Chive Blossom & Lemon Pasta

Chive Blossom & Lemon Pasta

Chive Blossom & Lemon Pasta

Here’s something I don’t see everyday in the grocery store: chive blossoms. I discovered these edible lavender flowers that grow on chive stalks during a recent visit to the farmers market. Maybe they’re nothing new to you, but I’ve never used them before.

Chive blossoms

Minced chives Fresh squeezed lemon juice

And it turns out they’re a great find. In addition to adding color, like regular chives they have a mild onion flavor and are best served raw as a garnish to a hot dish or sprinkled on a salad.

My goal was to create a recipe that would showcase the chives in both aesthetics and flavor, which was accomplished with chive blossom and lemon pasta. The pasta provided a neutral backdrop while the lemon complimented the subtle onion flavor of the chives, and the whole dish was rounded out by the savory Parmesan cheese.

Pasta & chive blossoms Closeup: chive blossom & lemon pasta

I also made this crispy roast chicken to eat with the pasta, and this time used minced chives as the herb that is mixed in at the end.

Here’s the recipe:

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Recipe: Balsamic Beef Bites with Caramelized Shallots & Sauteed Spinach

Balsamic Beef Bites with Caramelized Shallots and Sauteed Spinach

Balsamic Beef Bites with Caramelized Shallots and Sauteed Spinach

This has been a rather strange food week for me. It started off strong at the all-you-can-eat-NRA show but quickly dwindled when I came down with something resembling the flu (not actually the flu, but a cold/fever). So there went a day and a half worth of good eating.

Luckily, I’m starting to feel a bit better although my appetite and taste buds aren’t at their normal levels…. yet. Good thing as today was another exciting foodie shopping/tasting day in Chicago with visits to the Green City Market (my first time attending the outdoor market this year) and the grand opening of the giant new Whole Foods in my neighborhood. And that one was a serious feast with tons of local vendors sampling products, not to mention the cool new food court.

Between the two food shopping endeavors I came home with a nice amount of produce, then quickly collapsed on the couch as the effort of shopping wiped out all my energy. I had recharged a bit by dinner time, but not enough to make the morel risotto I’d originally considered. Instead I turned to my bag of farmer’s market spinach and the package of beef stew meat in the refrigerator (it was the cheapest meat available at WF).

As a side note, I don’t normally have beef just sitting around in the refrigerator. I bought it this afternoon at WF because I had a weird craving for beef and I believe if I’m craving a specific ingredient it’s because my body really needs it. Of course this can be a bit tricky because I’m always craving chocolate, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Anyways, I thought back to a few months ago when I had some beef scraps leftover from another dish I had made that I had seared quickly in a hot pan and deglazed with balsamic vinegar. I decided to do that again but add some caramelized shallots for a bit more flavor and sauteed spinach, sort of like a hot beef salad I’m calling balsamic beef bites with caramelized shallots and sauteed spinach.

Trim spinach Sliced shallots Diced beef

It was great, something that came together very quickly in just one pan and was relatively healthy. I think most tender cuts of beef would work (stay away from flank or strip steaks) and should be trimmed of excess fat and cut into small bite-sized pieces. I like cutting them small because they cook quickly and evenly, and you don’t need a knife to eat them.

The real key to this dish though is to use a high quality balsamic vinegar; mine was aged 18 years and is rich and a little sweet.

Sear beef bites Deglaze with balsamic vinegar Cook spinach

Also, I used regular spinach from the farmer’s market which needs to be trimmed of the rough stems and washed very well. Feel free to use baby spinach if you prefer.

Here’s the recipe:

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Crispy Roast Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes

Crispy Roasted Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes

Crispy Roast Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes

After years of cooking professionally, I recently became puzzled by one of the most basic cooking techniques: how to roast a chicken. I’ve always used what I considered the “traditional” method: seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and fat (olive oil or butter) and roasted at a moderate temperature of 350F.

Sliced fingerling potatoes

Sliced fingerling potatoes

But suddenly it seems like every famous chef/restaurant has a signature technique that is “so much better than your mother’s roast chicken.” There’s the Zuni Cafe roast chicken, the Chez Panisse roast chicken, the River Cottage roast chicken, and so many more. Just Google “roast chicken” and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of recipes for this incredibly simple dish.

The version that caught my eye was the Thomas Keller method. I first read about it on LTH Forum where everyone who had made it raved about it. I just had to try this one for myself.

Seasoned trussed chicken

Seasoned trussed chicken

Keller, the much acclaimed chef of The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, calls for roasting a dry chicken (wash it and then pat dry with paper towels) seasoned with salt and pepper at a high temperature of 450F. The result is an incredibly flavorful and juicy chicken with crispy skin. And the best part is that this method is very low-maintenance – there’s no basting or even a reason to open the oven door, and you don’t even have to make a jus or a pan sauce!

