Braised Chicken with Butternut Squash and Cranberries with Couscous

The days are getting cooler and closer to my favorite temperature for running outside. I can almost feel Fall slowly bleeding into the trees in Central Park and gradually turning their leaves red and orange. Early Fall is definitely one of my favorite seasons. It’s perfect for outdoor adventures…and breaking out the equestrian boots. Food wise, early Fall is the great in-between where there are still remnants of light, late Summer produce but the slower-cooking, heartier dishes are making their way onto the stovetop.

At the farmer’s market in Union Square, we’re seeing the first signs of Fall: pears, broccoli, brussel sprouts, apples and squashes like butternut and acorn were all spotted last week. Sometimes I feel Summer is too fast-paced – we’re always on the go, traveling, and soaking in the sun. But as the days get shorter, we slow down and prepare for winter. We dust off the slow cooker and Dutch oven. Braising is the method of cooking that is synonymous with Fall. And it’s exactly what I did here. The sweet and savory flavor of the sage infused with the chicken while the flour thickened the broth that boiled down and became a sweet and nutty sauce from the butternut squash and cranberries. Even the colors of the dish look like Fall. This is definitely starting the season right.

Directions

  1.  In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over high heat.
  2. Rinse and pat dry the chicken thighs. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook chicken thighs, skin side down, until skin is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from pot and transfer to a plate.
  5. Pour off some fat from the pot but leaving about 1 -2 tablespoons in it.
  6. Add to the pot the butternut squash and onion.
  7. Cook until they start to become soft, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add sage, flour, coriander and nutmeg. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  9. Add in broth and stir to pick up the browned bits at the bottom of the pot, about 1 minute.
  10. Nestle chicken, skin side up, in the pot and sprinkle in the cranberries.
  11. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce heat so that it becomes a simmer.
  12. Partially cover and simmer chicken until cooked through and squash is tender, about 25 minutes.
  13. Serve with couscous cooked according to package instructions.

Red Wine Marinated Pork Chops with Sautéed Pear and Apples

A confluence of various events led to the creation of this dish.

  • Event 1: It seems like whenever we get the customary bottle of wine as the thank-you-for-having-us-over-for-dinner gift, it’s more often than not red and dry – Cabs. Nothing against Cabs, I just don’t prefer drinking them. Just so you know (for future gifiting reference), I’d much rather drink wines like Malbec. But going back to the bottle of Cab on my counter – red wines make for great marinades and sauces. It’s still a bit too warm for boeuf bourguignon (and I’m not a huge beef person anyhow). But red wines also work very well with pork.
  • Event 2: Oh, pork! I don’t think I’ve ever posted a pork recipe before. *Ideas are brewing…* What do I have in my fridge? Oh, dijon mustard! That works well with pork and red wine!
  • Event 3: But I just can’t eat a piece of pork for dinner. How do I round out this dish? Mmm, not really in the mood for sauerkraut. What’s in season? Pears! Pear season starts in late fall and this fruit pairs well in savory dishes, especially with…pork!

So as you can see, it seemed like I was destined to make this dish for dinner. Since this was a last minute decision, I only got to marinade the meat for about 2 hours. However, if you’re planning ahead you can marinade the pork overnight to really get the flavors into the meat.

Directions

  1. Mix together the marinade ingredients into a non-reactive container or ziploc bag.
  2. Add in the pork chops and marinade at least 2 hours, or overnight.
  3. In a skillet over high heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering.
  4. Add the marinated pork chops to the skillet and cook turning once, about 7 minutes.
  5. Remove pork chops from skillet and transfer to a plate. Keep warm.
  6. Add the pear and apple slices to the skillet.
  7. Cook on medium-high heat until softened and golden, about 4-6 minutes depending on thinness.
  8. Serve pork chops with the sautéed pear and apple slices.

Cook’s Notes

When you cook the pork chops, don’t let the pan get too dry. If it starts to get a bit dry, add in some of the leftover marinade to the skillet. This will allow for enough sauce for you to cook the pear and apple slices in.

When I made the dish, I cut the pear and apple slices a bit thick, as you can see in the first picture. I also only cooked them for about 4 minutes. I prefer a bit of a bite to the fruit to contrast with the chewy pork texture. However, if you want your slices to be pretty soft, slice them thinner and cook them for longer.

The measurements for the marinade are rough estimates.  I really just dumped the ingredients together; I used a dinner spoon and scooped out mustard. So proportion the marinade ingredients to your liking. If you don’t like dijon mustard, switch it out for regular or honey mustard. If you don’t like or can’t find ground sage, thyme also works.

I used an Anjou pear and a Fuji apple. But any type of pear will work well. I chose Fuji because it’s pretty crisp. I would stay away from Red and Golden Delicious apples since they are texturally mealy and won’t stand up well to cooking. And if you don’t like pears and apples – the pork will also work with sauerkraut!

Broiled Striped Bass Fish Tacos

Yes, we’re still working our way through the fish caught from the fishing trip a month back. We’ve pan fried them, broiled them, miso glazed them, and used them in noodle soups. But after my trip to Pinche Taqueria a few weekends ago, I’ve been craving fish tacos again.

I’ve never made them before, but there was enough fish to experiment with. They’re actually quite easy to make. It just takes a little prep work beforehand with the condiments. For the fish, you want to use a white fish. Striped bass is a good choice, so is mahi mahi, which can be found in frozen fillet form in Trader Joe’s, or tilapia, also found at Trader Joe’s. The rest of the ingredients are relatively inexpensive, so the meal is quite affordable.

We were planning on eating these tacos for lunch since I had bought a whole chicken to be roasted for dinner. These tacos turned out so delicious that we ended up eating them again for dinner. I roasted the chicken the next day.

