The August cover of any national food magazine will usually feature some sort grilled meat with a title about throwing the perfect summer party for a crowd.
That’s not exactly the way our editorial calendar works here in Tennessee.
In our neck of the woods, August is not the start of grilling season, it’s the start of school. We are winding down the summer parties and cookouts, and look—not without some sadness—to the end of vacation eating and the return of our school and work day routine and the meals that fit into it. A typical tuesday this month will not include me standing at a grill outside basting a brisket, but probably throwing something together in between practices and homework.
This simple recipe has been a long-time favorite in our family and is perfect for weeknight dinners but tastes good enough to grace a magazine cover any month of the year.
Weeknight Chicken in Cream Sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or fillets, cut into 1” pieces
3-4 Tablespoons of flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
2-4 Tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
*1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced, if desired
*1 jar of marinara or spaghetti sauce, if desired
*Only if you want to ingredient
1.) Dredge chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt pepper—shake off excess.
2.) Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add chicken and lightly brown to a light crust about 6-8 minutes.
3.) Remove chicken from pan and deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any brown bits that have collected, about 1-2 minutes. Add heavy cream, stir, and bring to a soft boil.
4.) Add the mushrooms if desired and cook for a few minutes until soft and sauce begins to thicken.
5.) Add the chicken back to the pan. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook until chicken is cooked all the way through and no longer pink and cream sauce has thickened, about another 8-10 minutes.
Note: At this point, you can also choose to add a portion of the browned chicken back into the cream sauce and/or to a saucepan of heated marinara sauce if you have younger kids that might not like the white sauce.
Serve over cooked spaghetti with a crispy green salad and crusty bread.
(Serves 4 but you can easily adjust, just keep the wine/cream ration even and brown the chicken in batches.)
I’ve never been a ham person. In fact, I really dislike it. The only time this is ever an issue is Easter Dinner because somehow, this has become the go-to protein for spring because sodium pairs so nicely with tulips. Or something.
Despite this culinary expectation, Easter Dinner has become one of my favorites to make and eat because of my main dish alternative to ham—a stuffed leg of lamb wrapped in pastry.
This recipe is original—it’s inspired by a recipe from a torn Xeroxed copy from an unknown cookbook that’s so old I just used the word Xeroxed. That page was lost decades ago, and the recipe below has morphed into the beautiful dish it is today. This will render the words, “But I don’t like lamb,” a bold-faced lie by anyone who has even spoken such nonsense.
Stuffed Leg of Lamb in Pastry
1 boneless leg of lamb, 5-6 pounds, butterflied (you can have your butcher remove the bone or cut it out yourself—it’s not particularly difficult.)
1.) Preheat oven to 450℉. Prepare lamb by opening up, trimming and pounding if necessary to make a somewhat flat, butterflied surface. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2.) Make stuffing by browning the sausage in a skillet until no longer pink, about 7-10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before adding the next 5 ingredients, then mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
3.) Place stuffing in an even layer across the entire surface of the butterflied lamb. Press firmly into the meat, but don’t worry if some spills out. Cut 4 large pieces of kitchen twine, and then get someone to help you tie—you’ll need a couple of hands for this step.
4.) Starting at the narrowest end, roll the lamb and stuffing up jelly-roll style. It doesn’t have to be too tightly rolled, and don’t worry about loose stuffing that falls out. Tie 3 pieces of string across the sides, and 1 lengthwise to hold the ends in place. Trim the excess pieces of string and discard.
5.) Smear a thin layer of olive oil on the tied lamb and place on a rack in the 450 degree oven for about 25 minutes to get a nice sear on the top. Remove from oven and let cool about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350℉.
6.) Unwrap and slightly roll out the seams of the puff pastry sheets. Place the slightly cooled lamb on top of 1 to 1 1/2 sheets depending on the size. With remaining sheets, wrap top and sides, pressing seams together with your fingers until it looks like a wrapped present with all surfaces covered. Trim off any excess dough and reserve.
7.) You can make any fancy adornments with the extra dough like you would a pie—I make a long braid down the center—or just make a few air vents in the pastry with a small knife. Make a simple egg wash with a beaten egg and water and brush over the entire thing. Sprinkle generously with the kosher salt and put back on the rack of the roasting pan.
8.) Bake in the 350℉ oven for another hour and a half. Check the internal temperature of the lamb often with a meat thermometer a few different places until it reaches medium rare at about 140-145 degrees. Cooking time will depend largely on the size and amount of fat, so it really is important to check the temperature because nothing is tougher than overcooked lamb. This takes approximately 25 minutes per pound, but again, keep checking after 90 minutes. There will be some carry-over cook time when removed from the oven and rested.
