Octopus & Red Chard Risotto

I’m fascinated by octopus. The appearance of tentacles appeals to me, and I think it makes octopus different from any other animals we eat.

I hear as creatures, they’re enigmatic and highly intelligent. Although their aptitude for solving puzzles has nothing to do with how they taste, their uniqueness makes me appreciative of the animal as a cooking ingredient.

I’ve wanted a pet octopus ever since seeing the old-school James Bond movie, Octopussy. But taking reality into consideration, I’m still weighing the pros and many cons of housing an active aquarium in my apartment. Maybe one day, when I don’t have a dog who would knock that tank over within minutes of it being installed.

During our family’s trip to Spain years ago, I remember being served a simple charred octopus – a preparation widely used there. I remember loving that. Here, I saute the octopus on its own, which releases juices from the meat. Those juices are used as a cooking liquid for the risotto in place of seafood stock midway through the cooking, and gives it a gorgeous warm color and infuses the grains of rice with unadulterated octopus flavor.

Saffron is a great addition here as well, as it is with pretty much any brothy seafood dish. The threads contribute to the reddish color of the risotto. It really doesn’t take more than a small pinch to get that familiar saffron-colored tinge.

I didn’t intend to put red chard in the risotto, but came across it in the produce aisle. It must be a beet-chard hybrid, because eaten raw the stalks had a strong beet flavor. The combination of the distinct tentacles and the bright red chard make for a visually appealing dish, that happens to taste phenomenal as well.

Upon receiving the wrapped octopus at the seafood stall, the purveyor said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you planning to do with this?”

I responded with an octopus risotto – one that I’ve never made before. It was a good question. And a question I’d like to be asked more frequently. What’s more fun than giving boneless, skinless chicken breasts a break for once, and cooking those odd bits?

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 3 / 4 lb. octopus tentacles, cut into 1 1 / 2 inch chunks
  • 1 1 / 2 cup arborio rice
  • 1 stick butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 cups red chard, stems intact, chopped roughly
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons sherry
  • 1 cup parm reg, grated
  • 1 quart seafood stock
  • 1 pinch saffron, approximately 1 / 2 teaspoon
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sautee pan. Add the chard, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes on medium-low heat, adding the sherry midway through the cooking to allow the greens to braise. If the mixture gets too thick, add 1 / 4 water as needed. The chard is done when the stems are tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. In another sautee pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the octopus pieces, a large pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Sautee the octopus for 5 to 7 minutes on medium heat, until the octopus is firm and cooked through. If the octopus is translucent in places, it is not fully cooked.
  3. Remove the octopus pieces to a separate bowl, and keep the juices that were released from the octopus for later, when it will be added to the risotto as cooking liquid.
  4. In the meantime, heat the seafood stock in a small saucepan, until just simmering. Keep on low heat throughout the cooking process.
  5. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the stick of butter until melted, and add the onion, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Sautee until the onions are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional minute. Add the rice, and allow to toast slightly in the butter, onions and garlic, about 2 minutes. Add the first ladleful of seafood stock and stir until combined. When the mixture begins to get slightly sticky and dry, add another ladleful of stock.
  6. After 10 minutes, instead of the seafood stock, add the juices from the sautéed octopus. Stir. Add the saffron as well, along with a large pinch of salt, and pepper, as needed for taste. When the rice begins to get sticky again, continue to add the seafood stock. Cook for an additional 10 minutes with the seafood stock as a cooking liquid.
  7. Once the rice reaches a near al-dente consistency, add the octopus pieces, red chard from the sautee pan, juices and all, and the parm reg. Add an additional ladle of stock, as needed, to finish cooking.
  8. Serve hot immediately, topping with parm reg, if desired.

Sausage Gravy Macaroni & Cheese

I knew sausage gravy and macaroni and cheese would be fast friends. They both start out the same way, but with different fats. You have the roux that serves as the base for the mac, which is identical to the base of your average sausage gravy. The only difference being one starts with sausage drippings instead of butter.

