Category Archives: 2pixfordinner

My mushroom problem: Ideas for dried mushrooms

Tony writes: After a month or so of doing this thing here at Cook Angel, I’ve learned that a glut of food problems are actually initiated by a well-intentioned gift. The gift itself, as is the case with these lovely dried mushrooms I’ve been receiving from my Dad each month since my birthday last August, isn’t to blame (I love them, Dad, really I do). Rather, it’s often just the sheer abundance of a food gift that can push it from pleasant surprise to worrisome what-do-I-do-with-all-this-stuff-? status. These birthday mushrooms are a perfect example. Shortly after it arrived, I excitedly turned the first package (dried chanterelles) into a cream sauce with fresh chives and sherry. For the last 8 months, though, I’ve watched each 1-oz bag of dried hens of the woods, pheasantback, and lobster mushrooms come in, go straight to the cupboard, and not leave there. It’s gotten to the point that there’s little room for the polenta and pasta in my dried goods cabinet. It’s time to act. Even though I wrote a whole article on dried mushrooms for Fine Cooking a while back, this past weekend I had to sit down for a moment, get my fungal bearings, and remember all the cool ways to use dried mushrooms and, of course, to show Dad I’m grateful for the gift.

Dried Mushroom Powder: One of my favorite food finds a couple of years back was porcini powder. All it is are ground-up dried porcinis. But the powder form allows you to sprinkle it into pastas, sauces, stews, or braises the way you might Parmigiano, to impart a little umami richness. To make this powder, just add chopped dried mushrooms to a spice (or coffee) grinder and pulse until fine; it’s ok to mix different varieties together. Then add 1 to 2 tsp. of this mushroom powder to a cream sauce for sauteed steak, stir into buttered noodles, add to a chicken and mushroom stew, and so on. This mushroom powder will hold indefinitely in an air-tight container in the pantry.

How to rehydrate dried mushrooms: For each of the next set of ideas, you will need to know how to do this. It’s easy. Add 1 cup boiling water to a good handful of dried mushrooms (about 1/2 oz.), top with something to weigh down the mushrooms so they’re completely submerged in the water (this could be another bowl, a kitchen spoon, whatever works), and let sit for about 10 minutes so they soften and become tender. Transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board to chop if you like and strain the mushroom soaking liquid – which is quite flavorful – with a coffee filter or paper towels to remove any sediment, dirt, grit, etc…  Then use this strained broth as you might chicken broth in a sauce or stew.

Dried Mushrooms Duxelle: This is just a fancy French word for a sauteed mushroom paste. Generally fresh mushrooms are the thing, though you can set rehydrated dried mushrooms in a food processor and pulse to chop. Saute with butter, some garlic, and chopped fresh herbs (whatever you got and whatever you like with mushrooms) and then use this intense paste like a liquid form of the mushroom powder above: to a  beef stew, to a sauce for sauteed cod, as a filling for homemade ravioli. Freeze this paste in zip-top bags for up to a couple of months or hold in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Sauces: I generally follow a basic pattern when making some sort of sauce with dried mushrooms: sear meat, reserve it on a plate, add rehydrated mushrooms to the pan, saute until browned and fragrant (2 minutes or so), and then simmer with the mushroom broth, cream, wine, or whatnot. Puree to refine the mixture a bit and then spoon over sauteed halibut or beef tenderloin or seared scallops or pork chops.

Soups, Stews, Braises: As opposed to sauces where I prefer to sear the rehydrated mushrooms alone (to intensify their flavor a bit), in these sorts of preparations (where they generally don’t need to be the star), I don’t find it as important. You can add the mushrooms at the same time as you saute aromatics (onions, carrots, celery) or just simmer them with the broth.

Pairings: The only real rule to follow with all of these preparations is to pair the mushrooms appropriately with whatever other ingredients are in the dish. Match assertive porcini and chanterelles with other full-flavored ingredients – hearty cuts of beef, dark meat chicken, potatoes. Shiitakes and oyster mushrooms are more mild and versatile and go well with most anything that you’d add mushrooms. I don’t generally pair dried mushrooms with other vegetables unless they are slow-cooked braise-y sorts of dishes.