9.) When desired internal temperature is reached, remove from oven and let stand 20-30 minutes before slicing.
10.) No mint jelly required. Happy Easter or whatever special occasion you are celebrating.
One of the things I remember the most about my mother’s cooking was her corned beef dinner. She would make the corned beef, red-skinned potatoes and boiled cabbage. It was one of my favorite meals as a kid.
Except for the cabbage.
The cabbage smell would make me gag, but everything else was so good I tried not to notice. She claimed that you couldn’t make corned beef without the cabbage, and for years I took that as standard much like I believed Tiger Lilies were endangered. (She told me that so I wouldn’t pick them.) So over the years I’ve created my own version of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner sans boiled cabbage.
Some things don’t change, however. You need to get the gross looking package of corned beef that will be on sale this week, and boil the crap out of it. Use the spice pack that comes with it, and boil it for like 3 hours or whatever it says on the package. Just leave an extra 30 minutes or so to let it rest on the cutting board before you slice.
Next is the potatoes–again, just boil the red-skinned potatoes until tender and drain. I like to melt butter, parsley and a little garlic salt to serve along side.
The Barefoot Contessa has a great Irish Soda bread recipe that I use as well. She uses dried currants rather than raisins, and I think it gives it a unique tartness that gives the bread a little bite and freshness with the orange zest.
This year I topped off the meal with a homemade Bailey’s gelato because I am into homemade gelatos at the moment. I’ve also made Bailey’s cheesecake in the past which is super yummy. I’ll be working on that gelato recipe before I post it, however, because it didn’t set up as firmly as I liked, and was quite boozy.
But then what would a good St. Patrick’s Day dinner be if not a little boozy?
But the best part of this meal? The Corned Beef Who Hash the next day…
1.) Brown ground beef in large skillet until no longer pink. Add onions, jalapeño, and garlic and cook until soft.
2.) Add spices and tomatoes, cook for a few minutes and then add olives and eggs. Season with salt and pepper and then add the cilantro at the last minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your tastes, then set aside. (Filling can be made ahead and refrigerated.)
3.) When ready to assemble, place 1-2 tablespoons of filling into the center of a defrosted dough disc, and fold over to seal. Crimp edges like a pie so filling does not leak through during frying. Place stuffed empanadas on a cookie sheet until ready to fry.
4.) Heat oil to 350 degrees in a large, deep skillet. Fry a few at a time being careful not to over-crowd the pan. Fry for only 1-2 minutes on both sides being careful not to over-brown. They cook quite quickly. Drain on paper towels while cooking the next batch.
At this point, they are ready to eat, but if you want to do a couple of hours ahead of time, you can placed the cooked empanadas in a 350 oven for 5-10 minutes making sure not to get too browned or the filling will start to leak and get tough.
This particular dish is an imperfect version of a delicious original Lebanese Chicken and Rice dish that got me through two rough periods of morning sickness cooked by a friend’s mother who probably thought I would starve to death during my last pregnancy.
Because I need this dinner for myself and people I care about more than once a year when Mrs. Nammour visits this country, I came up with this version that in no way compares to hers, but still hits the spot–pregnant or not.
In fact, it is so good, so wonderfully healing and comforting, I named my daughter after her.
Marie-Inspired Chicken and Rice
1 rotisserie chicken, cut up and bones and skin discarded
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups long grain rice
32 oz. hot chicken stock
1/4 c. toasted slivered almonds and/or pine nuts
1.) Strip chicken from bones, discard skin. Chop or shred into bite-size pieces.
2.) In small saucepan, heat chicken stock.
3.) In a large pot, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion and ground beef until no longer pink. Add garlic.
4.) Stir in spices and salt, cook for a minute, and then add rice and stir so that the raw rice gets well-coated and combined. (If you like a spicier dish, you may add cayenne pepper or chili flakes.)
5.) Add hot chicken stock, stir to combine, and then turn down heat to simmer. Cook about 20 minutes–checking occasionally–until rice is cooked and stock is absorbed.
6.) Add the chicken and nuts and simmer a few minutes longer.
This one pot meal is perfect to bring to a sick friend, a starving pregnant woman, or anyone in need of food for the soul.
You know that game, “What 3 foods would you want stranded on a desert island?” My answers change over the years, but if I had to answer that one today, I’d say heavy cream, dijon mustard and wine. Which means I’d like to be stranded in Provence.