What makes this macaroni and cheese stand out, though, is a whole lot of garlic powder. I strongly believe garlic powder is an unsung hero in the cooking world. Not in the world of everyday cooks like me – home cooks know it well. You’ll see it in every one of those one-sheet pan dinners, casseroles, or crockpot meals.

In my limited exposure to the upper echelons of the culinary world, I can’t remember one instance where a chef added garlic powder to a dish and owned it. At some level it’s understandable. Fresh garlic is a flavor powerhouse. Why use the tacky, outdated powdered stuff?

But when I add garlic powder, there’s an added yumminess, umami, whatever that magical flavor is. I don’t get that when I add freshly minced garlic. In some dishes, like casseroles, the fresh garlic flavor gets lost. Garlic powder does a better job of permeating the entire dish, and the garlic flavor is tastier, somehow.

All things considered, garlic, is garlic, is garlic – fresh is better in some dishes, while I’ll exclusively use powdered garlic in others.

I saw a recipe for homemade garlic powder on Serious Eats – this is my next frontier. With this mac you’re going to get a whopping sausage, cheese and garlickly bite, and you have good, old, been-there-done-that garlic powder to thank for it. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

  • 1 box short pasta, of your choosing
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 6 Kraft American Cheese singles
  • 1 quart whole milk, scalded
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 stick butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3 / 4 lb. sausage of your choosing, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1 / 2 tablespoons garlic powder

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. Brown the sausage, breaking it down into smaller pieces in a large pot on medium heat until the meat is cooked through, and a bit crispy in places. Add the flour and butter, and cook, stirring until the flour is fully dissolved into the meat, and the butter is melted.
  3. At this point, add the scalded milk, keeping the heat on medium. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce begins to thicken.
  4. In the meantime, heat a pot of salted water until boiling. Cook the pasta al dente, according to package instructions. Strain and set aside.
  5. Once the sauce coats a spoon, add the cheeses and stir until completely incorporated. Add the pasta, salt, pepper and garlic powder and stir to combine.
  6. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a casserole dish, and bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling hot, and the top is browned.

 

Cream of Chicken Soup with Crispy Chicken Skin

You know that can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup that’s been sitting in your pantry?

In a pinch for casseroles, there’s nothing more handy than the premade stuff we’ve all been eating since childhood, whether we knew it or not. But eating it out of the can on its own can be a disappointing experience.

So why not make it at home?

Think of it like a creamy soup – but glorified chicken goodness. If you’re really going for a decadent soup, especially one where the chicken-ness is center stage, homemade chicken stock is the must of musts.

Here’s my secret to great chicken stock – go easy on yourself, and allow room to be versatile with substitutes. It’s more important to have homemade chicken stock on hand, than to go for the store-bought stuff just because you were missing an ingredient necessary to satisfy a recipe requirement. No onions? Use the scallions in your fridge. No fresh parsley? Use dried parsley.

When I cook chicken stock, my proportions of vegetables and herbs that go with the chicken are different every single time, with the exception of equal proportions carrots, celery, along with a bulb of fresh garlic and a small handful of black peppercorns.

In my experience, you typically need to have those flavor profiles to get that homey “chicken stock” taste – but the other flavor enhancers are entirely up to you. Parsnips, fresh herbs, onions – whatever it is.

And when it comes to the type of chicken used to produce the stock, we all know a whole, fresh chicken is the gold standard. In my case, it’s a matter of using up a frozen chicken carcass and some unwanted giblets, maybe a couple of bone-in frozen chicken thighs. It’s all chicken, and it’s all full of flavor (in some cases, maybe more so), so why waste it?

This soup is really as simple as pulling together a roux like you would for any gratin or cheese sauce, adding some homemade chicken stock, and throwing in some chicken-complimentary veggies like carrots and celery.

The pièce de résistance in this recipe, though, is the crispy chicken skin. Which frankly is so good I’d recommend eating it on its own, or serving it as a party appetizer. It’s up there with bacon in my book.

And I’m pretty sure if it hasn’t taken off already as the new trendy culinary “thing,” it’s on its way up.

To prepare the chicken skins, if you have the time, allow them to dry out in the fridge overnight seeped in a layer of salt – this is all in an attempt to dehydrate the skin as much as possible. It’ll make for an assuredly crispy bite.