Roasted potatoes tossed with herbs

Roasted potatoes with ramp greens

To make dinner even more simple, I decided to roast some sliced fingerling potatoes along with the chicken. Wow! These were the most amazing potatoes I’d ever eaten. Flavored by the chicken and a bit of salt, the potatoes were incredibly rich with a crisp bite that somehow seemed to melt in my mouth.

This meal turned into a true one-pot wonder in my cast-iron pan (and by now you should know how much I love using my cast-iron pan for rustic dishes), but you can easily use a roasting pan instead.

Crispy roasted chicken breast with fingerling potatoes

Crispy roast chicken breast and fingerling potatoes

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Cracked Yukon Gold Potatoes

Cracked potatoes

My dad turned 55 last week, but as his birthday fell on a weeknight in the middle of tax season (yes, ALL my family members are accountants – I’m the rebel) we decided to celebrate tonight with a home-cooked dinner. It was a fabulous meal, exactly what my dad had envisioned, with just one exception: the potatoes.

Originally he’d requested mashed potatoes, but I suggested “smashed potatoes” instead for health reasons. He agreed, and I made what I considered to be smashed potatoes.

Cracking potatoes with mallet

Oops. Communication breakdown! My family was expecting some sort of boiled and coarsely mashed (hence the “smashed) version of mashed potatoes. Mine were different, and not just because they were completely void of cream or butter, two ingredients I deem essential to mashed potatoes, in addition to the potatoes and salt of course.

These potatoes were literally cracked with a meat mallet. Yes, you read that right. It’s a great way to get out daily frustrations, you just smash it a little with the flat side of the mallet until the potato begins to crack. Then move on to the next one until you’ve gone through the whole bag which is roughly enough to fit in a large pan.

Brasining/steaming potatoes

That’s the most smashing that goes into the dish. Once smashed, or cracked, the potatoes are seared in olive oil with whole garlic cloves, then braised in chicken broth and seasoned with rosemary, salt and pepper.

Super simple to make and absolutely delicious. Not to mention fun. The natural richness of the yukon golds becomes soft and buttery when steamed, and the skin gets a nice crispness from first being seared in the olive oil.

Cracked Yukon Gold Potatoes with Rosemary

Despite the initial surprise of not eating smashed potatoes for dinner, my family loved the newly termed “cracked” potatoes and enthusiastically gobbled them up.

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Tunisian Tagine of Chicken, Prunes, Potatoes & Eggs

Tunisian tagine

Tunisian Tagine

“It was the best of recipes, it was the worst of recipes.”

I know that sounds so cheesey, but it’s seriously how I feel about the Tunisian tagine. I’ve attempted it a few times now and each time the flavor has been fantastic but I seem to mess it up with the eggs, the very component that makes this tagine special.

The challenge began in January as I was reassembling my apartment after a few weeks of painting. I’d had to remove all my cookbooks and culinary binders from the bookshelf which wound up in a heap on the floor. When I finally got around to cleaning up the mess, I decided to flip through some of the binders and came across a long-forgotten set of North African recipes. One in particular caught my eye: Tunisian tagine of chicken, prunes, potatoes and eggs.

The beauty of this recipe was that it didn’t have to be cooked in a clay tagine (a cone-shaped top with an opening in the center and a flat, circular base traditionally used to braise meats). In fact, I learned that the word tagine refers to both the cooking vessel and the dish itself. But the “worst” of the recipe was that it was sparsely written, mainly a list of ingredients designed to feed 20+ people, certainly not meant for home use.

So I did the best I could to figure it out and actually came up with a truly delicious dish with a strong, unique flavor. But I also messed up, specifically the last step where the eggs somehow had to be added to the mixture. I assumed the eggs were a thickener and needed to be tempered in so as not to curdle. Being my first crack at the recipe, I was certain I’d found succes. That is until I began to write up the recipe and decided to research exactly what made this a “Tunisian tagine.”

First attempt at Tunisian Tagine

First attempt at Tunisian Tagine

The answer: a Tunisian tagine is similar to a frittata, something much different than the stew-like dish I had created.

I knew I would have to try to make it again but wasn’t certain I wanted it to be served as a slice. So on the second attempt I hedged my bet by reserving half the tagine just before adding the eggs (I probably should have used more eggs but I wanted to keep the tagine low-fat). This way I would still have some of the regular tagine leftover if the egg portion didn’t turn out correctly. With the reserved part safely tucked away, I whisked together four eggs and added them to the remaining mixture in the pot then placed the whole thing in the oven until the eggs were set.

Tagine two-ways

Tagine two-ways

I’m still unsure which I prefer after tasting the two dishes side-by-side. The flavor is definitely better in the portion with the eggs, but I’m not crazy about the texture. What I did decide was to leave the choice in your hands: I’m providing the Tunisian recipe but feel free to leave out the eggs if you prefer. There is no wrong answer here, you are sure to enjoy either.

As for me, I guess I’m going to have to eat both versions again before making a final decision. Ah… life’s tough choices.

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