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The Perils of OHD: Herb Salts, Pestos, and Infused Oils for leftover fresh herbs

Jenny writes: Ok, this happens to me all the time.  I buy fresh herbs for a particular dish I’m making and then I’m left with all of these extra herbs that way too often go bad before I’m inspired to make another meal with them. Today, I have left-over fresh basil, mint and thyme.  The protein I have left over is plain uncooked chicken breast and also cooked, cold hot dogs and hamburgers.  I have 1 bag of brussel sprouts that I didn’t end up using at the BBQ and 3 large sweet potatoes. Any ideas?

Tony’s take: So I think this is a common problem. I, too, suffer from O.H.D. (Overlooked Herb Disorder) and I think there are a lot of others like us. We’ll pick up fresh thyme for a braise or some mint for lamb chops or basil for a pasta and then, after using them for their original purpose, through equal parts busy-ness and lack of inspiration, watch as they slowly wilt away. It’s a sad state because fresh herbs aren’t cheap and this waste can scare off many folks from buying them. Rather than long-winded recipes, I thought I would offer up a couple of simple ideas for how to use up leftover herbs. These things are all quick and easy, should keep for a while, and demonstrate fresh herbs’ wonderful versatility. Before getting to the ideas, it’s worth noting that herbs can be divided up into two camps: delicate leafy herbs like cilantro, basil, and mint which keep anywhere from 3 to 7 days in the refrigerator and tend to be heat sensitive so they’re best added towards the end of cooking; and hardier, woodsy herbs like thyme or rosemary, which may hold in the fridge for up to 2 weeks and are best added at the beginning of cooking so they gently infuse their flavor. No matter the herb, here is the best way to store them for maximum freshness: lightly dampen a paper towel, wrap around the bunch of fresh herbs, and then store in a zip-top plastic bag in the vegetable crisper. Change the damp paper towel every day or two. There are also some folks who like to store delicate, leafy herbs like basil, dill, or mint in a little water at room temperature (as you would with flowers) and this works, too, provided your kitchen doesn’t get too warm. Now on to some ideas:

Herb Salts: Culinarily, these seem like the next stop on our salt journey after flaky, sea salt (a trend that’s been around for many years now). Herb salts capture the bright flavors of fresh herbs, making them shelf stable in a sprinkling form for at least a week or two (if not much longer). More importantly, herbs salts are wonderfully versatile: sprinkle rosemary salt on grilled steaks, pair basil salt with roasted salmon, or rub lamb chops with a mint-tarragon salt. How to make herb salts? You could just chop up some herbs, mix them with salt in a mason jar, and let sit for a couple of weeks, though I prefer to speed things up by heating up the salt. Add about 1 cup salt to a large skillet with 1 Tbs. to 2 Tbs. chopped woodsy herbs (thyme or rosemary) or 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup chopped leafy herbs (basil, tarragon, dill) and heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until the salt warms and the herb becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool to room temperature, mash in a mortar and pestle if you want to extract even a little more flavor, and then store in an air-tight container indefinitely. Use for anything on which you’d normally sprinkle salt.

Herb Oil: There are two approaches for herb oil. You can heat up a good splash of olive oil (let’s say between 1/2 cup and 1 cup) with woodsy herbs (like thyme or rosemary), some crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic until the aromatics sizzle steadily and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Cool to room temperature, strain (if you like), and then hold in the refrigerator for up to 1 week for drizzling on broiled or grilled fare (steaks, chops, fish), pastas, or even to use as the base for a vinaigrette. You can also make a no-cook herb oil by pureeing (in a blender) chopped leafy herbs like mint, basil, or tarragon with some olive oil until smooth. Let sit for a half hour or so for the flavors to get infused, then strain if you want the oil to be refined and dressy.

Pesto: Yes, there is basil pesto, or pesto Genovese as it’s properly known, but there are a host of other types of herb pastes, all tasty and all which keep well in the freezer for up to a month (just freeze in little baggies or even in an ice cube tray for easy access on the go) . I did a large article on pestos for Fine Cooking a couple of years back and here are links for those recipes: a basil pesto, (on top of roasted cod), walnut-parsley pesto, and black olive-mint pesto.