Directions

  1. Rinse the fillet under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle olive oil on both sides.
  4. Broil 3 -4 minutes on each side.
  5. Mix together ingredients for the salsa.
  6. Mix together ingredients for the shredded cabbage.
  7. Heat the corn tortillas individually on a hot pan.
  8. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Cook’s Notes

I love tacos because they can be personalized. If you have space outdoors – grill the fish instead of broiling it. (They’re basically the same method – grilling is cooking over the flame from the bottom up and broiling is cooking with the flame from the top down. But since you can’t grill well indoors, broiling is the next best option.) The fish can also be pan fried, deep fried – however you like it!

The same is true for the condiments – they can be seasoned to fit your taste profile. If you want more acidity, add in more lime juice. If you want more hotness, add in more jalapeños. Also, keeping the seeds in the jalapeños will also increase the spice factor.

I like to prepare the condiments about 30 minutes before I start cooking the fish so that there is time for all the flavors to marinate together.

I also like the acidic flavor of the liquid in the salsa. I like to spoon the liquid onto one tortilla so that it soaks up the flavor. Then I place a fresh tortilla under it and them assemble the tacos.

Crispy Gnocchi with Chorizo and Peas

Gnocchi – last part! If you haven’t read part 1 yet, check it out here. It’s the basics on how to make the gnocchi dough.

So I assume now that your dough turned out decent enough to be cooked and eaten. Don’t worry if your shape isn’t perfect. As you can see above, I need to master creating the gnocchi shape as well. But looks aside, it’s still tasty! Now – who doesn’t love a good pan fry? No need to boil first and then pan fry. Instead, place the fresh gnocchi directly onto the pan! You’ll get a nice crispy and crunchy exterior. The interior will be soft and chewy. Since gnocchi itself is a bit plain, here it will take up the flavor of the different aromatics, spices and herbs used. We bought chorizo from Murray’s Cheese Shop the day before and wanted to try it in the dish. It added a bit of sweetness, smokiness and ham flavor to the gnocchi. If you have other cured meats, like pancetta, surryano ham, or jamon seranno, on hand, feel free to use those instead! For the gnocchi, you can use about 1/4 of the gnocchi dough (follow the recipe, but do not cook).

Directions

  1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the gnocchi in a single layer.
  3. Cook the gnocchi until they are lightly browned on the bottoms.
  4. Flip the gnocchi and cook until they are lightly browned on the other side.
  5. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  6. In the same skillet, heat a bit more olive oil.
  7. Sauté the shallots, chorizo and garlic.
  8. Add the gnocchi back into the pan and add in the peas.
  9. Add cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes and salt to taste.
  10. Cook for a few more minutes so that the gnocchi is coated and tossed in with the rest of the ingredients.

Gnocchi

This is first in a series of two posts about gnocchi. Here, I have the recipe for gnocchi dough. The other two upcoming posts are different variations on how to cook gnocchi.

I’ve always wanted to make gnocchi like a nonna italiana. There are only a few steps to making gnocchi. That said, many things can definitely go wrong. It’s not for the faint of heart. But cooking is experimentation. And if it’s a rainy day, like it was this past Sunday, set some time aside and give it a go. Commit to at least 3 tries- you’ll get better and better!

I apologize that I don’t have any pictures of my process of actually making the gnocchi. I was focusing on getting the dough right that I forgot to stop and take pictures! I’ll definitely have photos next time.

Directions

  1. Fill a large pot with cold water. Salt the water.
  2. Place the potatoes in the water.
  3. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender throughout, about 45 minutes.
  4. Save the potato water.
  5. Working one potato at a time, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and, without burning yourself, peel the potato as soon as possible.
  6. While the potato is still hot, create a fluffy potato base by either pushing the peeled potato through a ricer or by using the tines of a fork to scrape down the sides of the potato or by grating it against the fine side of a box grater.
  7. Repeat these last two steps with the rest of the potatoes and spread the potato base on a cutting board or sheet and let cool, 10 – 15 minutes.
  8. Create a mound with the potato base and drizzle the beaten egg on top.
  9. Sprinkle about 3/4 of the flour over the mound.
  10. Using a large flat spatula, incorporate the egg and flour into the potato base by scraping under the mound and folding.
  11. After the dough reaches a light crumble consistency, gently knead the dough.
  12. Add more flour, one small handful at a time, if the dough is still sticky. The dough should feel moist, but not sticky.
  13. Cut the dough into eighths.
  14. Roll each section into a log, about the thickness of your thumb and cut into 3/4″ pieces.
  15. To shape the gnocchi, hold each piece, cut ends out, against the tines of the fork.
  16. Use your thumb to press in and down the length of the tines.
  17. The shape should form a light “C” and should capture the indentation impressions of the tines.
  18. Reheat the potato water. When it comes to a boil, drop gnocchi about 20 – 25 at a time.
  19. The gnocchi will pop to the top when they’re done, about 3 -4 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
  20. Toss with your favorite sauce.

Cook’s Notes

It is important to work quickly while the potatoes are still hot because the potato base will turn out lighter and fluffier. To peel the potatoes, I hold them in a kitchen towel (fabric towel, not paper) and use a vegetable peeler. Usually with one swipe, you’ll be able to lift up a good chunk of the peel. It should peel off like a wrapper.

A potato ricer is the quickest and easiest way to create the potato base. But nonne italiane have been making gnocchi long before the ricer came about. So using a fork is just fine (although, it’s more tricky). Simply run the tines down the sides of the peeled potatoes. You just want to make sure you create a soft base without lumps. Do not over-mash.

Let the mashed potato base cool adequately. You want to let the steam (and moisture) evaporate before you add flour – otherwise the dough will get sticky – and then you won’t be able to form the gnocchi shape.