe it was my silliness in actually being willing to take the job – she was training me to take over her job when she retired. (chop, chop, chop)

It was terrifying at first. So much information. So many moving parts. I would sit next to her, day after day, in utter awe at all the information in her head. Her ease with the most difficult people (myself included) was grace personified. Her innate ability to take the most difficult of scenarios, turn it around and make it seem like there was never an issue.

I am sure many people who began the conversation all fired up had no idea how she managed turn the situation around, or perhaps didn’t even notice that the situation was turned around. She calls this the “please, pass the butter” voice. (I’m still working on that.) It was inspiring.

But, aside from training me – mentoring really – adopting a bit – for this job of many facets … wait, I’ll explain. Does anyone remember the old Ed Sullivan Show? There was a fella on the show, quite often actually, who had many thin bamboo poles. He would start spinning plates on these poles and run around the stage, watching the plates, jiggling the poles, spinning plates, keeping all the plates up in the air. That, in a nutshell, is my job.

Sorry, digressed … aside from mentoring me in this difficult transition, she became a dear friend. She and her darling husband Scott (and the dearest Lucy) fed me, wiped my tears, picked me up from the ground when I was at my lowest, taught me, guided me, became my family, laughed with me, drank wine with me at the end of a frustrating day, sighed with me, and guided me through a frantic summer and fall.

On one of my worst days – I had made at least a billion mistakes – I had stepped away and there were tears streaming down my face. Scott came over, wiped them away and said, “Do you think Chloe has never made a mistake? Chloe has made more mistakes than this. Learn from them. Make new ones. And don’t let anyone see you crying.”

I am truly grateful to Chloe for so much … more than I can ever possibly express, more than my heart and head can hold at times. It’s that rare type of symbiotic friendship where words are not always necessary, giggles and laughing are ever present, compassion is a given, forgiveness always there, and life is so much richer with them in it.

Thank you so much, dear woman, for all you’ve done for and given me.

Anyway, enough mush …

Every time I make this soup, I think of sweet Chloe and miss the stuffin’ out of her! Hmmm, maybe I should give her a call while I’m chopping freakin’ vegetables …

I joke about the chopping, but there is a lot. But once that’s done, that’s really it – jut add ingredients and stir. The apple cider vinegar gives it a layer of flavor that brings everything together.

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups chopped carrots
  • 3 cups chopped celery
  • 1 large zucchini, chopped
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 (19 oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast (I used rotisserie)
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh parsley
  • parmesan cheese

In a large pot over medium high heat, add the butter and olive oil. Add in the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery and saute for about 4-5 minutes, until tender and fragrant.

Stir in the zucchini and red pepper and cook for another 2 minutes until slightly softened.

Sprinkle in the flour to create a roux and cook for another minute. Slowly add 1 cup of the chicken broth while continuously stirring until it starts to thicken and comes together. Then slowly pour in the remaining chicken broth.

Stir in the Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, beans and entire can of tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the chicken and reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and cider vinegar and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until everything is heated through.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with fresh parsley and parmesan cheese, if desired.

Perfect Roast Chicken

DSC_1069

This is so much less about roasted chicken than it is about chicken in general.

Really, once you’ve roasted one or two chickens, you have the basics down pat and there isn’t much to change aside from herbs and citrus and, perhaps, what you roast around it.

My fall back recipe – as I cannot for the life of me keep oven temperatures or timing in my head – is an oldie but a goodie, from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. I admit. I’m boring. I stuff a head of garlic that I cut in half horizontally, a lemon that I cut in half, and whatever fresh herbs I have around inside the chicken. I liberally sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, and Bob’s your uncle. Potatoes, carrots and onions around the chicken. Completely fix it and forget it.

As most of you know, I am now living in DownEast Maine – and why is it called downeast Maine? Well, I’ll tell ya! Coastal schooners laden with goods for Portland and other Maine ports would leave Boston, Massachusetts keeping their compass headings generally east or northeast, hoping that the prevailing wind from the westerly quadrants would stay behind them. Hence, they sailed downwind in an easterly direction. Hence, they were traveling down east. Things are very different here.

And you must be wondering why, if I don’t really use a roasted chicken recipe am I prattling on about roasted chickens and living on an island off the coast of Maine.