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A spring vegetable excursion: Garlicky Sauteed Fiddleheads with Parmigiano and Lemon

Samantha writes: I finally gave in and picked up some fiddlehead ferns (pretty pic attached) at the supermarket after eying them for the last week. I’ve never cooked a fern of any kind before and don’t really know how, but it’s spring and I know that this is their time. I also have chicken breasts. Should I pair them all into a saute?

Tony’s take: So, first, good for you to wade out to the deep end of the veggie pool! Fiddleheads really are tasty, especially if you prepare them properly, which is quite simple. Before getting to that, what fiddleheads are: these little green coils are a species of ferns harvested (in the wild) before they unfurl (think of a peacock that’s not preening). In texture, fiddleheads are close to asparagus. They have a relatively dull, earthy flavor that goes well with assertive ingredients like garlic and lemon. I would suggest cooking them separate from the chicken – this will allow you to focus on cooking the vegetable just right. Blanch the fiddleheads in boiling salted water (so they become tender and also to clean off some of the leafy muck often sticking to them), cool them in ice water, then saute with butter and plenty of garlic until browned and tender. Toss with lemon juice and shavings of Parmigiano and serve with the sauteed chicken breasts (sear those until browned and cooked through and then deglaze the pan with a little sherry and a splash of cream if your waistline can handle it). Serve with a baguette and feel proud that you’ve become one with the wonderful wilds of nature.

Serves 4 as a side: Prep time: 15 minutes  Cook time: 5 minutes

What you need: Ingredients: Fiddlehead ferns (about 3/4 lb. or 5 cups), butter (about 3 Tbs.), garlic (3 cloves), lemon (1), Parmigiano, salt.

Equipment: Skillet, wooden spoon,cutting board, chef’s knife

How to do it: Prepare the fiddleheads: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Trim the stem ends of the fiddleheads (if you like and if they’re all browned – this is optional and somewhat time consuming). Drop the fiddleheads in the boiling water and cook until their color sets a bright green and they soften to a toothy texture, about 1 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with ice water to cool. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels (this is important so they don’t steam when sauteed).

Saute the fiddleheads: Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 1 minute so that a droplet of water instantly evaporates when it hits the pan. Add 2 Tbs. butter and 3 or 4 smashed garlic cloves (use the side of a chef’s knife to crush them) and cook until the butter melts and the garlic starts to sizzle and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the fiddleheads, sprinkle generously with salt (about 3/4 tsp.), and cook, stirring occasionally, until they brown in places and cook through and become tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with another pat of butter (about 1 Tbs.) and a splash of lemon juice (about 1 Tbs.). Season with more salt and lemon juice to taste (if you really want to get crazy, you could also add the lightest of drizzles of white truffle oil here as well) and serve topped with shavings of Parmigiano (use a peeler) and that chicken or some fish.

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Spring Chicken: Chicken in a Claypot with Lemon, Thyme, and Asparagus

Analiza writes: I have bone-in chicken breasts (3 lb.) and fresh thyme, oregano and lemon.  I would love to bake it in my new German clay pot.  Recommendations would be much appreciated!

Tony’s take: First, I’m jealous. Once upon a time, I had a clay pot and during one move or another, it ended up in somebody else’s kitchen. For those who have never used one, clay pots are one of those old-fashioned pieces of kitchen equipment which still have merit today. They’re prominent in Asian and European cooking, often paired with chicken as with the French classic Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic. Clay pots do demand a little extra attention – you need to soak both the pot and its top in  water for about 15 minutes before using (and you have to be gentle when cleaning them), but what you get in return is super-even cooking. The clay absorbs some water from soaking and then releases it (in the form of steam) during cooking. The result? Chicken cooked in a clay pot is ridiculously moist and achieves that most trite of culinary cliches… falling-off-the-bone tender. Though clay pots are often used to make heavy, wintry dishes with plenty of root vegetables, I would push you towards a lighter dish where the lemon and herbs lead the way. You already have most everything you’ll need. Toss the chicken with the herbs (why not use both!), a little olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Smash some garlic cloves so they’re intact but lightly crushed and cut a lemon into wedges. Add all of these to the pot along with a light drizzle of honey and a couple of carrots if you have and feel so moved – they’ll not only be colorful and spring-ish, but they’ll also give the dish some depth. Cover and slide the pot into the oven (that’s not been preheated), crank the temp to 450F, and come back about 1 1/4 hour later and the chicken should be good to go – cooked through, but extremely moist and tender. Roast those asparagus alongside on a baking sheet (with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper), cut them into 1-inch pieces, and toss with the cooked chicken. Serve over polenta or with a good crusty baguette and you’ve got the perfect spring meal.