But if you don’t have the time, or forget, which I’ve been known to do in make-ahead recipe steps like this one, you can always just throw them immediately in the oven.

My mind started to wander to all sorts of types of cream-of soup possibilities – cream of mushroom and tomato are classics – but then I thought of cream of beef, poblano pepper, pumpkin, olive oil. I’m likely to do some experimenting. Stay posted. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

F o r  t h e  C h i c k e n  S k i n s

  • Skin from two chicken breasts
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed

F o r  t h e  S o u p

  • 4 to 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 liter homemade chicken stock, recipe below
  • 6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 stalks celery, cut thin
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus additional as needed
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, plus additional as needed
  • Crusty baguette, for dipping

F o r  t h e  C h i c k e n  S t o c k

  • Approximately 3 pounds chicken pieces
  • 3 carrots, cut into large pieces
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into large pieces
  • 1 garlic bulb, cut in half crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs, tied with kitchen twine
  • Enough water to barely cover the chicken and other ingredients

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Salt the chicken skin heavily and cover with a damp paper towel, leaving in the fridge overnight.
  2. Boil the chicken stock ingredients for 6 hours, until the vegetables are falling apart and the chicken meat is dry. Strain the chicken stock through a colander into a large bowl. Store the stock in quart containers.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350*. Put the chicken skins on parchment paper on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place a heavy casserole dish on top of the chicken skins to flatten so they bake evenly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.
  4. Melt the butter in a pot, and add the celery, sautéing for 4 or so minutes on medium heat until the vegetables soften. Add the flour, and whisk until the flour and the butter form a thick paste. Add the milk, and whisk until incorporated. Still on medium heat, add the chicken stock, stirring until the soup begins to thicken. Taste for seasonings, adjusting as necessary. The soup is done when it reaches a clam chowder consistency.
  5. Plate the hot soup, topping with crispy chicken skin, serving with crusty French baguette for dipping, if desired.

 

 

Apple Cider Roast Chicken

Ina Garten is famous for her roast chickens, especially the ones she makes each Friday for Jeffrey when he comes home for the weekend. I love that about her. When you see how she prepares the chicken, it’s incredibly simple. I have rarely seen her use anything beyond salt, pepper, olive oil, a bulb of garlic cut in half and stuffed inside the cavity, with some potatoes or lemons in the pan. With that many roast chickens under her belt, I have to assume she knows something we don’t.

Her Roast Engagement Chicken for example is perfectly simple – and completely encapsulates her style of cooking.

There’s really not too much work that goes into roasting a chicken – it’s something you can do without reading a recipe. Ruth Reichl recently posted a tweet illustrating exactly how simple roast chicken can and should be:

Just roasted a fresh Kinderhook Farm chicken.  Did nothing – put it into a hot oven. Best chicken I’ve ever tasted.

While this roast chicken calls for a slew of ingredients, it’s really up to you which spices to include. I went for a series of warm, autumn spice flavors. The apple cider works here the same way applesauce goes so well with pork.

I love allspice, cloves and star anise. Some folks don’t like the licorice flavor of star anise – so I’d encourage them to leave it out.

If you do like this combination of flavors – know that if you fill a shallow pan with simmering water and add a splash of vanilla, along with a handful of these spices, your kitchen is going to smell like autumn bliss for hours. I do this every so often and it puts me in a cozy cold weather mood.

There’s wiggle room with the vegetables as well – parsnips, sweet potatoes or other autumn root vegetables would be delicious. Just make sure you keep a savory element, allium vegetables like garlic and onions help offset the sweetness of the cider, cinnamon and vanilla.

