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.

White Wine Braised Mahi Mahi with Fennel, Mushrooms and Carrots

Last Saturday and Sunday was one of those weekends where I was around town, running errands and never got around to going to the grocery store. I had also forgotten to place a Fresh Direct order that Thursday. So this is a post based on what I scraped together from my fridge, freezer and pantry.

I always have some staple ingredients that I buy seconds of when the first is running low So what do I keep on hand?

In the pantry: chicken broth (boxed liquid and bouillon form), dried herbs, spices, basic baking ingredients (sugars, all-purpose flour baking soda/powder, and yeast), canned ingredients (tomatoes, beans, tuna, anchovies, sardines), oils, vinegars, Asian sauces (like fish sauce and soy sauce), light coconut milk, onions, garlic, rice, oats (rolled and steel cut), dried pasta and ginger.

In the fridge: eggs, mushrooms, carrots, soy milk, butter, white miso pasta, Asian sauces (like sriracha, chili oil, and hoisin), lemons, limes and (almost always) white wine.

In the freezer: frozen peas, corn kernels, dumplings, blueberries, edamame, meats, and fish fillets.

I usually buy a family pack of chicken thighs and freeze them. You can usually find a deal on the price per pound for family packs. I also get frozen fish fillets from Trader Joe’s. They’re very fresh (don’t smell fishy after defrosting) and affordable. They have the common fishes: salmon, mahi mahi, tuna, swordfish, cod, tilapia, and catfish.

Frozen foods are in general cheaper than their fresh counterparts. And they usually have equal, if not higher, levels of nutrients. For fruits and vegetables, they’re flash frozen when harvested so they’re at their nutrient level peak. By the time you purchase the fresh kind in the store, they might have already passed the peak and are in nutrient decline. Seafood is usually flash frozen right after the catch so they’re also really fresh.

If you can’t make it to the store, you can still cook up delicious dishes if you have these staples on hand. For example, with defrosted chicken thighs. You can marinade them in olive oil+balsamic vinegar+dried rosemary or sriracha+lime juice+lime zest+ginger and then broil them. It’s always nice to have items in reserve.

Directions

  1. Rinse the fillet under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. In a pan over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoon olive oil.
  4. Add fennel and carrots to the pan. Cook on medium heat until starting to soften, 3 – 5 minutes.
  5. Add in mushrooms. Add in more oil, if necessary. Cook 1 -2 minutes.
  6. Add in thyme, coriander and garlic. Cook 1 -2 minutes.
  7. Add in lemon juice and white wine.
  8. Place fillet in pan, on top of the vegetable mixture.
  9. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook until done, about 6 minutes.
  10. Serve fillet with vegetables and top with some of the braising liquid.