What you need: Ingredients: Chicken (split breasts are fine or cut a 4-lb bird into pieces so you get a mix of white and dark meat), lemon (1), olive oil, honey, fresh herbs (like thyme, rosemary, or oregano), garlic, (aromatics like carrots or onion), S+P.

Equipment:  Clay pot (or a medium Dutch oven), cutting board, chef’s knife, tongs

How to do it: Prepare the chicken and the pot: So first you’re going to want to soak the clay pot (both the pot and its top) in cold water for 15 minutes. Then focus on the chicken. You’re going to want to cut the split chicken breasts (about 3 lb.) in half crosswise down through the rib bones (or if you have a whole bird cut the chicken into 10 pieces). Smaller pieces cook more quickly and also allow the surrounding flavors to better infuse the chicken. Then you have a decision to make: skin-on or skin-off? If you leave the skin on, the sauce which results from the accumulated juices during cooking will have a greasy slick from the rendered chicken fat, but fat = flavor and you can always spoon off this fat.  Also, if you do go skin-on, once the chicken is cooked through, you’ll want to uncover the pot and cook the chicken another 15 minutes or so so the skin browns and crisps up a bit; you can serve skinless chicken right when it’s done.

Set the skin-on or skinless chicken pieces in the clay pot (or in a Dutch oven) and toss with a splash of olive oil (about 1 Tbs.), a little honey (about 2 tsp.) and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper (about 1 1/2 tsp. and 3/4 tsp. respectively). Take 1 head of garlic and smash/press each clove with the side of a chef’s knife to remove the skin and release some of the oils. Cut a lemon into wedges. Add the smashed garlic cloves (about 8) and the lemon wedges (about 10)  to the pot along with some coarsely chopped fresh thyme or oregano or both (about 2 tsp. thyme or 2 Tbs. oregano) and 1 Spanish onion (cut into wedges) or 2 carrots (cut into 1-inch pieces) if you like (add another splash of olive oil if you add these vegetables). Toss well.

Bake the chicken: Slide the clay pot (or Dutch oven) onto the middle rack of the oven. Turn the oven to 450F and cook the chicken without touching for 1 hour. At this point start checking the chicken every ten minutes or so until it’s cooked through and tender; be careful as the top will be hot (use a potholder) and there will be quite a bit of steam when you remove it to peek in. Cook skin-on chicken another 10 to 15 minutes or until its skin starts to brown.

Serve: Slice up the asparagus (if you roasted them) and scatter them around the pot with the cooked chicken. Sprinkle with some more chopped herbs and serve with polenta and some bread to sop up those juices.

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Date Night: Linguine with Zucchini and Pecorino; Florentine Steak with Rosemary

I write (…to myself): So every so often (especially when Cook Angel submissions are kind of slow like they are right now), I’d like to share what I’m going to make; maybe it will inspire you or maybe it will just show that when I cook I’m usually feeling my way around like most everybody. Anyways, this Saturday night has been designated “date night.” The Bruins are making a play for the Stanley Cup and I’m not going to stray 10 feet from my TV. Calling it “Date Night” puts a nice spin on things – I’ll act surprised when the game magically appears at 8. I will make something nice, though. I’d like to make a simple pasta with some zucchini and linguine – cut the zucchini into thin strips so it’s long and thin like the pasta and then toss it with basil, Pecorino, and some sun-dried tomatoes – light (even with a splash of cream) and elegant. For a second course, I’d like to pick up a good steak like a rib-eye (perfect for splitting), saute it, and then serve drizzled with a rosemary oil – my take on Florentine steak. Serve the steak with some baby arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and then it’s game time… I mean date night.

Serves 2: Prep time: 25 minutes; Cook time 30 minutes

What I’ll need: Ingredients: Linguine (or other long pasta like fettucine or spaghetti), olive oil, zucchini, onion, heavy cream, lemon, fresh basil, sun-dried tomato, S+P; steak (12 oz. to 1 lb – a 1-inch thick strip steak or rib eye would be good) olive oil, fresh rosemary, red wine vinegar.