Happy roasting, friends! 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 1 4 to 5 lb. fresh chicken, giblets removed
  • 1 stick room temperature butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 – 3 inch pieces
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 2 – 3 inch pieces
  • 1 small white onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled and parboiled
  • 2 cups apple cider, plus 4 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon cloves
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon allspice (not ground)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus additional as needed
  • 1 tablespoon pepper, plus additional as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. Take the chicken out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Pat the skin dry, including the cavity, with a paper towel.
  3. After an hour, sprinkle the cavity liberally with salt and pepper, and put the quartered onions inside. Truss the chicken legs with kitchen twine.
  4. Combine the butter, 4 tablespoons apple cider, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Gently loosen the top layer of the skin above each of the breasts with your fingers, and evenly distribute 1 / 3 of the butter mixture under each half of the chicken. Place one cinnamon stick under each half as well. Then rub the remaining 1 / 3 of the butter mixture over the rest of the chicken.
  5. Stud the top of the chicken with the cloves, and dot with star anise down the spine of the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken evenly with approximately 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  6. Toss the carrots, pearl onions, and potatoes with enough olive oil to moisten and a large pinch of salt and a larch pinch of pepper.
  7. Place the vegetables in the bottom of the pan. Pour the 2 cups of cider into the pan with the vegetables. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.
  8. Cook the chicken for 20 minutes per pound – periodically removing the chicken from the oven and basting it with the cider juices from the bottom of the pan, approximately 2 to 3 times while cooking.
  9. To test the doneness of the chicken, cut the groove between the leg and the breast, and if the liquids run clear, the chicken is done. Or, wait until the chicken breast reads *165 on a kitchen thermometer.
  10. To serve the chicken, remove the star anise cinnamon sticks, and carve using Julia Child’s technique (carving starts at about 26:00). If you want a thicker sauce for serving, remove the pan juices to a saucepan, and simmer until it thickens to desired consistency.
  11. Plate the vegetables, juices and all, with the chicken presented on top.

 

Hen of the Woods Pasta Alfredo

I’ve kept my eye out for Hen of the Woods mushrooms ever since I saw a recipe on Lucky Peach that chicken fried the mushroom cap southern-style, and threw it in between two sesame buns.

I did some searching online, and Forager Chef, a stunning blog I immediately bookmarked to my browser, published a very similar recipe to the one I remember.

I love the concept of chicken frying. Chicken fried steak? With gravy? F$#&ing outstanding.

I had never come across the mushroom until I went to the FRESHFARM farmer’s market in Dupont Circle the other day. The mushrooms there were a sight to behold.

There’s a strain I learned about called Lion’s Mane mushrooms that appeared, assuredly, to be a ball of fur. The texture was coral-like. I couldn’t believe it was edible. And couldn’t imagine being the first person to take a bite, demonstrating for us all that they are in fact, edible.

Having just fried a portabella mushroom to create the vegetarian Molten ‘Shroom Burger, I wanted to find another recipe that would throw the mushroom onto center stage. And I decided on a mushroom and garlic-infused alfredo sauce. Needlessly heavy on the cream, butter and parm reg, as always.

The turnout couldn’t have been more on point – and since garlic and mushrooms love each other so much, I figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and held back from veering too far from that standard flavor combination, with the exception of ground nutmeg.

You’ll want to make a full pound of this, for indulging in later. Speaking from recent experience, this first bite is addictive in the worst and best way possible.

I N G R E D I E N T S

I suppose this serves 4, but it could serve 1. It depends on how much self-restraint you have.

  • 1 pound Hen of the Woods mushrooms, torn or sliced into 1 to 2 inch pieces, stems included
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 / 2 stick butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons truffle butter
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta, or another long pasta of your choosing
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup reserved cooking liquid from the pasta
  • 1 cup parm reg, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper, plus additional for garnish

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid before draining.
  2. In the meantime, in a large sauté pan, melt the truffle butter. When foaming, add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and pinch of pepper, and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until the mushrooms begin to brown and release their fluid. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and transfer a few mushroom slices to a separate bowl for garnish later.
  3. Once the pasta is drained, add it immediately to the pan with the mushrooms, followed by the remaining ingredients – butter, heavy cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and all but some of the parm reg.
  4. The pasta will thicken quickly once it starts to soak up the cream and butter. Use the reserved pasta cooking liquid to thin out the sauce.
  5. Once the cheese is melted and the mixture is uniform throughout, plate the pasta, topping with extra parm reg, slices of the mushroom, and a sprinkling of crushed black peppercorns, if desired.