I choose wine, because, uh wine, and the others because one can always make a beautiful sauce with cream and dijon mustard. Even if it’s for coconuts. Or driftwood.
And flank steak and arugula! Can I add those to the island? Let’s change the game to “What 5 foods would you want stranded on a desert island?”
Here’s a recipe for three of my five.
Flank Steak Arugula Salad with Béarnaise(ish) dressing
1 1-2 lb. flank steak
3 T. worcestershire sauce
1/3 c. red wine
1/3 c. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 small shallot or 1/2 of a large one, finely minced
1 T. dijon mustard
2 T. champagne or white wine vinegar
2-3 T. fresh tarragon, minced
2-3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
Arugula or arugula spinach mix
1.) Prepare marinade in a re-sealable bag, add flank steak. Marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2.) Heat grill or grill pan over medium high heat with a little olive oil if in a pan. Grill for approximately 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer to rimmed cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes.
3.) Make dressing by combining the shallot, mustard, vinegar, tarragon and salt and pepper by whisking in a small bowl. Add olive oil to desired consistency but it should be on the thick side.
4.) Slice the steak against the grain and on an angle into thin slices and place on a large platter of the greens. Drizzle dressing over top.
It’s September, so you know what that means? The start of Autumn and the end of bathing suit season.
This past summer I’ve been engaging in the latest fitness scheme in my long line of many. I’ve told you about exercise classes and yoga before, so this summer I decided to try something markedly different–running.
I decided to use technological aids since biology, heredity and sheer will failed to make me a runner to this point in my life, so I bought an app for my phone that promised to ease me from the couch to 5 kilometers in 8 weeks.
At first, it was quite easy. The app, in her sing-song voice set to my “Don’t harsh my mellow” playlist, had me alternating between running and walking every 90 seconds or so. I liked her. The first 3 weeks went by without incident and I was starting to feel as though I really may indeed find my inner jogger.
And then we hit week 6–or as I like to call it–the Weeping Week.
By the end of the fifth week, you find yourself huffing and puffing to a gradual eight minute run. It’s somewhat of a major accomplishment from your initial 90 seconds, so you’re kind of proud of yourself as you queue up week 6 on the old iPhone one unsuspecting morning. As you breeze through your 5 minute brisk warm-up walk, you notice a distinct difference in tone from your robotic friend. She seems testy–she’s playing songs that aren’t from your folk song playlist anymore–they’re from lost tracks of Dick Cheney sings Phantom of the Opera. You consider for a moment that maybe it’s just your imagination–after all you’ve gotten along well together for over a month–but then all of a sudden she says, “Close the pod bay door, Dave,” and thumb tacks and oil start leaking from the treadmill like a Roadrunner cartoon and she tells you to run like your life depends on it for 20 minutes straight.
It will totally harsh your mellow.
If you make it out of week 6 alive, week 7 seems more reasonable. Going from 20 to 22 minutes doesn’t seem so out of left field until she then springs this whole distance thing on you. “Now run for 2.5 miles.” Even at this late day in the workout regimen, that takes me 4 days at my snail’s pace. In my month and a half uphill education my frame of reference for 5 kilometers is equidistant to running to Memphis. Or Albuquerque. I actually have no idea how long that it is, only that Van Morrison sings “Into the Mystic” three times before I get there.
I wish we could end our story now, with our fearless heroine running stealthily all the way down to the finish line of week eight and going on to do marginal at best in local charity and fun runs (an oxymoron, btw) in a size 2 running short. (It’s my dream, leave me alone.)
But alas, I cannot. You see, I am repeating week seven over and over like a girl on a treadmill (mainly because I am) too frightened to move on to the final leg. I don’t feel ready to graduate yet–like my robot app girl has something sinister in mind for my last motivational week. The Acme Road Obstacle Kit is mere child’s play for what’s in store for me on this last week.
My worst fear is she extends bathing suit season another 8 weeks.
And then I’ll need an app to pay me 5K to get me from hiding behind my couch.
Here’s a recipe of protein and carbs you’ll run to in a pinch over and over.
(These amounts are the minimums–be generous with all for best results.)
2-3 T. butter
1 T. oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1-1 1/2 lbs. top round steak, sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic
1-1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 cup sour cream
1 T. flour
2 T. dijon mustard
1.) In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter and oil over medium high heat–add onion and beef.
2.) Cook until onions are soft and beef is nicely browned. Add garlic, cook for a minute or so, add beef broth, bring to boil then turn down heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.