Equipment: 2 skillets (one for the steaks – I’ll use my cast-iron pan- and one for the pasta), pasta pot, saucepan (for the rosemary oil), wooden spoon, tongs, cutting board, chef’s knife, strainer.

How to do it: For the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta (1/2 lb. for 2 to 3 servings) and cook, stirring, until it’s just tender to the tooth, about 11 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain well. Meanwhile, thinly slice a yellow onion (about 1 cup) and the zucchini (1 large – about 1 1/2 cups) into long strips (use a Japanese mandoline if you have). Heat a splash of olive oil (about 2 Tbs.) in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the onion, sprinkle generously with salt (about 3/4 tsp.) and cook, stirring, until it starts to soften and brown lightly, about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, sprinkle with salt again (about 1/2 tsp.) and pepper (about 3/4 tsp.) and cook, stirring, until it wilts and softens, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked pasta, a splash of the pasta water (about 1/2 cup), 1/2 cup grated Pecorino (or Parmigiano is fine), 4 or 5 basil leaves (torn into small pieces), 4 sun-dried tomatoes (thinly sliced), and a splash of heavy cream (2 to 3 Tbs. is enough). Cook, tossing over medium-high heat, so the mixture melts into a light sauce that coats the the pasta and the flavors mix and meld. Add more pasta water if the mixture dries out. Stir in 1 Tbs. lemon juice and season generously with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to taste. Serve sprinkled with some more basil and Pecorino.

For the steak: Let the steak (a 12-oz ribeye or strip steak or even a 1-lb. flank steak) sit at room temperature for 15 minutes (so that the interior starts to thaw which will allow the steak to cook through more quickly and evenly). Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and pepper (about 1 tsp. and 3/4 tsp. respectively). Set 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 sprigs rosemary in a small saucepan over medium heat and heat until the rosemary starts to sizzle and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. For the steak, open up any kitchen windows (if you got ’em) and heat a large heavy-based pan (I will use my cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat until a droplet of water instantly evaporates when it hits the pan’s surface, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add a little olive oil (about 1 Tbs.) and heat until shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the steak and cook without touching until it browns around the edges and easily releases from the pan when you lift up an edge, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until it, too, browns and the steak is just firm to the touch, about 2 to 3 more minutes. The steak should be about medium-rare right now – make a nick into a thicker piece to check. Continue cooking if you’d like the steak cooked more or if the steak is really thick (and still rare), finish cooking it in a 425F oven until done (preheat the oven ahead of time if you’re working with a steak that is 1 1/2 inches thick or more). Let the steak rest for 5 minutes, then thinly slice, sprinkle with a little salt, a touch of red wine vinegar, and the rosemary oil (save extra for a salad dressing).

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Cinco de Mayo: The Best Guacamole Ever

Brian writes: Tomorrow night, we’re having friends over for Cinco de Mayo (yeah, I know it’s today). I realize people generally ask for elaborate meals and that sort of thing, but I just want to make a real kick-ass guacamole. I’ve never made it and don’t cook much, but I think I’m ready. I’ve already got these avocados and jalapeno, now what?

Tony’s take: Guacamole definitely doesn’t demand any great culinary expertise. So long as you can taste (or season to taste that is), you’re good. Like a steak, everyone has their own personal preference for how it should be (chunky or smooth, lemony or lime-y, that sort of thing). You asked me, though, so I’ll push for two things with this one: 1: that it be chunky and full of fresh textures, not mashed into baby food. 2: that it have a little kick (jalapeno) and bite (plenty of lime juice). The truth is that the whole thing couldn’t be any easier. And after this first go, you should feel comfortable pulling out this staple whenever you feel that mood coming on.