El Dia de la Pollo Muerto … the day of the dead chickens.

A some of our friends once a year purchase chicks. They’re so very cute when they’re little. We would go over and look at them, watch them grow. I would wonder why, unlike the laying birds that are free range, these chicks were penned. Seems you can have either laying chickens or eating chickens.  They raise a bunch of eating chickens. Once they’ve been tended to and loved and fattened up … well, el dia de la pollo muerto.

HORRIFYING! I know! Growing up in the big city, while you try to be conscientious about how animals are being raised and what they’re being fed, you don’t necessarily give much though to the in between raising and purchasing/eating.

Around November, the Dear One and some of our friends get together and – to quote the Queens of Hearts – off with their heads.

I have been invited to attend this gala event. I have politely declined, trying not to make the squelched up face I’m making as I type. ‘They’ say it’s quick and painless (let’s ask the chicken that!) and rather quick to go from live chicken to ready to eat. I don’t know the actual process, but there are beheadings, and contraptions that look like dryers that do the defeathering, and the descriptions just get worse from there.

My last conversation with our friend MG went something like this –

MG: You should come. It’s great. Fascinating to watch.
ME: Are you kidding? No way, no how, no time.
MG: Oh, it’s not so bad. Quick.
ME: Well, what time do you start? But DON’T count on it. And I’m not helping
MG: ME? No, no, no, no. I don’t go. I can’t bear it.

Seriously, Dude?

So I stay home. Thinking good thoughts for the poor little chickens giving so much of themselves for my roasting pan, and convince myself that the chickens going to my freezer are all from the grocery store. You see, the one request with these 8-10 incredible chickens that come into the house … no feet, no heads, no feathers, no guts, and please put them in plastic bags so I can pretend there was just a fantastic sale on chickens.

I do wonder if the laying hens feel guilty. There they are, well fed, out all day playing in the sun with the turkeys and guinea fowl, goats (meanest little creatures ever born), and the pig, Kevin. Why are they safe? Are they to be next? One will never know the mind of a chicken.

That being said, these are probably the best chickens I have even eaten. Cooked here only for those deserving, chosen few.

This past go round, I was honored with a big bag of chicken livers and skin … pate and cracklings … more no that later.

  • 1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
  • Olive oil

NOTE: I skip the melted butter, use whatever fresh herbs I have around, and substitute potatoes for the fennel.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.

Baked Buffalo Chicken Taquitos

Baked

All the back and forth in my life, coupled with the Dear One’s travels, make my ability to blog … well, hampered, to say the least.

This recipe was one I made with my brother, Nick, for a Super Bowl party he was attending. You may remember the other recipe we made together, Buffalo Chicken Bites. Snarky comments aside, the chicken bites were fab.

These were good, but I think if they were to be made again, I would change these slightly.

First, canned chicken? It was okay, but if you’re going to cheat, you may as well buy a rotisserie chicken. A poached chicken breast would be best.

Smaller tortillas, more blue cheese, more hot sauce, maybe some chopped celery.

But, changes aside, these were easy, taste great, and are good for a Super Bowl party when grab and go food is called for!

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 C buffalo sauce
  • 1 C shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 1/8 C blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 can (12.5-ounce) Swanson® Premium Chunk Chicken Breast in Water, drained
  • 8 8-inch flour tortillas
  • coarse Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Filling

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese and buffalo sauce. Mix well. Stir in the Monterey jack cheese, blue cheese crumbles and chicken; mix well.

Stuffed

Place 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture down the center of each tortilla and roll up. If needed, microwave the tortillas for about 30 seconds to make them soft and pliable enough to roll. Place on a baking sheet. Spray the taquitos with cooking spray, then sprinkle with coarse salt.

Rolling

Bake in the preheated oven for 17-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with blue cheese dressing for dipping, if desired.

Ready to Bake

NOTE: These definitely needed more of a kick. Maybe a little more buffalo sauce. Perhaps a few dashes of hot sauce. Maybe a bit more blue cheese. And while I like the 8″ tortilla, I really think the smaller ones would be better.  They would be crisper. And as my pal Sandra would say … I like crunchy!