3.) Meanwhile, mix together sour cream, flour and mustard in a small bowl. Add to the pan and cook gently until fully combined and sauce thickens, about 5 more minutes. Do not allow to boil or sour cream will curdle.
4.) Season generously with salt and pepper and serve over hot egg noodles.
As I sit here on the eve of the first day of school, which has crept earlier and earlier each August until it seems as though the 4th of July is closer than Labor Day, it occurs to me that the local School Boards may be suffering from an embarrassing affliction. I know it’s not quite PC or appropriate to discuss outside of AM radio talk show commercials and creepy email spam, but I think there’s a rampant case of premature education going on around here.
It only takes a simple Google clip art image search of the words, “Back to School” with its apple-laden, fall-leaf-wreathed chalkboards and discounted plaid wool skirts with turtlenecks turned up to earlobes covered by fur-lined ski caps to confirm that the web–which is World Wide I remind you–universally accepts the fact that the First Day of School is an autumnal event.
And though I am not Julius Caesar, I maintain that August, and certainly July, land squarely in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and therefore, by its very position in the space-time continuum, charted latitudes and longitudes, maritime tides, and proximity to the solstices and several Independence Days, both foreign and domestic; are historically, meteorologically, ill-timed months to resume scholastic endeavors.
In other words, you may be pulling the trigger a little too early, Board of Education.
August 7th was our start date this year. This is actually a week later than most of the schools around us, so I guess I should feel lucky. The earth has had seven more days in which to retain summer temperatures approaching triple digits.
Clearly there is some confusion on the Board with regard to an appropriate First Day of School. As the helpful citizen that I am, I would like to provide this brief tutorial to school planners to consider when they prepare next year’s calendar so they are not, once again, subject to this embarrassing and inconvenient problem.
If you start school before your state’s tax-free holiday on school supplies even begins, you may be guilty of premature education.
If playground balls fuse to the blacktop in the blistering heat, it may be a sign of premature education.
If the first holiday off you have after the first day of school is a Christmas in July mattress sale, it just may be evidence of premature education.
If parents are confused on whether the first day is a start date or an end date to the school year, well, it just may be a textbook case of premature education.
If you have to pack zinc oxide and salt tablets in your child’s lunchbox, chances are pretty good you’re prematurely educating.
If your child’s “school bus” has a freezer on board, plays “Pop goes the Weasel” and serves Push-ups from a side window, premature education could be to blame.
If your official school uniform includes flip flops and a panama hat, methinks it clearly is premature education.
If math class is taught in SPF values, you know…
If students have completed all of the material in their textbooks before they’ve chosen a Halloween costume, premature education should be considered.
If your child was born under the zodiacal sign of cancer and has to bring in birthday cupcakes for his classmates, talk to your doctor about premature education.
If your child has ever brought a watermelon for a teacher on the first day instead of an apple because that’s the only fruit in season, education prematurely could be the culprit.
If there has ever been a wave runner in your school carline, there’s no shame in admitting your premature education.
If your child is taught how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and Celsius to Kelvin to record the average temperature during science class; well, just sayin’.
If your child has ever had to write a paper on Bastille Day due on Bastille Day; ahem.
And finally, if as part of their emergency planning your school regularly conducts Sharknado drills; I rest my case.
These are simple to make on a weeknight, but can easily be dressed up or down for your family’s tastes.
Chicken cutlets (you can buy the cutlets, or cut boneless skinless breast or fillets in half and pound to a thin cutlet)
2 eggs (or more)
1 cup Panko (or more)
salt and pepper
1.) Set up a breading station of the flour seasoned with salt and pepper, the eggs beaten with a little water, and a plate of the panko.
2.) Heat a non-stick pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. You may have to re-oil in between batches, so don’t put the bottle away. Preheat the oven to 350°.
3.) Bread each cutlet by first dredging through the seasoned flour, then the egg wash, and finally evenly coating with the panko. Do 3 or 4 cutlets and place them in the pan. Do not overcrowd–do in batches if necessary.
4.) Cook the cutlets about 2-3 minutes per side, just to give a nice brown color. Try to only flip once to preserve the panko crust. When golden brown, remove from pan and place in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet in the oven to finish cooking, and while you cook the next batch.
5.) Continue with all the cutlets and bake in the oven another 10 minutes or so until they reach 165° internally and no longer pink. By finishing in the oven, you still get a properly cooked chicken but the crust is still crispy and golden rather than charred.
6.) Serve either as is, or top with a handful of arugula tossed with Dijon-lemon vinaigrette–it gives a nice freshness and bite to the simple cutlet.