Serves 6 to 8: Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes; Cook time: NA

What you need:

Ingredients: Avocado (2 – they should be ripe or soft when pressed), cilantro (1/2 bunch), red onion (1 small), jalapeno (1), plum tomato (1), lime (1 large), kosher salt

Equipment: Medium bowl, chef’s knife, cutting board, large spoon, fork or masher (for gently mashing)

How to do it: Dice the avocado (check out this step-by-step if you need some guidance – about 1 3/4 cups), finely dice the red onion (about 1/2 cup) and tomato (about 1/2 cup), and coarsely chop the cilantro (cilantro can be gritty so you’ll want to soak it first and then pat it dry with paper towels before chopping – you should chop anywhere between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup depending on your affinity for it) and add all to a medium bowl. Chop the jalapeno (seed it if you want this mixture to be a little milder) and toss that in as well. Drizzle 2 Tbs. lime juice (from 1 large lime), sprinkle generously with salt (about 1 tsp.) and half toss/half gently mash the mixture with a large spoon. Season with more salt and lime juice to taste. Serve with tortilla chips and whatever it is you’re drinking to celebrate the occasion.

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Market Basket Menu: Sauteed Salmon with Horseradish Cream;Warm Spiced Marcona Almonds

Sherry writes: I’m almost ashamed to show you the inside of my fridge, but I’ve been out of town for nearly a month and I had totally emptied it. Now I came home last night with a quart of milk (for my morning coffee), salad dressing, and some butter pats (which I hoard from a local bakery). The thing is I just rashly invited a colleague for dinner at my place and here’s my question: starting from a bare fridge like this, what can I make quickly that requires the shortest imaginable shopping trip? I don’t mind if we eat pasta and I don’t mind spending some time in the kitchen to make something, but I do NOT want to spend an hour in the supermarket replenishing my stores. For dinner, I’d like a quick nibble to go with wine and then a simple menu if possible (maybe salmon?).

Tony’s take: So this is interesting. A lot of times, people are trying to figure out a way to sustain themselves without leaving the house. You, on the other hand, aren’t kidding about really having nothing to work with (that’s one empty fridge!), but you are willing to make a surgical strike on a local market – a 5-minute grab-and-go for 10 ingredients or so –, so a really nice meal should be easily within reach. My advice is to go with a very austere (Craft-type) approach. Pick up some salmon filets (wild Pacific salmon is available right now and a far more tasty – and sustainable- than the farmed stuff) and prepare them simply with high heat (saute?).  Because salmon is a little funky, forget about a pan sauce and instead pair it with something simple – make a sauce out of some crème fraiche, a little horseradish, and a fresh herb (thyme?).  To go with the fish, pick out whatever vegetable looks prettiest at the market (asparagus for broiling?) as well as a rustic loaf of bread that’s more interesting than a baguette (olive bread?). For the nibble, how about marcona almonds? Pick up an 8-oz pack, warm them in the oven for 10 minutes, and then toss with the same fresh herb you used in the sauce (thyme?), brown sugar, and a little pimenton de la Vera. All in, this should be 10 minutes in the supermarket, 20 minutes of hands-on time, and 20 minutes of cooking.

Serves 4: Prep time: 20 minutes; Cook time: 20 minutes

What you need:

Ingredients: Salmon (about 2 lb. for four people), olive oil, fresh herb (thyme or tarragon), S+P, lemon, crème fraiche (or sour cream), prepared horseradish, marcona almonds, brown sugar, pimenton (or chipotle powder), asparagus, lemon, a good loaf of bread

Equipment: 2 rimmed baking sheets, cutting board, chef’s knife

How to do it: For the almonds: Heat the oven to 425F. Toss the almonds (about 8 oz. or 2 cups) with a splash of olive oil and some kosher salt (about 1/2 tsp.). Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the almonds start to turn light brown and become fragrant, about10 minutes. Transfer immediately to a medium serving bowl and toss with some brown sugar (about 1 Tbs.), chopped fresh herbs (about 1 tsp. thyme or rosemary), and a light sprinkling of pimenton de la Vera or chipotle powder (between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp.). Serve warm.

For the horseradish cream: Mix 1 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream) with a good dollop of prepared horseradish (2 to 4 Tbs.), a squirt of lemon juice, chopped fresh herbs (about 1 tsp. thyme if you have), and salt and pepper to taste. Add more lemon juice and horseradish to taste.

For the salmon: Give the salmon (about 2 lb. for 4 people) a quick rinse and then pat dry with paper towels (make sure to do a good job so it browns nicely and doesn’t stick to the pan). Season it generously with salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp. and 1/2 tsp. respectively).  Open up any kitchen windows if you got ’em (the salmon will leave a lingering smell). Heat a good splash of olive oil (1 to 2 Tbs.) in a large (hopefully 12-inch), nonstick pan over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the salmon, evenly spaced and skin-side up, and cook without touching, until it browns around the edges and easily releases from the pan when you pick up a corner, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, reduce the heat to medium, and cook the other side until it, too, browns and becomes just firm to the touch and is a little pink in the center when you slice into a thicker piece, 2 to 3 more minutes.

Serve the salmon with a dollop of the sauce, a squirt of lemon if you like, some broiled asparagus, and a good loaf of bread. Enjoy tonight and then think about going to the supermarket tomorrow.

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Chicken and this fridge: Spiced Braised Mediterranean Chicken Drumsticks with Orange and Olives

Andrew writes: I defrosted some drumsticks before leaving for work. I also took this snapshot of the fridge (which is pretty bare). I’m wondering if dinner for the family is doable without making a pit stop at the market.

Tony’s take: Andrew go straight home! You’re good. Those olives (top shelf) and oranges (vegetable crisper) would go perfectly in a quick braise with the drumsticks (heck, those dates would even be nice in this Moroccan-inspired dish). And this whole thing will be easy: toss the chicken with some spices and a light dusting of flour, sear the drumsticks in a heavy-based pot, add a splash of chicken broth, some olives, and orange segments, and cook until the chicken becomes tender and the flavors marry. Serve over couscous with something green; I don’t see any vegetables kicking around your fridge, though some diced butternut squash, canned artichokes,  or even canned white beans could play the good-for-you role in this braise.

Serves 4: Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 30 minutes

What you need:

Ingredients: Chicken drumsticks (about 2 1/2 lb; or any bone-in chicken), spices (chile powder, cumin, cinnamon, chipotle powder), all-purpose flour, olive oil, onion, brown sugar, chicken broth, red wine vinegar, oranges, olives, fresh herbs (like cilantro, if you have)

Equipment: Large, heavy-based pot (like a Dutch oven), wooden spoon, cutting board, chef’s knife, tongs, shallow bowl, small bowl.

How to do it: Season the chicken: In a small bowl, mix some kosher salt (1 1/2 tsp.) with ground cumin (2 tsp.), chile powder (1 tsp.), cinnamon (1/4 tsp.), black pepper (1/2 tsp.) and pimenton de la Vera or chipotle powder – optional – (about 1/4 tsp.). Toss this spice mix with the chicken (2 1/2 lb drumsticks or bone-in chicken). Then set 1/2 cup flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the chicken, shaking off any excess.

Braise the chicken: Heat a splash of olive oil (about 2 Tbs.) in a heavy-based pot over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Carefully add the chicken (it should fit in a single layer, evenly spaced, or else sear the chicken in two batches) and cook, without touching, until the chicken starts to brown and easily release from the pan when you lift up a piece, 2 minutes. Flip (or roll the chicken over), reduce the heat to medium, and brown the other side as well. Transfer the chicken to a large plate, add another splash of olive oil to the pot (about 1 Tbs.) and 1 finely diced onion (about 1 cup), sprinkle lightly with salt (about 1/2 tsp.), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion browns lightly and becomes tender, about 4 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water), a splash of red wine vinegar (about 1 Tbs.), and some brown sugar (about 2 tsp.), raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring to incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of pot, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer (about medium low), return the chicken to the pot (this would be the place to add a 15-oz. can of artichoke hearts or white beans or some diced butternut squash), cover, and cook until the chicken becomes tender and cooks through (slice open into a thicker piece to check), 20 minutes.

Segment the orange and finish the braise: While the braise is cooking, cut those 2 oranges into segments (check out this video from my friends at Fine Cooking to see how) or just peel and dice the oranges if you’re in a hurry. Add the segments as well as any juice from the orange peels (there will be some if you segment the fruit) and 1 cup olives. Cook for a minute or two so the orange heats through and it infuses the broth. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste as well as a splash of red wine vinegar if it needs a little punch. Sprinkle with some fresh cilantro (if you have) and serve with couscous.

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